A coastal dweller

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 9:30pm

In 1957 our dad took us all to Galilee — The Point — in his two-tone green ’55 Plymouth sedan to walk along the bulkheads and docks. I clearly remember walking by a gallows frame where some giant tuna hung, where they were being weighed — before they were gutted and headed. The frame was right about where the south ferry ramp is now situated — the Rhode Island Tuna Tournament was once based there. I remembered the fish processing plant and the smell of this salty piece of barrier beach. I also remembered thinking to myself that I was going to be in this place for a long, long time. It was an intuitive nod to my future, and I was right. I’m still here working and living in Galilee. That day was a pivotal moment for a seven-year-old kid.

Sixty-two years later I now look back and figure it’s simply a matter of where I was supposed to be in my life. We all share the same task of figuring out where we’ll play our hand as we grow and move in our own direction. It’s our business to figure out how this will play out in our own lives.

In the 60s, we had a little summer shack in Breakwater Village over near the Point Judith Lighthouse. After spending some time at my aunt’s place there — having summer cookouts — my mom and dad got it in their sights to maybe get a little place of their own to get us kids out of the city in the summertime. That’s exactly what they did and it was the best thing they could’ve done for their four growing children, ranging in age from four to 13.

It was a great little windy summer shack my dad scored for short money. I remember him walking up the small hill from my aunt’s place, and he cut an older guy a check after a very short talk. In retrospect, I think my dad was scoping out his place for some time, and when the time was right, he made his move — he was a very quiet and observant guy.

The place he bought had a view of Block Island from the kitchen table. Later, my dad built a small deck, which allowed a view of Newport, Block Island, and the Point Judith Lighthouse.

Recently, my brother Pat transferred to digital format some old family films that were shot on a Super 8 rig by my dad: Christmas mornings — those blinding lights! — family picnics at my aunt’s summer house, and various moments of his kids. There was footage of my brother and his buddies messing around on a diving board at the village beach doing gangly and goofy teenage dives. There was footage he took of me and a friend while surfing. (See below.)

In ’65, I started chasing waves around Point Judith: the lighthouse, the mussel beds, a.k.a., K-39, Pilgrim and Conant Avenues. These were uncrowded spots in the early 60s. My friend Bobby and I would get up at first light, and go check the surf. If it was rideable, we were all in and we’d walk to the break by sharing the load of carrying our boards. I’d grab the noses, and Bobby would grab the fins. One day my dad followed us in his Rambler American to the break at Pilgrim Avenue, and shot some footage in some decent shoulder-high waves.

My dad crouched down on the rocks and shot about five minutes of me and Bobby having a good teenaged surf session — my dad could read the line-up, and got us riding the maximum length of the wave — kicking out right near the rocks. The film shows two skinny knee-paddling guys, age 15, each about 148 pounds with no sunblock, and no leashes, dropping into every wave they could. We appear to have a bit of a style emerging in contrast to our awkward teenage posture. These memories are priceless, and I can’t believe that the film did not fade after 53 years of sitting in a box in my little brother’s attic. This is also a reminder as to how important this place was becoming to me. Bob still has a house there, and I have lived a couple of miles from this place for the past 55 years.  

A constant in my life as a kid and throughout adulthood has been spending lots of time at the Point Judith Lighthouse: surfing, reading, thinking, or running the dogs. Moreover, I’ve looked at it from different points of view.

For example, I can see this peninsula while traveling over the Pell Bridge, while sailing my boat off Jamestown. Also, I can see it from Block Island, or from any point along the south coast of Rhode Island — as far as Watch Hill. When I go to visit friends on Martha’s Vineyard, the first thing I do is take a cruise out to the Aquinnah Lighthouse, and look at the Point Judith Light. I stop by the lighthouse every day before and after work.

I ran the dogs there this morning.