One day your 69, the next you’re 70. What’s the difference? Damned if I know but my pending birthday has me so spooked. How did the number get this big so fast?
My ex-husband will not have the luxury of celebrating another birthday. He is in hospice. We are divorced for thirty years and have two daughters who live and work in New York City. My ex lives in Nassau County, about a half hour away. They spend as much time with him as possible, their days speeding past and crawling by. Yesterday, both girls cried softly into the phone. Lately, we’ve shared many calls like this. I wish we lived closer.
Seventeen years ago, my husband Chuck and I happily abandoned the marathon that was our way of life for decades. We retired, sold our house in crowded Nassau County where the girls grew up, and moved into the little cottage that had been our second home for the past few years. Located on the North Fork, the northeastern-most tip of Long Island, in a small town called Cutchogue, it was ten houses from the Peconic Bay. Everything out east was less crowded and the folks living there more relaxed. I love to kayak, Chuck loves to golf and we both enjoy long bicycle rides on quiet country roads.
Back then, flush with the fresh freedom of retirement, spending so much time driving up-island and back to visit family and friends was something we did in order to have the joy of living out east. However, our daughters, who visit often but don’t enjoy the 3-hour round-trip car ride, began sleeping over. So did friends and family from “distant places”. Everyone loved being out east. We needed more space so we expanded the cottage into a three bedroom, two-story house. Time slipped joyfully by.
But, a few years ago -more now-the frequent trips west and back became frustrating. We’re weary of the congested roads that lead from our home in Cutchogue to the Long Island Expressway, aka the LIE, the main highway to all points west. It used to be so peaceful out here. Now, tourists drawn by quiet beaches, pumpkin-picking and the wineries have made the North Fork a destination, like the Hamptons. Add a big burst of year round population, the very slow, very necessary farm vehicles, and the ride is endless. But we are loath to part with the North Fork’s physical beauty and relaxed lifestyle.
Last winter, after the holidays, we decided it was time to downsize. There were only three towns that interested us because of their proximity to the LIE and to the North Fork. Our house requirements were also specific. No home improvement, little updating, and a nice back yard for our wonder dog, Gracie.
It is bittersweet being eager to move closer, and sad at the thought of leaving the bay front community where my precious “younger” years sped by. Thinking about how quickly time passes is using up too much time
Real estate is our “retirement” profession. We have spent many years successfully matching buyers and sellers, which gave us an edge in the daunting task at hand. Usually there’s a small rush of new listings in late winter but not this year. You never know with real estate. We didn’t want to put Cutchogue on the market until we found a new home, but waiting might mean missing the traditionally active spring selling season. Not a great sleeper, I spent nights worrying about our success, impatient to have this monumental task moving forward.
Finally, after looking at many discouraging houses, we found it in Riverhead, the first town on the North Fork. Only eight minutes from the LIE, it’s smaller, updated, has 3 bedrooms, (still room for sleepovers), a finished basement, and a huge backyard. The street is lined with towering trees, the neighborhood is small, hilly and faces the Long Island Sound. Delighted, we quickly made a full price offer – but, and in real estate, there’s always a “but”, the seller had accepted that offer earlier that day! Knowing we had to overbid meant another sleepless night with my mind racing like a track star.
But, in the morning, the first offer fell through. More small, important negotiations led to another horrible night – with heartburn. They seller’s accepted the next day. Two weeks later, after a positive home-inspection, we signed the contract on our new house. After the closing in two months, it would be ours. What a joyous day. The pangs I felt about moving dimmed considerably.
Now it was time to put Cutchogue on the market. Within a week, with wood floors gleaming and no dog hairs anywhere, we did an open house. A buyer quickly made an offer. We negotiated successfully. The buyer did a pre-purchase inspection; at first, he said, “No issues.” But- and never forget that, “but”, he called the next day. “Oops,” he said. The e-mailed report revealed a decades old code violation that existed when we bought the house. And we did an inspection. As team resolver, I have spent days making phone calls and sending endless texts and e-mails to the town and county. Last night, I baked two loaves of cornbread at 4 a.m. The house smelled delicious.
This morning, like many others, it’s dark when I get out of bed. Taking a cup of coffee onto the weathered deck next to the kitchen, I slowly pace back and forth. An apricot dawn blooms through the surrounding tall oaks. The air is heavy with the scent of honeysuckle. Inhaling deeply, I seek the patience to speed through another day brimming with sadness and frustration.
For most of my adult life, speed walking, preferably alone after dinner, is my way of dealing with life’s day-to-day stresses. It’s easier to sort things out with arms and legs pumping large doses of oxygen to my brain. And so, that evening, after another sad day with nothing resolved, and a headache bordering on a migraine, I rush out the door, hollering, “Be back soon.” I charge north along Pequash Avenue, the two-lane road that starts at the bay, runs past my house, and connects with the Main Road, a mile away. Deeply engrossed in heavy thoughts, I’m jerked aware by the roar of a pick-up truck, barreling south on the other side of the road, doing 60 in a 30 mile per hour zone. I make a “slow down” motion with my hands as the truck zooms by, turning to watch it recede in the distance, my stare so intense I’m surprised the back of the drivers head doesn’t ignite. Speeders are a problem on Pequash Avenue, a straight run with no stop signs. Vehicles zoom past, sending small stones and sticks flying.
When the truck disappears, I start walking – even faster. Several minutes later, I’m almost at the Main Road when I hear a vehicle coming up slowly behind me. Moving over, I wait for it to pass, but it doesn’t. Annoyed at being followed, I turn and see the same truck that just whizzed by. It comes abreast and rolls along with me. The passenger-side window is open. I peer into the interior. The driver, a young man, stares back at me.
“Uh Oh,” I think.
“Excuse me,” he calls.
I stop walking. I’m in Cutchogue, the safest place I’ve ever lived, but my accelerated heart hammers harder. In the last few years, I had two unusual encounters with strangers around town. Both instances, one in which I was the accuser, the other the accused, began in a hostile way due to inaccurate first impressions. But, North Fork people like to talk – and listen. Both times, our explanations dispelled the anger, replacing it with humor and an unexpected sense of warmth.
What can this guy want?
“I want to apologize,” the driver calls over the rumble of his engine. “I was going way too fast just now. I saw you wave your hands but when I looked in my rear view mirror and you were staring at me, I realized how fast I was going.”
I’m speechless. This is the last thing I expected. I thought he was going to tell me to mind my own %&@ business. He read my stare. What are the chances of that?
I realize he’s waiting for a reply. My anger is gone. “You don’t know how much I appreciate your words,” I say. “Thanks.”
“It won’t happen again,” he promises. “You have a good night,” he says, driving slowly away.
My need for speed is eased. The warm buzz produced by this encounter feels good. My head aches less and I know it’s due to more than the extra oxygen flowing to my brain. Reaching the Main Road, I turn and head home. Nothing has changed except my perception of the moment.