|Mike Keegan, back row, left, 1959|
pic by Duncan Dobie
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)
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
A Tribute to Michael
By Duncan Dobie
I miss you Michael and I didn’t even know you. At least, I haven’t known you or seen you in 55 years. But in a lot of ways you’ve been with me all these many years because of a gift you gave me when I used to know you. It was the gift of being my friend and sharing the most special summers of my life. I loved you back then and I loved all the things we shared and all the friends we had during those glorious summer days so long ago.
I know I have forgotten a great deal about that magical time, but one thing I still remember is that you always wore a special smile on your face, almost a saintly or angelic smile, as if you were too good to live in this often cruel and disappointing world we all somehow seem to suffer through day by day. But we’ll keep that between us because I don’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends by comparing you to an angel. It’s true nonetheless. You had a lot of goodness in your soul back then and I have a feeling it stayed with you all these many years and maybe even grew more powerful over time right up until the end. That’s the way goodness operates, you know, and I’m sure you shared it generously with your family and friends all these years.
Perhaps for a time we were all too good for this world, because we shared something very few people ever get to experience in life. Truly, we shared a little piece of heaven on earth during an innocent and naïve time that few American children will ever get to see or understand. And although we can never bring back those magical times, no one can ever take them away...
Saltaire 1959 -
Labor Day. End of the season. End of another all-too-short summer. Potato sack races, blue and gold teams, egg tosses, smiling faces of proud parents in the bleachers, running races and all of the related activities. Ten bright-eyed and eager boys – most of whom had been summer friends for years – each with their own special talents and personalities. The Saltaire Gang. Even though some faces are missing, the photo tells a story. Ten bright-eyed and eager boys grabbing every bit of life they could squeeze out of every day during one of the most memorable times in their lives.
Some tall, some short, some blond, some dark haired. All well-tanned from days and weeks spent under that one-of-a-kind Fire Island sun. Standing together in that sacred field-of-dreams where they had played countless afternoon baseball games in the sweltering heat before heading down to the dock for an hour or two of pot luck fishing or waiting for the afternoon ferry.
Standing together on that hallowed field where for years the daily “classes” with Uncle Pete always brought some exciting new adventure. Ten bright-eyed and eager boys seizing the day, living for the moment and giving little thought to what might lay ahead. How could they possibly have known at the time that they were well on their way down the super speedway of life and that the years and decades would fly by in the blink of an eye and some day they would all be older, wiser and doing the same things with their beloved grandchildren they had once done.They could never get enough of that good life that dangled temptingly in front of them until one day they found themselves looking back and reflecting upon those years like the chapters in a book that had somehow been written in advance by some unknown author in the sky.
And what were some of those cherished things they all shared in common? Joy, friendship, family love, and being impacted in a timeless place where for a while during each summer time really did seem to stand still. And to the man, even though that roller-coaster ride of life raged on after those carefree days ended, the impact of the summers shared together in that timeless place affected their later lives beyond measure.
A cheap Brownie camera. Ten smiling boys on a field. The picture haunts me to this day. Was it a vision of things to come? Was it the beginning of something or the end? In a way it was both. For the boy standing behind the camera, this Labor Day photo marked the end of an era, the last summer he would ever spend in his island paradise. So it was both a bittersweet ending and an unsure beginning. He would never see those special friends depicted in the photo again and he knew it. That knowledge hurt deeply. Despite the pain, he knew he also had a lifetime of memories and special times to relish.
Every good photograph should tell a story. Does this one tell the story of sand, sea gulls, ocean waves, wooden boats, sunburn, baseball mitts, the smell of salt water, golden days gone by, smiles, tears, love of life, the exuberance of youth, and priceless friendships that live beyond the grave on an island community like none other in the world? I hope so. God I hope so.
For the 10 innocent and naïve young boys pictured who all wanted to reach for the stars and seize life by the throat, as well as for the ones not pictured, Saltaire was a gift. Maybe one of the most important gifts any of them would ever receive. I have to believe that each of those lives were richer because of that place in the sun. And without question, mine is much richer because of them. Thanks Michael. Thanks Larry. Thanks Johnny. Thanks Danny. Thanks Jimmy. Thanks Beaver. I love you all and I have missed you for 55 years.…. I hope Fire Island made me a better person. I hope some of that goodness Michael had in his soul rubbed off on me just a little bit.…