Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Reunion in Saltaire

Reunion in Saltaire (NY)
by Diane P. McManus

All that we do

Is touched with ocean, yet we remain
On the shore of what we know.--

Richard Wilbur,
"For Dudley"

Clea once asked him: "Do you not miss the sea, Scobie?" and the old man replied simply, without hesitation, "Every night I put to sea in my dreams."--

Lawrence Durrell, "Justine"

And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.--

Matthew Arnold, "The Buried Life"

***I spent the weekend in Saltaire for the "Great Saltaire Reunion and Photo Exchange"This was Jim O'Hare's inspiration--a gathering of families past and present with connections to this windblown, weatherbeaten, vibrant, seagull and redwing blackbird and mosquito and butterfly and deer and dog and cat and sometimes-more-sometimes-less people populated village.We come back with memories, some etched more deeply than cameras can penetrate.We remember variously ... swimming and sailing lessons ... the ping of tennis balls on Marine Walk (I'd wake up to the sound of them as I slept in the McManus house. This was reassuring in an odd way, as were the sounds of motorboats on the bay.)We remember variously ... hoping this would be the year our legs would carry us faster than we dreamed and we'd win a ribbon or even one of the coveted medals in the Labor Day races.
***I was not gifted with sprint speed (or, as I'm learning now, long distance speed--although at least long-term fitness), so these ribbons and medals always eluded me, as did athletic prowess generally. However, there was a blessed exception: One day, we were taken to what I think was a dual "track meet" (and we are not talking about those Olympic ovals and the 200 or 400, but rather fenced in playing fields and at most the 50 yard dash) against Ocean Beach on their home turf. The event was the "three-legged race," involving two people running yoked together by one person's right leg, the other's left. Since I found it a challenge simply to run by myself, the three-legged race was not one that ever interested me. But for some reason, this sentiment seemed to be shared by too many people on that day, and thus they didn't have enough participants in either my age group or the one younger than mine. So they put the two age groups together in one event and drafted my cousin Janet and me to be partners. Oddly, I found this freeing. As I hadn't volunteered for the event, there was no pressure. We were, in fact, coming through in a pinch to help swell the ranks of participants. So we owed nothing except to give it a try. The rest was gravy.With that in mind, we took our place at the start, and at the sound of the whistle (or whatever way "go" was signaled), set off. At the finish, which couldn't have been more than 50 yards away, if that, we were still on our feet, which we counted as a victory in itself. But even better than that, we were the third of three pairs who managed to reach the finish without being tangled up and falling. It was a race of attrition, one might say, and we survived. So we both received white third-place ribbons. I have no idea where mine is now, but it lives in my memory as my only "track meet" award in those days.
***We remember both the endless sun and salt water and days spent in swimsuits, barefoot, being pulled in or pulling wagons to and from the ferries, to and from the playground, to and from the market and "candy store" (and the ice cream cones ... these, for me, always tasted best on the dock where I'd sit on one of the benches and watch the sailing races).
***We remember storms--windows rattling, wind howling. One of these storms kept Liz and me awake in the Bentley house one night, wondering if we'd have to get up and flee the island in the middle of the night. Night storms had an edginess to them that multiplied their fear power. But daytime storms could rattle nerves as well as window.There was the storm that brewed as we made our way back from a sailing picnic. The route there was riddled with lack of wind and constant running aground, aggravating us all, especially our skipper, Rich. But the sail back to our starting point (I have dim memories of eating hot dogs or some such during the picnic itself) tried not our patience but our courage. The boat heeled sometimes to the point where a capsize seemed imminent. The sky darkened, the wind velocity increased, and we reached anchor as the rain began in earnest. We would all have tied for awards in our sprint back to the house.Then we watched as boats were shaken by waves, some of theme capsizing or breaking--somehow the Mercury survived unscathed, but the little "Flitefish" Dad had won in the Our Lady Star of the Sea bazaar didn't fare as well. It deteriorated into styrofoam pieces, some of which found new lives as mini surfboards to take to the ocean.
We remember heartbreak ... 1965 ... Vietnam heating up ... our last full August in Saltaire ... the loss of our Dad that winter ... the loss of so many McManus relatives: Grandma McManus, Uncle Charlie, Stephen, Frank; cousin Maria. Grandpa McManus. A run this past weekend took me past Our Lady Star of the Sea Church. While there was no mass due to threats of Hurricane Hannah and ferry cancellations, I stopped for some quiet prayer/meditation time. The shrine of Mary, the sign said, was the only remnant from the old church swept away by the hurricane of 1938. Mary's hand was missing, and the sign stated that it was not restored so people would remember the victims of the tragedy.A reminder of the permanence of grief and loss--and also the permanence of memory and the lives that inhabit memories. A reminder that people are irreplaceable. A reminder to remember this during the "din of strife" that somehow overpowers us in darker moments--a reminder to stop, listen, look into the eyes of those we love who are present now and who also are irreplaceable.
The weekend in Saltaire embraced storm and sun. Plans were made, only to be revised, remade--an impromptu party on Saturday night when the official reunion had to be postponed until Sunday due to the storm. The island has always listened more to nature than to people. Maybe this is what draws us all here and maybe this is why it lives so vibrantly in our memories--the sound of the wind, sometimes a demanding howl, sometimes a gentle rustle, when we least expect it, as we wait in line at the ATM or commute to work or worry about a deadline. My niece Becca, Rich tells me, chose to bring Madeleines to Saltaire, those pastries that sparked an author's memory of a magic moment from his past--and a seven-volume novel about memory. The strains of old songs from the 1950s and 1960s--the Kingston Trio that Dad loved--reverberate through the reunion. I remember....
***Each time I go to Fire Island, I find something new: a visit to the Fire Island branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club during one trip, a run to the inlet that inspired the memorial book my family and I created for my father ... my first time running the Saltaire 10k (will they resurrect that race?) ... climbing to the top of the lighthouse ... swimming across the bay ... And this time sleeping at the O'Shea house for the first time. And as I add these to the bank of memories, Fire Island lives in my present and future as well as my past. Fire Island isn't just a place a GPS can find. The dances go on--the dances of joy and loss, of conflict and forgiveness. The people we loved and sometimes hated and loved again continue to talk to us--but they and we live, and the storms and sunlight co-exist and dance together.

Editor's note: the above is published courtesy of Diane P. McManus and is pasted from her super website:

check it out it has a lot of good stuff


1 comment:

DPMcManus said...

Hey Jim,

Thanks for posting my story and the kind words about my blog, which I've used as a kind of online writer's notebook--much of it work in progress.

If anyone decides to have a look, I welcome your comments and suggestions!

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the stories on the Saltaire38 blog. They really bring back some memories--interestingly, of some things I haven't actually experienced! :)

Diane McManus