Finding Happiness on the North Fork

Written By: Gwen Corley

Finding Happiness on the North Fork

When I first moved to Long Island, N. Y., in 1970, I was two weeks shy of my 20th birthday. My first husband, Larry, and I had pulled an 8’ x 10’ U-haul trailed behind my 1969 Ford Fairlane from Baton Rouge, La., to Bayshore, N. Y., some 1,400 miles way. Because integration forced employers to hire more blacks, Larry had not been able to find work there. He was white and had a college degree in accounting, and this overqualified him for any job openings in the south at this time.

Larry’s family had no room for us at their place, so we stayed with friends until we found an apartment of our own. Instead of paying for our stay, we painted their garage and mowed the grass. I cleaned the kitchen, including the stove. The first apartment did not work out. Two weeks later, we found a roomy basement apartment with a fieldstone fireplace in the corner of the bedroom in Huntington, on the north side of the island. It was close to my job, and Larry found a job there, too.

On sunny Saturdays when I was not working, Larry and I would drive east to Montauk on the south shore. We took the ninety-something-mile trip several times that summer. The environment out east is different from Nassau County, where I worked for Grumman, a government airplane builder in Bethpage.

Sometimes we would drive east on Route 25A, a winding, two-lane road on the north side of the island. Other times, we traveled south on the Seaford/Oyster Bay Expressway to the Southern State Parkway until we got to Sunrise Highway/Route 27, which narrowed down to Route 27A/Montauk Highway. Seldom would we take the Long Island Expressway/U.S.495, in the middle of the island, because traffic can be a problem there. It is dubbed “the longest parking lot in the world.” It is especially busy on Friday nights heading east to the Hamptons, and Sunday evenings returning to New York City.

By the time we get to Riverhead, most of the traffic has diminished. The open fields are relaxing to see as well the old farm houses with their green pastures of sod, rows of corn and other vegetables, and horse, goats, geese, chickens, and ducks – all of which reminds me of Louisiana.

Since we do not earn enough money to stay at a hotel or a bed and breakfast, we leave Huntington by 7 AM and make a full day of it. By the time we get to Southampton, I realize why they named this place Long Island; its’ length is approximately one hundred twenty miles. But it is a special place to visit with the Atlantic Ocean on the south side and Long Island Sound on the north. In the middle, at the eastern end is the Peconic Bay, which gives the eastern end of the island its nickname North Fork, because it is shaped like a two-pronged fork.

I love going to the ocean with its three-foot waves rolling in one after the other. The fine, white sand is warm and soft on my bare feet. The constant roar of the waves crashing on the waves crashing on the shore is mesmerizing to the mind and tranquil to the soul. The sweet smell of Rugosa roses and honeysuckle fill the salty air as I stroll down to get my feet wet and test the water temperature. I think these beaches are among the top ten in the world.

We bring swimsuits, and pray there are no riptides to fight when going past the whitewater to the calm waves 25-35 feet out in the ocean. Then you can catch a wave and body surf in towards shore before lying the head back and floating some more. The sun and the saltwater relieve the body of stress and heal any sores. It is refreshingly cold but not too salty to me. I stay in until my hands start to turn purple and wrinkle, and then lie in the sun until I’m dry.

This end of the island is lush and green with its trees and farms. Not as many people live here most; most live closer to New York City. It is soothing to ride in the car and take in the countryside. The quaint farm stands on the side of road have a variety of vegetables to purchase. My favorites are the heirloom tomatoes, potatoes and bi-colored corn. In late May and early June, your can pick your own strawberries. Shortly after that, you can buy broccoli, squash, spinach, basil, and kale. The next crops are blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. It makes me rather homesick, but I enjoy it more than the south. It is seldom as hot and humid as it is where I was raised. The cool breeze off the water makes the air comfortable and pleasurable for beachgoers like me.

As we drive through the town of Southampton, Larry detours down the tall, hedged, side roads that most of the mansions, leaving much to the imagination for a country girl like me. When I can see these over-sized homes, I am in awe as to who could ever have enough money to buy them or time to care for them. The lawns are groomed and edged with ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers, neatly arranged to enhance the beauty of the well-maintained structures of wood, brick and stone. Most houses have two stories and porches with chairs to sit and enjoy the serenity of the area. I can never get enough of it. Each visit is better than the time before. I want to live here, but how can I afford this place? This is some of the most expensive real estate in the world, not to mention taxes, which are astronomical, more than I make in five years.

About an hour later, we finally get to Montauk. I am impressed being on top of this high cliff, watching the ocean slap against the huge boulders protruding from the water below. On top of the cliff, the lighthouse serves as a warning to sailors coming ashore. The marina can accommodate many vessels of all shapes and sizes, but getting in is a challenge for even experienced captains.

Fishing has been an important part of the livelihood here for many generations. Scallops, mussels, oysters, clams, striped bass, porgies, tuna, black and blue fish are among the catches of the day. Seafood is abundant, and the restaurants know how to prepare it as well as the local vegetables. Local wines are served as well. I enjoy the food along with the landscape. The white cumulus clouds explode in the blue sky, reminding me how magnificent this part of planet Earth is.

Long Island has grown quite a bit since I moved here, but has not lost it ambiance or serenity. I moved to the eastern end in 2003, on the Hampton Bays side. I could see Robins Island from my living room. When I was forced to move because the landlady remodeled the cottage to rent it out for $15,000/month instead of $1,500/month, I moved to the North Fork. I like it better here and hope never to leave.

I will always appreciate the beauty of being “out east,” as they say – to walk on the rocky shores and look for beach glass early in the morning before the sun makes the day too hot. It is so magnificent to watch the sun rise from my kitchen window.

When the sun sets, I hurry to the waters’ edge and view the rainbow colors painted in the sky, while birds fly overhead, diving into the water for their final meal of the day. This is when I say prayers to God for this glorious place and for the opportunity – the gift – to live and experience this beauty everyday.

Gwen Corley, July, 2012