What’s called a captain’s chair has been in the kitchen of the Rattray house in Amagansett since the 1960s. I’m not sure of the exact date it arrived, but I have never forgotten how it got there. My first husband and I had sailed over to Gardiner’s Island one summer’s day and gone ashore for a wander without being detected. The chair was in a small, tumbled-down building, exposed to the elements. I guess I must admit we pilfered it, yes, but at the time it seemed only right to save it from ruin.
We owned a cruising catboat at the time (one of several we had over the years). They are centerboard boats with shallow draft and relatively broad cockpits. So it wasn’t particularly difficult to carry the chair aboard and take it home. Now, so many years later, I am amazed that it hardly shows any signs of wear. Visiting my son and his family, who live in the Amagansett house now, I couldn’t help but ponder how well built the chair was. It wasn’t new 50 years ago, and I don’t believe it has ever had to be repaired.
Gardiner’s Island loomed large in our lives in those days, in part because the house is on Gardiner’s Bay and in part because the island’s future was uncertain. Robert David Lion Gardiner, who fancied himself as the Lord of the Manor, was the principal beneficiary of the trust that owned the island. He said contradictory things about what should happen to it. Because he had no heirs, his niece was in line to own the island, and, to thwart her, he went so far as to try to adopt a man named Gardiner from the South who may or may not have been a relative at all. It was all quite dramatic, and rather entertaining, too.
One of my happiest memories of those summers long ago involves Gardiner’s Island, or to be more precise, Cartwright Shoal — a sort of sand archipelago that stretched into the bay from the south side of the sland — where we would go for picnics. We took a few friends there several times in a small Beetle catboat that we kept just offshore of the house. Beetles, which are raced in season on Georgica Pond, are uncommonly commodious and sturdy small boats. Ours was the only boat I was truly confident of sailing by myself. I remember the joy once of being at the tiller, heading back to shore with a grown man, his young son, and our big dog aboard.
Cartwright was little more than a low stretch of sand with a lot of seagulls and a nice view; it used to come and go, disappearing under the water, depending on wind and weather. But I was shocked recently to learn that it is now totally gone. Storms and the rise of sea level have put it three to four feet under.
There are other furnishings in the Amagansett house besides the Gardiner’s Island chair that I am sentimental about. There’s a heavy-duty hutch in the kitchen that we bought the year my son (who lives there now) was born. There’s an oil painting in questionable shape and in a simple black wood frame of a woman holding a bouquet of red and white flowers. An older generation had discarded it, and we needed something for the living room walls. There are lightweight chairs with remarkably short legs, and what may be a Dominy blanket chest that was badly refinished before we were given it. There’s a trypot, belonging to my late husband’s maternal ancestors, the Edwardses, which I believe was used to render the fat of whales caught off Amagansett.
I am beginning to think it is time to put the history of these things down somewhere for the youngest generation. I was about to say put the history down on ink and paper, but that would have dated me.
Time has flown. Sea level is rising. But family roots just grow longer.