The summer of 1936 was the first of many I was to spend in Point Lookout. The previous winter, my Pop, Bob Doxsee Sr., sailed our wood-frame bungalow over from Meadow Island aboard our deck scow, Bright Eye, and set it up next to our fish packing house on Reynolds Channel. When the Doxsee family moved to Point Lookout, we brought our house with us.
At the time I was five years old, The first people that I made friends with were the Merola Boys, Mike and Vinny and the MacDonald Boys, John (Red) and Frank (Blackie). They were the big kids on the block and I was one of the little kids. Leslie (Duke) MacDonald was about my age and we were pretty tight. I always envied Duke because he could stick his thumb and middle finger into his mouth and whistle really loud. Also in our group were George Hackett, and Gus Sacony. George was a powerful swimmer and could do back flips. Gus was not a strong swimmer so he always used an old truck tire tube. His father was a maestro violin restorer who had worked on every known Stradivarius.
Even younger was Natale Amato who for some reason I called "Matale". Jim Mazzei was always helping in his family's drug store. Ken Burgess and Frank Gannon worked in our store, Bright Eye Fish Market. Almost everybody ate fish on Fridays then, so there was a lot of traffic going on. We set up a stand using some old fish boxes and sold lemonade. Actually, it was cool aid. We swiped cups and ice from the fish market and l ran a high volume, low overheads enterprise.
Some of the other older boys were George "Lefty" Lorenz, a star athlete, Andy Chisolm, Vic Fucignis and George and Bobby Bowers. And of course, Howie Menie. Howie was a fantastic swimmer. I can remember swimming across Reynolds Channel and back with him a few times.
One common swimming place for boys of all ages was Sam Bowers Dock at the foot of Freeport Ave. Andy and "Red" MacDonald didn't hang around because they were always working. My older brother Gifford was in the same situation. As the older son, he got the most discipline. On summer vacations, he either went out on the pound boat or worked on my grandfather's farm in Canaan, NY.
Vinny Merola had a three-wheeled bicycle. The more things change the more they stay the same. He used it for store deliveries: it had a very small front wheel which left room for a large basket above. Who can forget Vinny speeding down to fire headquarters answering an alarm? Fair wind astern. Sam's dock had three levels so except for the lowest of tides we could always climb back up. In those days, boats would moor out in the channel and we would swim out to them, climb aboard for a little rest and swim back.
Pop had a saltwater aquarium out in the channel, made with timbers spaced so that there
was a free flow of water. We had sharks, stingrays, sea turtles of various sizes and many other
species of fish. In summer, some beautiful tropical fish would swim up the Gulf Stream and
wind up in Pop's pound traps. He would bring them back alive and put them in the aquarium. In
those days the New York Aquarium was at Castle Garden, down in Battery Park. When we
would catch an interesting specimen, they would come out with a tank truck and pick it up. I
have a video of men transporting a large stingray inside a tarp. Someone was holding the six
foot tail in his hands, with gloves on, of course.
One of the workers in our market was a slick article by the name of Bill Snyder. Today he
would be on TV hustling some product or other. The trouble with those days was that here was
no one with money to hustle. He always cut fish wearing a blue serge suit, no matter the
temperature. Bill told the suckers that "Barnacle Bill" the sea turtle would swim into our trap
each spring. In fall, we would flip him out to find his way back to sea. He wrote a news letter
called "Bill Snyder Says" which included some original poetry.
A few lines of one of Bill's endeavors is as follows:
My role model was Herbie Fernandez one of the "Big Kids". When the pound boat came in, Herbie would turn too and pitch in with the unloading. I remember raising a signal flag from our back porch which he could see from his house on Baldwin Ave. One day, when Herbie and I were fishing off the dock, he sent me someplace on a ruse. He borrowed a jumbo fluke from the market and hooked it on my line. I have a picture of the two of us with that fish hanging in my gallery. I smile when people say, "Wow, look at that fluke."
Don Bums had customers for live eels and we would fish off the dock at night. When eels were not plentiful, we would cast a line into the aquarium and have some fun.
On one balmy summer evening, two of the older boys were visiting my sister, Eleanor. As kid brohers do, I hung around. I was warned twice that if I did not scram, Iwould get thrown into the drink, clothes and all. There was no third warning. Thanks, Sis.
Freddy Feller's dad had a boat named "Us Fellers." He always towed a rowboat astern. One of our favorite things was to swim out and catch a ride by hanging on to the rowboat. Doxsee's dock was lower than ground level so transit was by a long ramp. One summer afternoon a group of us were swimming off the dock when Bill White came peddling down hill at a good clip to show off his new wheels. Guess what happened?
Pop had hundreds of pine boxes stacked in the yard for packing and shipping fish to market. When new, they came in sections. Sides bottom and cover. Some of the older boys, including Vic, made a little money by assembling them. The keyword is "little" because there was very little of it in those days. We would make huts in the boxes and have trapdoors and everything. They were of very thin pine. Pop would chase us by cuppmg his hands to his mouth and yelling "GET OUT OF THOSE BOXES YOU KIDS." He didn't need a microphone. Of course, he always pretended that he didn't know who we were. We would run like heck and jump off the end of the dock and swim away.
I made a little money by picking up the thin wire nails the boxes were fastened with, which were scattered all over the yard. The going rate was a nickel for a coffee can-full. Of course, I always looked for large pieces of glass to put on the bottom. I can't walk across the yard to this day without looking for nails. Usually find a couple, too.
Some of Pop's fishermen had room and board. They liked to drink ale. Three ring Ballentine. I can remember going up the steps of the old Post Office on Lido Blvd. and Freeport Avenue carrying some empty ale bottles that I had scrounged and coming back down with a bar of candy. Most of Pop's crew were Swedes and Norwegians. They carried a circular tin of Copen- hagen Snuff in a shirt pocket and frequently offered me a chew. Tried it once. Maybe that's why I never smoked. Only in Pop's boxes and it was usually a hank of clothesline.
The lot just to the west of our bungalow was owned by a summer resident named Steets. The land sloped down to a beautiful sandy cove which was great for swimming. Mr. Steets was very generous and let us use it like it was ours. He moored his boat by anchoring it off, bow and stem. It was like an oversized rowboat and he had one of the few outboard motors around. Almost everybody rowed in those days. His whole family loved to fish and they would go out every chance they got. The tiny cottage just to the west of that was owned by a family from New Jersey named McGuckin. There was Ma and Pa McGuckin. Then there were the twins, Lloyd and Floyd McGuckin. There were Jack and Roy. And the beauttful Jean. Jean and my sister were constant companions. Jean attracted a lot of visitors too. Roy had a nice sailboat and Eleanor had a canoe which we kids loved to upset.
When Ralph Vail was commissioned in the U. S. Army Corps Engineers, he left his state of the art rowboat in my care. It was set up for two rowers. We launched many a Pacific Island amphibious landing at the old town ferry dock. The opposition always attempted to repel boarders, but we persevered.
I was a pretty good swimmer, but not as good as my dog "Buddy". Buddy loved the water and would go at the sight of my bathing suit. SometImes he would just go in by himself at the cove. His mother was the famous "Red" owned by our illustrious postmaster, Tom Dier of San Juan Hill fame. Buddy could dive, swim and climb straight up a ladder. For a video starring Buddy, as well as shots of a young Nat Amato and 1941 scenes of Point Lookout waterfront, Google "Bob Doxsee and his Dog."
TO BE CONTINUED
Next issue- the famous diving bell.