Art Tully, who lost his home in the Breezy Point fire Monday, says: “These are memories. We’ll move on. We’ll make new ones.” (Photo: Jennifer S. Altman for USA TODAY)
BREEZY POINT, N.Y. -- Like a lot of beach towns, this one is about
memories. But along hundreds of miles of coastline, countless mementos,
keepsakes and other personal reminders of summer fun have been washed
away, ruined or, in Shamus Barnes' case, incinerated.
HOW TO DONATE TO OPERATION SANDY RELIEF
has spent every summer he can remember here at the sandy tip of the
Rockaway Peninsula. Those years were lovingly documented in photos of
what his family calls "the pyramid" - the intergenerational group photo
op that seemed to grow larger each year.
Those photos were lost
when, in the midst of Sandy's assault, fire destroyed more than 100
houses on Monday, including Barnes' and his parents' homes.
never be able to replace those things," he says. He is standing in the
mud, holding the lighthouse-shaped sign for No. 16 Fulton Walk, all that
was left of his bungalow. "It's just pictures, but they show the legacy
of what's gone on here. That's the backbone of everything out here -
That's how it is now from Cape May on the Jersey Shore
to Montauk at the end of Long Island. Boardwalks will be repaired,
beaches restored, houses rebuilt. But part of a coastal heritage is gone
for good - items with sentimental value no FEMA check can cover.
you have insurance you can always rebuild," says Jeanne Tierney, whose
in-laws' house was so close to the fire its siding melted. "You can't
get that personal history back."
As she was parked in line waiting
to enter the gated enclave, Tierney saw an older woman walking in the
other direction. She was crying, and carried nothing but an old wooden
handmade mailbox with the number 5.
Such were the things they
lost: stuffed rabbits threadbare from too many hugs; grandmothers'
lockets and grandfathers' pocket watches; decks where couples talked all
night, waiting for the sun.
A promotional beer-bottle koozie from
a local bar, a ratty sweatshirt that hung for years on a hook by the
door. A boogie board passed from kid to kid.
The air mattresses
that let a two-bedroom cottage sleep 10. The 7-foot stick on which
children's growth from summer to summer was marked by pencil lines.
Your father's tools. Your collection of fishing lures. Your son's toy fire engine.
Breezy Point fire destroyed Helen Graham's seascape paintings, created
after she retired and a delight to behold - especially the one of her
grandchildren in shadows at sunset by the bay.
She's 77 now. "I don't know if she can paint that way anymore," says her daughter-in-law, Karen.
the same fire, Art Tully, a 62-year-old civil engineer, lost the
patchwork comforter his late mother crocheted. It sat for years on the
back of the living room couch, and covered four generations of Tullys at
'I had a meltdown'
In Norwalk, Conn., it
was bad enough that water from Long Island Sound covered the ground
floor of Heidi Calloway's house and garage, and that the saltwater
destroyed the tulips, vegetables and other plants in her backyard.
real heartache, she says, was having to throw out personal things, like
books, pictures and the red tie that her late husband, a rock and blues
musician, wore onstage.
"I had a meltdown," says Calloway, 57. "It's an emotional rollercoaster, throwing things in the dumpster."
governor of New Jersey seemed to understand. When he lamented "the
iconic things ... washed into the ocean," Chris Christie meant landmarks,
like boardwalks and rollercoasters. But he could as easily have been
talking about lobster pots turned into coffee tables, venerable sea
shell collections and lamps fashioned out of Chianti bottles.
with a beach house, "you really don't get rid of anything," and might
not remodel as soon or as often as a primary residence, says Jeanne
Tierney. "Over the generations, you just keep the same dishes, the same
everything." The past hangs heavy.
To imagine the big loss, focus for a moment on just one woman's.
Taylor, 47, lives with her husband on an inlet in Massapequa, N.Y.
She's a makeup artist who's worked on Rolling Stones tours and in
television and for fashion magazines.
Treading the soggy first
floor of her 1920s white stucco Spanish-style house, she mourned the
loss of precious items. Some testified to the faith of her sober German
ancestors. Others marked her own exciting days as a young woman living
and working in Manhattan.
Before the storm, Taylor moved
everything she valued up off the floors, onto tables and shelves. Ten
feet of water later, they were ruined. Two days later, she walks down
the stairs to the basement, where the water has receded to a few feet
above the wall-to-wall leopard carpeting.
She reaches down and pulls up a binder containing old business cards. A stream of water pours out.
"Whatever was down here is gone," she says. "That was my youth."
The inventory of artifacts submerged or floating in the dark:
Antique glass German Christmas ornaments with hand-painted holiday scenes.
drum set she bought her husband Ray for his 50th birthday. A framed
7-by-5-foot photo of Dylan and Springsteen jamming at the Rock 'n' Roll
Hall of Fame. It was shot by Jay Mazur, who helped her get started, and
survived a fire in her New York apartment building.
Her first book contract.
Photos of the veteran makeup artist who welcomed her at NBC 30 years ago.
A crate-like traveling makeup case made for her by Stones roadies.
copy of Keith Richards' autobiography, signed by the author at his
Manhattan book party, and inscribed "To Pamela - Thanks for making me
look so great!"
Six watercolors painted by her grandmother, including her favorite, a landscape of Montauk Point in the '40s.
A collection of Metropolitan Opera librettos from the '20s.
An old leather German Bible with her father's family tree inside the cover.
A century-old English Christmas village set with buildings that lit up inside.
Photos of her on makeup jobs with Chevy Chase, Billy Joel and Steven Tyler.
A set of Art Deco chairs that graced her Manhattan apartment and made her feel so sophisticated.
session "call sheets" that marked her career, from Stones' tours to a
"Say No to Drugs" public service campaign featuring former Mets star
Slides of novice models whom she made up who became supermodels, including Josie Maran.
Original copies of instructional articles by her hero, the Hollywood makeup man Max Factor.
Jaycox, a RAND Corp. behavioral expert, says such losses - of a house
or a stuffed animal - can be particularly traumatic when they occur in
the context of what she calls "an alarming event" like Sandy.
studying assault victims, she says, you never know what someone whose
purse is snatched will miss most: the money or the child's photo tucked
at the bottom. But she thinks all those robbed by Sandy must face it,
mourn it and find new emotional treasures.
When treasures come home
Art Tully understands: "These are memories. We'll move on. We'll make new ones."
as it turns out, not all the old ones were lost for good. Tully himself
found the plastic red wagon that everyone on the Tullys' block on Ocean
Avenue in Breezy Point used to haul around groceries or beach gear.
the moment, until he and his neighbors can rebuild, Tully is keeping
the wagon in his backyard upstate. "The kids are thrilled," he reports,
as if he isn't.
On Wednesday, he was at Breezy Point,
taking a cutting from a rose bush that had been planted by his mother,
so he can replant it when he rebuilds the house.
Tierney, 20, is looking through a pool of debris near his family's house
on Atlantic Walk. There are two framed photos of babies. They look
familiar. On closer inspection, they are Pietro and Giuseppe, the
nephews of his neighbor Ann Hoerning, now teenagers living with their
parents in Tuscany.
On Thursday, his mother, Jeanne, was trying to
reach her neighbor with the news. "I feel so badly about what happened
here," she says. "But then something like this happens."
like this also happened to Danielle DeAngelis, who lives near the beach
in the Sea Gate section of Brooklyn. The water from Sandy's surge
ripped a hole in the back of her family's house and swept their
belongings, including a piano, into the street.
She and her
husband went looking. Two blocks away, she told the Associated Press,
they found treasure: his parents' wedding album.