The jaunty Red Flyer wagon, sturdy companion to generations of American children, did not have a role in my childhood. But after spending a week on Fire Island where they play a central role, I find myself as nostalgic and misty eyed as anyone.
These jaunty red wagons remain the enduring symbol of the idyllic, mostly summer communities that dot Fire Island. The long, snakelike island is essentially a thinly populated sandbar, a barrier island enveloped by the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and the Great South Bay on the other.
Having enjoyed a magic-filled day trip there last year, I was determined to spend some time there this summer. And thus the opportunity to experience both the island, and the ‘summer share’ concept.
The ‘summer share’ was filled with mystique to me. A process of finding people who likewise can’t afford the muti-thousands to take up single residency in a beach house, band together to each get a slice of the sea, sand and sunshine.
So I turned to Craigslist the online community that connects buyers with sellers, renters with apartments, lonelyhearts with each other and summer renters with other summer renters.
Friends and colleagues called me crazy for connecting with a total stranger and organizing to share a modest bungalow in the village of Fair Harbour. “She could be an axe murderer!” Which was of course, I reminded them, what her friends were no doubt saying about me.
My housemate, Susan, turned out not only to be non-axe wielding, but someone great to hang out with — from hanging out at the beach to taking the tetanus carrier corroded bicycles for a ride to the lighthouse, comparing beach reads to cooking up a storm.
As this post evidences, all turned out well. In fact, it was entirely magical. We had the best week weather-wise, that those who have summered on the island for the past 25 years can recall.
Together with the truly pedestrian way of life — no cars (save the diminutive fire trucks and odd utility or police vehicle on the sole, narrow road) — live moves at the languid pace humans were meant to live at. Walking everywhere, biking to places further afield, exiting the front gate of your bungalow and making the big decision of the day: right to the bay or left to the beach and strolling along the wooden boardwalks that will take you there.
This is why the little red wagons have become indispensible for hauling groceries back from the sole general store or wine shop; deliveries of fresh fish from the dock; chairs and children; dogs and double bed mattresses (yes, I witnessed this first hand!) Immortalized in artworks like this print, right.
The red flyer wagon has become symbolic, not only of lazy summers, childhoods present and past, and a slower pace of life, but for some of us, an icon of the way we’d love to live.