We followed one path and found ourselves in a wooded area. We realized we were lost or maybe just turned around a bit. We could again hear those howling moans in the trees but we were brave, ’cause it was daylight. There was, however, a lively discussion about which direction to turn and we decided it was better to stay together than to be lost alone.
Eventually we came to a clearing where we saw a building that was one of the largest houses we’d ever seen on our hill. It was a two-story, dark weathered-siding, vacant-looking structure. The large wooden-planked wrap-around porch had overgrown vines that were doing their part to keep the railings intact. The structure’s shape was not like the little summer bungalows being built on our dirt road but more like some of the bigger houses in town. I knew this meant it was old.
We approached it cautiously.
We were curious and wanted to look inside a window to get a clue as to who might have lived in a place like this. We took turns pushing each other closer to it.
As we crept up the steps and onto the porch, we could see sheet-covered furniture through the un-draped windows. My imagination ran wild with possible scenarios. But they were possibilities shaped by the media of the time…Oh my gosh, it’s the Pscyho house!
Suddenly an old man appeared from behind a corner of the porch.
We froze. Vivian whispered, “Say something.” I wanted to say “we’re just looking,” but it came out more like, “mmmm, uhhhh.” We were on his property. I knew we were in big trouble.
He informed us he was the caretaker and asked us what we were doing.
Psycho house…caretaker…middle of who-knows-where…we backed up slowly keeping our eyes fixed on him.
As we made a slow but steady retreat, I remember him saying something like: “Since you’re here, wanna look around?”
OK, maybe he was going to be friendly. We stopped our retreat but kept our eyes fixed on him.
He stepped off the porch and walked toward a spot in the yard where there was wood in the grass.
We moved from the house and kept our distance from the caretaker.
He reached for a big four-foot square piece of wood laying on the ground. As he tilted it up onto its side, he revealed a huge hole in the ground.
He asked if we knew what it was. We shook our wide-eyed inquisitive little heads, “No.”
“Look,” he said. We craned our necks and leaned forward with curiosity while holding onto each other.
“It’s a well…” he said, “for pushing little girls, like you, down into!” He lurched in our direction and started to laugh.
We screamed, dropped our berries and ran. Somehow we knew exactly which way was home and got there in seconds flat.
The caretaker didn’t follow us, he was, what I’d call a primitive home security system. We never told our folks because they would have yelled at us for trespassing.
Years later, I discovered that the house on the hill wasn’t “haunted” but there was something extra special about it. In 1891, it had been the studio and residence of William Merritt Chase, the famous painter who was the headmaster of the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art. His homestead was one of only a few structures built in “the Hills” in the late 1800′s that somehow survived the era of the frequent railroad fires. Today, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
When my Dad built our house he put a large picture window in the living room and it framed the view of the sandy dunes sloping down to the bay. Dad may never have heard of William Merritt Chase or his Shinnecock landscapes but he had enough artistic sensibility to know what he liked when he saw it. I’m sure Dad never imagined a time when his views would be gone. But views change as have mine. The pine trees have grown tall and more houses have replaced the wild blueberries.
The Shinnecock views I enjoy today are from walks on the beach and Chase’s landscapes. As for those views I had as a kid, when I was 10, when time, distance and space seemed endless, those innocent, fleeting, “forever” views now live in the eyes of my grandchildren.
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