“The East End — from a Suburban Perspective” By Mark Donnelly
If I were to draw a map of Eastern Long Island for a cover of The New Yorker, I would sandwich this region between Manhattan and Los Angeles. The East End may exist geographically on Long Island, but seems a separate entity from the suburbs.
I moved with my family from Jackson Heights, Queens to South Huntington in the late 1950’s into our first and only home. Back then it was clearly a move from New York City to the country in western Suffolk. What seemed like a rural area would soon change – potato farms would be sold off and structures such as the Walt Whitman Mall would rise up in their place.
My first knowledge of the East End was through projects in third grade that consisted of pasting postcards on sheets of colored construction paper, writing additional caption information and tying the pages together with ribbon through punched holes. I remember postcards of Montauk Lighthouse, the Old Wind Mill on the town green in Water Mill, and Indians in costume on the Shinnecock Reservation. For a while, these remained just postcards and places on maps to me. Long Island is120 mileslong, and the East End is a good80 milesfarther out from Huntington! Also, the Long Island Expressway did not go out nearly as far as it finally did when completed at Exit73 in1972 adecade later.
I took a daytrip with my dad, brother and some cousins to fish at a pond in Riverhead in the early 1960’s. This was the farthest east I went until the summer of 1966, when I was 15.
I’d been hearing ads on AM radio for the Bridgehampton Sports Car Races and for the band The Young Rascals (later just The Rascals) playing at a rock club called the Barge in East Quogue. It all sounded exciting and exotic, but also out of reach.
Then my Uncle John bought a small house in Hampton Bays to cut down on his travel time. In December 1965, he had been elected to a business agent position in Local 638 of the Steamfitters Union for New York City and Long Island and was assigned the newly designated territory of eastern Suffolk County. Rather than commute back and forth each day to his regular home in Flushing, Queens, he would now spend part of his week on the East End while visiting construction sites.
On his invitation, I went out for a week with my uncle to Hampton Bays. Once there I remember us driving on back roads and seeing plenty of trees. The house wasn’t big, but there were enough bedrooms for my uncle; for his daughter Geraldine with her husband Monty (who was a steamfitter’s apprentice working on the building of the county jail in Riverhead) and their young son Michael; Geraldine’s younger sister, Joyce; and a small guest room – where I stayed. (My brother would come out the following week.) There were squeaky screen doors that spoke to me of the country, and dark rooms with green walls. There was a backyard of grass, with a picnic table under a tree. I was an avid reader, so this was a perfect spot for me. We weren’t close enough to see the beach, but close enough to walk there. I liked having the freedom to come and go as I pleased and made my way down to the water each day.
The big event was a 25th wedding anniversary party for my Uncle John and Aunt Mary on the weekend. In attendance were their daughters and their son, Johnny, home on leave from the Air Force; my parents and brother; other cousins, aunts and uncles; and my grandmother.
I think back to my dad at the beach with my Uncle John (his older brother) earlier that day. They were at the water’s edge in cabana suits – short sleeve, lined terry cloth shirts with matching swim trunks. The two looked quite alike to begin with. Both were short – my dad, five foot six, my uncle, five foot five – both on the chubby side, with very fair skin, and now, in their 40s, gray haired (though my dad’s went gray more quickly). Standing next to each other, arms folded, they appeared almost like twins in these nearly identical outfits — Dad’s was black-checked and Uncle John’s was blue-checked. I smile whenever I picture them.