Souvenir of Montauk

Written By: Linda Pashley  Murray


I do not know why we thought this was going to be so hilarious, but we did. We were flattened behind the dunes, peering through the gently swaying beach grass, looking down towards the rhythmic ocean breakers with great expectations.

It had been a long, hot summer. As young kids we had spent it “helping”  (running down the asphalt driveway to change the sign from “Vacancy” to “No Vacancy”)at the family run motel which was doing a brisk business.

Families arrived for week-long stays, cars overstuffed with suitcases, umbrellas, fishing poles and the occasional surfboard jutting dangerously out of a window. They had come for their annual pilgrimage “Out East”: To escape the routines of life and work. To have some family time in a place that was magical. Like being on a different planet as some had said. Few buildings, few people (though lots more in season) and gorgeous Montauk beaches where one could drag down an umbrella, a cooler and a blanket and have a view people would pay millions to have in the not so distant future. Dips in the cool clear water and if you were lucky, and the waves were just right, the best body surfing there is.

And of course there was the short trip, at around 3:00 in the afternoon, to Gosman’s Dock to see what the charters had brought in. You would see stripers, blues, crabs, lobsters and if you got lucky-a shark! This was way before Jaws, and you really were unafraid to swim in the ocean. The guests would take day trips to the Montauk Lighthouse and then wander in to town for some clam chowder or local fish at the Shag Wong restaurant. Some of the guests would get their gear together and wander down to the beach again to see the magnificent sunsets and surf cast until (and sometimes after) dark. And then get up the next day and do it again.

One of the things us kids did every morning, after a great breakfast of ham, eggs, and oj, was to race each other down to the beach, before anyone was up, and see if the netters were catching anything. These were fellows who drove along the beach at first light and if they saw birds working, would stop, take a rowboat and nets off the truck and get out past the breakers to set the net and then winch it back to shore-hopefully full of fish.

More germane to this little tale, we would beach comb. This is the art of wandering along the shoreline, finding the high tide mark and seeing what exciting gifts the ocean had delivered to us the night before.

We would find old buoys, the occasional smelly dead fish, seaweed that you could pop, the all treasured beach glass, worn and dull in an assortment of colors. Beach glass was always picked up and put in a giant pickle jar at the house. The other treasure was twisted and bleached driftwood from which you could make weird pirates ships, snakes, whatever it looked like to you (and now some artists have made beautiful near full sized horses). Driftwood was always picked up if small enough to carry and interesting in shape. I digress.

One of the most useful finds were large white clamshells. They were about the size of a grown man’s hand, cleaned by the ocean and lying gleaming in the sun just for the picking. We picked up every unbroken, extra -large clamshell we could find. We used them for digging in the sand to make sand castles, or great fire pits for night time marshmallow roasts, adults used them for ash trays, or soap dishes.

Then we had a flash of genius! We knew all of the motel guests were on vacation, and we wanted them to remember what a great time they had had. What if we took our collection, or at least a hundred or so, of clamshells and painted “Souvenir of Montauk” on them? And one better, what if we then dropped them along the shoreline at night and then hid in the dunes and watched their reactions as they wandered along the shoreline and found clamshells that already said “Souvenir of Montauk”? This was going to be great. We spent the next few days furiously writing on the beautiful large clamshells until we had enough. That night we snuck out toting bags of souvenirs. Down to the shoreline, dropping them near the high tide mark and then tossing some into the surf.

Now the fun part.

As I said, we were flattened behind the dunes, peering through the gently swaying beach grass, looking down towards the rhythmic ocean breakers with great expectations.

If you do it, they will come….and come they did.  It was a perfect beach day, hot but not too humid, the breakers were soft and swimmable and the umbrellas began popping up along the shore. Once settled the guests went down to “test” the water, some taking a morning dip, others taking their morning walk down the beach.  Then it happened. The young couple, strolling along stopped abruptly. The woman bent over and held up one of our clamshells. She excitedly turned to the man to show him her great find. He took the clamshell in hand and examined it. They had big smiles on their faces and dropped it into their little net “collection” bag. This was repeated so many times we lost count. Little kids would find one and run all the way back to their umbrella and show their parents. We just laughed and whooped far enough away as not to be heard. This was one of our best and it looks liked it worked. I wonder if any of them still have their clamshell Souvenir of Montauk ?  I know we all have our memories-souvenir enough.