A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME...STORIES ABOUT LOCAL LIFE IN THE HAMPTONS--PART IV
Here is a "slice" of life in The Hamptons---Many locals are around and yet not really accessible to others. So, my stories about Fred, a local farmers son, may give one a sense about this beautiful part of the country. This is the 4th in a series about life here. Complicated lives make us all a little more distant with our neighbors; our engagement with them can be a cursory "Hello, how are you?" and then move on. But then there are times when there is more--
This is one of those times:
I don't remember exactly when I heard that Fred had gone home from the hospital--he was somewhat better and they released him so that he could go home and recuperate there instead of the hospital. I heard rumors that he was surprisingly well after his stay in the hospital.
"Yoo-hoo-!" I heard from the front yard as Fred came toward the garage--I was right there at the garage door, patting down the dry debris from my chair cushions and piling them against the garage wall, high up on a shelf.
"Here, let me help you!" and he reached right out to grab the cushions before they came tumbling down..."Oh, hello there!" I said with complete surprise that he was looking so good, so healthy..."How have you been? I didn't expect to see you so soon! I heard you were doing better but that you still had a way to go!"
"I can't tell you how many people are happy to see that I am still alive!" He said with a chuckle under his breath. "You know, if I were any younger I would be out there cutting grass for you or something". He nodded toward the back yard, now overgrown with long grasses and I said "Well, you can take my lawn mower and do that if you really want to, but it really is a bigger job than it looks at this point. I had planned to cut it tomorrow, early"
I dropped the stack of cushions again and he bent to pick them up for me..."It's been too hot to do it at this time of day---record heat tomorrow too they say"."I will put these up for you unless you want them on the chairs". "I will do that Fred. These cushions are not too heavy and I need to do things like that---don't spoil me Fred!" I said with a big smile right at him.
He looked at me longer than he had ever done. He leaned against my car and folded his arms. "OK, no I don't want to spoil you, that's for sure!" then a long look down at his shoes."You know I never did thank you for coming to see me in the hospital--meant a lot to me...got me to thinking about what I still needed to do before I go away. That made me really think about getting better--took my mind off the old ulcer and the pain that I was feeling from the surgery."
I was surprised that he had an ulcer; I had heard it was cancer. I didn't want to say the word so I said "Oh, well you never told me what your illness was Fred. You looked really out of it when I was there--you had just had your surgery... I was afraid it was something a lot worse than an ulcer!"
He quietly walked to the side porch and stepped up on the deck. "look" he said in a low voice "I don't want to be a bother but I think it would be a good time to go to the Bay, look for scallops--they say the scallops are back strong since they treated the water for nitrogen. I thought maybe you could drive me there--you don't have to stay but it would be great if you could give me a lift!"
Amazing the feeling I had--just like a high school girl again. I felt embarrassed now that I was all dusty and messed up hair and all...."I don't mind, really Fred--It is a good time to go--just before sundown".
With the great invasion of new-comers to the Hamptons through internet websites who are looking to capitalize on the popularity of The Hamptons, every house was now a hotel here. The impact on the ground water is so obvious; all homes have cesspools and septic systems here. Seeping into the ground around them these leaching pools have become so prevalent with new development and the "hotel" nature of many houses here, there is a real problem for the environment. The ground water eventually seeks it's way to the shorelines and there you can see the damage by the deadly blue-green algae growing in the bays and "still" lake waters around the town. This problem needs to be dealt with immediately to reduce the possible poisonings to wild life and humans.
Southampton Town has been clearing away the algae by truck loads to the proper dump areas. This has helped the famous Bay Scallop crops that were so badly harmed in the last 2-3 years. The bays and estuaries are coming back to health with the help of the Town Trustees and others who treat the water with great passion--it is after all, our fate that will be affected here if no one cares!
The town too, by clamping down on the length of time a home can be rented, seems to be helping tremendously! The websites which were growing in popularity to the average person who wanted to spend a few days in this rarefied resort area is slipping now. This, as homeowners are seeing real property damage to their homes from tenants who crash here and then run off leaving havoc behind them in the form of backed up sewers, water damage and fowl messes left in unclean houses.
We drove North, passed the 7-11 and the little store fronts that lined the corridor between the Hampton Chic Village of Southampton and the seedy part of the other side of County Road 39A or "North of the Highway" as we call it here.
The radio played on a low frequency and the music that seeped out through the speakers was discernible only if you lived in the 60's or 70's. We drove past the farm fields and the worn out farms that still remain along the roadside...passed the grungy car repair shops and the old General Store and Schmidt's Seafood Shop. This was certainly the most depressed part of the Hampton's, East of the Canal! This is where the "help" lived at one time; but they have not lived here for many years as only a few local businesses struggle to stay open and as potato farms stopped operating and laid off their local employees.
It is hard times here in North Sea! Further North there is respite from the painful lack that is all around us here.
