Wednesday, April 19, 2017

R.I.P. | Sage of Springs, Herb Field (Updated Apr 27, 2017)

Apr 19, 2017 – Herbert E[dwards] (Herb) Field, the Sage of Springs, passed to his eternal reward yesterday at 92 years old, according to his pastor, Rev. Nancy Howarth.

A memorial service for Herb Field will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 20 at the Springs Community Presbyterian Church, at the intersection of Old Stone Highway and Springs Fireplace Road.

Herb Field's father and two uncles died tending their traps during the 1938 Hurricane when Herb was just 13. (His obituary, based on information from his son Thomas F. Field, was published in the East Hampton Star on April 27.)

Last year, he received a well-earned temporal award at an end-of-summer meeting of the Springs Community Advisory Council in Ashawagh Hall.

East Hampton Town Councilman Fred Overton presented him with a Proclamation testifying to his contributions to the Springs community. Overton's presentation was on behalf of East Hampton Town by its Supervisor, Larry Cantwell.

At the presentation, the crowd attending the meeting gave Herb a standing ovation for his contributions to his country and his community.
The Proclamation.

The citation, signed August 22, 2016 by Supervisor Cantwell, proclaimed that Herbert Edwards (Herb) Field was born at Franklin Farm on August 3, 1924 to Herbert Stone Field and his wife Abigail Rebecca, née Edwards.

Herb was the eldest of four sons. After the death of his father and uncles, he worked for Ferris Talmage to help support his mother and brothers. Talmage remained a lifetime mentor.

Herb enlisted at 17 in the U.S. Navy in April 1943. He served as a motor mechanic on board destroyer escorts.  He was sent on tours in the Pacific, Europe and the Americas. He was honorably discharged on December 18, 1945.

After his military service he managed Sylvester Prime’s farm on Shelter Island and then in 1949 moved to Morrisville, N.Y., where he purchased and managed two dairy farms covering 316 acres.

After 15 years upstate, he purchased the Baker and Baker dairy farm in Amagansett and lived there until his death.

Herb faithfully attended the Springs Community Presbyterian Church starting in the 1970s and sat consistently in the second row behind the organ donated by Robert Mulford.

For what must have been four decades he arrived an hour before the service every Sunday morning and started the coffee pot brewing, until one day not so long ago he announced he couldn't keep doing this any more.

When I first came to Springs in 1981 as a seasonal visitor, I started singing in the Springs Church choir and was invited, faute de mieux, to join "The Men of Springs," a church-related activity. My wife Alice Tepper Marlin was dubious about this. It sounded macho. Who knew what sinister plans these local deer-hunters, who probably looked askance at seasonal families "from away", might not be up to?

Herb Field with Tina Piette and
me, next to Ashawagh Hall. Photo
by Dr Carter Dodge.
Then we found out that the principal public activity of the Men of Springs was to cook and serve a community chicken dinner with no apparent female support. Her attitude to the group mellowed.

So I was a seasonal participant in the program, but over time the number of men who composed the Men of Springs dwindled, lost to illness or death or retirement to a place where they could get assisted living — or unassisted living — at an affordable price.

In time, the remaining men could not keep up the tradition of the annual chicken dinner. The event was continued, like so much else, through the devotion of the hard-working women of the church.

Herb was, I think, the last of the Men of Springs who were there when I arrived in Springs 36 years ago.

Herb earned the title of Sage of Springs because he knew more about the history of Springs than anyone else alive. He commented as an aside that he remembered when Supervisor Cantwell was "in short pants."

Over the years Herb told me more truly funny stories than I can count. He had a keen understanding of farming, canning, clamming, milling and human nature and he communicated it with his dry Bonacker humor, of which he was acutely aware and proud.

For example, during the period of my Men of Springs membership, I was in the kitchen, and everyone there was highly aware that I was a city guy out of my element in the Springs culture, which for centuries was built on faith, farm, fish and family. I came in for a lot of teasing as the country bumpkins enjoyed showing the city slicker how little he knew about what was important.

At one point they explained to me that how nutritious the food was, and that the delicious ginger gravy they were serving with the chicken had no sugar or flour in it.

I was amazed. How could they do that? They swore on the bible they added no sugar or flour. But I saw a glint in Herb's eye, and I demanded that he tell me, based on my rights as a fully vested seasonal member of the Men of Springs,  what the ingredients were.

Herb with Dr Dodge.
Photo by JT Marlin.
He said: "Well now, we have the juice left over from the chicken and we filter out any skin and the heavy fat. We cook it all in a pan and stir in some green onions and celery, and some garlic, about 4 minutes..."

"And...?"

"We add some pepper, thyme and sage..."

"And... what else?" I demanded, getting a little impatient.

I learned over time to look for the signal that Herb was about to deliver the punch line to his story, which he loved doing. He would become super-serious.

"Then, well now, you know, for every quart of gravy," he said, "we mix in five ginger-snap cookies."

After God created Herb, He threw away the mold.