I was a difficult child. A child of the 80’s who wore the scars from being bullied by pretty girls and the heavy burden of Reaganomic materialism like weighty armor. I suppose that some form of pressure is always there for teen girls, likely worse for them today but this was what shaped me in those formative years. It was an ugly shape, rigid and hardened. It felt awkward on my body and made me sad when I looked in the mirror. All of this, paired with a healthy dose of sensitivity and a large amount of sullenness made me a difficult child. Thanks in part to the very same economy that contributed to my woes, my parents, one pivotal day, purchased a summer home on “the North Fork”. Now, I knew that there was a top end of the whale’s tale at the end of Long Island. I had certainly seen the map, I just didn’t think that anyone spent time there. My only frame of reference was the chicken barbeque that my sister attended with a friend each year, hosted by the Cutchogue Fire Department. When she described the trip, it was always fondly but I had developed a mental image of a long straight road with grassy fields on either side that continued for miles, all the way to the end of the whale’s tale. In this image, once a year, a bunch of grills were driven out on fire trucks to…somewhere grassy. People ate chicken and drank beer and drove back up island where real life happened. I was horrified at the thought of being dragged away for the summer, from the few friends that I had, to a place full of, in my mind, nothing. To make matters worse, this new addition to our family involved manual labor. Our first visit revealed a little old lady’s house with yellowed wallpaper, tissue thin that came off in one inch pieces. It was winter, so there were no beaches, no suntans to be had, just sand paper and paint fumes. Old brass lamps with bulbs exposed lit the rooms as we worked. It was exhausting work. My sister and I sanded those walls and our nail polish right off, all the while our parents rolling their eyes at our horror while they scraped and sanded beside us. We worked together to tape out molding and mix paint. We encountered more bugs than I care to recall and wore ugly, out of style (gasp), clothes so that our “real clothes” didn’t get ruined. My old heavy armor was far too cumbersome to wear while climbing a ladder and my ugly, sad shape was too stiff and rigid to allow me to paint under a sink, so they were left home. There was no telephone, no television and no one to talk to but one another. So we did. We worked and we talked and eventually we laughed. We were, all four, stripped down versions of ourselves, leveled out by exhaustion and bound by work. Our reward was dinner at Fisherman’s Rest, the only restaurant open at that time of year. We would order everything on the menu and laugh when we were still hungry, then we would order dessert. Returning to the dark house with bellies full, we played board games and slept the deepest of sleeps on mattresses in barren rooms. When spring arrived, we were all so invested in our new house that we rushed out to the New Suffolk each weekend to see what had sprouted up in the yard and to investigate whether the elusive osprey had returned for the season. I found myself, to my own surprise, longing for the peace of the little house and the company of my family. That house had brought us all together and somewhere in the process, reminded me who I was, before I became a difficult child. I was happy to look in the mirror at my new shape with my easy brow, suntanned face and wild hair. We brought friends out for weekends and showed them with pride, how we got our mail at the corner post office, ice cream at the general store and dined with them at our beloved Fisherman’s Rest. Our summer home became a, year-round, whenever we could get there, home. We never wanted to leave. We were all happiest there, reading in hammocks and trying with all our might to paddle our raft all the way to Robins Island. There were boyfriends and break-ups, giggles with girlfriends, barbeques with my father at the grill and my mother’s famous taco salad. Friends still flock from different states for the annual Independence Day parade that I would stack up against the inspiration for any Norman Rockwell painting. We traipsed in and out of that house, alone and together in bare feet and snow boots, all the way through college and beyond. My husband sought my father’s blessing to propose to me at that house. Friends of ours told their mother that they were expecting their first child at that house. When my grandfather died, we whisked my grandmother out to that house to heal, which she did while chopping vegetables in the kitchen, listening to Linda Ronstadt and telling stories of his life. My sister was married in the front yard and I was married on the beach at the end of the street. We both had our wedding receptions in the back yard, years apart and planted lilac bushes to commemorate. Our children can now pick those lilacs to carry in to their grandmother’s kitchen to surprise her. My nephews both learned to ride bikes in the driveway and I heard my daughter say “Mama” for the first time, in the same living room that I had painted 30 years earlier. Not all of the days have been easy ones. I have a vivid memory from last summer, watching three tiny children walk to the beach hand in hand. My nephew’s head was bald from chemotherapy and he was finally well enough to make the journey to the land of grass fields and chicken barbeques. In that moment, in that special place, with their fingers interlaced, I knew what they were feeling, it was paradise. I keep the photo that I took of them that while walking in my office to remind me of that day. It was late summer, when the air hangs thickly around you, making your breath heavy but the breeze off of the bay calls, “if you just make it to the shore, it will all be ok.” Even with the pain of that time, that day, it did feel like it would all be ok. I walked with my sister a few paces behind our young children and we talked about the incredible gift that our parents gave to us when they bought that house in New Suffolk. We have, each of us, built our lives around that gift. We were overcome with gratitude. Our parent’s gave us the simple but glorious peace of watching the sun set over the Peconic Bay. As new parents, we are now armed against the pull of technology with the bliss that comes from digging up clams with your toes. Our little ones will have the chance to pull their food from the earth, not pick it in the produce aisle. They will experience the excitement of watching fireworks from the South Fork burst in to the sky and span the horizon. The will know the exhilaration felt from watching a thunderstorm roll in over the water and from reeling in their first fish. They will someday have the unique catharsis that comes when you hit the North Road, roll down your car window and turn up the music after a long week of work. They will see their child’s confused expression, the first time that they try to walk on sand and it will fill them with so much joy and nostalgia that they will feel as though their hearts are bursting. Our children and their children will have the opportunity to find their own unique shape in a place where the voices in a small town can still make a difference, where conservation is paramount, where your outfit matters far less than the zest with which you live your life and where they will always, always, be able to find family.