Tag Archives: Fishers Island

Mother’s Day and Raleigh: My Brother Disguised as a Dog

Raleigh A

My relationship with Raleigh began on Mother’s Day in 1961 when I was eight years old and continued for eleven blessed years.

I was living on Huron Street in a railroad tenement with my grandmother and mother, who both worked full-time jobs. Our top-floor apartment was run down but immaculate and was laid out in a single long line of rooms: from the kitchen to the living room, to the bedroom that I shared with my mother, to my grandmother’s bedroom at the end.

The tiny bathroom was directly off the kitchen to the left and lined up with a long narrow hallway that ran from the bathroom all along the length of the entire apartment and ended up at a dark, steep and narrow stairwell that led down twenty steps or so to the front door. We never used that door, because it was padlocked—sealed shut and unusable. So the only way in and out of the apartment was to climb the several rows of steep stairs in the back of the house and enter through the kitchen. Only one way in, and one way out. A real fire trap.

My grandmother Mammy (pronounced MayMe) worked the 3-11 pm shift, so she was already gone by the time I got home from school. My mother worked until 6 pm or so.  I didn’t like coming home to an empty apartment at all. What eight-year-old would?

Every day after school I would slowly trudge home. Then I would anxiously climb the stairs upon stairs in the back of the building and hole myself up in the kitchen until my mother came home.

Huron Street 1958 A

And in the winter when the sun would set super early, I was a bundle of nerves—tense and agitated. Because scary things inevitably came out when it got dark in that crummy apartment on Huron Street.

I would continuously and frantically check the clock in the kitchen as it got close to the 6:15 mark while sprinting from one end of the apartment to the other, to press my face and hands against my grandmother’s bedroom window in the hopes of catching a glimpse of my mother arriving home.

Huron Street

I would furtively check out the street below for a mother sighting and then race as fast as I could back to the kitchen, my mind full of monstrous thoughts about the dark hallway. During that time in my life, I had a recurring nightmare that troll-type demons were lurking at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me. That damn dream didn’t help the situation at all.

I would rock myself on a kitchen chair, willing my bladder to cooperate so I wouldn’t need to go to the bathroom and face the dreaded scary hallway.

I finally got up the courage to tell my grandmother that I was afraid to come into our empty apartment.  I tried to play it down because I didn’t want her to worry about me. Plus what I told her was sort of true: I was more lonely than afraid.

“The poor dear is lonely,” she repeated to my mother soon after that, as I listened intently while pretending to color at the kitchen table. As they discussed the situation, they glanced over at me, and when I curiously looked up at them, in hopes of hearing their solution to my predicament, they finished off their conversation in French.

A few weeks later, my mother treated Mammy and me to an elegant and very expensive Mother’s Day brunch at the Lighthouse Inn in New London, Connecticut.

Lighthouse Inn New London, Conn

Now, this brunch was way beyond my mother’s means, but it was Mother’s Day after all, and it was also a rare day that we ever went out to eat.

I recall the Lighthouse Inn being the grandest place I had ever seen, and incredibly fancy, with magnificent views of the Thames River, as well as the Long Island and Fishers Island sounds.

At the time, I didn’t know what the bodies of water were called, but they most definitely left a lasting impression on me. So much so that 56 years later I can still recall that Mother’s Day like it was yesterday while most other memories from later in life are a bundle of murk and haze.

There was an elegant pathway leading up to the Lighthouse Inn, which was set way back from the main road. Both sides of the path up to the mansion-turned-Inn were spilling with the brightest and most beautiful wildflowers, roses, asters, and goldenrod.

Before we reached the front door of the Inn, there was a magnificent fountain sitting inside a circle of lush meticulously manicured green grass.

The entire scenario reminded me of the royal estates I had seen many a time on the  “Million Dollar Movie.” For anyone that remembers the series, they would show the same movie twice every night from Monday to Friday, and then three times a day on Saturday and Sunday.  The “Million Dollar Movie” music was “Tara’s Theme” from “Gone With The Wind.” So as I strolled up to the grandiose entrance of The Lighthouse Inn, I hummed the iconic tune quietly to myself.

While I stuffed my face with eggs benedict, and hordes of crispy bacon, I was pretending that I was one of the rich and the famous. I play acted in my mind and ordered a Shirley Temple.

