From Mastic to Montauk
My love for the east end of Long Island goes back as far as I can remember. My maternal grandfather, Ralph D’Ottone, saw an ad in the Italian newspaper about property for sale in a beach town called Mastic. I smile just saying “Mastic”. It elicits memories of a simple life. Ralph told his brother in law Nick about the property and they decided to take the “long” drive from Flushing to Mastic Beach. There was no LI Expressway, just a long “Old Country Road.” Grandpa bought the land and Uncle Nick bought the plot behind his.
Grandpa Ralph died in 1940 at the age of 47. I never met him but I’m eternally grateful for his foresight. Mastic was our country paradise. When my mother’s brother Vic returned from the army at the end of WWII, the family weekend getaways began. There was no home structure, simply an army tent. Food was cooked on an open fire and water was brought in jugs from home. I joined these family outings in the summer of 1956 at 1 month old. My mom was so anxious about her first born catching a draft from the sea air that she would not allow anyone in the car to roll down a window and I was dressed in a snow suit! That snow suit seemed to be my standard uniform through the first few months of my life. Mom accidentally dropped me down a long flight of stairs but I was wearing the infamous suit so I didn’t have a scratch on me.
The green bungalow was built by la famigilia themselves. Everyone helped. The smell of the sea air, the open land, wild flowers, even the damp musty odor when the house was first opened for the season, made my heart skip beats of joy. In Mastic, there were no delineated lines. Nature was our playground. We owned a little red plastic boat which we named “The Red Devil” and we would spend hours exploring the lagoon. My cousin Vic would throw tiny fish over my head so the seagulls would swoop down and nearly land on my terrified skull. To this day, he still finds this memory hysterical and I still hesitate around these birds and choose to admire them from a distance.
I met my husband when I was fifteen years old. He spent every summer in his summer get away on the North shore of Long Island in Rocky Point. I described our summer “castle” through the eyes of my heart and soul, and he spoke of his place with the same love and adoration. We were thrilled to realize our dating could continue since he had his driver’s license and could drive all the way to Mastic every Sunday. I wish I could have video-taped his face when he saw our “mansion” and I gave him the tour. “Your entire family stays here at the same time? Where is the bathroom?” He looked very confused to say the least. “What about running water?” I guess his idea of a summer paradise and mine didn’t intercept. I excitedly brought him outside and showed him the “pump” where we washed our dishes and brought buckets of water indoors to be boiled for our nightly sponge baths and tick inspections. The tour of the outhouse really tested his infatuation for me. I didn’t understand his horror until I saw his “north” shore retreat. Indoor plumbing, bathtub, shower, full kitchen, and even a fireplace! These people must have money!! Well, despite the discrepancy of our surroundings, we both had amazing views and a deep love for the beach. This bound us together and still does almost 44 years later!
Despite the long drive on a Friday night from Flushing to Mastic, we would get back in the car on Saturdays for road trips to farms in Riverhead and often traveled to Dune Beach in West Hampton for a swim. The most exciting adventure, and longest day trip, was to the docks in Montauk for fresh fish. There would be a caravan of us packed in hot cars without air conditioning. We’d get to Montauk and walk the jetty by the inlet, buy the catch of the day, and then head all the way back to Mastic! I never even considered the absurdity of these day trips until my husband explained that left us very little time in the weekend to do anything else. Sundays we would go to St. Jude’s for Mass, JoAnn’s bakery for fresh bread and pastries, eat breakfast and then begin packing up for the trek back to Flushing. Sound exhausting? Not to me! I felt rejuvenated from the country and ready to face another hot week in the city!
Whether it was the walk on the rock jetty, the views, the fishing boats, the playground at Hither Hills State Park, the lighthouse, or the ocean breezes, I was hooked. Montauk pierced my heart and I knew I would return again and again until miracle of miracles, I would call this magical place my home.
Fast forward to 1984: Rich and I bought a co-op in The Royal Atlantic. We rented it out and came for our anniversary every September. I loved every minute of those special anniversary weekends. Pizza from Pizza Village, bottle of wine, game of poolside Scrabble, and a special dinner at O’Murphy’s Pub. I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful existence.
In the year 2000, my husband and I decided it was time to own our piece of Montauk real-estate. After a glorious day of searching and day dreaming, our broker brought us to a wooded half acre that was being sold by an elderly couple in their 90’s. They had been living in their home adjacent to this property since the 1950’s and decided they wanted to gift their “girls” the money while they were still alive. Their two “girls” were in their 70’s. When Rich and I got out of the car, the smell of grapes was intoxicating. When I was a little girl in Flushing, my Uncle Nick lived in the house adjoining our yard. He had grapevines and fig trees. He was born in Italy and I guess this was his piece of the home country in America. I loved the smell of the grapes and used to pick some, put them in my sand box, stomp on them, place the mush in a jar with water and label it “WINE.” Uncle Nick made the real wine and I remember those jugs fondly! As I followed the intoxicating aroma, my husband was climbing a tree. He excitedly called to me “Cath, if we build on this land we will definitely have a view of the ocean!” I began to pray to my father who had passed away five years ago, to show me some signs if this is where I would create a peaceful, happy, healing home. I went to look for my husband and he wasn’t anywhere in sight. I heard voices and began to follow them. I walked under and through the grapevines and as I continued there was a ceramic angel pointing to a path.. sign #1! I have learned to ask for signs in my life and I am a firm believer in synchronicity. You can live daily as if everything is ordinary or you can see the extraordinary gifts that line your path. As I passed the angel, I walked into a beautiful vegetable garden. Rich had been invited into Martene and Walden’s home and I followed. This couple was warm and welcoming. Their home was endearing and once again I felt transported to a simpler time. I noticed St. Francis of Assisi on her mantle. My dad is buried next to St. Francis’ statue; Sign #2. Martene told me that one of her daughters studied A Course in Miracles and held discussion groups in her home. That was sign #3! I had read and studied the same course years earlier.
We bought the land! Our home was completed in 2003 and I moved in as a full time resident in September 2008. My husband retired six months later and joined me in the home of our dreams. My son was married on the beach in Montauk and my daughter will be married here this fall. I love the community of Montauk. I have met many wonderful people and the gratitude I feel for this eastern most tip of the south fork of Long island has inspired me to live life fully. Our home has indoor bathrooms, a fireplace, a dishwasher, and amazing views. However, I will be eternally grateful to Grandpa Ralph who bought the land by the sea where a deep love of nature took root in my heart. That love transcends the written word and has seeped into every aspect of my life.
Montauk: The End and my Daily Beginning