Car ride memories.
My earliest memories of the East End of Long Island come from day trips that I took with my family.
My parents were Catholics and just before my Mother got pregnant with her seventh child, she asked my Father to once again take her for a drive “out East.” The family had just settled into an old plantation house set off the main road by a long sandy driveway. We had slowly drifted Eastward from the family center in Great Neck to Central Islip then finally to the plantation house in Patchogue which was still somewhat rural at that time. Going for a long car drive became as much a tradition as a necessity to let my Mom have a day off as she went on to deliver an eighth child two years later, which was her last and we moved from the rented plantation home.
Every few weeks starting in June, my Father would tell us we were going on a “car ride,” load us into the back of the family Station Wagon, hand Mom the map and we would work our way East.
The little kids would hang out the window on the way there, knowing they would be exhausted at the end of the day, the big kids had their turn on the way home, mesmerized by the quiet of the open fields. Exhausted, Mom would fall asleep almost immediately. Grateful that gas was just 35 cents a gallon, Dad would spend the day driving until Mom woke up and began to look restored once again. Only then would he turn around to start the drive home. The North Fork, full of farms was the destination of choice. What is now Exit 73 Tanger Outlets, Riverhead used to be forests and farmland. We always stopped to get a 50 lb. bag of potatoes from a friendly stand on the side of the road. The bag instantly became a head rest or foot rest for the kids in the back bed of the wagon.
Heading onto Old Country Road, somehow Dad always found a back way to Sound Avenue and on to Mattituck, famous for its’ Strawberry fields. The Father’s Day trip was always sticky with strawberry juice all over the car and us. We loved running in the fields after the drive, the older kids watching the younger ones while Mom and Dad walked hand in hand thanking the good Earth for a few minutes to themselves.
Today, I make the trip with my own children and they look forward to the well- loved car skits they’ve played out over the years . Onward into what is now “Wine Country,” we see the worn and wooden blue and gold “Welcome to Mattituck” sign and we stay East on Sound Avenue looking for early Summer herbs, the garlic and basil tasty and fresh. The kids chanting “Mange!, mange!,” as if on cue.
The vineyards have wiped away the farm stands but the “vine trail” begins as we cross over Wickham Avenue. The churches along the way only serve to remind us of the feeling of being in “God’s Country” with their front yard signs that read like postcard advertisements for Heaven. “Wonderful Jesus he is a strong deliverer,” heralds us onto the “North Fork Wine Trail.” The fields once filled with cauliflower are lined with vines and today each vineyard sign stands where my memory tells me farm stands were piled high with fresh vegetables in late Summer. We fly down Sound Avenue past Castello de Borghese with her casks piled like the cabbages and watermelons that once grew there. Onward to Cutchogue past Duck Walk vineyards and the kids “Quack-quack” with delight and I begin to wonder where the families who held these farms went. We see the lone Psycho Analyst shingle near Cox Lane and I begin to understand.
Through Peconic, past Tuckers Lane and the shortcut that only the locals know; past the Winds Way Shopping Center to Southold. We’re near Boisseau Avenue now and Willow Hill Automotive; we slow to pass the Shiloh Baptist Church. The air feels somehow lighter. The black field crows that seemed to follow us turn light and white and become Seagulls instead. They call to us to follow them to the water.
At Southold we pass the Sound View Inn and we feel the breeze and can barely see the beach as we pick up speed winding down onto Chapel Lane. We know we’ll be walking soon and wave as we swiftly pass the Silver Sands Motel, glad to be free of slow moving traffic. Our empty stomachs guide us past the “Welcome to Greenport” sign where we dream of spending the weekend at the Driftwood Cove. We stop for a late lunch in town and enjoy the fantastic views of the waterway, wide and majestic. We’ve seen enough and head back to the car with a prayer of relief as we glide home past the Church of St. Agnes, the kids shouting out “Amen!”