Now, in the final stage of my life, I tend to look back at the past, with one particular memory standing out: childhood summers I spent in Peconic in the early ’40s
In 1939, my parents purchased a cottage in this little North Fork hamlet for the grand sum of $2,000, and we kids, along with our mom, would spend our summer weekends there. Our stepfather, incidentally, was the head butcher of an A&P in Valley Stream, with a title of “Meat Head.”
We lived our Peconic summers under primitive conditions. We would use a bucket of water borrowed from a neighbor to prime our kitchen pump, so we could have passable, although off-taste water for drinking and boiling purposes. Next, we would arrange for the local iceman to bring a huge block of ice for our icebox. It would keep our food cold and fresh for about a week.
No electricity, so we used kerosene lamps as evenings approached. This was a bit hard on our eyes for reading, but it sufficed for playing dominoes. This was the pre-television era, so we had a love for books instilled from our earliest days. Our most unpleasant experience was having to use an outhouse.
Our first adventure of the day was a one-mile walk to pick up the mail. Peconic’s modest hub consisted of a post office and a sort-of general store, where we would treat ourselves to 5-cent ice cream cones. A couple of blocks north of the cottage was the Long Island Sound, where we spent a good part of our day, swimming and fishing. One day I had a memorable swimming experience. I had ventured out from the shore about 200 yards, when suddenly a group of dolphins appeared. This was a shock to me, though I discovered later that these fish occasionally visit northern waters. They seemed curious when they spotted me, swam up very close, and then went on their way.
Blowfish were rampant back then, and serious fishermen considered them a nuisance, but actually, after being cleaned and fried with a little flour and butter, they proved to be a delicious meal.
And clams, widely available in nearby Goldsmith Bay, made for a hearty chowder. Finally, behind the cottage there were fields of blackberries. With some milk and sugar they made for a modest breakfast. Imagine, three tasty meals, no cost.
All of this came to an abrupt end in the fall of 1945, when our Peconic cottage was vandalized and destroyed by fire, thus forcing me to bid farewell to this very important rite of passage.