“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m not sure if you know Madeline “Lee” King, most people do, she’s a bit of a Sag Harbor icon. A caregiver to those who need a hand, a ride, a companion, a friend, Mrs. King has cared for 75 or more local people throughout the years, assisting them in whatever way she can. “I love my ladies,” said Mrs. King. “I’ll do anything I can to help them. God has given me this grace to love my friends, to watch over them. And God’s given me patience.”
Mrs. King has lived all of her life in Sag Harbor. She has traveled to every one of the contiguous United States, Nova Scotia and Mexico, but always finds her way back home. “My husband used to say, ‘put her on a bus and she’ll go anywhere!’” Her refrigerator, adorned with magnets from places near and far, stands as a roadmap of Mrs. King’s life course, which began in 1928 in a home on Prospect Avenue.
“Sag Harbor was a wonderful place to live when I was young. Haven’s Beach was right down the road. We called it Tide’s Beach back then. My mother would pack a lunch bag for my brother and me, plus books and games and off we would go for the day. Mr. Murphy took care of the beach. There was a pavilion with tables and benches. We had a float to dive from. We learned to swim, row a boat, fish off of the breakwater, clam with our feet, walk the beach collecting shells and we made bracelets and necklaces. We dug a small pond and kept minnows and small fish in it. There were other children and their mothers on the beach. My mother almost drowned when she was young so she practically never came with us. When Mr. Murphy left the beach for the day, we had to leave too, and if we were home late my father was there with a cherry stick on our legs. We learned pretty quick to be home on time.”
Mrs. King remembers gatherings on her family’s large front porch. “When it rained the neighborhood children would all come over. They would come for the ‘funnies’ in the Sunday newspaper and my mother would make doughnuts for everyone. She’d put them in a brown bag with powdered sugar and shake them.”
Now I know why so many of the beautiful older homes in Sag Harbor have the stately front porches-often empty, they seem to be missing the “funnies,” the powdered doughnuts and the neighborhood children.
Mrs. King remembers a quiet and peaceful Sag Harbor of the past. “We rode our bikes all over town and to the park. We roller-skated on all of the sidewalks. I wore my skate key on a string around my neck and my mom used to say, ‘don’t lose that key!’ In the winter the village would block off High Street for everyone in the neighborhood to go sleigh riding. We ice skated on Ryder’s Pond and the ponds in the woods. I even skated on Otter Pond. The fire department checked it out and then lit a bonfire for us.”
She married Morley King in 1947 and they had three sons: David, Roy and Brett. Her family has grown to include six grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and three great, great, grandchildren. “I have worked all of my life”, remarked Mrs. King. “I started babysitting when I was 12 years old, I worked in Bulova Watchcase Factory when I was sixteen and waitressed on weekends. When Bulova closed I waitressed full time. When we were first married, my husband had an offer to work with his uncle in New Jersey as a crane operator. I told him, ‘you can go work all week and come home on weekends. I’m not leaving Sag Harbor. I love it here!’ Well, he didn’t take the job.”
“In 1999, after my husband died, my friend and I took a class at Southampton Hospital teaching us to help the sick,” said Mrs. King. “I have helped ladies for years with whatever they’ve needed. Once your mate dies the couples don’t include you anymore. So some of my friends said, ‘What will I do on New Years?’ I said, ‘Come to my house.’ So for years I have had a New Year’s Day party for my ladies that have lost their husbands.”
“I will be 90 on July 14th. When I was in school everybody was away for my birthday so now I have the ladies over on my birthday week. We all bring our specialties. This year my friends said, we’ll all go out to a restaurant-so I will celebrate my 90th birthday at a restaurant.” As her milestone birthday approaches Mrs. King muses, “I wish I could go backwards, but I’m very fortunate. I can still do a lot. Many of my friends have passed away so now my friends are younger.”
When Mrs. King isn’t busy helping her friends, she is often found volunteering. She is a member of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary, the Columbiettes, the Homemakers and the Community Center. Mrs. King is also an extraordinary minister at Saint Andrew Roman Catholic Church and brings communion to the homebound. “I go to mass every Sunday and if I can’t leave the house, I watch it on TV.” Mrs. King also works at the information center in the John A. Ward Memorial Windmill next to Long Wharf two days a week. “They saw me at the post office and said, ‘You know a lot about Sag Harbor. We have a perfect job for you.’ So I’m a historian of sorts.”
Mrs. King loves Sag Harbor and the community that she is such an important part of. “We have everything here-the beaches, the boats, beautiful trees and flowers. This was the best place to grow up.”
Companioning the people of Sag Harbor has made Mrs. King’s life rich and filled with love. What a blessing she has been to our community. We wish Lee a most wonderful birthday and years filled with many blessings. We are so grateful that she has calls Sag Harbor HOME.