Born in 1947, I was privileged to grow up in the 1950’s on an idyllic street in Brooklyn.
The kind of street that was lined with chestnut and maple trees, tall enough to arch gracefully over the length of Richmond Street.
Each house was different, but almost all had a front porch complete with rocking chairs.
No one moved out and no one moved in, everyone just seemed to have been there forever.
The stern Mr Pearson, the smiling Mr Brenner, who always swept his sidewalk on saturday mornings in his white sailor’s cap, and our very proper neighbors Mr & Mrs Ashton (Joe & Alice to the grown-ups)
Mr Ashton was an elegant tall man who had been an executive with the New York Central Railroad (he referred to himself proudly as a ‘Railroad Man’). Mrs Ashton collected Wedgewood China, and hand painted floral designs on serving trays. She also kept a perennial garden.
They were lovely people, who always made time to talk to me, even when I interrupted their dinner (their dinner table was at a window overlooking our side yard.
As a boy, I was lucky enough to occasionally go salt water fishing with my aunt & uncle out on Jamaica Bay. We caught Flounder, Fluke, & Blue Claw Crab.
When I received my very own fishing pole as a gift for my 10th birthday, I showed it to Mr Ashton. He said wait here, I have something for you too. When he came back he was carrying the best looking fishing knife I had ever seen. He said, When I was your age my Dad gave me this knife, it’s over 50 years old, and It’s time to pass it along, — it’s yours now, Happy Birthday. That was 1957, so it is now over a hundred years old.
I was dumbfounded. He said you can scratch off my initials on the scabbard, and add your own. Just promise me you’ll be careful.
I thanked him, and promised that I would.
I ran right into my room and went to work. I’m sad to say that it never occurred to me to honor him by leaving HIS initials on it, until someone pointed that out to me about a week later.
To this day, every time I see my crude initials under his elegant sea horse, and above the spot that used to read JA I cringe.
Artifacts like this are not meant to be owned, but rather to be ‘In our care’ until such time as they are passed along with the generosity and elegance of Mr Ashton, The Railroad Man.
Most of us are creatures of comfort. In the larger scheme of things the range in which we prefer to operate is incredibly narrow. There are those brave adventurers who explore, document, gather news, or advance science against all odds and in the face of real danger. They are first hand reporters and recorders, they are where the stuff is happening, they are primary witnesses.
We admire them, salute them, and follow them,….from a comfortable distance. We get most of what we know, second hand ( if we’re lucky), more likely 3rd or 4th or 10th hand, and we think “Ain’t technology Grand ?”
Technology IS grand and marvelous in it’s own way, but it is not a complete substitute for ‘Being There’, seeing for ourselves, even in a small way.
I have been more inclined then most to take the easy way, or the safe way so this is in no way an admonition to others but more a record of what happens to a couch potato when you roll him out among real stuff.
The anticipation of Hurricane Earl was considerable, with the possibility of a direct hit on the East End. I came out to do what I could to secure the house both inside and out, and lay in emergency supplies.
As time passed the threat of a really bad storm diminished but it was a hurricane none the less.
It was raining heavily, with fairly strong winds as I made my way down to the bluffs. I wanted to see for myself how the ocean behaved when driven by a large storm— even though the storm had turned out to sea.
The ocean appeared to be boiling, white with foam and full of cross currents, the breakers were yellow from having picked up so much sand. There was no beach below the cliffs, and the tall cliffs appeared frail against the onslaught.
It was Terrible and it was Beautiful, Cubic Miles of Sea water and sand tossed about and pushed over land. Waves so large that some were breaking a quarter mile out to sea.
There is a long history of the terrible and the beautiful in Art, I thought of JMW Turner.
I tried to document a bit of what I saw. This was not a big deal, it was not dangerous, and there was no real risk involved but in retrospect I am glad I went to look, and to see -First Hand.
I thought THIS is Awesome in the real sense of the word. All that other stuff usually referred to as awesome, ……isn’t.
I will say however, If this was a small storm, I hope I never see a big one.
Page 12 of 17