The Bridge in the Canal
Nana at the Canal.
My maternal grandmother was called “Nana.” She was quite a sight and a true old-world woman. She was a model and a budding TV star in the 50’s. She and my Poppa (grandfather) were a great couple and raised their family in Nassau County, NY.
My Nana did not like me. Sad, I know. But in life there are simple things that can have profound effects on you. Nana’s problem was not that she was mad for anything I had done. Nana did not like me because I was the spitting image of my dad. And for her it was because of what he did, that I suffered. He married my mother.
Nana was not happy with my mother’s selection for a husband. You couldn’t blame her. My dad was a cheating weasel. He was the kind of man that talks his way in or out of a situation. I mean if you busted my dad in a lie, he would not shudder. He could swim right through any conflict or deposition. So, he was not my Nana’s favorite person. Lucky me.
He would start explaining and talking and going on until you were so confused that you felt like you were the guilty one. There really are people like that. He was at the top of that cheater’s game. So my mom and dad divorced when I was three. But Nana’s hatred and disdain of me lived on well after my parent’s divorce. In a way I had become a surrogate villain, and we all need a villain in our life.
My mom’s side of the family was a big Irish conglomerate. Every weekend there was a family party. They were a tight group. I liked the fact that everyone stuck together. This was manifest when I was about 10 years old, most of my family all got bungalow houses in Wading River. There were at least 15 different bungalows in a summer park every year as I became a teenager. I would spend almost my whole Summer in Wading River; year after year.
While Summers were fun, I still had to endure my status as a second-class citizen at Nana’s bungalow. My mother couldn’t afford a bungalow, so we stayed at Nana’s. While my sisters could do no wrong, any mishap, missing item, or broken glass had to have been done by me. The sense of oppression was a constant black cloud hanging over my head when I was around Nana’s house. I spent most Summer days at my cousins or on the beach, I would go anywhere to avoid Nana’ bungalow.
In the second year of Summers in Wading River, most of the family decided to go to the Shinnecock canal to do some night crabbing and night fishing. All of us kids were so excited, even the adults had smiles on their faces as we drove to the canal for our blue-collar excursion.
We brought folding chairs, multiple coolers, a small hibachi grill, buckets, fishing nets, fishing poles and flood lights to attract the crabs.
Once we arrived, we literally took over the bank of the canal. The canal edge had a cement curb and at least 40 feet of asphalt between the canal bank and the grass siding. The area was truly made for fishermen and tourists to park, observe, fish or otherwise view the spectacle of the canal and the forces therein.
As I sat on the edge of the canal next to my Nana, for the first time I could remember I was talked to instead of talked at. We talked about fishing, the enormous amount of crabs we were catching together, and how the canal works. She actually smiled at me. I think it was the first time in my life. The flow of the canal seemed to cleanse my time with Nana. It surely removed the hostility I felt from my mother’s mother.
As the locks open, the water would flow at up to 30 knots. The flow from the Hampton Bay through to the Long Island Sound would take all matters of life, including bottom feeders with it. As soon as the locks opened the force and sound of the rushing water demanded respect and attention. It truly was amazing how the opening of the locks set of an ecological tornado that swirled and moved as if it was a living thing.
As I think back, I remember the feeling that maybe Nana was just tough on me because she loved me. Maybe her coarse attitude was simply a method of helping me grow up. Either way. The feeling of a black cloud that surrounded my Nana, dissipated, and became the background, not the fore, at the canal.
For many years after that night on the canal, Nana & I and our cousins and relatives, crabbed and fished together. Someone would load up the kids. Another would load up the coolers. But all of us would load up on family time and engage with each other in earnest.
The Shinnecock canal not only connected the south shore of Long Island to the North; but it connected me with my family and my Nana. While the canal was a passage way for most people to pass through, it was indeed a bridge by which I could pass over the contempt that was held for me by Nana.