It was a magical phrase to those of us in our late teens, during the 1960’s. Several gathering spots, situated along the Lake Erie shore some twenty miles south of Buffalo, and dispensing beer and rock music, drew us in like flies every Saturday and Sunday. During the day, we would lounge on the beach, play volley ball and socialize with young people like ourselves from all over the greater Buffalo area.
Many years later, I was to discover my own family’s long attachment to these storied and sandy environs. During the 1920’s my grandfather and his brothers had smuggled Canadian Whiskey across Lake Erie, from Long point in Canada to the serene beaches of Brant Beach on the Seneca Indian Reservation, just south of Point breeze. In that it was Indian land, the local constabulary were precluded from searching for just such rascals as the Martin Brothers, involved in depression-era whiskey smuggling. From that point on, there had been a Martin presence on these sandy shores. My own family owned a small cottage next to that of my Father’s sister, Marion Ryan. He sold the place in 1949, when the sixth in line of the burgeoning family arrived, one Joseph Xavier Martin. Dad thought that he had no time available or extra money to hold onto the place, as the next six children arrived after me. We still visited Aunt Marion’s place frequently throughout the years. A pump outside the cottage provided water for the inhabitants. The roads, leading in from rural lake Shore Rd., were constructed of stone and sand. We made do with the rudimentary conditions there and enjoyed the rural splendor of the place on many a Summer’s eve.
Neighbors would build bonfires along the beach and families would gather to talk, sing songs and tell stories. My dad was the principle raconteur. He would regale the spellbound children with ghost stories featuring the long departed, who came back searching for their “golden arm” or some such other eerie relic. The stories had us all listening to the sounds around us later at night, always listening for the odd creak or footstep that could spell the arrival of the dreaded and unknown specters of the night.
When the rains came, we would sit on the screened in porch and watch with fascination, as the electrical storms roared up the lake from its western shore, headed eastward for Buffalo. It is a magical memory of nature’s majesty, that I still relive in memory and treasure.
My aunt’s grandson, Peter Quinn, still owns the place. He and several other members of our extended family make up a presence on the Brant Beach. During one fourth of July, many of us gathered there for a small reunion. To our amazement, there were several thousand descendants, of other cottage owners, who gathered on the beach that night. Wow, what a difference forty years makes.
Just North of there, my Mother’s mother had built a small place on Herr Rd, near Point Breeze. I visited her but once when a friend and I stopped by the “Ramona Villa” looking for her. We had a nice visit.
The main attraction for us was “Lerczak’s,” at Evangola Beach. It was a storied venue of rock and roll, with hot and cold flowing beer. That, and the South Shore Inn next door, were always sro. Many is the night that we sat inside, trying our best to look older and more worldly, as we swayed to the music and talked with friends.
As we got a little older, we migrated out to Sunset Bay, south of Point Breeze. A large colony of South Buffalo expatriates attracted many of its sons and daughters there to recreate on the beach, drink trays of beer playing odd bar games and generally carousing with people our own age. During a few of the Summers, several of our friends rented cottages there. You had to stay there, at a cottage or on the beach, after drinking a small ocean of beer during the day. It was the twilight days of our youth, before war, families and careers intervened and forced us reluctantly to grow up. During one of those summers, my younger sister Maureen was hit and killed by a car, running across busy route five on a dark night. It was a tough loss for us.
But the memories still remain, of carefree golden days of youth, spent doing nothing constructive, except lolling on the beach, drinking beer and listening to the emerging chords of a new era of music and experience. None of us could ever even imagine the psychedelic tidal wave that was about to engulf us. Viet Nam would shatter our innocence forever.
Joseph Xavier Martin