THE IDYLLIC ISLAND FROM MY CHILDHOOD – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had a chance recently to go back to a place I had loved in my childhood, more than 55 years ago.

Wendy was my best friend from fifth grade through seventh grade. Best friends at that age understand the true meaning and importance of a best friend. I always remembered that intense friendship as a high point in my long life of friendships. Wendy and I spent a lot of time at each other’s homes with each other’s parents (we were both only children). Also, both of our fathers were psychologists and knew each other.

Wendy and me on the motorboat at the island in 1959

Wendy’s family had a summer-house on a three acre island on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. We spent glorious days there playing in the woods and on the water. I rode in her motorboat and her motorized rowboat, both of which we named. The motorboat was Wendy Bird and the rowboat was Tinkerbell, from Peter Pan. I learned to water ski behind the Wendy Bird.

Wendy and me in the rowboat at the island with the house in background

We cleared a path into the woods, complete with signs. The path led to a wonderful tree, right next to the water. That tree was easy to climb and wonderful to sit in and we often played Mad Libs sitting on its branches.

I renewed my friendship with Wendy, through Facebook, this past year. We now speak on the phone almost every week and have become close once again. I always believed we had a strong connection. I guess it must have been to have survived for 55 years!

So Tom and I drove the six hours from Connecticut to the northern end of Lake Winnipesaukee. I was excited to revisit a childhood happy place. Wendy picked us up on the mainland with her brand new motorboat. I saw the island and had an immediate sense of familiarity. When the house came into view, it was just as I had remembered it – except that it seemed much smaller. I’m not that much bigger now than I was at the age of twelve. But I think my memories had enlarged both the dimensions and the magic of this idyllic spot.

My memories of the living room, the master bedroom and the room that Wendy and I had slept in, were totally accurate. In fact, I noticed that the beds in both bedrooms had been moved. Wendy was amazed that I remembered exactly where they had been in 1960!

I ran around looking at all the old photos of Wendy and her parents that decorated the house. My memories were again confirmed as accurate. After dropping my bags, the first thing I wanted to see was what little was left of our path into the woods.

The main remnant of that labor of love was, coincidentally, named “Curley.” “Curley” was a tree at the beginning of the path, where the beach meets the woods. The tree has a huge branch, shaped like a giant ‘j’, which we ‘rode’ like a horse. We had taken strings and created a set of ‘stirrups’ we could slip our feet into to mimic riding a real horse. The stirrups were still there! Wendy’s children growing up, and her grandchildren now, all rode “Curley” using our old stirrups. What a wonderful surprise!

This is our tree horse, “Curley”. If you look closely, you can see the stirrups on the right, below the branch

We talked the whole time we were together. We reminisced and shared stories about ourselves and our families through the years. I brought Wendy some old photos of us that she had never seen. I also brought my old diary from when I was ten to twelve years old, the Wendy era. I read Wendy what I had written about her and our mutual friends and teachers from school. LOL!

View from the porch, where we spent most of our time

Wendy shared a memory with me that I had forgotten. She said that at around age eleven, I had admonished her that she should stand up for herself and not let people walk all over her. “Don’t let yourself be a dishrag” I had told her. The funny thing is that while I don’t remember saying any of that to Wendy, I do remember my mother saying those exact words to me! I was apparently passing on to Wendy, my mother’s good advice to me. Neither of us took the advice for much of our younger lives. But I think we’re getting there now.

We also spent time riding on the lake in both boats. Everything was as beautiful as my glorified memories. Tom was impressed. We sat on the porch, looking out at the lake, talking about the games we used to play on the table there so long ago. Games like Scrabble, Sorry, Risk and Mad Libs (a favorite). Wendy showed me the online Scrabble game she plays now. I showed her Shanghai, my favorite computer game. We bonded all over again, on the site of our shared past.

I’ve talked about Wendy’s island paradise for years to my kids and to Tom. It was great to go back again, this time-sharing it with Tom. Also through photos, I got to share it with my children.

I wonder what my kids will want to revisit when they’re in their sixties.

THE ISLANDS OF MY LIFE

I was born and raised in New York, but as soon as I was independent, I moved to my first island — Long Island. It’s really an extended sand-spit off the coast of New York. When I was a kid, it was mostly potato farms down the middle and out on the eastern end. Interspersed on the hilly northern side that borders Long Island sound with some of the most expensive mansions in the world. Those are the places you never see homes,  just gates. The houses are deep inside the grounds so we plebes never see them.

At Loch Gill, with the Isle of Innisfree behind me
At Loch Gill, with the Isle of Innisfree behind me

The north shore of Long Island is hilly and lovely, the south shore faces the Atlantic, where the soft sand beaches are. And of course, the Hamptons. And Jones Beach where I burned my feet on the asphalt and torched my too-pale hide in the sun until one fantastic year they invented sunscreen and life got a lot better.

Martha's Vineyard beach stairsI left Long Island in 1978 and went to Israel … not an actual island, but in some ways, very “island” in its world-view. When you are surrounded by hostile frontiers in every direction, it’s hard not to feel like as if you are island-bound.

When I came back to the states in 1987, Garry started toting me off for summertime fun on Martha’s Vineyard which is a wonderful island that glories in its island-ness. It is a world of its own with an old carousel in the middle, the Flying Horses. We summered there for more than a decade and only stopped when Garry and I were no longer working and could not afford it. After we moved to the country, it somehow seemed unnecessary to “get away from it all.” We were already living away from it all.

John Donne, an Elizabethan poet of renown, said:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

It’s a famous poem. Oft quoted and misquoted, and set to music too. Elegant.

The music of poetry notwithstanding, I believe all of us are islands. No matter how much we share in common with others, in the end, we stand as individuals, we are responsible for ourselves, for our actions. For what we do and fail to do.

However involved we are in the fate of mankind, we can’t escape being individuals with business to take care of. Humanism doesn’t give anyone a pass from personal responsibility.

ISLAND | DAILY POST