The Sugar Shack-Part 1- A Brief History

A lot of people don’t know why I skipped my high school graduation in 1989, so now I’m going to tell them. It’s because instead of attending that monumental event,  I was driving cross-country with my mother and my 21 year-old cousin, Anne Marie, in my 1981 Pontiac Sunbird from Tucson, Arizona to Charlestown, Rhode Island so we could be there to open a beach concession stand in time for Memorial Day Weekend. We made the trip in 2.5 days of driving with a stopover in Ohio. If it had taken any longer, I don’t think we would’ve made it there at all.

There is some coincidence in the fact that we took my ’81 Sunbird to drive back, since that was the last year that my family had run the place. That crew didn’t really include me working the fryer or the grill, although I did have more than my share of canned Lipton Iced Tea and Countrytime Lemonade. Because I was only 10, I didn’t have a lot of cooking duty.  However, upon my return in ’89, I had quite a lot of cooking duty  and a majority of that came in the form of double and triple bacon cheeseburgers and french-fries  I would make for myself during slow times.  The place I’m referring to was called the Sugar Shack, and it was a small, run-down building, with a couple of freezers and a refrigerator, all from the 1960’s.  Its linoleum flooring had pulled away from the concrete beneath it in many places, and the windows where customers placed their orders were small, and somewhat low to the ground. They slid open from side to side, and you would have to stick your head almost all the way out of the window to take a customer’s order. So if you were a customer over 5 feet tall, you’d pretty much have to do a squat to be seen face to face by the order taker inside. The cooking facilities consisted of a double fry-o-later and a small grill. My mom also made very efficient use of one of the first microwaves ever built, and a two-quart crock pot.

The Sugar Shack was built near Shelter Cove, which had about 35 dock slips available at the time. You could have referred to the whole setup as a “mini-marina”. There once was a bait shop and a fuel pump available. Some enterprising owners turned the bait shop into a kayak rental shop in the early 90‘s and the gas pump was taken out in 1993 (it didn’t work even back in 1981). At the very end of the property, around the opposite side of the cove, where the land juts out into the salt pond like a small peninsula, there is a building that used to be a dive shop. I don’t think it is used for anything anymore. One time my dad’s friends came up from New York for a weekend visit and one of them referred to the cove as “the lagoon”. As in “Hey! let’s go swimming in the lagoon!”. Come to think of it, that same guy also referred to clamcakes as “clam-balls”, and one night after coming home from a night of partying at the bars and dance clubs in Misquamicut, he went to sleep on our dog’s bed under the stairs at our house.

Back when we ran it, you could rent the Shack for the season (Memorial Day to Labor Day) for a set fee. We had to pay for the utilities and our stock, but anything we made above that was ours to keep. Also, we even got a piece of the parking fee. The fee of $2 and we would have to split that 50-50 with the owners of the property if we collected it. If the owner’s collected it, we got nothing, so my mother always made sure that one of us was out there to collect when the cars pulled in. On numerous occasions, when people slipped through because we were too busy cooking and working the window in the Shack, my mother would either send me or my cousin to go chase the people down to the beach. Sometimes she would do it herself. Hey, a buck is a buck, right?

The place is a much more modern and upgraded facility now, and it isn’t even called the Sugar Shack anymore (it’s called Johnny Angel’s Clam Shack now). It’s a great destination, yet I don’t think it has the same charm. I know I have a tendency of romanticizing the past places and events of my life, but even then, in the middle of this great adventure after leaving high school and before my short-lived career in a typewriter repair shop, I knew the times I was spending working at the Shack and the friends I made there, were something that should not (and could not) be forgotten. The thing about memories is that once you make them, you want to share them with others.

