Connections: Block Island Forever

I haven’t been to Block Island in a relatively long time, but I think it is fair to still call it idyllic

Forty-eight curious people went to Block Island on Monday to learn about Deep­water Wind’s turbine installation there. Hearing about this expedition, and learning that the group also had gotten to tour the island and stand on the bluffs high above the site where the electricity comes ashore in a cable, I was, I admit, rather jealous. And it made me wax nostalgic.

I haven’t been to Block Island in a relatively long time, but I think it is fair to still call it idyllic. In the days when we did a lot of sailing, we anchored in its safe harbor in good weather and bad (and once, after a prediction of possible hurricane-force winds, deciding not to risk continuing home after a cruise).

“Adiamo! Adiamo,” a young man would call in high musical tones from a small boat as he circled the moorings with fresh baked goods of a morning. We would buy some, assuming that he chose a term meaning “let’s go” because of its phonetic possibilities. Nothing half so charming took place, or ever would, we thought, in Montauk or Three Mile Harbor. 

On shore, Block Island’s undeveloped meadows and hills were lovely to behold; I imagine that is still true. But while I had often arrived there by sail, my most memorable visit was made by plane.

Among the first luminaries I met here on the South Fork as a young married woman, many moons ago, was the then-legendary writer A.J. Liebling, and his wife, the novelist Jean Stafford.

That I was excited about meeting them should go without saying. Joe had been a World War II correspondent and in a long, eclectic career at The New Yorker magazine had written about boxing, Paris, food, New York City’s low life, Gov. Earl Long of Louisiana, and the press. 

In 2004, in a New York Times book review, by which time Liebling’s prolific work was largely out of print, Charles McGrath, writing about an anthology called “Just Enough Liebling,” which had just been published, called him “an almost 19th-century figure, a Dickensian character, with his bowler and too-tight suits and wire-rimmed spectacles squeezed onto a pudgy, pink-cheeked face, who was also blessed with Dickens’s prodigious energy.”

Where Block Island comes in is that Joe had befriended a couple while reporting on the 1961 milk strike in New York City, and, learning that they were vacationing on Block Island, decided to pay them a visit. Jean didn’t cotton to the idea of flying on a small chartered plane, or so she said, and Ev and I took her place. 

Drinking and reminiscing as a pleasant afternoon wore on, Joe paid no attention to the fact that the weather was closing in; we would not be able to fly back home till the next day. We were forced to spend a night on the island, and I think he joined us in being delighted. He certainly was not one to shy away from happenstance and the unexpected. 

We found rooms in one of the island’s old hotels, where the water was not drinkable. I’ll never forget the image of Joe toddling up three flights of stairs with a box of salt-water taffy under one arm as a souvenir for Jean and a bottle of Teachers scotch under the other for us (although I wouldn’t swear to the latter in a court of law). Suffice it to say that the memory is indelible, that I still prefer Teachers, and I hope to see Block Island again soon.