Because I have been a writer, editor, and eventually publisher for The Star over the course of more than 50 years, hundreds and hundreds of obituaries have crossed my desk. Sometimes, naturally, they have been obituaries of relatives or friends.
John de Poo, whose obituary is in the paper today, was a friend — and one of those rare people whose joy in life is truly infectious. No one I have ever known has had his gift for bringing laughter into the room. He told invariably hilarious stories of his colorful life in great detail, adding, I am sure, a little imaginative embellishment from time to time. He had a way of cementing friendships with kindness or unexpected gifts. The iron tines of an old eel spear, a beautiful half-model of a boat, and an original painting by a local artist were among gifts we received.
But John was perhaps most famous (or infamous, perhaps) in our circle for staging practical jokes. They were always very funny, and never meanspirited. I remember two in particular.
One summer day, a bunch of us were gathered for a picnic at Little Albert’s Beach in Amagansett. Among the group was a Swedish woman who had never been in East Hampton before: She had been an overnight guest of one of the couples, and had been encouraged to extend her stay so she could spend the afternoon on the beach. All was peaceful . . . when someone noticed something, something black and soft-looking, bobbing in the water offshore. It looked ominous. Before anyone realized that John had something up his sleeve, he went out — on his windsurfer, I think; he was an early adopter — to investigate.
When John brought ashore the mysterious floating flotsam, it turned out to be a beautiful bouquet of flowers wrapped inside a couple of black garbage bags. He opened them with a flourish, revealing the contents and a big sign that read, “Welcome Hjorbis.” Just when he learned her name and how much thought and time went into his putting this together is lost to memory, but I am sure she never forgot it.
Then there was the time when we were on the beach in front of the Rattray house on Gardiner’s Bay on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. John was there, too, and at one point asked if we ever dug clams there. I remember answering that on occasion the kids would find a hard clam or two offshore with their toes, but that there just weren’t enough around to bother with. I should have known John was up to something when he went for a swim with a Boogie board under his arm. Before long he was reaching down and then diving — and bringing up clams, one right after another, until he had a fine mess of them on top of the board.
I was absolutely fooled. I told the assembled we hadn’t realized there were so many calms nearby! But when I tried to lay claim to them I was rebuffed: They were his, he informed me, because he had dug them at Napeague Harbor, dragged them over on his windsurfer, and dumped them in the water before anyone was around. We roared with laughter.
John’s wife, Lauren, confirmed this week that John enjoyed taking people by surprise. Noting that he liked to dance, too, she said he enjoyed dancing in unusual places. Not long ago, she said, he had enticed her to dance with him in the aisles of Home Depot and King Kullen. I am sure I am not alone in wishing I had been there.