The other morning as I set out for my walk, I was startled and then amazed to see a family of wild turkeys on the edge of the property where I live. The father (I’m guessing), his feathers glistening in the early morning light, led the way. Behind him were eight or nine walking balls of fluff, looking like the seeds you blow off a dandelion. They were struggling to climb over the smallest clumps of grass and I couldn’t help but smile, then laugh. Bringing up the rear, making sure no stragglers got left behind, was the mother, her multicolored body dappled in the just-dawn light.
I have all sorts of birds that come to hang out outside my windows at home. Jauntily crested blue jays, robins, red-winged blackbirds, wrens, chickadees, even a bright red, noisy cardinal. On my walk and at home I hear the plaintive cry of mourning doves and think of my father, who told me before his suicide that he would come back as one.
The thought of my father always takes me back to the 1970s and our house in Amagansett, down in Beach Hampton. We were a gang of three, my younger sister, Anne, and our friend Merrie, who lived two streets over from our house on Marine Boulevard. (My older sister Lisa was off being a tween and then a teenager with her own friends.) The three of us would set out, barefoot and in cut-off bluejeans and T-shirts, to explore the area from Gilbert’s Path (which we called the new road because it was just being built) to Mako Lane. Marine Boulevard, the dirt-paved Bluff Road, and all the lanes and drives in between. The soles of our feet got so thick they resembled moccasins.
When we got older and got bicycles we rode around the same turf, but missed so much of what we had seen and harvested on foot. Great fountains of honeysuckle, from which we would carefully remove the flowers, pinch out the pistil, and taste the drop of honey that blossomed at the tip. We were not allowed to eat between meals, so when we got hungry on our patrols we would pause to eat a dozen honeysuckles, quenching our thirst and quieting our hunger. (Or so it seemed.) The best find, a few houses east from the honeysuckle strands, were blackberries. Plump and juicy, staining our hands as we plucked and ate them. They were surrounded by thorns and you had to be willing to incur a few scratches to get at them.
There was a cranberry bog on Wyandanch Lane near our house, and at Thanksgiving my mother once sent us out wearing boots and bearing buckets to gather the fruit. I don’t think we gathered enough cranberries to make the dressing, but it felt good being out there harvesting in the warm November sun, backs bent to our work.
Another memory that comes to mind about those years is the constant sound of hammers and circular saws on wood as the houses were being worked on or new ones built. Today that sound is ubiquitous, as ever-bigger houses are built on the same small lots. I still find the sound soothing, serenading me back to a summer’s day.
Our old neighborhood now is unrecognizable. Great big Tudor mansions and sleek black glass monoliths have slowly replaced the simple cedar-shingled houses of my youth. The last fisherman’s cottage on Mako Lane was demolished recently and I felt a sadness and sense of loss creep into my heart when I heard the news.
Of course, Beach Hampton is prime real estate country. With its up-to-the-dunes ocean views and the down-homey feeling of the roads, on which one is still obliged to drive slowly. (When I was growing up, passing cars were so few and far between that, playing hula hoop in the road, we used to yell “Car!” in warning, as if a semi truck were barreling down on us.)
We had no lifeguards on our beach, but inherited wisdom told us to swim sideways, horizontal to the shore, if we were caught in a rip tide. The shark warning, if you were in the water, looked like a crowd of spectators at a sporting event, all clustered together on the shore screaming shark, shark, get out of the water. Sometimes we were too far out to hear them. In our Lilly Pulitzer bikinis we would swim out to where the boys sat on their surfboards, waiting for the next set. It was a fairly long swim so our habit was to hang onto the nose of their boards while we caught our breath.
There was an unspoken hierarchy that you never swam toward the board of someone else’s crush. Grasping the surfboard’s nose put you right up close and cozy with the surfer. I can still remember Doug Banfield and his maroon longboard. They were all longboards back then, until Doug Kane showed up with a white Bolt shortboard and showed us all what it meant to boogie on the waves.
Nighttimes were for bonfires on the beach and we’d split up in all directions to gather firewood. Driftwood, branches, anything that would burn. Our form of courtship involved being asked to go collect wood with a boy. Sometimes the searching was interrupted by kissing as we explored ourselves and our blooming sexuality.
Once we got the fire started we would roll on the biggest log of wood we had found, letting it burn for hours as we sat cross-legged drinking illicit beer. When I crawled between the sheets of my bed at the end of the evening I could smell the fire in the strands of my long brown hair.
Thinking about those years both takes me back in time and roots me firmly in the present. There is a mother deer who walks outside my sliding glass door with her fawn, who is all white-speckled and wobbly kneed. Suddenly last week the fawn was joined by another one, this one even smaller and more spotted. They like to graze on the lawn outside my house and the mother’s ears and eyes keep a watchful safety net around them. They make me think of parenthood and its responsibilities, about the fleeting nature of youth.
Time moves on and things die and are born, all within the same circle of life. I treasure my memories as I do my morning walks, both full of boundless possibility and the smell of salt in the air.
Jennifer Farbar is at work on a memoir. She lives in East Hampton.