Growing up Bowditch

Hap and Joy last week (above), outside the Reporter’s office. The siblings (below), many years ago.

Hap Bowditch Jr. and his sister Joy Bowditch Bausman believethey’re the last two Islanders related to both Nathaniel Sylvester,the first lord of the Manor here, and his wife Grissel. TheReporter had a chance to reminisce with them about growing up onShelter Island during an interview for the forthcoming book,”Island Voices, on January 22.

Joy: “My mother was related to Nathaniel Sylvester’s wife,Grissel, and my father comes down through Nathaniel, so we’reprobably the last two Islanders related on both sides to the firstsettlers. Most people you talk to, I don’t know of anyone elsewhere it goes back both to the mother and the father.

Hap continued, “Joel Bowditch, he came in the late 1600s, early1700s, [he] was a first cousin to Nathaniel and that’s probably whyhe came directly here, he ended up being, according to what I’veread, the eighth settler of the Island. The Sylvester family wasfrom the same area in England, it’s called the Devonshire-Dorsetarea. Joy continued, “The Dawsons, who were the other side, owned agreat deal of the Island as it developed in the late 1700s, early1800s, if you look at the road maps from the 1800s you can seeit.

Asked how they remembered their own childhoods, thoughts andfeelings flowed readily.

Joy: “It was a careful society, it was a thoughtful society, andit was a very much live-and-let-live society. If your neighborparked an old truck in his yard, he parked an old truck in hisyard, he didn’t have 14 people going to the Police Department,Ë”Hey, we see a truck in his yard.’ If something botheredyou or a kid came over and irritated your cat, you just simplysaid, Ë”You know, your kid came over and pulled my cat’stail today,’ and it was taken care of.

“If I see any changes, that’s it, people don’t iron out theirproblems themselves. They call the Police Department – there’s adog barking, there’s a cat crying, the truck went up and down theroad two times, the lights are on – there was none of that.

Hap: “What people would worry about, it was more about eatingand surviving and getting through the winter, through life, period.But times were definitely slower and the old timers would talk veryslow and don’t think that you were going to get an answer when youthink you were going to get it, like I ask you a question, thatdoesn’t mean you had to answer it. Well, the old timers, they justsat there and listened to you and they might talk to you a coupleof days from now. There was nothing in a hurry, that’s the only wayI can describe it to you. Especially if they wanted to think aboutit, we’re talking about days before they’d get back.

Hap continued, “The wealthy people that came here, [Islanders]worked for them during the summer and then the old timers had tofend for themselves during the winter. They lived off the land andthat meant eeling, clamming, fishing and vegetables that theycanned. They lived off the deer, whatever they had to do, that’swhat they did and that’s how they survived.

Most year-round families lived in the center of the Island. Hap:”Ram Island? There was nothing there and most true Islanderswouldn’t want to live out there because that’s where the badweather was. You lived from the Center to the southwest part of theIsland because the northeast was too nasty to deal with and thenorthwest was the Heights, summer people and the camps. So youlived in the center and to the south because the southwest windcoming in the summer kept the place cooler and it was protectedfrom the north winds. It sounds weird now but that’s the way itwas.

Hap: “Our house was on Midway, there were no trees or woods. Alot of people have illusions that the Island had a lot of trees;actually the Island was very bare but there were a lot of lots,that’s exactly what they were.

Joy: “I would walk up to school. We used to call it goingcross-lots, going across someone’s property, you just went over tothe person and asked could you go across, take the shortcut homeand they would say, Ë”Yes, go ahead.’ But then the oldtimers would always watch every day and if you didn’t come, theyknew something was wrong and they might even try to find out if youwere sick.

Joy went to school in “the old building, the wooden yellowbuilding that her grandmother had attended. “I didn’t go tokindergarten, there wasn’t one, so everyone went to first grade andif you didn’t do well in first grade, you just went to first gradeagain, it was as simple as it was. Nobody had a feeling of stayingbehind, it was very common. If you didn’t do well in fourth grade,so you stayed in fourth grade again. I don’t think the kids feltfunny about it or anything, it was just what you did, there was nostigma to it.

Joy: “When you were a kid you didn’t even know it but you had alot of parents watching you. We were always protected, everyonewatched over us in so many ways. If Mom had to go somewhere, weeither went to grandmother or aunt Margaret would take care of us -the neighbors were aunt and uncle, no matter if they really were ornot.

“If I went down to the ferry, they’d call my parents,Ë”Joy’s down here, is she allowed to go to Greenport?’ Wewere watched, watched! My aunts were the telephone operators and ifyou picked up the phone, well, there was no Ë”numberplease’ for us, it was just, Ë”What do you want?’Ë”Well I’m looking for Ma.’ Ë”Oh, she’s down atsuch and such.’ It was a whole different way of living.

The conversation went on – the weather then, their dad’sbusiness, relations between Islanders and “summer people,Islanders’ attitudes towards change and the origins of today’svolunteerism. A continuation of this interview will appear in afuture issue of the Reporter.