The Creek -
Many years ago the creek was a fast moving flow of tides between a protected bay fed by Nantucket sound and a small inland and shallow bay with salt marsh grasses everywhere. However, the creek of old is no longer, only exists in memory and has to be resurrected by those familiar with it. Today what passes for the creek is a man-made brackish body of water.
About 60 years ago the creek was filled with all kinds of flora and fauna: far to many to mention and more that were invisible to the naked eye. There were eel, the sometime runs of bluefish, blue crabs, clams, quahogs, periwinkles, mussels, and blow fish among many others forms of life. Gulls would fly high overhead dropping their new catch of clams in the paved parking lot in front of the beach, break the clam shell on the pavement and fly down to devour the contents.
Nowadays the creek is blocked off from salt water at one end by an outer beach that is silted in never dredged, and a culvert acting at best to exchange gallons of seawater from the new inlet bringing salt water between the two bays. Whatever water manages to fill in the creek with the tides is too little to sustain the once overabundant flora a fauna that existed. In their place are now small minnows and perhaps some periwinkles that survive in the creek.
The fate the creek met after it silted in was years in the making and not at all surprising. This was a day and age before the EPA required impact statements, and lawsuits delayed environmental change of any sort. The fate of the community that grew up by the creek met a similar fate shortly afterwards. The community consisted of people who lived in the town year round and those who summered in the neighborhood. There was also a privately owned rental community near the beach with about 25 small cottages, all of which were rented for a week at a time. Very few of the single family houses were rented at the time.
There might have been a few elderly residents living on small fixed incomes. Poverty was not visible and people helped one another out in the neighborhood and at local churches anyway. The majority of the community consisted of working and middle class families with two parents and multiple children. Although a few families had one or two children, most had more. In addition there were a few very wealthy residents of the community and everyone knew who they were. In fact, everyone knew everybody and their children and watched out for and helped each other.
One of the activities that made the creek a community were the mothers who would bring their young children to the creek for swimming lessons in the morning. Early childhood lessons focused on making children feel comfortable with the water. These were followed by floating lessons requiring young swimmers to float for about a minute above a dreaded nesting pool of daddy long leg crabs about three feet below the surface of the water. Once beyond fear of water the children were gradually taught to swim like fish. Lifeguards taught children to swim and some would come back year after year, others would move between beaches in the town: most were college students and all were there there to earn money for the following year.
Another factor making the creek a community was the yearly return of the same people year after year to the creek. The year round population occupied maybe slightly more than half of the housing stock while much of the other half was occupied by summer residents who lived in nearby States and came from further away. A minority of the summer residents consisted of the weekly renters who stayed in the small privately-owned village of self-contained cottages located near the beach.
In addition to swimming lessons and the people who would return every summer, the creek community had its own season of parties, fourth of July parades, beach swimming events, evening parties and clam bakes for the adults. Children of the creek easily found and developed new friends from all over the US and looked forward to rejoining their summer friends every year.
All of this started to change after creek declined and silted in. When the new inlet was dredged, the culvert placed and the outer beach silted in, the generations that had called the creek home began to move out. Summer residents placed their house on the market and many of the new owners turned their properties over to weekly rentals. If they spent time at the creek during the summer at all, the new owners kept to themselves. The small privately-owned cottage development was turned upside down, was reconstructed into larger scale apartment buildings that then were turned into condos, and which eventually a became a timeshare of a publicly owned real estate development firm.
When the swimming lessons were stopped by the town and the lifeguards were no longer employed to watch the beaches, the creek community lost its center of gravity. A combination of cultural and economic changes forever altered the creek community. Gone were families with one wage earner and a full-time homemaker, replaced by two people working one or two jobs each. Gone were summer residents, replaced by weekly renters. And gone was the community that had served multiple generations well with its slower but more rewarding lifestyle connecting people of all ages, cultures, religions, and beliefs with one another.
One can never go back to a creek community of one’s childhood. For many people a summer beach community from 60 years ago may seem like a relic and probably does not have meaning. The setting may have been different but 60 years ago we all grew up in a community that helped form us. The community might have been a small but tight-knit immigrant enclave in the middle of a large City, a rural village where everyone knows who you are, even cookie-cutter subdivisions that came to define the suburbs of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Although none of us can return to our childhood community, it is easy enough to remember and recall the scenes, smells, people, and daily interactions of daily life when we were younger.
Hopefully you are able to pass your experience of community onto your children and to their children as we pass though this dance of life and teach future generations about what is good and lasting and not transitory and impermanent.