Shifting Sands

Written By: Elaine  Feerick

Shifting Sands For me, heading out the eastern end of Long Island has always meant vacation. I’m a Queens girl who was fortunate enough to have a grandfather who saw the beauty in a little town, Flanders, known for its most famous resident, the Big Duck. He bought a small parcel of land so that his family would have a place to fish, swim, and get away from the cramped and steamy Ridgewood, Queens, apartment they lived in. They started with a tent, but after my grandmother refused to take their four children to that tent in the woods, ended up with a small one bedroom bungalow built with the old lumber from the World’s Fair of 1939. My grandfather died way too young out at his beloved east end getaway one 4th of July weekend many years ago. I was too young to remember the incident, a heart attack, but old enough to miss him. He left the bungalow as his legacy and my siblings and I (and our friends) reaped the benefits of that little place that was tucked away down a dirt road a block over from the Hampton Deli and near the famous landmark. On our last day of school in Queens, the uniform and shoes were packed away, and my family was corralled and herded into the station wagon. Trailing along behind us was our small wooden boat that was loaded with bicycles, clothes, toys, and other assorted necessities. Once settled in, visitors came for day trips to go fishing or to drop off kids. My parents directions to visitors always ended with, “If you pass the Big Duck, you’ve gone too far.” By day, we lived at the beach, driving over the rickety draw bridge to Ponquogue Beach, or when the water was too rough, Meschutt Beach. The Quogue Wildife Preserve and Riverhead Library stood on standby for inclement days. After I turned thirteen, some of my best summers were spent working as a trail guide at the nearby Hilltop Farms Stable. That lasted until I became of the age where the lure of the Boardy Barn and Ed’s Bay Pub became too strong. I got married and the bungalow suddenly became too crowded for me and my husband. After a night on the floor on a blow up mattress surrounded with my four siblings and various friends, my husband declared that was his last night sleeping with feet and elbows in his face. The next day, as we headed down the road to the Point to launch our small boat, we noticed a small house with a for sale sign. Lucky for us, it was a rented realtor’s property and he was itching to retire and close up shop. We signed the papers the day I found out I was pregnant with our first child. It was a small two bedroom bungalow, and we thought it was huge by comparison to my parent’s place. We gutted and finished it with the enthusiasm of a young couple with big dreams, and it served as the setting for many parties, overflow from the bungalow, and happy summers. It also became my haven for a few years after my divorce. It was the place where I raised my three young children. They went to the local school, and I attended the beautiful Southampton College where I got my degree in Secondary Education and Creative Writing. I ended up moving west into Nassau County so my parents could help me with child care when I started teaching. I was able to hold on to the house, but unfortunately, the trips out east became less frequent. Sports, friends, and work filled our schedules and there was no time for Flanders. This was true for my parents and my siblings as well. I managed to make maintenance trips out to check on both my house and the bungalow. I feel fortunate that life has come full circle, and now my children and their cousins have an interest in the houses. I use it once again as my haven, but this time it’s my place to get away from it all. I refuse to get an Internet connection so I can write without interruption. I appreciate going into town to do my shopping and seeing friendly neighbors. My children come out when they feel the urge to go to an uncrowded (by Nassau County standards) beach, or to the still famous Boardy Barn, or if they just want to unwind. There is something even relaxing about the drive out there. It seems that when passing the Pine Barrens, a signal is sent to the sympathetic nervous system to slow down. Maybe it’s the faint scent of pine or it could be the visual markers that act subconsciously to trigger the mind and body to relax. I’m sure there is a scientific explanation for it, but I could care less. As soon as I hit the barrens, I automatically sigh with relief and gratitude. Here’s the thing, while I love to brag about the sleepy Flanders because it holds such fond memories, and it really is a hidden gem, I’ve grown up a bit and realized the island does extend much further. It’s hard to believe that I once lived in the area of one of the most sought after summer locations, but I never traveled further than Southampton. At the time, I think, I was in survival mode and focused on just getting what needed to be done, done. A few years ago, l learned that my favorite professor from Southampton College, Indira Ganesan, was giving a reading of her new book at Canio’s Cultural Cafe in Sag Harbor. As I sat and listened to her, I was reconnected with the feelings of hope and enthusiasm that I’d had upon graduation. Soon after, I got an email about a writing workshop that Canio’s was offering. I didn’t care about the distance; the long winding ride to Sag Harbor helped inspire and sort out my thoughts each time I drove there. The workshop rejuvenated my interest and confidence in writing and the east end. Months later, I wondered if it was happenstance or fate that Indira held a writing workshop at this same place, and I was able to participate. I felt my writing had found terra firma on the sands of Long Island once again. My exploration of Long Island doesn’t end there. For the past few years, my childhood best friend and I make it a tradition to go on the East Hampton Historical Society’s House and Garden Tour that takes place during Thanksgiving weekend. The ride out gives us plenty of time to catch up on our lives, and on the ride home, we have dreamy conversations about the possibilities of the future. Also, this year, we went to see Long Island’s famed, Alec Baldwin, in the play, All My Sons at the East Hampton’s, Guild Hall. We scored second row seats at more than half the price it would have cost to see a show of like quality on Broadway. The added bonus was our walk to the car after the show and picking out which house on that block was our favorite. With the exception of the hipsters, I seem to have neglected Montauk in all my years out on the east end. The only trip I really took out there was when my youngest brother was married in the little catholic church in Amagansett fourteen years ago. The reception followed at the Crow’s Nest in Montauk. It was a fairy tale weekend, but I didn’t venture into the town or go to the beaches. It wasn’t until recently that I took a trip out to Montauk to visit my good friend at a home she and her husband purchased with retirement in mind. When they bought the house, my first thought was that it was too far. Why would anyone in their right mind want to travel two plus hours to their weekend/summer house? It wasn’t until I visited, that I “got” Montauk. A group of us went out for a slumber party. Food, wine, and good company were the menu for the weekend, but it was my friend’s tour of Montauk the next day that stole the show. Our weekend took place in late April and there wasn’t any traffic, but that’s the best part. We saw Montauk for it’s natural beauty. That trip spurred a summer retreat with my whole family at one of the local hotels located on the beach. We stayed close to the ocean, so that town was a short walk away. My siblings and I (and our small tribe of family) were once again rejoined on the sands of Long Island. I’m not trading my beloved Flanders for any other town. I’m just a girl growing up. The sands have shifted, so to speak, and I’m broadening my Long Island horizons, at least as far as Montauk.