We could tumble out of” Tree Top” into shallow and saltyTianaBay. Faded canvass rafts were our transports over beds of eel grass the home of short tempered blue claws and where menacing tank like horse shoe crabs scraped the bay’s bottom. My sisters and I slide off the floats waist high and sunk our feet into the sand bar. We rarely went beyond the safety of that space. There was no life guard; we had each other.
Two mulberry trees at either end of a hedge separated the Huggin’s house from a sun baked open field that led to the bulkhead. This was our favorite spot to eat watermelon and spit out the black seeds like machine gun fire. I pictured that space someday turning into a patch fat with the summery pink fruit webbed together with green vines. When I wanted to be alone, I’d crawl under the weeping branches of the mulberry tree that draped to the ground like ribbons from a maypole loaded with dark purple berries. It was a great place to hide shaded and cool.
Across a stretch of land dotted with wild blueberries was a cove. Some days Suzan and I would escape from our younger sisters and crouch in the tall grasses to spy on the local boys skinny dipping. When our father took us snapper fishing there, we looked shyly at the boys with bamboo rods and colored poppers knowing they were tan from head to toe.
We shared our summers with the McCraves and the Kellys. Joan McCrave was my mother’s oldest and best friend. Her handsome husband Jimmy was a New York Citycop who because of shift work was around during the week. He was the one who blew up the tubes, planted the beach umbrellas and confiscated fireworks for us for the 4th of July. Mari Kelly, my mother’s cousin, took us on adventures. She’d load us dressed in our pajamas into her station wagon with beach chairs strapped to the roof and drove to the Drive-in Movie onFlanders Road, in Riverhead. I had my first fresh water swimming experience when she introduced us to Trout Pond inSouthampton. It made me appreciate the buoyancy of salt water.
Our parents made us take swimming lessons atMeschuttBeachwhich we nicknamed Jim’s Beach after Jimmy McCrave. As soon as Red Cross swimming instructions were over, the adults rounded up the kids and herded us to the ocean. My sisters and I all wore red bathing caps. You could count the dozen or so families onPonquogueBeach.
Not so any more. The beach may be crowded, but the Ponquogue Pavillon is the only building for a mile in either direction which makes our beach one of the most beautiful. When we were kids there was a structure with a bathroom, salt water shower and stalls for changing. The end one had a peek hole into the boys’ side. After a few incidents it was boarded up.
A snack shack sat on the sand next to the changing area. Shutters held up by hooks created an opening where Mrs. Lopez and her older daughter, both blondes, leaned over the counter to wait on customers. My sisters and I scoured the beach collecting bottles to redeem for coins to purchase pretzels and soda. Coach Lopez, the high school gym teacher, was the lifeguard.
Today I open the truck of my car parked by the Coast Guard Station and grab a garbage bag and a long handled pick. I decide to tidy up for our visitors who someday, moved by memories of the lazy days of summer lying on a raft in the bay or feeling like an eleven year old bobbing in the ocean, may join us year round residents.
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