Snakes in a Sedan

Written By: Lawrence Leek

It was 1962, and we were heading out to Montauk for a frugal vacation. Although my dad was a travel agent, we never went on a opulent retreat. Most destinations were tattered resorts upstate that he would get a special deal at. And Mom would do pretty much what she did at home, cook and take care of us four kids. I never knew until I grew up, that these were not the best vacations in the world. This time we were headed to Sharon’s Inn out by Ditch Plains in Montauk. We had been there before and were eager to get back to the isolation and adjacent ocean.. Sharon was about my age, and the inn was her aunt’s place. All I knew was that it was a big old house, over the dunes from the Atlantic Ocean. It was a bit run down, which seemed to augment the ghost stories told by the innkeeper after dinner. Many years later, I found out that the house was actually one of seven grand summer houses built 1879- 1883 by Sanford White. Dick Cavett has one of them. His burned down in 1997, but was miraculously rebuilt, including the slants of the charming edifice, so it could continue as an ocean lookout for another century. I was at Montaukett Inn telling this story to a willing bartender in 1975, and he told me Sharon’s Inn had been struck by lightning years earlier , but when I went by, apparently was rebuilt and restored also. The Montaukett at the time had a contest around sunset, where you could take a nine iron and try to go through a ring tied up out in the bay. I’m sure that stopped when someone heard there may be turtles mistakenly eating the golf balls.
From Bethpage, it was half a day trip to Montauk, with six of us in the 1951 old Buick and a car full of cousins in a Studebacker following behind. No expressway, only hot dog stands, farm stands and The Big Duck in Riverhead. On the way out or back we stopped at most of them. Finally, at Sharon’s Inn. Dad being the quintessential tour guide, we would go to the lighthouse, Camp Hero, the walking dunes and then settle in to all that was near the Inn. Out on the front lawn there was always a choose up game of baseball with us and other guests. Brother Rick and Dad organized and laid out the bases. Sister Pam rooted from the porch swing with cousin Debbie. My brother Bob and I would go hunting for turtles and snakes. This time we were lucky hunters and found Garder snakes. We kept them as pets while we were there with the promise to free them prior to departure. Well, when it came time to leave, we thought it best to slip the snakes (in a shoe box) into the back seat of the car on the floor board. We would secretly sneak peeks into the box every 5 miles to be sure all was secure. Dad had a favorite spot to stop for lunch on the way back. A roadside joint in Bellport. We all got out of both cars and sat on the picnic benches and ate. About 5 miles after getting back on the road, Bob looked in the box, and no snakes. We conferred in whispers at one side of the back seat and talked about the possibilities. First, we were told to leave the snakes in Montauk. We would be in trouble for bringing the snakes. But what if the snakes crawled up my dad’s neck while he was driving, and we all died in a flaming wreck at the bottom of a canyon. Maybe a ravine, since this was Long Island. However, there was that hole in the floorboard, and maybe the snakes slithered out the hole and are gone, not in the car after all. Why get in all that trouble and worry our parents all the way home when maybe the snakes were not even in the car? Bob and I were suspiciously quiet all the way home, nervous that the snakes might reappear and send all travelers into a frenzy. Since I am here to tell the story, we did make it home. I continued to explore the south fork all my life, finding the less worn paths to the treasures of nature,
In August, 1992 we were all at a family reunion to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary. We happened to be at Scott’s Oquaga Lake House, another family favorite that was last updated in the 1950’s. We were all reminiscing about old stories, and I told Mom and Dad this story, for the first time.
Around that time, I discovered that my ancestor Phillip Leek was one of the founding families of East Hampton, arriving before 1670 he married Elizabeth Dayton. Eleven generations later, this perhaps explains me lifelong attraction to the east end