A Fire Island Treasure Hunter’s Mermaid Tale

by FIN |

A Fire Island picker classic, Jeanne Lynch’s beach debis find, simply signed by de Miranda.

By Jeanne Lynch, guest contributor

Our mermaid sits beside a young girl playing in the sand. They are topped by a striped umbrella and together seem invisible to the notice of others around them. It is my understanding that this is not uncommon for believers in sirens. Indeed you will note that the bellied man in the high-waist swim trunks appears oblivious to the girl and her companion as he takes his shoreline constitutional.

The scene is part of a painting made by an artist signing simply, “de Miranda” and given, we assume, as a gift “for Bernice Kane Aug ‘48 Fire Island Ocean Beach.”

Though somewhat naive and cartoonish in style, the painting measures 50 x 70 inches in its clunky wood frame. It charmingly recalls a day at the beach with all of the usual suspects and characters. We see the mother building sand castles with her three toddlers, the hand-holding strollers, the back-lotioners, the fisherman struggling to pull in The Big One and the pair attempting the launch of their inflatable raft before the crash of the next wave. We see the dots representing the heads of swimmers positioning themselves in the safety zone of a wave’s roll – the one we know could land them spinning and slamming into the seabed. Back on shore a man calls to his friends or family from the dune platform, as though his voice could be heard. And for “humor’s” sake, we note the competition for attention in front of the lifeguard stand between an exaggeratedly pointy-breasted woman and what appears to be a full-physique man who is dropping a handkerchief. This is 1948, depictions were less scrutinized for correctness. It was no doubt considered “playful.”

The reference of the painting’s time is detected locally in Ocean Beach’s history by the sighting of the grand, old houses and even the wooden dune supports. Those particular houses are most likely gone except in our present wondering of where the painter de Miranda was standing when he committed their image with his brush.

The arrival of this painting in our home is another story to share. I had received a phone call from real estate agent Pat Stretch asking for a quote for a debris cleanup on Dehnhoff Walk in Ocean Beach. It was late October 2005. A mist of cool rain had begun but I biked nonetheless from Ocean Bay Park to investigate the rubble. The pile was on the ground beside a repaired deck and atop it, face-up, was the painting. Though I knew the art was not an Antiques Roadshow bonanza, it delighted me. By now the rain was pelting at it and I shoved it beneath the deck for cover before racing back to return Pat’s call, my mind trying to pinpoint an amount for the job that would not have others offering competing quotes. I gulped and gave a costs quote and crossed my fingers. I’m still smiling when I replay in my mind Pat’s callback message, “Do it as quickly as you can. And “they” want you to make sure you get rid of that ugly painting.”

Though it is 73 years later, the painting is still modern as it refers us to our own experiences at the beach and the happy times of summer. Even the umbrellas are cheerful, like fringed party hats. Our swimsuits may look slightly different, our bellies still bulge. Our beach games not so much the paddle but the volleyball. Our children still squabble and cry when led home for lunch, cranky from too much fresh air and sun. Many of us still believe we are mermaids, especially when we are riding unicorns.

Mermaid detail in lower left corner.


About the author: Jeanne Lynch (aka Mrs. Spoons, retired) is a longtime Fire Islander, residing in the community of Ocean Bay Park for decades. She and her husband, Peter Vogel are the former the owners and operators of Spoons Carting. 

SIGNATURE DETAIL This child unwilling to leave the beach, being dragged up the overpass by his parents is a universal touch.

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