Just past Noyac Road by-pass, is Conscience Point--the place where the first settlers came ashore, coming from Lynn Massachusetts in 1640 to settle Southampton. The building there is an antique and historical one that was a dinner club at one point and even a hotel I hear. Next to that huge old building is a 70 slip marina, now owned by the town.
Most remember the building as the night club where Lizzie Grubman ran down 9 people as she was leaving the club in a huff! That is NOT what Conscience Point is famous for! It has been my years long goal to do away with that bit of history.
There was a time when I envisioned a spa on the water near that historic entry point of Conscience Point. But that was then and this is now--not a place you could survive if you did try to open something like a fancy health spa.
"The Spa at Conscience Point" was a dream I had had for years--it was something that I had talked with Fred about doing when we had first met; he was very supportive of my idea, encouraging me along the way. But I needed to commit to it--commit to get investors and to do the research that a spa requires: A Destination Spa--with a 20 room Hotel and 70 boat slips in the attached Marina.
I really needed to mastermind the whole concept and put it down in a presentation that could be offered up to the moneyed few who I thought would love the idea. That's how I approached Fred--I knew that Fred's family had left him a significant amount of farm land in Sagaponack. He had to deal with the Town all the time--I asked him to be a part of the plan because I felt if there was anyone I trusted for his steadfast and consistent ability it was Fred and his experience with the town zoning laws!
But he disappeared from the area for more than 5 years and I never did find out just where he had gone and what he had done--I meant to ask him but there was never a good time to do that. Some said he had gone back to the UK to marry and settle down. But his farm here in Sagaponack still needed his attention and he came back to bring it up to current standards as an organic farm and he proceeded to grow and sell produce to the Halsey Farm-stand.
Through the grape vine I heard he never married the woman he went back to see in the UK and I never heard anything more about that large segment of time...It was simply missing from his story and I was not very good at prying into his private life.
That was almost 10 years ago now and things changed in a major way. The Town bought the marina and the antique building at Conscience Point and so the Spa at Conscience Point was history!
I was driving and Fred sat very straight in the passenger seat; he hung on the handle above his passenger side window--he hung on as if he would fall out of the car if he let go for one second!
We drove up North Sea Road--heading right up to the very end of it--passed the plain, sandy road where Conscience Point is--where the first settlers came ashore and who settled in with the Shinnecock Indians as neighbors and fellow survivors of those early days in North Sea!
My disappointment was evident in my voice as I said "that's where we talked about doing a spa, remember?" I pointed briefly and then looked back at the curvy road.
Fred looked and said nothing. His eyes moved over the marina and the many boats docked there. "Well, we are lucky we didn't do it back then--never would have made it!"..."Why do you say that? For all we know it would have been another Canyon Ranch sort of place--could have been quite successful, I think!" I knew all the walking trails around the area and the plan included getting permits to use those trails for morning walks, just as they do at Canyon Ranch. "This area is ready for a big change but not commercial"...
Then he stopped and turned to me and said "Why didn't you move back to the City?" I always thought I would and I had told Fred that many times over the years. I guess he figured I was going to go back there, leaving the Hamptons for good!
I told him that I thought about it a lot but it was never the right time. Now these hamlets were in my blood--The Hamptons is a place that I know like no other. "I can't leave this place now Fred--its like a best friend. Loyal and forever telling me stories...it has never disappointed me and I will never get over that! No, I will never leave it!
Fred nodded and went totally silent for the rest of the trip. We passed the magnificent mansion of the Salms Estate, passed The Port of Missing Men--the lodge on a huge lake where shooting parties would gather for their sport of game shooting on the estate. It was an oasis in the midst of the bucolic pastures and farm fields. A place where men could gather, go shooting and then feast on the game in the huge dining hall of this historic mansion. They would literally disappear for weeks, thus the name of the lodge: "The Port Of Missing Men"
At the very end of North Sea Road, on the right was the wonderful little community of North Sea Beach Colony--one of my favorite places for a family with children. I had sold several of the tiny houses over the years--Access to the bay beach was right there and over the decades families could enjoy these little cottages and "roughing it" in the most beautiful spot on the East End.
And there at the end of the road, was the Great Peconic Bay.
Fred was so quiet I thought he may have fallen asleep--but then he brightened as we pulled into the parking space at the very end of the road. "Here we are", I said "At the end of the road!" We chuckled and pulled our belongings together to go wading into the bay. I decided to wait for him on shore and maybe search for sea glass amongst the pebbles on this long stretch of beach. Besides, I didn't really have the proper gear and my hip boots had a leak as I recalled from the last time I went into the Bay.
I would let Fred see if he could locate the best scallops and bring in his basket full of the most delicious fare of the bay. My mouth was watering as I sat there waiting for the results of Fred's search. When he came back from around the big rock in the bay, he had a full basket! It was so surprising that he could find that many-- must have been the first to get there to that spot!