After brunch, the three of us decided to throw pennies into the fountain and make a wish. The fountain area was packed with families who all had the same idea, and as we squeezed in and out of the crowds toward the fountain, Mammy suddenly and violently began to throw up.

Well, that dispersed the crowd rather quickly. And to their horror, Mammy’s top false teeth flew out of her mouth and onto the green leafy grass. My mother and I looked at my grandmother in shock as she bent over and picked up her teeth, shook off the vomit, and popped them back into her mouth.  When she turned toward us, she casually and matter of factly said, “The food was too rich.”

My mother was humiliated and wanted to get the hell out of there. I was in no rush—and intent on throwing a penny into the fountain. She dragged me to the car, all the while talking under her breath about how embarrassed she was and how she couldn’t take us anywhere without us causing some kind of an incident.  Poor Mammy was nauseous as all get out.

We got into our rickety old car, and it took a few tries before the engine turned over. My mother was frustrated, and I figured our Mother’s Day outing was over—ruined by Mammy’s teeth flying out of her mouth.

We drove for a while and came to a white house with a large red barn-like building. Mammy, who was still feeling queasy, stayed in the car. My mother took my hand and together we walked up to the house, and she rang the doorbell. An elderly woman answered the door and chattily walked us to the barn.

The woman opened the latch to the barn and lo and behold, there was a pile of black fluffy puppies! I was having a hard time trying to figure out why we were there with these adorable fluffballs and ran back to the car to get Mammy.

When I got back to the barn with Mammy, the woman handed me the tiniest and most precious black powderpuff puppy I had ever seen.  “He’s a pedigree Pomeranian,” my mother told me proudly as he fervently licked my face with his teensy red tongue. I was still confused as to why I was there.

“He’s yours,” Mammy said lovingly. “Someone to keep you company,” my mother added. The woman pulled out a folded paper from an envelope as I crushed the little black snowball against my chest.

“His mother’s name is Marlene, and his name is Marlene’s Onyx Jet,” she explained as she presented my mother with his “papers.” “His name is Jet,” my mother reiterated to me.

Jet? I didn’t like that name. It didn’t suit my puppy at all.

“What’s his father’s name?” I inquired. “His father? Who cares?” Mammy responded. The woman pointed out a name on the piece of paper and replied, “His father’s name is Sir Walter Raleigh.”

Sir Walter Raleigh! Now that was a fitting name for a dog with papers!

“I’m calling him Raleigh,” I informed them both, even though they thought it was an overly pretentious name. On the way back to Huron Street, they tried to convince me to call him something else, but my mind was made up. His name was going to be Raleigh, and that was that.

It was a Mother’s Day I will never forget. Poor Mammy asked my mother to pull off the side of the road so she could throw up again, and right before we got to Huron Street Raleigh puked all over my new dress.

I often look back at that time in my life and refer to it as before Raleigh and after Raleigh. Before that Mother’s Day and after that Mother’s Day.

Now with Raleigh in the picture, when the school bell rang, I would ecstatically race back to our apartment, fly up the stairs upon stairs, and burst into the kitchen where my too- fancy-for-Huron Street pedigree puppy would be patiently waiting for me.

The bathroom? No problem. The hallway? Easy breezy. Raleigh would growl and bark at anything he thought was moving about. Heck, Raleigh would bark at the air.  He thought he was a Great Dane, and I guess whatever was lurking around thought he was too because nothing scary ever showed itself when Raleigh was around.

I had no need to sprint from one end of the railroad apartment to the other, furtively looking for my mother.  And I wasn’t afraid of the dark any longer.

I was too busy dressing Raleigh up in pink tutu’s and teaching him to dance on his hind legs. Or I would whip him around the kitchen with his tiny teeny little front legs.

I look back on it now, and I hope I didn’t hurt him, but he loved every minute of it, the two of us swirling and spinning full tilt in circles until I would fall down. Then the two of us would dizzily try to walk it off. I would laugh uncontrollably. He would bark playfully.

From that Mother’s Day forward it was always Raleigh and me—my best friend, my fierce protector, my favorite sidekick, my beloved brother.