One of the most memorable things we used to do down by the Shack involved hitching rides to the beach in a somewhat unconventional way. The Shack is located on about an acre of land right next to a little bridge that separates Greenhill Pond and Ninigret Pond and leads to Charlestown Beach. Before that bridge was re-engineered and rebuilt, there was not enough room for cars to cross it from opposite directions at the same time. This forced drivers to alternate crossing the bridge by stopping and deferring to the driver coming from the other direction.  This situation not only provided some excellent entertainment for us, but it also gave us guys a chance to score big points with the ladies. There is a state campground at the end of the Charlestown Beach road called the Breachway, and campers would drive or tow their RV up the beach road to camp right there next to the ocean. Sometimes while the drivers of the RV’s traveling to the campsite would be stopped waiting for their turn to cross the bridge, we would jump on the ladders on the back of the RV and “hitch” a ride about 400 yards up to the beach. It had a very high “cool factor” even if it wasn’t super practical. To get off the RV ladder we would have to wait for the driver to slow down at the point where the beach road turned at about 75 degrees to the right. Timing was critical. When the driver would slow down to turn at the bend in the road, there was about a three-second window of opportunity to jump from the ladder relatively safely. However, if you were too chicken to jump from the moving vehicle at that point, one of two things was going to happen: You were either going to end up taking a header and rolling in the dirt at about 15 miles per hour once the vehicle began to accelerate, or you were going to ride all the way to the breachway, about a mile down the road. Coming back from this trip to the breachway was commonly referred to as “the walk of shame”. Although, there was often a fair amount shame involved even if you did have the stones to jump off when the driver accelerated. The beach road is not soft, (it’s hard-packed sand and rocks) and several guys ended up with a pair of cut-off jean shorts that let‘s just say “exposed areas of the body that didn‘t normally see a lot of sunlight”.

Come Back Soon and I’ll tell you a little more about the cross-country drive we took (speeding tickets, missed exits, road blindness, burned-out electrical systems and sleeping by the side of the highway). You don’t want to miss this!

Faith, Belief and Truth

Do you have Faith or do you have Belief?  What’s the difference?

To understand the difference, it helps to know the history of the words themselves. The word “faith” is derived from the Latin word, fides, which is a variation of fidere; “to trust”.  Originally meaning “to have loyalty to a person based on promise or duty”, it did not take on a religious context until the beginning of the 14th century, which, not coincidentally, is often referred to as the “Age of Faith” (see Crusades).

The word “belief” is a relatively newer word than faith. It has Germanic roots, and was first used in the 12th century with an original meaning of “to trust in God”. By the 16th century, however,  it had come to mean “that which is mentally accepted as true”.

As for truth, its first recorded usage is in the early 13th century, its origin is Old English and its original meaning was “faithful”.

See a pattern here? Whether you have faith in something, or believe in it, or think it to be true, the end result is the same. You will follow that faith, or belief through to its logical conclusion or until it is proven false, from the Latin, falsus, “deceived, erroneous, mistaken”.

To me, faith is more than just sitting back and waiting for something to happen. Faith is active. Faith is an enabler.  It requires us to go after what we want, in the belief that if we strive toward our goal, we will achieve it.  Faith today exists in many forms, such as: religious faith, faith in yourself and your abilities, faith in your friends,  in your community, and in your leaders.

When we choose, we act on faith.

Who do you trust?

Word Origins courtesy of Online Etymology Dictionary

What is your True Nature?

Our lives are filled with opportunities. These include the opportunity to complain, to argue, to get angry, frustrated, to cry, or to give up just as much as the opportunity to change, to hope, to grow, to laugh or to have faith. Your true nature will determine which choice you will make. When faced with adversity, it is often difficult to recognize these positive options on our own. This is when we reach out to others for support. I recently experienced the healing power of positive thoughts and friendship when my 19 month-old daughter was hospitalized and underwent surgery to treat a very bad infection. There is no doubt in my mind that the thoughts and prayers of the people in my circle of friends (as well as those from people they told that I have never even met)  made a huge difference. My wife and I were completely overwhelmed and comforted by this support. We were not alone, even though we were out of town when it happened.  This positivity we received flowed through us and I know it affected my daughter’s recovery. Certainly the medical attention she received was top-notch and we made the choice to bring her into the ER, which reminds me of a story:

A man was trapped in his two-story home in the aftermath of a very serious hurricane that brought heavy flooding. As the floodwater reached the top of the first story of his home, a National Guard rescue boat came around to pick him up and he responded from a second-story window by saying, “No thanks. God will deliver me from this.”
Later that day, as the floodwater covered the second-story, the rescue boat came around again. And this time, he responded from the roof of his home, “No thanks. God will deliver me from this.”
Even later that day, as the waters began to cover the roof of his home, a helicopter hovered above to take him from the rooftop. Once again he responded, “No thanks. God will deliver me from this.”
Not long after this attempt, the man was swept up by the floodwater and died. When he got to heaven, he asked God with some hostility, “What happened?! I had faith that you would deliver me from the floodwater!”
And God replied, “I sent two boats and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

God’s true nature is to help and He sometimes works through us to deliver it. If you want help, it never hurts to ask for it.  If we aren’t helping each other, what are we here for anyway? This is not a dress rehearsal. You are a gifted and sentient being, and you can make a difference. You can make the life you want by choosing it.