The Mast-Head: A Card From 1972

Lost long ago, a high school ID found on the beach in Montauk and still legible will be returned to the woman who owned it, now 63.

The late Russell Drumm used to talk about how paper money would wash up in a certain spot at Ditch Plain in Montauk every year, right after the first hard westerly swell in late summer. It was his opinion that much of what fell from beachgoers’ bags and pockets would get buried in the sand in the preceding months and would then emerge and be swept to one side or the other, gathering among broken snow fence bits, sea grass, bones, and lost fishermen’s gloves along the wrack line.

I was never really sure about the money part, thinking that perhaps it was a gag that Rusty liked to pull to get the beach kids all excited and running around looking for their share. Cold cash or not, interesting things really do end up on that crook of sand, like what appeared to be a 1972 high school identification card that I pocketed there during a short walk on Monday morning.

The card, made of plastic, was yellow and faded, as if abraded by blowing sand. One corner was missing, but the letters that remained were still sharp. At top, it read, “borah J. Hess 72,” the student’s name and her graduating class, I assumed. Below that was what I thought was her mother’s name and address, “Mrs. Dorothy Hess, 149-50 5th Ave., Whitestone, N.Y. 11357.” And below that, “St. Agnes Academic High School.” To think, this card might have been on the beach since Richard M. Nixon was in the White House.

Turning to Facebook, I asked for advice. Some accounts noticed by George Eldi matched, but the geography seemed wrong. Cindi Crain saw a 2013 St. Agnes bulletin online and found a death notice for a Dorothy Grimes Hess, who had been a member of the class of 1959, and then found someone she believed was Ms. Hess’s daughter, and sent her a message.

Two calls to different phone numbers hoping to reach someone who might have been the card’s owner went unanswered. An email to St. Agnes School produced only an automated response. Cindi Crain also sent a message to someone who she thought might be Deborah. As Tuesday morning turned into Tuesday afternoon, there was no luck.

From a Daily News obituary, however, I learned that a Kenneth Hess, who was married to Dorothy Hess and who had a daughter named Deborah, had, according to other online records, lived on 5th Avenue in Whitestone, and, at one point, in Hampton Bays and would be about the right age.

Closing in, perhaps, I found a person who might be the right one, given that she listed having attended St. Agnes on her Facebook page. I sent her a photo of the ID card and waited.

Beachcombing is a long tradition here. Time was that valuable things might be found along the shore after a ship that wrecked on the bar spilled its cargo. In East Hampton’s earliest days, who could claim a whale that drifted ashore was of enough significance to be included in the agreement between the English colonists and the Indians from whom they took title to the land. In addition to 20 coats and 24 hoes, the native people were “to have the fynnes and tayles of all such whales as shall be cast upp.” More than 200 years later, during the marijuana smuggling boom of the early 1980s, there were stories about people stumbling on bales of weed thrown overboard and left to float with the tide.

By afternoon on Tuesday I was chatting online with the card’s owner, now Deborah Hess Sharkey, a kindergarten teacher in Whitestone. She had visited Amagansett in the 1970s, about the time of the gas crisis, and could have lost it then. Later, she owned a house in Hampton Bays as an investment, and, most recently, she had stayed at the Born Free motel in Montauk. 

No, she did not know exactly when she last had the card in her possession. Yes, she would like it back. I promised to put it in the mail at the end of the week.

“It will make a good conversation piece,” Ms. Sharkey said.