with Michael Betteridge
A Really Interesting Summer Workout Plan!
Most of my mother’s family lived for eight generations in a sleepy little hamlet on the Eastern end of Long Island, called Hampton Bays. My mother’s family was one of a handful of families that sailed over from Connecticut in 1640 to Southampton to establish the first English colony on Long Island. When nearby Hampton Bays was first settled, it was named Good Ground, and it was good ground, indeed. My childhood and my story were built on that good ground.
Back in the early 1960s when I was a young boy, Hampton Bays was a quiet little beach resort with beautiful white sandy beaches, pounding surf, an assortment of bays, inlets, ponds, woods, and small islands that a boy could explore alone for days upon days. Around April, I would hatch my annual plan to begin nagging my Mom, so she would have no choice but to send me to Grandma’s for the summer. She would complain to my Dad about my incessant pleadings, and my father would say, “Great, pack him up and put him on a train to Long Island.” It worked! I was the luckiest boy in Maryland.
Every year at the close of the school year, they would banish me to Grandma’s for a summer of riding my bike, fishing in the family rowboat, the “Kontiki,” exploring the tiny islands that were scattered all over Shinnecock Bay, and camping out whenever and wherever I could. I thought I was very smart. My parents just wanted one less kid to deal with all summer and knew my no-nonsense Grandma would keep me on the straight and narrow. It wasn’t all a boy’s paradise. There were Sundays in the parlor wearing a suit and tie, where I was forced to watch Lawrence Welk with all my great-grandmother’s old lady friends from Rampasture Point. They would pat me on the head and tell me what a “fine young man” I was becoming. It was a price I had to pay. But, soon, I would make the short walk down the hill to Smith’s Creek, one of many inlets off the Bay, where Grandma and I lived in the “Shop.” The suit would hit the closet and the only summer wear necessary were shorts and a T-shirt. Shoes were optional.
The Shop was a typical small beach shorehouse, like many that dotted the Peninsulas of that region. This one was very different. It was magical! It was a young boy’s hideaway. The rear of the house was built over the water on an attached dock, where you could row your boat right up to the house, tie it off, and walk in. It was filled with tools, nuts, bolts, fabric, rope, and twine, and it always had a faint smell of salt water and fish. My great-great-grandfather, Austin Alonzo Bellows, a bayman, built this little gem with his own hands. Grampy, as he was known, operated one of several large sailing vessels that took tourists over to the ocean beaches during the summer before the Ponquogue Bridge was built. It was the only means of transportation for rich “city people,” and it was a lucrative trade for an old, retired whaler. There was no plumbing, only a wonderful little outhouse with a half moon carved in the door.
The Shop was Grampy’s home, repair shop for his sailboat, and a place to hide from the kids and women. Grampy maintained an oyster bed under the dock, and when friends came to visit, Grampy would wade out into the bed, gather a bucket of oysters and shuck and serve them right there in front of his guests to their delight. Hence, the name “The Shop.” By the time Grandma lived there, it had become old and rickety and, occasionally, during high tide, the back side of the house and docks would briefly be underwater. But for me, it was a dream come true.
I never met Grampy. He was born during the Civil War and passed away five years before I was born. They laid him to rest in Good Ground Cemetery behind the old Methodist Church in Hampton Bays.
During Hurricane Donna in 1960, the tide came up so far that we had to float Grandma’s furniture out of the front door of the Shop and drag it up to dry land. Imagine a young boy being allowed to doggy paddle around in Grandma’s house to find a stray floating chair or end table. What fun! It was indeed a magical little house for a young boy.
When I returned every summer to begin a new school year in Maryland. I was bigger, stronger, faster, tanned, and in great shape to begin football season. Rowing a 12-foot, heavy wooden rowboat a mile and a half out to the Bay and back every day to fish was building a strong back and big arms. Cutting all the old ladies’ lawns on the Point to get pocket money to spend at the summer Firemen’s Carnival on junk food and rides was building up some pretty powerful legs. I remember the coaches would look at me and say: “Wow, what did you do last summer?” Did you work on the ‘Sod Team’”? That was the coaches’ summer workout plan for young football players back then. They would work out arrangements with the local landscapers to get their players on crews that rolled up large, heavy clods of grass and carried them from the fields to the flatbed trucks in the heat of summer. That’ll get you into shape fast! We didn’t have gyms or weight rooms or football camps. My football friends just signed up to work on a landscaping crew, “busting sod” all summer and slept a lot. I think I liked my plan better.
These days, young athletes hit the weight room all summer, participate in umpteen organized sports activities, go to fill-in-the-blank camps and play on numerous summer travel teams. To me, it’s way too structured, but I can’t argue with the results. Kids are bigger, faster, stronger, and, in way, in better shape than we ever were.
I find myself wondering if the “juice is worth the squeeze.” Do we really have to turn young men and women into superstars? Is the constant pressure to train all year, to become “the best you can be,” a slogan seen on many weight rooms in Frederick County high schools, producing better people?
I look at Connor Crum, a football QB sensation; or Brooke Williams, a ninth-grade basketball phenom; or Taylor Smith, arguably one of the top five softball pitchers in Maryland and only a sophomore; or Joey McMannis, who will most likely end up playing Major League baseball with the Yankees or the Astros or some big league team in front of thousands of fans next year…and I wonder. In my entire high school four-year journey, there was only one kid from our school that made it to the Big Leagues: Pickles Smith, who played for the Kansas City Royals (and that was Sherwood High School, a school much larger than Catoctin). Oh yeah, Pickles’ success was due to his summer workout plan. He busted sod every summer. He was buffed, and he could crush a baseball!
So, I watch these kids and wonder. Are they having fun? Are we giving them the time to be kids before they have to grow up?
My dreams of the big leagues ended at Sherwood High School. But looking back, I’m OK with that. My workout plan was perfect for me. It was one I would never trade in a million years…summers at Grandma’s.