Davis Park Memories

My brothers (Bill, Peter and Ed) and I grew up summers at “our” house in Davis Park. Actually, it belonged to my Great Uncle Walter, who was my Mom’s uncle. I remember seeing the deed that showed he actually homesteaded the property on the bay side of Davis Park early in the 20th century! Spending our summers there during the late ‘60s to the mid-‘70s was simply magical. Every summer started with a milkshake and burger at Flo’s roadside burger stand in Blue Point before you got on the ferry.

Photo Courtesy of Jud Whitehorn

Our entire summer wardrobe consisted of three pairs of clam diggers (knee length bathing shorts with a draw string to keep them from falling off our then-skinny selves), a few T-shirts (rarely worn and likely that is the source of current skin cancer spots), and a pair of khakis for Church or the occasional dinner at the Casino (a rare treat, as the Casino was for the grownups – even though at that time it was little more than a hamburger stand). None of us recall fancy Fire Island sweatshirts, or even that sweatshirts were particularly prevalent at the time. Our Mom would pack one fisherman’s knit sweater for each of us that would last the summer and was probably never washed. The first few days were the only days for flip-flops, then referred to as thongs. (But we can’t say that we wore thongs anymore without making our kids choke!) Anyway, after those first few days, our feet toughened up, never to see footwear again for the rest of the summer.

At church on Sunday, the priest would let us altar boys, and sometimes even altar girls (very progressive for the times) serve without shoes. There were some put-on-your-Ked’s (sneakers) opportunities, such as when we would go blowfish spearing, clamming, or just as horseshoe crab precaution, but we were mostly barefoot for the summer.

Horseshoe crabs, by the way, were in the thousands! You literally could not walk 50 feet on the bay side beach without stepping on or around some. We thought of them as living dinosaurs.

There was the Six-ish, held each Saturday evening about 6 p.m. Residents and day-trippers alike would congregate on the harbor dock, which was the community’s unofficial center. It was the original BYO. The drinking age then was 18, but it was not strictly observed at the Six-ish. Rules about fire safety were also somewhat lax. Several hibachis were lit off the sterns of boats at the east end of the harbor where an endless number of clams would be cooking. Once a clam opened, it was passed to makeshift serving tables (actually wagons) and anyone passing by was welcome to eat one. The wagons had a variety of other hors d’oeuvres, including miniature hot dogs, each donated by one or more of the participants.

Peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonder Bread was our primary source of sustenance all summer long. Ham steaks on the grill (gosh they were good), mac & cheese, as well as lots of freshly caught crabs, blowfish, flounder, fluke, snapper, and fresh clams – right out of the bay – just eat ‘em raw or wait until they open on the grill.

You don’t see many 10-year-old’s carrying knives on Fire Island today, but we did then. We used our knives to fillet the fish we caught, scaled, and shucked. Occasionally our knives served as a spear when tied to a broom pole. Blowfish and eggs were a special Sunday morning breakfast treat. Blowfish were an easy fish to clean – you simply chopped off the head and turned the tail inside out.

There were some boundaries to our freedom: no going east of our Great Uncle’s house on Pepperidge Walk, and no going west of the end of Sandpiper Walk, where my parents’ friends had a home. No going in the ocean or the bay without someone knowing you were in there. No walks to Watch Hill unless with a group and adults were aware. Today, I suspect 8- to 14-year- olds have somewhat stricter rules.

Jake Springhorn was a world class sailor. A family friend, his son was not far from my age and so much better at sailing than anyone in our family that it hurt. We were all jealous. Even worse, our younger cousin Pam … a girl … easily outperformed us in a sailboat. In those days and at that age, that was humiliating! But then, almost all of the kids were better at sailing than we were. Still, we enjoyed our adventures on Sunfish, Sailfish and Snarks (a Styrofoam sailboat), though we never really got good at any of them.

Selling painted shells, earning a dollar or two in luggage fares from wagon service for folks coming off the ferry, and raking seaweed on the bay side earned you enough cash for ice cream. And nothing was better than ice cream on the boardwalk in Davis Park on a hot summer day.