Staying at Grandma Tasker’s
Staying At Grandma Tasker’s Every summer in the mid-1950’s when I was a young child our family would drive out to Greenport and spend the summer with Gram. Her big old Victorian house on the North Road was always called the “summer house,” even though it was lived in year-round. After the Depression and some unfortunate investments, the family estate, that in its heyday included a dairy farm extending up to the Sound, shrank to just a few acres. The McCanns bought out the bulk of the property, tore down the “big” house, a classic Victorian mansion three times the size of the summer house, and built their own compound right next door. Still, to my 5-year-old eyes, Gram’s house was quite grand. Along the oyster shell driveway was a row of maple trees which were great for climbing. In the backyard was a sandbox, a massive lavender lilac bush the size of an elephant, and a one-of-a-kind piece of driftwood that resembled a miniature horse. At the northern border of the property a cornfield where we played hide-and-seek extended all the way up to the bluffs overlooking the Sound. A grape arbor on the edge of the property, which really belonged to the McCanns, sometimes furnished us with “borrowed” grapes. The back porch steps was where we shucked corn from Latham’s farm stand. Around one corner of the house, fragrant pale pink heirloom roses adorned a painted white trellis. It was this trellis and a bird bath surrounded by flowers that made me think Gram was a very rich lady. A screened-in porch in the front offered a view of the North Road traffic – which at that time was about one quarter of what it is today. It seemed that every afternoon Gram would be stretched out on the green chaise lounge in the corner of the porch – serene and quiet, reading or simply lying there. From a thorny misshapen bush smack in the middle of the front lawn, we would play red-light-green-light or giant steps. The brown-shingled house across the way often had a little table set out by the edge of the road with jars of fresh-cut summer flowers for sale. Because my mom had six brothers and sisters, there were always many cousins in and around Greenport to play with. Gram also had a tiny swatch of beach property a few yards west of the Sound View Inn. Every day we would pile in the car and drive the few miles there to meet various aunts, uncles, and cousins and spend the afternoon playing on the stone beach, diving off the rock shaped like a whale, and trying to avoid the jelly fish in the water – or sometimes even catching them and “cooking” them in the sun. One set of cousins lived on Albertson Lane at the Arshamomaque Dairy. Aunt Ginny and Uncle Tony, with ever-present smiles, always welcomed us, even as we added to their brood of seven children. Among the various animals at the farm – cows, horses, chickens – there was Figaro, the St. Bernard, who was known for getting into mischief. One dog-tale involved a burial service at the small private family-owned cemetery directly across the road from the Dairy. The day before the service, workers came to dig a hole for the casket. Overnight, Figaro fell into the hole and couldn’t get out and when the mourners appeared the next day for the ceremony, there was a giant St. Bernard looking up at them. Another misadventure occurred in the middle of the night when Aunt Ginny and Uncle Tony heard loud banging sounds outside. At first they thought it was probably one of the migrant workers who lived in one of the shacks down the road who might have been out “celebrating.” Opening the front door, they found Figaro with a neighbor’s doghouse stuck on his massive head – banging it against the house in a vain attempt to dislodge it. Another set of cousins lived on Sunset Lane. Most often, rather than walking the long way to get there – down the North Road and left onto Sound Road by Porky’s Restaurant (now the defunct Shady Lady) – we’d take the short-cut by the cornfields in back of Gram’s house to get to Aunt Honey and Uncle Donald’s place. From there it was also a short walk to the beach at the Sixty-Seven Steps at the end of Sound Road. Two more cousins lived across from the library at First and North but only during the school year. In summer they decamped – probably all of a mile and a half – to Sandy Beach, the enclave of scallop-shacks-turned-summer-vacation-cottages across the water from Preston’s Marina. On Jockey Creek Road in Southold was the household of a fourth set of cousins. During low tide our beagle, Pokey, would walk along the shore of Jockey Creek and jump back in alarm and confusion every time he stepped on a buried razor clam that squirted him from its hiding place beneath the sand. When Gram passed away, the people who bought her house took good care in restoring it and keeping its original Victorian character. From this I take great heart – and equal amounts of gratitude – because every time I visit Greenport now I can drive by it and revive some very treasured memories of the North Road and the North Fork and Gram.