Memories of Eastern Long Island
Long Island grew longer on Sundays. As a child, forced to endure family drives out east, I was sure of it. Dad said it was 118 miles long, but it seemed more like a million. We lived in Mount Sinai, a town on the north shore, almost halfway between New York City and the eastern tip of Long Island. The drive always took about three hours with traffic and stopping along the way. From a kid’s point of view, that was way too long to sit in a car—but Dad promised we’d have surprises on the trip. And we usually did.
Mt. Sinai sat smack in the middle of the Island’s suburbs where new mini-malls grew every few months. We were never more than five minutes from a Long Islander’s necessities: pizza, bagels, ice cream and a hair salon. Traveling east brought us away the malls and into the new sights, sounds and smells of farmland. For my sister and I who only saw milk at 7-11’s, spotting a cluster of cows was a treat or a contest—who could spot one first; who saw a calf or a brown one. A horse, buffalo or sheep won more points.
With windows down, the scent of garlic bread and spaghetti sauce slowly faded as the earthy fragrance of plowed fields, horse and cow drifted through our station wagon.
Dad often pulled into the dirt parking lot of Wickham’s Fruit Farm, one of the oldest and largest farms on the North Fork. It sat along the peaceful waters of the Peconic Bay. The Macintosh apples looked more delicious, tasted crisp and fresh. The homemade labels on the maple syrup and honey jars beckoned us to buy some of the sweet stuff. Before leaving, we had to see the working beehive. We squealed with disgusted delight at seeing so many bees in one spot, the buzzing orchestra a foot away from our noses. Then we’d sit at a picnic table and eat our bagged lunch along with a newly picked apple.
Back to the car for more driving. My sister and I agreed that was far enough, but Dad wanted to reach the antique shops as far as Greenport.
We’d groan every time Mom burst out, “Antiques! Let’s stop.” We’d file through the small barnlike shops, packed with the most unusual items. Mom’s eyes lit up at the strangest objects. Intricate lace doilies, iron candelabras, an ancient rocking chair, a classic book. My sister and I gradually discovered treasures we wanted: a ragdoll from Europe, an Indian headpiece with rainbow feathers along a strip of leather; a stuffed moose that smelled of cotton balls, like it spent many years hidden in Grandma’s closet and a miniature tin treasure chest.
Our trunk filled up with someone else’s garbage.
We stopped at Goose Creek Beach next. Before we hopped out of the stuffy wagon, we could smell the sea and hear the soft swoosh of gentle waters spilling on the shore. As we combed the beach for interesting shells and shiny rocks, kayaks raced across the horizon.
“Are you ready to head home, or do you want ice cream first?” Dad would ask, with a smirk on his face, knowing our answer already. We were always willing to stay longer for sweets. We’d pull Mom’s arm past the small shops along Main Street and head straight to Sandpiper Ice Cream parlor. Peering through the glass at the pastel colored flavors, we’d inhale the rich chocolate scent of fudge being poured over sundaes and sprinkled with candies. Of all the choices, I’d pick vanilla; my sister would pick chocolate.
By the time we pulled into our driveway, the sun had set. It was a long drive, but we were happy to collect our treasures from the trunk and sort through the shells…until we’d groan the next time Dad suggested a Sunday drive.
Looking back, Dad knew we didn’t have to travel far to enjoy new experiences and spend time together as a family. To us this was the Far East, with all its mysterious treasures, and far enough.