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02/26/15 8:00am
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO The dock to nowhere. Pilings pulled from the bottom of Coecles Harbor by a combination of ice and tides made this dock one of February’s victims.

The dock to nowhere. Pilings pulled from the bottom of Coecles Harbor by a combination of ice and tides made this dock one of February’s victims.

Crankiness and cabin fever will vanish with a rise in temperatures, but the first stirrings of spring could make the Island’s infrastructure woes much worse. (more…)

11/01/13 11:07am

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Hans Schmid outside his home on South Cartwright Road.

Everybody knows Hans Schmid, the inveterate biker, bowler and baker’s son who has been taking care of the roads and everything else that has needed maintenance, repair and tinkering in Shelter Island Heights for 30 years.

But younger Islanders, and other more recent arrivals, probably have no idea Hans was born in southern Germany, in a town called Eislingen on the Fils River east of Stuttgart.

He visited Germany once in the late 1970s with his father, George, who showed him the room where he was born in an apartment over a tavern that had been his grandfather’s before it was his father’s.

They visited his mother’s family in northern Germany but they had a much better time when they headed south to Eislingen.

“Somebody told me that in north Germany, if there’s a table for 10 and eight people are sitting there but they don’t know you, there’s no room,”

Hans said during a chat at the bar in his downstairs pool-and-storage room, where there’s barely enough room for the pool table he salvaged from St. Gabe’s Retreat 25 years ago. “But in the south, if it’s a table of 10 and there are 11 people sitting there, there’s still room for you.”

He continued to sing the praises of the town of his birth. “All we did was play pinochle and drink schnaps” with a church group he had expected not to like. In the early morning, after two cops shooed them from the church, they went to someone’s house nearby and had noodle soup and schnaps for breakfast.

He came to America with his two older sisters and his parents when he was 13 months old. The family started out in Huntington, where his father’s sister was living. The old country tavern had been buried in his grandfather’s debts and, in post-war Germany, where his oldest sister Heidi could remember living on grass soup during the war, his parents had been unable to make ends meet. Hans’ father, George, had expected back pay for his German Army service, including four years as a POW working for a French farmer. But it turned out his father had cashed all his son’s checks and spent the money.

Here on Long Island, George went to work at a bakery in Elwood. He later bought a house in Kings Park, where he started his own bakery. Hans went to elementary school there and to Long Island Lutheran in Brookville for high school.

Everyone in the house knew how to speak German except Hans. “I only learned the dirty stuff from my parents,” he said, so he took German in high school.

“I almost didn’t pass,” he remembered. The problem was he was being taught “haupt Deutsch” at school, he said, but at home they spoke a southern dialect. “They’d help me with my homework and I’d come back [to school] and say, ‘Hey, come on, man, you got it all wrong!’”

His father wanted to retire one day on Shelter Island, where Hans’ sister Rosie had gone to live after her marriage to Charles Wissemann, whose father was in the baking supply business.

The Schmids moved here in 1969, the year Hans graduated from high school. They lived in the house on South Cartwright where John and Carol Hallman live now. It’s right next door to the log house Hans and his wife Debbie — now Debbie Speeches, they divorced after Hans developed his interest in motorcycles — would build for themselves in 1984 and raise their two children, Tanya and Jeremy. It’s where Hans lives today with a couple of cockatiels, an errant rooster from a neighboring property and a friend-and-boarder or two.

In 1969, his father opened a bakery with seating for lunch and dinner in the building now occupied by Maria’s Kitchen at the corner of Jaspa Road and Route 114; later he built the structure on South Ferry Road that Vine Street Restaurant has expanded in recent years and moved his bakery there.

Hans went to college for a year at the Church College of Hawaii, a Mormon school, of all places. Why? “Because even with two round trips, it was cheaper than living at home and going to Southampton,” he said.

But that fall, Hans pulled number 79 out of 365 in the first national draft lottery, which meant he would be losing his student deferment and, most likely, wind up in Vietnam after the school year. So he enlisted in the Navy to avoid the infantry.

He likes to joke that he did manage to see combat. Based in Boston, he spent time in a part of South Boston called “The Combat Zone” that had some good bars.

When he came home, he worked for his father, cooking and serving. He also had jobs doing whatever had to be done at John Michalak’s restaurants at Goat Hill and before that the Dory. In the winter, Hans headed to Florida, where among other jobs he made heroes and served beer at a place called Heidi’s Hoagies.

Retirement wasn’t in the cards for Hans’ father. On Shelter Island, he worked harder than ever, 18 hours a day, and sleeping on the couch during the holidays when the orders for gingerbread houses and stollen came pouring in. When he was diagnosed with liver cancer, the end came quickly both for him and the bakery. The family searched but there were no recipes left behind; they all had been in George’s head.

Hans’ first major job was working for Glen King on Shelter Island building docks. He did that for six years, then spent a year “painting and doing whatever needed to be done” at Coecles Harbor Marina and then two years working as a mechanic for Hap Bowditch.

