Drive Out East

It’s Summer Time! Probably 2 of the best words in the world to a 9 year old girl who’s just finished the 4th grade. Total release for the next 2 ½ months: no more books, homework, rules and studying. But best of all, no more getting up early and putting on my plaid school uniform. It’s Summer Time; the words hold so many possibilities. For me they represent freedom – free to go swimming all day, free to play bike tag with the neighborhood kids, free to play in the woods till you hear your mom call you home for dinner, free to stay outside till the street lights come on and catch lightening bugs in a jar. Free to stay up late so you can watch all the programs you missed on T.V. during the school year. In the summer on 1964, I couldn’t wait for the fun to begin. I grew up in Sayville, a small community in Suffolk County, Long Island. It’s located about mid way between New York City and Montauk Point. The neighborhood is full of children of all ages, so my 2 sisters, brother and I have friends right on our street. My grandparents live with us since Mom has to work a couple of jobs to pay the bills. We don’t have a lot, but Mom splurged on a 4 ft above ground pool in the background last year. That way we can go swimming and cool off during the hot days. But there always comes those few weeks towards the middle of the summer where most of my friends aren’t around. Some have gone on their family vacations, some belong to the beach club and some go away to a summer camp for a few weeks. We don’t have the money for those things and after awhile swimming with just my sister gets to be boring. It’s hot and the fans are just not keeping anyone cool. I must have a sour face on cause my Mom keeps telling me to “Go outside and play”, “I’m sure one of your friends will be home.” But no one is around to play with, not even my brother! The next day after we get home from Sunday mass, mom decides that since it’s such a nice day, “why don’t we go for a ride in the car out east”. She doesn’t drive which means Grandpa will have to drive, Grandma will ride shotgun and the rest of us will pile into the back seat. My grandfather has a big old 1950’s, black, ford sedan. It’s pretty old, but he keeps it running perfectly and there is plenty of room for us all. Of course we don’t wear sit belts back then so we can arrange everyone in. I get the seat by the window, but have to seat up to the edge of the cushion so my sister can have room to seat behind me. I don’t mind, because that means I get to see everything out the window. And off we go for our “Drive out East” I have the window all the way down so I can get the breeze right in my face, it feels great. My aunts and uncles who live in Hicksville think we live out in the country – but this is real country! I watch as all the farm land goes by and we see some people working in the fields. We pass a horse farm and my Grandfather pulls over so we can see the horses better. My mother wants to stop at a farm stand and get some fresh corn on the cob and other vegetables. Each time we stop and get out of the car I make sure I get my spot back. We drive pass some of the big old houses with their big lawns that all look amazing. I can’t imagine living in something that big. We see a few windmills, lots of trees, houses that are all different and spaced out, unlike my neighborhood where they are all the same. We drive thru a few small towns and finally we reach the point where we can see the water on both sides of the road. What a view. There is one house built to the side on a little hill and I say, “I would love to live there”. When we reach Montauk Point lighthouse we all pile out and go for a walk on the beach and rocks. My brother and I throw rocks into the surf and wave to my grandparents who didn’t walk down to the beach. After a while, we all pile back into the car for the trip home. I take my seat back and lay my head down on my arm with my head half way out the window. The wind is blowing my hair around and the air is cooling on my skin. I close my eyes and just take in all the sounds and smells around me. My grandmother is telling my grandfather how to drive again, even though she’s never driven! My mother is talking to my older sister about a dress they are making, and my brother is falling asleep. I smell the salt air and the food from the farm stand. I love that we went from seeing the wide open spaces of the farms, the barns and animals to seeing the ocean and bays and hearing seagulls calling to each other. We saw grand houses with their cedar shingles to little cabins being rented out for the summer. I no longer am thinking about what my friends are doing. I went for a “Drive out East” – my new favorite words. To top the day off, my grandmother decides to treat us all to ice cream from Carvel – soft serve in a cone with chocolate sprinklers – now the day truly is PERFECT! “Drive out East” is more than a destination to me. Those words have now become synonymous with a feeling of peace, freedom, and letting my mind relax and clean out all the clutter that is in there. It holds memories from all phases of my life; at sixteen, driving the car out east with just my sister became a rite of passage. Offering to drive out to Briermere Farms in Riverhead to get holiday pies was never a problem for me – in fact I would offer to go for my mom. On the summer weekends, my friends and I would drive out to the Oak Beach Inn, near the Shinnecock Canal, to dance the night away. My husband and I would drive out to Greenport and bring our bikes over to Shelter Island on the ferry to ride around and enjoy the unhurried pace and scenery. When my children were young we would drive out east to Starkey’s Farm in Aquebogue to go pumpkin picking, (dad had to carry all the pumpkins they piled up across the line without dropping any), eat roasted corn on the cob and go on hayrides for the fall season. And I can remember one hot summer day when my sons were laying around the house “bored” with nothing to do and no friends to play with, I looked at them and said “let’s go for a drive out east!” We piled into the car and headed east on Sunrise Highway. The scenery has changed from that first day when I was a 9 year old girl. There are more houses, the roads are full of cars and wineries have replaced some of the farms. Shopping outlets and malls have sprung up all the way to Riverhead and there is an Aquarium now. But there are still some familiar sites: farm stands, horses, cedar shingled houses and little cabins for rent. I realize during the drive that the windows have all been rolled down. My youngest son is no longer playing his Gameboy, but actually looking out the window. My oldest son is talking about the windmills we just passed and how cool it would be if they still worked. And when we get to the point where you can see water on both sides of the road and the sun is shining on the water, we all just stare. My son sees the little house towards one side on a little hill and says “It would be great to live there!” We continue on to the Montauk Lighthouse and walk along the beach and throw rocks into the surf. On the way home I decided to treat everyone to ice cream at Carvels – soft served ice cream in a cone with chocolate sprinkles – and I think to myself, now this is a truly perfect day!