Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Deaths in Iraq from Southampton, Long Island

Southampton, on the East End of Long Island, is not all glitter and glamor after grubbing for money. Places have karma just like people do, and Southampton has her "issues" she's working on.

As the oldest English settlement in New York State, 1640, (well, Southold, our sister settlement on the North Fork also has a claim to oldest, but Southampton had Henry DuPont and Henry won) Southampton was a land grant, and the proprietors, as they were called, were still divvying up the spoils well into the 20th-century. The indigenous population, the Shinnecocks, are still with us, maintaining traditions on a small reservation of bottom land they were relegated to by an illegal act of government, land they are now resented for because of its tax-free status, as they start new traditions like suing for casino gambling rights. Descendants of the big name in original settlers, the Halseys, are also on the scene, many still farming, and I surmise having these original players still around after 360 years represents some sort of unfinished business.

In World War I, Southampton lost seven young men in the trenches and field hospitals of Europe. They are memorialized in a beautiful room called Parrish Hall, now owned by its neighbor, the financially strapped Southampton Hospital. The room has great leaded-glass French doors--centered on one wall is an elliptical light bay of them. Another wall has a fireplace flanked by niches articulated with semi-detached columns. The names of the seven boys are carved in marble below a broken pediment as an over-mantle.

When the room was recently renovated, a hidden movie screen was installed in the ceiling directly in front of the fireplace. When drug reps use the room, bringing with them enormous displays of free food to tempt the doctors, it is lowered for their slick presentations and often they forget to raise it back up again. The switch to operate the screen is in a little storeroom hidden behind one of the flanking niches. To access it, half of a bookcase swings open, like a hidden library door. If the screen is down, like a punctuating blank, when non-drug-transacting groups use the room, I take a fierce joy in the symbol-laden act of going behind the books to lift the veil to remember why the room exists.

Southampton has lost two men in the Iraq war so far. The first was Staff Sgt. James Pettaway, 37, and he might be considered typical, in as much he was a black man from a working class background, who segued into a career as a prison guard while serving in the reserves. Southampton has had a sizable minority community going back to the 18th century, coming up from the South as migrant farm workers, inter-marrying into native-American families, but never on an underground railroad. Pettaway was on his second tour of duty and he left behind a son.

The other loss is far from typical, socio-economically speaking, and as it continues to echo, I tend to believe Southampton is not such a bad place to stay after all, as something of great import unfolds across our planet and the field of our group consciousness.

He was Sargent 1rst Class Schuyler B. Haynes, 40, and he came from vweery good family, as the hard C in his given name is the same family name that gave New York its hard-c Schuyler county. Socially speaking, Southampton has a single sine qua non, the Beach Club, and the Haynes' had made the cut several steps back. Actually, his maternal grandmother, who was an Albany Townsend, had a magnificent shingle-style house on the ocean. In a back hall of the Haynes house in Southampton is a large-format aerial photograph of the ocean-front Townsend house, which was approached by a horseshoe driveway centered by a planting of blue hydrangea, all of it on a scale we can only dream about. The house burned down in 1927, making it the sort of ancestral bona fide having a family house lost in the hurricane of "38 is.

I understand that his mother remains distraught over her son's death. His funeral last November, held at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, had the pews overflowing with a type who, for the most part, had never had the war brought home to them in this way. There is no easy way out of Iraq and learning its lessons won't be easy, although I am of a mind the lessons will be hardest for people of Schuyler's background. He will be memorialized this coming Sunday at St Andrews Dune Church, where the rich worship in blazers, at least until the next hurricane. He left behind his cat.