If there was a man who could tell me, it was Carleton Kelsey. Some Sundays after the game I didn’t go home. Tucked into a quiet corner of the Amagansett Library, sitting on my baseball mitt, I worked my way through a pile of books. You find anything? Carleton would ask, oracle and librarian in one—of shrunken frame, a mischievous grin lighting up his face, fine gray hairs neatly combed over his pate, small round glasses, a long khaki-colored shirt untucked. The folk laureate of the East End, he knew the names and the dates, the places and the stories—my first lesson in what it meant to be from somewhere, irreversibly of somewhere.
Born before the Great War, Carleton lived to smile benignly on the foolishness of the new century. Let me show you something, he would say, indicating some hardcover curiosity on the main display table. I would run my hands along the plastic covers on the dust jackets. When he was my age, I realized, veterans of the Civil War and survivors of the Potato Famine would still have been alive on Long Island. The whaling fleets of Sag Harbor, many of which dashed off to the California Gold Rush and never returned, would not have been such a distant memory. So great was that madness for gold, I later learned, that the miners headed straight for the hills, abandoning hundreds of ships at San Francisco, later used as landfill for the growing city. They still turn up from time to time, the hulks and hulls of those ships buried beneath the city. Vessels that set out from Gardiners Bay among them, I like to think, giving ghostly salute from a distant meridian.
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