About a week ago I saw "the secret pond" for the first time in probably 45 years or more. On my last couple of visits to Mastic Beach, I drove by the woods that kept it secret and was tempted to visit it again. However to do so would of meant trespassing on someones property just to gain access to the path we used as little kids to reach it. It seems funny now as"trespassing" was something we never thought much about then. After all it was our land, our water, our town and we certainly never meant no harm to any of it.
This page will be one of those criss cross ones that touches on all three of the books I'm writing. It was prompted by several current events, not the least of which was a major fire that involved Eleven Fire Departments! and sent another piece of Mastic Beach up in smoke and a note from one of the main surviving characters of Buzz & Pee Wee, Butchie & Me.
I almost visited the pond one early evening in September 2001. I was down by "Dodi's Dock" taking pictures for Dock Of The Bay when I saw a family of deer heading into the woods and cattails that has surrounded and hid the pond for probably 60 years. I think it was the fact that the deer went in there first, that I decided to turn back.
I can't recall exactly when it was when we first discovered the pond , but I'm pretty sure it was the summer of 1955 or '56. Those were the Big Discovery Years for Butchie and me and the summer kids from the city, that we palled around with. It was during those years, we first were old enough to be allowed to venture a little further from our cluster of houses and yards on McKinley Drive. We hiked and biked all over back then .... going up to big town by ourselves, to the town dump to scavenge buggy wheels for making soap box cars, over to Beach One for swimming, and of course the pilgrimage to the mother of all explorations in sections 9 & 10,,,gathering the nerve to enter the abandoned and "haunted" Knapp Mansion.
We really weren't following Henry Thoreau's lead when we discovered the secret pond, actually we were drawn there by a large piece of industrial sculpture. A 1940's era Chrysler Corporation Taxi Cab like the DeSoto pictured here. Some part time summer resident (perhaps a cabbie?) had permanently parked it on the side yard of his bungalow on Lafayette drive. I never saw it move much less pick up a fare in the 14 years I lived in Mastic Beach.
Well with 8 kids piled into an old musty cab in the summer time you can bet they were not going to stay in there very long. We bailed out pretty quick and for some reason crossed the road and walked along the cattails that bordered the property of another closed up summer bungalow. (A lot of folks only came out on weekends or for a week or two in the summer). Just in the back of this cottage, there was a path going off into the woods and so we followed it. A few yards into the woods, you had to bend down to get through an arch of trees. It reminded me of the one in the 1940's film Enchanted Forest. It just added to the fun of following the trail.
I don't think any of us were prepared for what we saw about 50 feet further into the woods. There was pond with an island in the middle of it ! We walked around most of its eastern bank , just amazed at our discovery. For a week or two the 'secret pond' (so named because somehow we thought we were the only ones who must know about it), was one of our main play destinations. Before long we were talking about building a raft to sail out to the island. The first raft never got built, mainly because we all got tired of trying to cut up some green locust tree logs with some dull rusty saws. Several years later, some other kids left a small raft in there. It was made from some old wood flooring and when you stood on it it sank. Exploring the island someday would always stick in my mind.
I remember showing the secret pond to Larry and Dennis Schulz when school resumed, and it became sort of another regular place to play year round. One family custom I used to look forward to at the end of each school year was the promotion gift. I think it was the first year that I knew about the pond, and also the year I got promoted from 3rd grade into 5th , that I got an Ideal Toy Co, wind up speedboat. As soon as I got home I wasted no time in getting over to the pond which was about a half mile away.
I tied some string to the transom cleat, wound it up and watched her go .... sort of. Though it resembled the great Chris Craft, Dodge and Gar Wood classic mahogany speedboats, I always lusted over, Speed it did not have..... it barely moved .... giving one options for litigation over the false advertising on the box cover. But just as that disappointment was sinking in, true disaster struck. About 15 feet out the string came loose and I watched helplessly as my brand new boat headed for Gilligans Island with no definitive way of returning from a "3 hour cruise". I already knew that you didn't want to try wading out in this pond, because of my past experiences with the abandoned shoddy raft. Two feet under the dark brown and green water lay a bottom of pure mud. So I was at the mercy of the breeze and that June day there wasn't any.
The engine soon unwound and my little craft stopped dead out there. It slowly drifted around for what seemed forever before it started to drift back in my direction. Fueled with hope that I might get it back before I had to go home for supper, I climbed a tree and broke off a fairly long branch. It took a while, but I got my new boat back and kept it high and dry in my room after that. I wish I still had it though, as this one below I saw on E Bay sold for $150.00. Quite an appreciation for some molded plastic and a spring motor. My Mom spent $3.98 for mine at the 5&10 in town.
About 3 years passed before I would go boating in the pond again but this time it was for real. Butchie's friend Doug Percoco had got hold of a real kayak. It was made of green canvas stretched over a wood frame and looked just like the ones the Eskimos had. And what better time for me to try it out than in Eskimo weather...the dead of winter.
It was either in December of 1958 or January of 59. I know that for sure because of who was with me the last time I took it out. I had been out in it a few times solo after school and always got back ok even though it did leak some. The canvas was fairly old and dried out . My last trip may of occurred during Christmas recess or a school snow day in January. I had told Guido Michelini a classmate about it. We were in 7-2 together and just starting to hang around a bit with each other. Guido's Mom , Inez worked with mine at Howard Johnson's and they socialized a bit. I just know that Guido came over one very snowy day and we lit out for the pond. He seemed to doubt that it could safely hold us both, but got in and we shoved off. We were just a little ways out to the Island when Guido yelled " I think we are sinking" Sure enough a tree branch came through the bottom and we were taking on water like the Titanic. I bailed out taking about two or three giant leaps through the water. Each time feeling myself sink deep into the muck. I turned around on the bank and there was Guido standing up holding the paddle as the little craft disappeared. He then walked into shore getting thoroughly soaked. As I mentioned it was about a half mile back to my house.... We arrived looking like two Eskimo Pies. My Mom called his and then she washed and dried his clothes. We spent the afternoon playing with my Marx Cape Canaveral Playset and although we continued with four and a half more years of school, that was the last time Guido ever came over my house.