On Monday morning, all the pews in the Bridgehampton Catholic Church were filled for Jack Musnicki’s funeral. Jack was the father of a number of my friends, Bridgehampton kids whom I got to know only later in life, the divide between that hamlet and East Hampton being what it is.
I met Jack relatively recently, too, but in him I found someone who reminded me of my own father, had he lived, as Jack did, into his 70s. The similarities between the two were of temperament and background. Both were sons of the land: Jack, of a Bridgehampton farming family, my father, from people whose roots here went back centuries on his mother’s side.
I got to know Jack through his garden at the back of a long, narrow field well south of the highway in Bridgehampton, where he grew trees and ornamental shrubs. I was honored to be among a select few invited to pick tomatoes there when the crop was good, which was most years other than this one.
The handful of times I made it there, Jack would be on hand with specific instructions about which rows to pick and how to do it. It was clear that not just anyone would be allowed into his rows. I tried to repay his generosity with slabs of bluefish fresh from our home smoker and beach-plum jelly if and when I made some. I may still have a jar or two of tomatoes from Jack’s field that I put up last year.
Jack’s funeral Mass was, I heard later, among the largest, if not the largest, the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary had seen for an event of any sort in quite some time. The Rev. Ron Richardson made a point a couple of times about the bittersweet confluence of the harvest and Jack’s death. At this time of year, he said, life comes into its fullness, and in one way of thinking, so did Jack’s.
Only a couple of weeks before Jack died, of complications of hip surgery, my wife and kids and I were in his field for a late-summer dinner. I brought oysters and smoked fish, which I set down at his end of the table. He would be appreciative, I knew, and I valued his opinion on the quality of the batch.
For my own reasons and for the large family he has left, Jack Musnicki is gone far too soon.