“Spring Bounty, Circa 1966,”

A Memoir by Mary Koncelik Miller

A delicious home-cooked dinner has been cleared and lovely coffee and desserts are served on the red-checkered tablecloth, candles lit against the setting sun. Marshmallows, rotated to a golden brown over a crackling wood fire, taste extra sweet. Daddy pops one still smoldering into his mouth. “Oh Larry, you are such a character! I could put you in a book,” muses Mother from her comfortable Adirondack chair alongside his. He turns toward her and, while savoring the sticky morsel, he places his calloused hand upon her uncovered knee. Their engaging aspects, illuminated in soft moonlight, are endearing to see.

Lingering into the dark night, many of us talk and sing songs from yesteryear around the blazing fire. Grandpa Joe Koncelik joins Daddy and others in old ballads like “The Minstrel Boy,” “The Wild Colonial Boy,” and “Tenting Tonight.” Warm tears well up from young eyes. A sudden breeze scatters paper napkins into the fire, kindling them like magic potions turning blue and green. Red embers wane to smoky gray as guests depart and my aunt and uncle lead the cheerful tune of “Good Night Ladies.”

Along a pitch-black driveway, fireflies flicker like stars against darkened trees. Our three steers stand silently nearby like Grecian urns in a field. Garlanded moonbeams beckon me home along the narrow path, toward the tall silhouette of our family farmhouse. Remaining outside, rocking on the front terrace in a cushioned rocking chair, I notice headlights approaching from Mile Hill Road. The familiar vehicle wends along our driveway. My oldest brother Paul stands at the unlit walkway, arm in arm with his pretty girlfriend. His tall stature, dark hair, and handsome face resemble our Gramps, Joe Whelan.

Exiting the house, he says, “Go to bed, it’s late,” before leaving the 40-acre farm owned jointly by my cousin’s family and ours. The deep rumbling of his work truck fades to inaudible along Swamp Road. Lingering a while longer, I notice the infernal whining of nocturnal insects amid infrequent calls of a lowly whippoorwill.

Stepping inside our hushed home, I bid goodnight to both my parents, reading in our cozy living room. “Goodnight Mary Cecilia, say prayers and God bless you,” Mother says. Her usual vernacular juxtaposes the teasing comment from my father: “Goodnight, honey, and turn off that damn kitchen light, it’s costing me too much money.”

An auburn glow from our breakfast nook chandelier spills out onto the dining room table, embellishing pink peonies, fragrant in the room. Upstairs, curtains sway above open windows. My younger sister sleeps in a twin bed next to mine. Her wavy hair cascades about her young face. In the dimly lit room, a print of Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World” is visible above my dresser. To me, it suggests both serenity and the resolve of a partially paralyzed teenaged girl living in rural Maine. While not afflicted as she, it could echo my life here in Northwest Woods, East Hampton.

Next morning, inside our country kitchen, up to their elbows in flour, an older sister and cousin bake bread. The sweet-smelling homemade loaves sell well at a provisional bread stand alongside our road. A hand-painted sign nailed to a tree reads, “Bread for sale 65 cents.” Despite not much traffic traveling these wooded streets, the girls sell every loaf within a few hours.

Outside, my father walks round to his workshop. I stand with my mother, picking flowers at the formal garden surrounding our front lawn. Her demeanor is light, her words easy. Her copper-red hair, covered with a straw hat, complements her comely face.    

“It’s good you’ll be helping your father later on at the bay, when the tide is low,” she says to Paul.

“Okay, see you later,” Paul says. He smiles and looks over at me, taking his leave too soon. His cherry-red work truck reverberates as it heads downhill on our long and sandy driveway. On the western horizon, Northwest Harbor shimmers like an Impressionist painting. Visible to the north, the small barn and pasturelands complement Daddy’s vegetable garden hemmed in toward the south side of our home.

In bright sunlight with trailer in tow, my hard-working father drives a raucous tractor. An old net, stored beneath a tall hickory tree, is loaded onto the trailer. Placing untangled sections along fencing in the pasture, Daddy looks at me and says, “Hello.”

“Hello,” I answer, resting my eyes on the surrounding landscape. Before applying pungent tar on the netting, he replaces floats, adds weights, and repairs tears. “Now, this will all dry fast out here in the hot sun,” he says while walking casually past the barn.

Heidi, our milk cow, the three steers, and Gray, the horse, stand within the gated barnyard. A gray Plymouth rooster named Commander charges from a small chicken coop. I reach for my father’s hand. Without hesitation, Daddy waves the bird sternly away.

Later, our families gather at the foot of Mile Hill Road, a spot known once as “The Road to the Place Where the Whale Was Tried,” where whale blubber was turned to oil, boiled in tri pots here above hot fires set alongside the sandy seashore of this beach. Blue sky, blue-green bay, perfumed wild roses; honeysuckle and a sandy shore now beautify the site. Blowfish swim in shallow water, nibbling on bare feet. Lumbering along the paved road is the tractor, driven by Daddy, burdened with trailer and net. On zephyrs, seagulls rise high over waves lapping against the uneven pile of netting layered onshore. With stakes tied at either end, Daddy sledgehammers one deeper into the sand.

Gathering the other stake and leading edge, my father and uncle begin the arduous task of hauling the great net out into the shallow bay. Paul and others help. Eventually, returning in a wide-open arch, the net looks similar to the sweep of a wide arm moving out over the bay. Along the top of it, orange floats bobble happily along in single file, like synchronized swimmers in unruffled waters. Many weights, hung down at the very bottom edge of the net, keep it held vertical toward the bottom of the sandy bay. With the help of an incoming tide, we all drag it back onshore. Seawater froths within the widespread pocket of netting with agitated fish caught within. “Heave ho,” yells my father repeatedly as we rhythmically yank wet sections in. Brought up onshore, laden with fish and seaweed, the net holds a good bounty.

Seagulls call, scooping up escaping crabs. Sand sharks and sea robins making throaty sounds are freed along with prehistoric-looking horseshoe crabs. They harmlessly snap claws beneath hard brown helmets, while twisting hapless tails against foes. We toss the muddled blowfish into wooden baskets. Inflating their soft bellies, they frantically drink the salty air. The baskets of blowfish and netting weigh down the trailer. An easy cleaning method will soon transform them tonight into delicious drumstick-shaped delicacies. Those we do not consume soon we shall freeze for later use.

We are all gilded with the sunset’s opulent light, standing silently as the light falls silently beneath the horizon of this ever-changing setting.

Mary Koncelik Miller, who was born and raised in East Hampton, has a master’s degree in education and reading and is a co-owner of the Miller Building Company. She enjoys painting landscapes and is writing her memoirs, a novel, poetry, and children’s stories.