Meanwhile I had sifted through the pebbles on the beach and had found some of the most interesting sea glass. There was a soft pink piece that I was sure had been a perfume bottle at one point in time. I had a blue piece of glass that was the color of the water, but it was smoothed over to a feeling of soft blue velvet. Treasures from this beach are always available---some come from a century or more ago. The sands of time and the fine pebbles had made all of these pieces more beautiful than the next. polishing as they washed over the glass . I even had a piece of clear brown glass, as if a seafarer had dropped a smokey quartz rock into the water centuries ago--and here it was, ready for cutting and setting!
Dusk was moving in now and as the sun started its decent below the horizon I pointed to the breathtaking sight of a large shaft of light coming up (or down) from behind Robins Island. "What is that??" I gasped, feeling like I was having a spiritual awakening! Fred told me that with the reflection of the sun on the clouds and and the refraction off the water, these "light phenomenon" happen often, especially here where the sun sets every day! "You can see them all the time when the weather is clear and the clouds and sun are in a certain position"
Fred and I had never spent so much time together as we did that day...We stopped on the way back to my place at Halsey Farm stand--the bright red tomatoes and the brilliant greens of the lettuces, rosemary and parsley gave the feeling of health and vibrancy. You could smell the freshness along with the heady scent of dill and basil, hanging in the air.
Fred came to my house and he cleaned the scallops on the back deck while I prepared a tomatoes, basil and mozzarella salad and a rich butter and wine sauce for the scallops to cook in. That was a wonderful day and it was a healthy outing for Fred. The color was back in his face and he looked almost robust in his demeanor.
We sat on the back deck and enjoyed the lemonade I had made and ate the pasta with fresh Peconic Bay scallops--As the light started to fade from the sky I could see lightening bugs starting to gather in the back yard. "Fireflies", as we called them when we were growing up, were always a sign to me of a higher power--of spirit, in other words. They whelmed up from the wet grasses, surrounding us in a reassuring cloud of light.
We talked into the evening and we parted company with a hug and a "You take care of yourself!" He held me tightly for a few moments and I stayed still as his lips gently touched my cheek--nothing more....and he was gone! I never saw Fred again.
As I sat there on the deck, after Fred was gone I thought he was so fragile. He seemed to be in another place yet I have never felt so close to him. My fear was that he would feel that I was "over" him when in fact I felt he had sealed his real feelings with the rather innocent kiss as he was leaving. "Why didn't I respond more assertively?" I asked myself, knowing that is not my nature--yet I was satisfied that it was the exact measure that was called for at this place in time.
I listened to the silence and watched the fireflies as they kept up their glow in the approaching darkness.
I saw a bird come up off the ground--looked like a Mockingbird. He was not very large now that think of it. It was almost completely dark now with the remnants of twilight still hanging in the yard. He stopped at the foot of the steps on the deck and looked at me--turning his head one way to the other as he took me into his view.
Strange, this bird should appear out of nowhere, present himself as he did right then!
Then he made a sound, a long trilling sound that trailed off into the evening dusk. It was a wailing sound but there was a melody to it too--a musical effect that made me catch my breath. The bird bobbed along the ground and then went into the Copper Beach tree to my left. He sat on the branch for some time--the wailing musical sound was rich and melodious. I sat there listening to that bird for what seemed like many minutes. Then he flew off...made a steep turn in the deepening darkness and disappeared completely. I went in the house thinking about Fred--wondering if he was OK and then I slipped into bed...and sleep.
Fred was alone when he died that night--My sense was strong that this was the final time I would see him and sure enough, it was--The bird was a "foretelling" to me that his spirit was on it's way out of this world. I know, that by ancient symbolic tradition, birds are the bearer of the soul into the hereafter...
It was a very sad funeral; there were people from all over the world to pay respects. The UK was well represented and I understand the woman who he went to marry 10 years ago was there. She was friendly with several of the old families here in Southampton Village and was very active in the social scene at the Meadow Club.
I left the little church, Our Lady of Poland, and walked across the Village, past the Police station up on the hill where the old fort that was there when the British had occupied Southampton in 1773. I walked past the library and old Sea Captains house on the corner.
As I came around the corner of Hill and Jobs Lane I could hear a voice in the darkness, near Agawam Park.. It was faint but strong and it whelmed up in an emotional and forceful tone behind me--I recognized it as the Pearl Fishers duet. I waited to hear the other voice, the other tenor who would complete the duet. I turned around; no one was there.
There was no other voice....then there was silence and I wondered if there really had been a singer--maybe that voice was just coming from my memory. I looked around to see if there were other people anywhere in the vicinity; I saw only a man and a woman crossing the park, going into Little Red for supper.
There was complete and total silence now and I felt a chill as I pulled my sweater closer around me and walked up the hill.
I walked steadily as the wind suddenly came up, pushing against me as I walked; blowing against me as I bent into the summer wind.