I grew up in Sag Harbor, then a rustic, working-class community where my grandparents had first put down roots after spending time there on their honeymoon.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Sag Harbor was a child’s cocoon, populated by gentle, caring small-town folk, strikingly like the Mayberry we watched on “The Andy Griffith Show.” There was Marty the Barber, a kindly “uncle” who dispensed political wisdom along with fine haircuts. His recent death at age 97 so saddens me.
There was our landlord, Jack DeSantis, who had known my dad since kindergarten and whom I idolized because he’d been middleweight contender “Lightning” Jack DeSantis.
There was librarian Russella Hazard, who wouldn’t let me check out a book about the Lindbergh kidnapping because she thought it “too sad.”
There was “Nanny” Schweinsburg, the dear old lady who proclaimed each Christmas that it would be her last, and who became a surrogate grandmother to me.
There was Police Chief Ed Wagner, who lived just up the street from us and liked to sit on his porch with his dog “Mack” and watch my brother and me play ball.
There was “Doc” Holmberg, who’d make a house call to give my dad a shot and then help me with my homework. All in all, Sag Harbor was a safe and tender haven, the “UnHampton.”
In the summer of 1970, I had just finished a school year teaching at Northport High School and was awaiting my first year at Duke University School of Law. I’d returned to Sag Harbor for a job as a “special patrolman” with the Sag Harbor Police Department.
Mostly, it remained as it had been, with such great folks as John Harrington, the iconic small-town police chief who insisted on calling me “Muldoon” because “who ever heard of a Jewish cop?”
There was policewoman Mary Menaik, who somehow “mothered” all the children in the village and who taught me a considerable wisdom when she offhandedly remarked: “You know, Columbus was wrong — the world’s not round and it’s not flat; it’s crooked.”
There was Chet Blossick, the caretaker at Mashashimuet Park, who shucked oysters faster than anyone I’ve known and laughed uproariously at his own jokes.
But I also started seeing change. I no longer knew most everyone as I walked Main Street, chalking tires for overtime parking. It was exciting, in a way, as I met notables, such as playwright Lanford Wilson. But I felt a pang, realizing how wrong I’d been. No longer would the summer crowd evaporate on Labor Day. Sag Harbor was on the road to becoming “Sag Hampton.”
Now, I’m happy, mind you, for those who can afford the million-dollar prices to live in houses I remember were selling for $12,000. But 1970 taught me the meaning of the Thomas Wolfe aphorism: “You can’t go home again.”
Still and all, like the Welsh miner of fiction, I’ll always recall “how green” was my village.