Raleigh D

The Fishers Island Prophecy

Fishers Island Debacle

She started to have her doubts about whether or not he was “the one” several weeks before the wedding day.

But the invitations had already gone out and the down payments for the reception, photographer, band, and florist had long been paid.

She confided her trepidation to her best friend who said it was “normal to get cold feet.” She didn’t feel like this was normal at all. And her feet? They were colder than ice.

At her bridal shower, she feigned enthusiasm for among many things, the crockpot, copper cookware, Waterford crystal, and the state-of-the-art Cuisinart she received.

A few days later, she reviewed the photographs of her overly beaming smiley self, head adorned with a fuchsia paper plate, overflowing with colorful ribbons and bows from the myriad wedding gifts. “I’m happy, right?” she kept asking herself as she analyzed each snapshot.

But as she stared into her lifeless eyes in photo after photo, the answer was painfully clear.  There was no happiness to be found. And she was about to make a life-altering mistake.

She decided to sit her soon-to-be husband down for the “talk,” when he picked her up for dinner that night. But when he walked through her apartment door, he excitedly announced that he had a wedding gift for her.

When he put a blindfold over her eyes, she was ecstatic. She was driving around in a hunk of junk, so she was convinced his present was a new car.

At that moment, she felt terribly guilt-ridden over the discordant noise she was hearing in her head and pushed it completely out of her mind. He loved her enough to buy her a car! How insensitive and overly neurotic she was being.

He took her outside and when he removed her blindfold, she was flabbergasted as she stared at him in wonderment.

He was euphoric and happily chirped, “She’s a 28 foot Columbia sailboat built back in 1970! She’s a real beauty and a perfect weekend cruiser. And she’s built like a tank!”


He gushed on, completely oblivious to her disappointment and dismay. “She’s not the fastest boat, but her weather-handling capabilities make up for her heavy build,” he droned on.

She stared incredulously at her soulmate. “He bought me a sailboat, because?” she asked herself as she tried to put all the pieces of the love puzzle together.

He mistook her wordlessness for something positive. “And the top-secret romantic getaway I planned for you is to sail Joanie in and around Long Island Sound!”

She mustered enough strength to ask, “Joanie?”

This was a double whammy. As a wedding gift, he had promised to “book” a mystery trip for her. Who knew he was going to buy himself a boat disguised as a honeymoon?

“Joanie is the name of the original owner’s wife. I didn’t have time to change it,” he responded, completely unaware of his selfish narcissism.

The next day she sat her mother down to give her the devastating news. She was calling off the wedding. “Absolutely not,” her mother replied definitively. “He adores you, his family adores you, and it’s simply too late.”

“He bought himself a boat instead of booking us a honeymoon,” she whined to her mother, who made some lame excuse for him and refused to listen to another nonsensical word.

So they got married in a waterfront setting, under a tent, during a furious storm of lightning, thunder, pounding rain, and crazy wind. Everyone kept coming up to them and saying how lucky they were—that the rain was a sure sign of good luck on the day of.

She was despondent and positive that the storm on her wedding day was a sure sign that her marriage was doomed.

She reluctantly made her way toward the tent,  on a soggy red carpet, as the wind howled around her.

The wedding and the reception were an abysmal failure. The tent was swaying and leaking, her designer shoes and dress were a muddy mess, and they couldn’t go on their honeymoon because the boat was useless in a storm. So they lounged around in her apartment for two days, waiting for the bad weather to lift. She was depressed and beyond miserable. He was in complete denial.

As soon as the weather cooperated they set sail. His first surprise stop was Fishers Island where he booked one night at the Pequot Inn. He excitedly gave her the Island rundown: At nine miles long and one mile wide, it was an idyllic setting off the Connecticut coast. As he chattered non-stop about Fishers Island, and how she was going to fall in love with it, she was pipe dreaming of Hawaii or Barbados.

They arrived at the Island mid-afternoon. He dropped anchor, threw their collapsible bikes and an overnight bag into the motor dinghy that came with Joanie, and they boated to shore.

She was still furious about Joanie but admittedly loved everything about Fishers Island. Their bike ride to the Pequot Inn was magical. The smell of lilacs permeated the air, the creeping juniper blanketed the landscape, and the pristine deserted beaches adorned the ocean. The hotel was New-England-style quaint, and she actually started to relax and unwind a bit.

