A Lifetime of Sundays
It was the only house we could agree on and as it turned out, one of the few things in general that we could agree on. My husband and I must have viewed almost fifty properties on the North Fork of Long Island, patiently guided by a couple from a now defunct local real estate firm who seemed as if they could have been distant relatives of mine, transported out of my ancestral family home of Philadelphia. Our wish list was fairly simple: a weekend house that was no more than a 2 ½ hour ride from the city, a fireplace and a screened in porch, all at a price that two early thirty-somethings could afford. We wanted some property although neither one of us knew much about lawn or plant maintenance. And if we were near the water, that would be a huge bonus.
We finally settled on a farmhouse built in 1923 that cost twice what we had planned on paying. It was a small quirky house situated on about three quarters of an acre and the most house we could afford in one of the best neighborhoods in the town of Cutchogue. The staircase had a bannister for only a portion of the stairs and the staircase itself slanted ever so slightly to the left. The downstairs walls were painted a salmon color with matching metal blinds and the floors were covered in light blue wall to wall carpet. Some of the upstairs bedrooms had wallpaper that also covered the ceilings. The kitchen walls were papered with brown, green and yellow vegetables with matching tiles on the counter. The appliances were brown and shiny brown tiles lined the floor. While the rooms were small and the ceilings lower than we would have liked, the house still met all the critical requirements, and, in addition, came with a nearby right of way and deeded mooring rights to a small protected cove that fed into Little Peconic Bay. We transported our 26 foot sailboat to the cove and moved into the house, along with some well-worn and large, dark furniture belonging to my husband’s family.
I hadn’t known anything about Long Island until a few years prior to my marriage when we came out to spend summer weekends on my then boyfriend’s sailboat docked in Aquebogue and later shared with friends a farmhouse in Mattituck overlooking acre upon acre of potatoes. But I had quickly come to appreciate the natural beauty of the North Fork, the abundant sunshine, clear air, fresh produce and the quiet. Here we ran little chance of bumping into work colleagues, we didn’t need to battle the local weekend traffic, and we preferred barbecuing at home rather than dressing up to eat out. We also appreciated having multiple wineries in the area. When we married, we made the commitment to become part-time residents of Cutchogue.
Almost every weekend we drove out from the city to what quickly became our refuge from the work world. Once we pulled in front of the house, it took only moments for the tension to evaporate and the fresh air to cleanse some of the urban “toxins” from our bodies. We made the commute almost every weekend, year round. We spent weekend days sailing as well as trying to tame the lawn and gardens and evenings were spent entertaining friends. We also rather quickly found ourselves adopting two stray cats, first Fanny, named after my maternal grandmother, and then Motley, who was just that. When they insisted on hanging around our house and at times, actually gaining entry to the house, we finally gave in and took them as our own.
Sunday afternoons were the hardest part of the weekend. Reminiscent of being back in school, my stomach would tighten up at the thought of returning to the city and getting up early for work the next day. Even if it had rained all weekend, it seemed as soon as we were packed up and in the car for the return trip, the sun would come out, warm and radiant and stunningly beautiful. My heart would break, just a tiny bit, every time we had to leave the house.
When the baby arrived one summer, about three years after we bought the house, I stayed in the country with him, the nanny and the cats for several months while my husband commuted out east from the city on most weekends. The days were idyllic, except for the three day absence of Fanny, who managed to set off the neighbors’ alarm before she was able to escape their basement and retrace the eighty feet or so back to our house. On the morning she returned, just after daybreak, the nanny and I celebrated with champagne, Fanny devoured her cat food, and the baby slept through the proceedings.
By late September of that year, I was back to work full-time in the city. With the previous months spent at the house, the adjustment to motherhood and the return to a full time position, I hadn’t noticed that while I and the baby had flourished during this period, the marriage did not. By early March of the next year, my husband and I separated after four and half years of marriage. The divorce was final fifteen months later.
It took some time to recover from my failed marriage, trying to understand what had happened, trying to lay blame while ignoring whatever role I had played in its demise. I’ve always been good at ignoring the obvious. But by the time we divorced, it was obvious to me what I wanted: custody of the baby, the cats and ownership of the house. I was fortunate to get custody and have the ability to buy out my ex’s share of the house. I also walked away from the marriage with one rake which came in handy from time to time.
And now, after owning the house for thirty years, the one constant in my life has been the house. It has formed the backdrop for my current marriage of twenty one plus years to Bob and has welcomed innumerable friends, relatives and neighbors. While the house has maintained its quirky nature, no doubt reflecting its owners, we did make a few enhancements through the years and stripped out the carpets and wallpaper, slightly updated the kitchen and bathrooms and painted the house in more neutral shades of pale greenish gray.
Our son Billy grew up here, fishing and boating on weekends until his teenage years when he no longer saw the attraction of the country and refused to spend weekends out in the country. Now that he is in his twenties, he again appreciates the area and when he visits New York City tries to spend some time at the house alone in order to wallow in the solitude.
My full time work has just ended, and Bob and I are spending most of our time here at the house. We are still trying to manage the landscape, “calling a truce with Mother Nature” as Bob describes it, and we’ve taken up squirrel and bird watching from our kitchen. With a nod to his farming roots in upstate New York, Bob has planted a thriving flower and herb garden. We marvel at the beauty and gracefulness of the deer but more accurately, I marvel while Bob continues to put up high fences, administer more applications of deer repellent and quietly curse.
And so the time passes in a wonderful way that I could have never imagined during all my years of work. Our favorite time now is Sunday evening during happy hour when we smugly toast the fact that we are not on the Long Island Expressway along with the crowds trying to get back to the city in time for dinner. And then later in the evening we watch the sunset from our porch, which isn’t such a bad way to end the day either.