Dan Rattiner's Stories

The Lady: An Odd Adventure in the Home of a Bonacker

Sag Harbor passed a law regulating chickens and roosters in their village the other day. Roosters are banned entirely because at dawn they so proudly welcome the day with their crowing. As for chickens, you can have them only if you get a permit, and then there is a limit to how many you can have, and as for their eggs, not how many they can lay—you can’t regulate that—but whether you can sell them. You can’t sell them. That would be running a business out of your home. You can only give them away. Or eat them yourself.

It seemed to me, reading about this, that this was just too bad; it was just one more thing you used to be able to do you can’t do anymore.

I think what happened in Sag Harbor is relevant to what happened at my house in East Hampton a few days later.

Around 6 p.m., Stuart Vorpahl knocked on my front door. He hadn’t called ahead. He just walked over from his house down the way, without any advance notice. It was something people do around here among friends, at least in the Springs community where I live.

“Just saw your car in the driveway,” he said when I let him in. “My wife’s away. Seemed like you were by yourself too.” [expand]

Stuart is a Bonacker, a descendant of some of the original English settlers in this community. He fishes, he clams, he builds and repairs boats, and he and his wife raise ducks and chickens in the yard between his house and garage on the little dirt road where he lives about a quarter mile away. Many Bonackers live in small houses on that dead-end road. There’s maybe 40 houses in all.

I offered him a drink, brought out some salted nuts, and we sat in the living room for a while and talked about this and that. Topics included fishing, town regulations—Vorpahl had been a Trustee for a number of terms—boat repair and the crowds downtown. It’s been a pretty wild summer. I told him about the new Sag Harbor chicken regulations. We sat quietly for a while. There are no regulations like that in Springs or East Hampton. Yet.

Then he told me a story.

“My wife and I were home the other evening when we heard a commotion in the yard with the chickens. We ran out. There were these two big dogs—Dalmatians—running around after them, scaring the hell out of them. Mary got a broom, I ran into the garage to get a shovel or something. And at that moment, this big car pulls up, the door opens and this man and woman shout out the dogs’ names. They stopped immediately, ran to the car and got in. The car then backed out and drove away.

“We were pretty startled by this behavior. There was no sorry about this. Nothing. As they backed out, I got the license plate number.

“After we settled down the chickens, we talked about this. I was pretty riled up about it and said I think we ought to call the police—not to have them arrested or anything, but just to get them to come back and say something to us. There’d been a lot of ruffled feathers out there. Even the geese.”

“Anybody hurt?”

“No. Still. So we did call them. Anyway, about 10 minutes later, there’s a car pulled up the driveway and a knock at the door. We figure it’s the police. But when we open the door, it’s this woman, about 35 I’d guess, and, at first, I think she must be the woman from the dogs. But no, she says this really strange thing. She is wondering if we might need anybody to do cleaning, because she does house cleaning. She has this strange foreign accent. Somewhere in Europe, I think. She comes right in.

“I tell her no, we don’t need any house cleaning, and she looks around at things as if she’s going to tell us that this or that needs cleaning, and then another car pulls up and we can see the flashing lights, and she looks startled and says could we do something for her, which is to just say that she’s part of the family. A cousin or something. She walks over and pats our big dog. He wags his tail.

“I look at Mary and before we can decide what to do, it’s the police knocking on the door, and she says, please do this, there’d be no harm, and then she just says I’ll be in the bedroom and she just walks in there. Mary and I look at each other again, and I go let the police in, and she heads into the bedroom. My wife follows her in. Later she tells me she asked the woman where she was from. Romania, it turns out.

“Meanwhile, I’m talking to two of these big officers. They take out pads and write things down. I tell them what I want them to do, which is contact these people and ask them why they did what they did and all, and I give them the license plate number.

“At that point, the woman comes out of the bedroom and sits in the club chair and begins petting the dog. My wife follows, but doesn’t say anything. Then the woman thanks the officers for coming and says everything is just fine with her and me and my wife, her cousins. She says a nice thing to the dog. I forget the name she called him.

“After a few more pleasantries, the officers tip their hats and leave, and they go out to their car and drive away. You can see the flashing lights fade away. And with that, the woman smiles and says thank you very much, thanks for everything and she seems much relieved and so then she leaves.

“Mary and I talk about this. We can’t quite figure out what to make of this. It’s so bizarre.

“Later that evening, I go out to the yard to check on the chickens and by gosh her car is still parked there. I look around. It’s just the car, a Jeep. She’s nowhere to be found. I come back in and report this information and my wife says well let’s just forget about all this for now, and maybe in the morning the car will be gone. And so that is what we do.

“Come morning, about six, I go back out there to feed the chickens and by gosh the car’s gone. And so that was the end of it.”

“So what do you think?” I asked.

“Well we don’t really know. What do you think?”

This was a very interesting topic of conversation. But what we finally decided was this. The woman is driving down Three Mile Harbor Road when, suddenly, she sees a police car with its lights flashing in her rear-view mirror and thinks they are after her. She gets scared. Why, we have no idea. Maybe she’s done something. So she pulls up the dirt road, and into Stuart’s driveway and get’s inside with this crazy housekeeping story. She figures she’s safe.

Then the cops come and she runs into the bedroom, but when she hears what it’s all about, she comes out and pretends she’s part of the family.

Why does she leave the Jeep there? Who knows. Maybe it’s a stolen car or something. Or maybe it has a broken taillight, who knows? But anyway, when she thinks the coast is clear, she comes back for it.

I loved this story. Stuart left after about an hour. My wife was in the city so he was right about my being alone, and I sure did enjoy his company. So as it happened, he left me with this remarkable story, which I figured is worth sharing with you on the occasion of something like this never happening in Sag Harbor anymore.

Our loss, in my opinion.

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