After they awkwardly watched a beautiful sunset together, she tried to drum up some romantic connection during dinner. But it was discomfiting and forced, and she found him to be self-absorbed and wondered what she had seen in him in the first place.

She had voiced her unhappiness about his extremely expensive-and-unwanted-boat purchase during the stormy waiting period before the trip, so he knew that the silent treatment she was pouring on him stemmed from little Miss Joanie.

After dinner, he suggested they go for a walk. As they meandered quietly through the darkness, she thought she heard a mewling sound. She grabbed his arm and was apprehensive when she spotted something in the middle of the dark road.

As they approached the inanimate object, she turned her head away from the gruesomely flattened cat. But where was the crying coming from? They followed the whimpering, to the side of the road, where they discovered a tiny kitten, visibly suffering from malnutrition, and near death.

Her motherly instinct kicked in, and she refused to leave the kitten there to die. She told him to run back to the Pequot Inn and bring back a box while she bent down and tried to comfort the scared and withering kitten. She noticed that one leg was bent out at a contorted angle.

When he came back with a shoebox and hand towel, she picked up the withering feline and wrapped it carefully in the box. She insisted on taking the kitten directly to the dinghy, and then onto Joanie, where she safely rested the box in a corner of the deck.

She went below, grabbed some milk and a teaspoon, and was relieved as the kitten furiously lapped it up. She rationalized in her head that if the kitten was still alive when they came back to the boat to set sail the next morning, it was a marriage sign.

Whether the sign would mean her marriage was on or her marriage was off, she hadn’t quite figured out yet. But she was sure that it would all be clear to her in due time.

She worried about that kitten all night, and any unhappy thoughts of her marriage, and Joanie went out the window. She woke up as the sun was rising, and rode her bike to a deserted beach, and fervently prayed that she would find the kitten alive and well.

When they boarded the boat, later that morning, it was a dreary, dismal day. The kitten was still alive, although weak and severely maimed. She went to the refrigerator, grabbed more milk, and gave the kitten some much-needed nourishment.

She securely covered the shoebox with a mesh shirt, and carefully placed it and the kitten in a bolted corner drawer in the galley below. She partially closed the drawer and tried to ignore the weak meowing coming from the box.

They pulled anchor and set sail.

An hour or so into the trip, a storm brewed. “Secure loose items and equipment on the deck and in the cabin,” he ordered her. “And make sure all the drawers and windows below are closed.” She fearfully scrutinized the turbulent surroundings and could see nothing of Fishers Island or any other mass of land.

The wind was wild and the water was churning violently, tossing the boat around like a wine cork. The drumming rain and sea spray slapped against her face making it near impossible to see. She frantically suggested that they go back to Fishers Island, but he yelled to her that the best thing they could do was to go windward into the deepest water they could find.

She went below and secured and closed everything possible, and checked on the frail but watchful kitten. As she caressed its tiny head, it searched her eyes and purred weakly. She reluctantly left it in the drawer, and hastily climbed back up to the deck where they thrashed around while donning life jackets. Then they tethered themselves to a rail.

The seas were rough and the dark and menacing waves crashed onto the deck and into the cockpit, swirling around her ankles.  Joanie tilted at a 45-degree angle and the pitching caused her to vomit.

She silently begged God to protect her—and the kitten. She played over and over in her head all the things she would do with her life if she were saved.

They eventually weathered the storm, but it was a frightening, out-of-body experience. She wanted off the boat. She wanted off her life. She was so fed up with him—and his precious Joanie. When they finally docked in Old Lyme, Connecticut, her mind was a tangle of turmoil.

The first thing she did was to check on the kitten who was elated to see her, licking her finger with its tiny sandpapery tongue. It tried to sit up but was unable to move due to its injured leg.

“We’re going to be okay,” she whispered softly to the kitten. She carefully took the box, the kitten, and her suitcase off the boat. She was overjoyed to feel land beneath her feet. When he asked her where she was going, she told him the truth. She had absolutely no idea.

He reminded her that they hadn’t even been married one week. He asked her if she was out of her mind. “No,” she quietly answered, “just out of love.”

Girl and her cat