Wild blueberries flourish alongside poison ivy on Fire Island. They burst with the essence of the Atlantic. These juicy morsels grown in white sand and bits of pink seashells melt in one’s mouth.
A swimming pool suspended on stilts is found in the middle of a swamp on Fire Island where these blueberries grow. A wooden deck is covered on all sides by tall bamboo. Wild blueberry bushes offer fruit to the swimmers.
An oven warmed blueberry pie is perfect paper plate food for Fire Island parties. Only the rich would ever dare eat blueberry pie after picking ripe ones from bushes all day. When chlorinated water is both headed and lighted from beneath, stains of the berries turn to mist and the water glistens blue, just like in the nearby sea. Worries of nearby New York melt away.
Old people love pie and they love to swim in the nude. Perhaps elderly and well-worn digestive systems call for such easy to swallow dishes in the summer; that is why nature brings forth a perfect baking berry. For less than five dollars, I once rolled out fresh pastry using a few cups of flour, a scoop of vegetable shortening, a pinch of salt, and a splash of water. Although pre-made crusts are readily available in supermarket freezers, nothing compares to a pie shell rolled-out like one from the sea. I filled it with heaps of the most succulent fruit ever to be baked at 350.
Unlike peach or apple pie, making a blueberry pie is relatively easy because there is no paring necessary. A nude chef simply rinses the bush-ripened sadness of the vine, tosses them into in a glass bowl, adds a cup of sugar, the squeeze of half a lemon, and a dab of flour. Suddenly, the blues melt away. Sprinkled with cinnamon and dotted with butter. Covered with a layer of soon to be flaky pastry, In less than an hour, the house was steaming with summer wildness.
I made a blueberry pie from scratch and presented it in a fancy pie plate purchased from Lechter’s Housewares.. The pie plate, although from China was hand painted. Along the edges, tiny apples and peaches made the dish worthy to present as a housewarming. I made the pie with my own hands. I was obsessed with watching the Martha Stewart show, and after much self-taught effort, learned the art of creating a perfect pie crust. I though a pie would be a perfect gift to take when invited as a guest in someone’s beach home for a weekend. My annual salary was just over 30 pecks. It was August and blueberries were cheap at the supermarket.
Claude Winfield and his partner, British socialite, heavy-drinker, and ‘New York Times’ crossword puzzle wizard, Tilly Davis of the Upper East Side Davis’s were the ones who invited me along with my fresh pie to their home. Claude and Tilly fought tooth-and-nail over that pie, as did all the other guests at their heavily secluded, bamboo enshrouded beach palace, on the edge of what was called ‘the meat wrack’ in old, gay Fire Island, NY.
Claude and Tilly were the richest friends I ever made while living in New York City. I had to do something impressive for them. They had the nicest place I have ever slept within. They were unmarried and loaded beyond the contents of a well- made blueberry pie. The pair of dinosaurs took to me as quickly as the dessert I made for their home vanished that weekend. I had no clue that blueberries were ripe and growing all around Claude and Tilly’s swimming pool. The sight of that housewarming gift must have made them sick, but the truth is, due to the fact that I made fresh pastry, even Tilly, the rich Jewess, was impressed.
Both Claude and Tilly inherited considerable fortunes. Tilly’s husband invested soundly before he had died, Claude’s friend, a victim of the gay seventies and the blueberries of Fire Island, left Claude with more money than one could drink away in one lifetime.
Tilly loved gay men as much as Claude loved booze. She too could put a few down without blinking, but Tilly was a silent, closeted drinker. She drank casually with her houseguests, and by 1:00 every day, was usually pretty lit. A guest in the house never witnessed Tilly refilling her glass. It was amazing to learn as the day progressed, she would sneak behind the backs of those whose glasses she never let go dry, distracting us all for an instant I suppose, and quickly topping herself off, quickly slurping it halfway down before any of us turned back around to noticed any of the bottles had gone a little drier. She often retreated to a soft cozy couch in the shared flat, where she read thick novels and inconspicuously kept a pealed ear for the needs of the household, and any needs a visiting guest may require, she sprung to like a jackrabbit. There were fresh, fluffy white towels at every shower and every dip in the pool—Tilly running downstairs, under the suspended pool, to a laundry room where she kept a washer and dryer churning constantly. Like a nun, the Jewess took care of the Fire Island convent for queers like a priest his coven of secret lovers. Mornings were best when Tilly did the ‘New York Times’ crossword. She often shouted out clues to all of us, none of us cultured or well read or old enough to know the six letter word with both an L and a G.