“Then I sold my soul,” he laughed, after seeing a help wanted ad placed by the Heights Property Owners Corporation for a maintenance worker. He’s been at it 30 years come June.

Now John Michalak is working for Hans on the two-man Heights maintenance crew, plowing, picking up leaves, taking care of roads and sewers. Hans used to run the sewage treatment plant, too, but after it was upgraded the Heights hired a separate manager for that.

John is a bike fan like Hans; the two rode to Florida together a while ago. Bev Pelletier is another biker buddy; she and Hans have been all over, from North Carolina to New Hampshire.

Hans got into biking about 15 years ago “during my midlife crisis.” He’s got four in his garage but he hasn’t been aboard for two years now because of a hip problem.

His son Jeremy has been in the Air Force for five years, based in Afghanistan right now. Tanya lives in Beacon, New York, where she is a house painter. Sister Heidi lives in Arizona and South Carolina and Rosie and brother-in-law Charlie are close by.

These days for fun Hans plays pool and bowls at the Legion Hall. He writes the men’s bowling column for the Reporter, where editors and proofers are always on the lookout for the earthy double entendres he has been known to plant in his copy.

08/16/13 5:00pm


The Crew, as I call them, came out recently. It comprises my wife’s son and daughter, their spouses, two kids (son) and two dogs (daughter). Excellent humans and animals all, but there is, for me, a disorder dynamic that accompanies their arrival, which I have been working on to handle, not that anyone would recognize this effort.

This time, they came out on Friday and we came out on Saturday morning and spent a perfect day at Wades. The son’s wife had purchased one of those tent-like beach enclosures, large enough for all of us to recline in our chairs without fighting for our small circles of individual umbrella shade. It felt like the Ritz.

On Sunday morning, as is his wont, grandson Max arose early and crossed the second floor landing to tentatively open our bedroom door, which reliably creaks to announce his arrival. I say, “Hi, Fuzzball,” a reference to a time not long ago when we shared amusement at a Harrison Ford moment in a Star Wars movie when he upbraided his Wookie sidekick. This remark no longer has any effect and I will retire it. He climbs between us, into The Cave, where in the past we have imagined wild animals benignly threatening him from outside. From deep brain recesses, I resurrected my guttural tiger snarl, which like the failed Fuzzball gambit, no longer sends him burrowing to the back of The Cave for safety. It’s mostly iPad games now.

My wife asks him what he wants to do. A couple ideas are thrown out. He says, “I want to play baseball with Grandpa.”

We go to the garage to select a bat. There are two slender yellow Wiffle Ball bats and a fat red one that seems appropriate for Sammy Sosa in his juicing days. We go with one of the Wiffles and a styrene ball from the recreational spheroid collection.

We head to the diamond, which is in fact the turnaround of the cul-de-sac we live on. My pitching is terrible, too often inside or low. But he whacks away, spraying balls to the first and third base side, to which I say, “Good hit, but I think you nailed a fan.” He pays no heed to my chatter. He does have an innate sense to make me fetch a ball in the tall grass, somehow grasping the notion of bugs and ticks.

My wife comes out and we go into a pitcher/catcher mode that speeds up the action big time. She quickly takes over the hurling duties and puts me to shame, laying in gopher ball after gopher ball. Then Dad and then Mom show up and we have some actual fielding going on. I make several sensational plays but no one seems to notice. The one-on-one grandpa/grandkid spell has long been broken, but you take what you can get.

Next up is the Coecles Harbor Marina pool, where a dear friend allows us entry. Mom and Dad are with the one-year-old girl so we still have custody of Max. The idea is to go swimming, but Dear Friend offers to take us out in her Whaler. This is a no-brainer, but I wonder how Max will react. His sister, if magically endowed with speech and sufficient cognition, would eagerly assent to sky diving. Max has a more deliberative world view.

We inch out of the marina and the time comes to put on some speed. Dear Friend has been in this situation dozens of times. She tells Max it’s all about his comfort zone and gives the throttle a little push. He’s cool with that and then she adds a bit more and then we’re flying. On the phone we record a big smile, absent two front teeth. We bounce through our first wake. The smile endures, bigger maybe.

As we head to Reel Point, Dear Friend asks him to step up to the wheel and he grabs on. He understands this is serious stuff and affects an ancient mariner pose. Then Dear Friend starts a lazy right-hand turn and he’s totally into it as we head back to the marina.

Next up is the Whale’s Tale. He is no young Tiger Woods. His game is all mulligans and herding the ball into the cup. Then, mid-way through, we encounter a hole with no gimmicks, obstacles or undulating carpet. He puts his orange ball into the dimple. From the instant he starts his tiny back swing I know he made unconscious calculations for force and speed and the ball takes off accordingly. He drains it, a no-doubter.

Jubilation? Nope. He wants a do-over.

We’ll take a do-over of the entire day.