Long Lost Potato Farms

Written By: Rose Ragone

Everyone has a story to tell and mine begins when I was 17 years old in 1971 when my father told me he had just purchased a summer home on the North Shore of Long Island. This “cottage” was in Reeves Park a stone’s throw away from Sound Beach.
I was somewhat familiar with Long Island having spent a few summers in Montauk with my parents and siblings. My father loved to fish and there was nothing better than booking a day on one of the charter boats and teaching my two brothers about casting just the right way and remaining quiet until you got the first nibble, which could often turn out to be more than just a nibble if you were fishing in the ocean! My mother, my sister and I sunned our selves on the beach while they fished. I can still hear the crashing of the waves as I stood on the soft sand and gazed at the picture perfect sunlight that shone down on the white caped waters.
Week-end visits to our Reeves Park getaway began in the summer of 1972. My brother and I were both in college and home for summer vacation. Jaunts to the East end always included our friends and we preferred the ocean to the sound so we headed to Hotdog Beach in the Hampton Bays area. We drove out and always stopped at a local deli along the way and packed a cooler with wedges and cold drinks. No matter how many times we drove by “The Big Duck” it never ceased to delight me. Heading back after a day of fun in the sun, my parents would be enthusiastically preparing a delicious barbeque. Besides the usual burgers, steaks, and franks, this feast always included fresh vegetables my mom would buy at the local farm stand. At this time there were no vineyards on the North Shore but instead miles of potato and cornfields. Strawberry picking was the highlight in June and the peach orchards were fun in August because we all picked our own peaches.
We would stroll to the beach after dinner to watch the magnificent sunset. Sometimes we would walk along the beach and gather logs to light a fire and toast marshmallows. This was always the perfect end to a glorious day on this strip of paradise.
On occasional Saturday evenings we would venture out to Westhampton where we danced the night away in a disco on Main Street. Of course we would always stop to buy ice cream first and check out the shops that stayed open late to accommodate all the people out for the weekend. Some of the boutiques carried clothing and jewelry that were unique and somewhat tropical like. It was always a fun experience!
The years continued and I frequented the many art shows that featured unique pieces and crafts. There was also no shortage of antique shops on the East end which was a journey into past times for me. I recall buying a crystal necklace that dated back to the 1950’s. I always wondered who had worn it before me. I also purchased a wrought iron chair that still graces my front porch.
I began dating my future husband, a handsome doctor, in the early 1980’s. I remember being so in love that I walked on our rocky beach and picked out all the most beautiful pebbles I could find. I put them all in a decorative glass container with a note enclosed to him that read, “Just as the pebbles on the beach are endless so is my love for you.” We married in 1985 and had four children. My beautiful youngsters were soon enjoying all the joys of Long Island weekends. We would stay with my parents and part take in all that the East end had to offer, the beach, miniature golf, shopping, barbeques, fireworks, amusement parks and of course the Big Duck.
Soon the vineyards became a popular spot on the North Shore while the potato farms began to disappear. Listening to jazz that was played on an open porch, while sipping wine that had been produced right there, was certainly a welcome addition to all that the island already had to offer.
Life seemed perfect for some time but there was trouble brewing in paradise. My husband seemed to be going through some kind of mid life crisis and started to slack off with work and he became increasingly irresponsible in other ways as well. I eventually found out that he was heavily in debt. He had no interest in mending his ways and I therefore had no choice but to divorce him. What had I said about the pebbles on the beach? In retrospect, I think it would have been more appropriate to write, “Just as the pebbles on the beach are endless so is my love for you as long as you remain gainfully employed and responsible!” Who would have thought that I would have ended up being married to Dr. Do Little as I called him when he lost his work ethic.
My divorce was stormy and stressful like the worst of them are. Dealing with custody, visitation, and property division was even more painful than traffic on a Sunday evening on the Long Island Expressway! I survived it all by spending my summer on Long Island with my mother rather than back at home in Scarsdale with my soon to be ex-husband (My father had passed away in 2000). I enrolled my youngest son in the 4H Camp and my daughter got a job as a counselor in a Southampton Camp while I did some private tutoring. The tranquility of the Island was my saving grace during that turbulent time.
My life eventually got back on track. I was working as an Assistant Principal in New York and I bought my own home. My kids were adjusting to their new life and preparing to apply to colleges. My mom was now living out East full time and enjoying her retirement with the friends she had made in her close knit neighborhood. Then suddenly her health failed and she suffered a pulmonary embolism which left her short of breath and dependent on oxygen throughout the day. I don’t know if this impaired her ability to think but she then made a decision that affected my life and the lives of her two other children. She signed the deed of her home over to my younger brother. I tried to convince her not to do this but she was totally trusting that her son would do the right thing in the event of her death. I spoke very little to my mother after her decision. I was very angry and hurt that she did this. Shortly before she died, I again voiced myself over the mistake she had made. She said, “Why do you care so much about that little cottage of mine?”
She died a week later and as I predicted my brother took control and barred us all from “his” house. My mother was gone and so was my home away from home…the place where I always experienced true peace and happiness. Friends urged me to see an attorney but I did not. I was too grief stricken to fight. I thought about my Mom’s words a week before she died. Did she not know that her home was not just a little cottage? Did she not know that it was a part of my life for forty years and she signed it away to only one of her children?!
The treasured memories that I have in my heart, about the days and nights on the East End of Long Island, will remain with me as long as I shall live. It is only those who have experienced the magical and intoxicating quality of life on the North Shore who can truly understand and appreciate the loss that I feel over being shut out of that little cottage!