On a Sunday at mid-day, any Sunday, any time of year, it is odd to find the Neck Road so empty one can stop and take a photo without pulling over, without waiting for at least one vehicle to pass. Even in winter it is dump day.
It was back when the dump was a casual operation, when refuse was less and there was no structure, no gate, no attendant. It was an adventure when I was little, a rare excursion, a family
outing, to the other side of the Neck. We did not live in a disposable world, and I am horrified now at the amount of recyclables one person can generate. There are only so many plastic containers that can be saved for reuse.
The road wasn’t paved, the dust was kept down with an occasional application of crankcase oil. Whatever was dumped was burned occasionally, with a hope a wind out of the east wouldn’t shift, then the charred remains were pushed back into the swamp.
People wouldn’t want to back up to the new tide-line of trash for fear of nails left behind so there was usually an expanse of nearly bare earth, glittering with broken glass shards, between
that black edge and the new dumping ground.
Then people started calling upstate complaining of the illegal burning whenever the smoke rose from the dump. The fire department would go down and douse the smoldering pile, probably drawing water from the swamp into which it ultimately would all be pushed. Eventually someone came out and there was an edict issued that the town had to clean out the mess
it had made of the swamp, digging down to virgin soil.
And, of course, if didn’t quite happen right away and the state summoned the Council — back before there was a town manager — to Providence. Everyone involved is gone but it was related to me by someone there that in the spat that followed the meeting, the First Warden was asked why he signed the document assuring the state all would be taken care of, if he had no intention of seeing that the promise was honored. His response was a testy “well, they went away, didn’t they?”
The road may have been empty on Sunday but the landscape was so altered from those days that were simpler fundamentally because there just were not so many people. There can be so
much read from that short stretch of road, read and remembered.
I did not want to chance fate and attract traffic so I did not get out of the car to take the photograph from the center line. If I had I might have remembered sooner two wide white bands painted
on the road by the high school boys, back before I was close to high school age. One was between the Breakers and the Anderson house, more recently called the Capt. Willis, the other to
the south, just beyond the entrance to Scotch Beach. It was their little drag strip, a short but straight piece of road with a fairly open view to the south.
One of those high school boys lived at his family’s Old Town Inn and he and his friends had a worn track in the back lot, what I want to call an oval but was likely more an ellipse, or close to
one. Whenever we passed it my mother would remark that she had been told of the gardens that had been there once.
Now that space is every year growing closer to that older glory and it is difficult to imagine the big cars of the late fifties making their way around the space.
The great difference all across the island, the one that is more pronounced every year is the greenery, the landscaping, the rows of privet that were sparse little bushes when they were planted and have turned into great thick walls. There is so much more traffic, if is difficult to fault people for wanting some buffer but it is a reminder that so few people are just sitting on the porch, waving at passing traffic, calling out a greeting.
One of the few remaining is the little Saylor Cottage, on a rise north of the Breakers, that most photographed, most painted, most coveted, that meets very few of the supposed needs of today’s market. It was just a shed hauled from town, its addition a chicken coop on the property, a porch built around tying the pieces together. An older couple, a few owners back, the story was, tired of their grown children and moved out of the “big” house to their own place, from where they could happily watch the traffic on Corn Neck. They and their dog.
I found a television station which runs old programs, one of them the “Andy Griffith Show.” When it came on the air I was in school and thought Mayberry quite the place if somewhat one dimensional, although I am sure I did not think in such terms at the time. It wasn’t a big, fancy suburban place of those late fifties shows, but they had a sheriff and a deputy who hung out in
a real office with a jail in it, they had a movie theater for more than a few weeks in the summer, they had a soda fountain for more than a few weeks in the summer, and a barber shop more
than a single day a week and so on.
They probably had a dump where the boys shot rats at night but I don’t remember that, it wouldn’t have interested me.
It was set in North Carolina but seemed to have a constant climate of comfortable summer, especially on those long lazy evenings when they sat out on their front porches and talked of
driving to the next town for a different movie but never quite went, just stayed, conversing, watching passers-by, just enjoying the peace of a quiet town at day’s end.
Especially at the close of the first full day of summer.