When I was first introduced to Tilly by her partner of sorts, Claude, months before being invited out to Fire Island, I had no idea she was filthy rich, for she did not wear her dead husband’s wealth like a blueberry stain. Even while at the considerably extravagant beach house, it did not appear to me that Tilly was as rich as Claude let on. She took off her t-shirt before jumping into the beach house pool, revealing the most pretty set of well formed breasts. She could have had work done, but Tilly did not strike me as the type. The baroness certainly could afford it. Her face, a little like a prune from all the booze, brightened up as she shed an old ragged t-shirt to jump in as soon as the sun reached the back of the house and its rays made their way over a large weeping willow tree. Her tits were like the surface of a blueberry and she swam like a mermaid even though she chain-smoked Parliaments when not being a busy body.
Before visiting their home on Fire Island for the first time, with blueberry pie wrapped in tinfoil, I was invited to Tilly’s mansion on the Upper East Side. The woman owned an industrial-size oven in her kitchen Claude wanted to show me an idea he had for Bailey House, a hospice where be both worked. That was when I realized just how rich the humbly dressed Jewess was. Tilly lived next door to the then highly watched and popular television talk show host, Sally Jessy Raphael. We took an extended lunch break to get away from the office of the AIDS hospice and spent the afternoon star hunting in Tilly’s back yard. Claude treated me to a bitter salad a Lola’s in Chelsea before we arrived at Tilly’s that day.
Claude and Tilly had the most unusual of platonic relationships I discovered when Tilly greeted us at her door. I felt instantly like a third-wheel in a twisted love triangle. I know Claude hired me because he thought I was cute. I must have been his type. He seemed to love taunting his wealth in front of me, as if I were the type to fall in love with such madness. He even spoke with a seeming natural English accent. We spent most of the day sipping mimosas that Tilly made from champagne in black bottles and orange juice squeezed in the most intricate of automated kitchen appliances I had ever seen. Being the cook that I am, I nearly fainted. I learned Tilly had four gay male roommates. She liked being around them after her husband died. They each had their own floor in the coveted brownstone. Like Claude, I was so taken by her. She was so quiet, so gentle, so convenient and motherly. After seeing her kitchen, I wanted her to fall in love with me too. It was in Tilly’s kitchen that I was invited to go to Fire Island. “Do you have a lover, dear,” Tilly asked, smiling ever so slightly at me through heavily stained coffee teeth.
“Oh yes, you must bring your lover,” Claude offered, pretending to forget that it was with my lover than I volunteered at Bailey House before becoming a staff person there. “Why not bring along that John Landesman and his girlfriend too,” Claude suggested, referring to my lover’s best friend, a straight Jew, who most certainly to me, appeared to have a few gay traits in him, but none the less, donated his free time along with Linda in helping gay men who were dying from AIDS at Bailey House.
“What can I bring?” I asked, holding up my glass, suggesting perhaps that they recommend a wine.
“Just come pretty, as your are,” Tilly insisted.
The two often flew from New York to Paris on the Concord, I learned over the afternoon cocktails. They run an exclusive catering business appropriately titled “Winfield/ Davis Caterers”. Business cards announced– “New York, London, Fire Island Pines”. Their place on Fire Island was a means to grow old in style without being alone. They catered to the rich, David Geffen types who had summer cottages out on the island. They both loved to cook and drink. Tilly was a volunteer at Bailey House. She used her classic French culinary skills learned in the world’s most prestigious culinary institutions as a volunteer in the kitchen at the AIDS hospice. That was where the two of them met, according to Claude, as he explained to me, speaking in real English elegance, how it was he came about purchasing a most exclusive piece of property on one of the most sought after pieces of sand, west of East Hampton.
Neither needed a job, but they sought out a means to do something for others through Bailey House. I was there because I needed a steady income, and in a sense, like the two of them, had a sick sort of compassion to help those who were withering away like blueberries on the vine in late August.
A bottle of wine seemed a little thoughtless as a gift to take with me on my first trip to Fire Island, even though I did know that Tilly was a classically trained French chef with a British accent. Maybe I was just showing off to Claude, I do not know why I made that pie. My lover, Anthony had just finished eating a blueberry pie with John and Linda when I shared the news over dinner in our back yard. With bits of blue still clinging to his fat lips, Anthony suggested that I make another and take it with us. “It’s as expensive as hell to get out there. I don’t want to go anyway,” Anthony insisted. “Claude’s a coon with a fake English accent. Why the hell do I want to waste my weekend around him?”
“Are you crazy?” Linda asked. “You guys should go. I have class this weekend”
John immediately agreed, because Linda controlled him like Claude controlled Tilly With this news and one of my pies, the three of us departed for Sayville on the Long Island Railroad.