Every Saturday morning at 7 AM, throughout the summer, I head to the farmer’s market where I can find just about any seasonal vegetables or fruit I desire. I usually pick up a dozen fresh eggs from pastured chickens or what some old-time residents call Yard Birds. I also gather juicy peaches, a sweet cantaloupe or two, and berries of all kinds. Freshly slaughtered chickens, beef, lamb and pork, all locally grown, are available along with cheese from goats and cows, handmade jewelry and so much more.
This past Saturday, two booths were featuring wild-harvested wineberries … a raspberry-like fruit, sweet and tart, all at the same time. I was offered a sample and their tangy flavor sent me back some fifty-five years to my adolescence, growing up on New York’s, Long Island Sound. At that time, we lived year round on a small neck of land that stuck out into the Sound on one side and Northport harbor on the other. Our house was tucked into a small cove that at high tide filled with salt water and at low tide became a mud flat. We had access to a private neighborhood beach and our own small piece of sound-front shore just five minutes from our home, where we could swim anytime, regardless of how the tide was running. Besides having to do daily house chores, I spent most summer days at the neighborhood beach or on the water with friends, swimming, flirting, sometimes sailing in a friend’s boat, or waterskiing.
Wineberries and blackberries grew wild along the narrow, shaded roads and my friends, mostly summer residents, and I would feast on those wonderous jewels, staining our mouths, hands and clothes with their runny juice. If we could gather enough without eating them all, we’d heap them into hand-rolled pie crusts, bake them, and sell them to the neighbors. We also made and sold apple pies, from fruit a neighbor grew in his yard and donated to our cause. We saved the proceeds to finance our late summer trips to Coney Island, where we’d spend a last fling together before school started and my friends headed back to the city. We’d feast on hot dogs, smothered with sauerkraut and yellow mustard, scream from the top of one of the stomach-churning roller coasters and challenge each other to try the parachute jump, which was my favorite.
The 4th of July was always a festive occasion spent with neighbors and family at the beach. A day ahead of time we’d dig clams and gather mussels from seaweed encrusted rocks along the water’s edge. My mother would make baked beans, stock up on fresh corn, watermelon and party food. On the Fourth, we’d dig a deep hole in the sand and line the bottom with rocks. On top we’d build a fire with driftwood, letting it burn until the coals were glowing and the rocks were too hot to touch. We’d then layer in wet seaweed, clams, mussels and corn, top it all off with more seaweed and let the contents steam away. When the clams and mussels opened their shells and the corn was tender it was ready. There was a bowl of melted butter to dip seafood in and to pour over corn. Always a grill with hamburgers and hotdogs sizzled away off to the side. When the sun went down, we’d begin to hear and sometimes see fireworks off in the distance, sit around the bonfire and toast marshmallows until they were crusty on the outside and very gooey on the inside. Late at night, we’d wander home, in bathing suites filled with overstuffed bellies and lots of sand, often sunburned, and completely exhausted. I’d dream of sweet summers filled with romance and good-looking boys.
I visited Long Island a few years ago in the springtime, hoping to locate the seven houses I lived in as a child. I found four of them. The Eaton’s Neck house where I lived is still there. My heart skipped many a beat as I slowly drove by. So many memories flooded my head. The neighborhood still looks pretty much like it used to, but there are more homes and fewer stands of woods and trees. On the day I was there, I watched a chestnut colored pony grazing in the large yard of one of the nearby houses. Had it been there when I was a resident, I probably would have spent much of my time there. I loved horses and wanted one of my own.
As I write these words, I feel filled with excitement. I can’t wait to finish mowing the lawn and get down to the beach. I smell the salty breeze, hear my friends laughing as they throw each other off the dock from which we swam. I run up the road, sweaty and anxious to join the fun. I wonder where they all are now. Are they still living and breathing, remembering as I am, the way life was then? Where are you Nick, Gil, Denise, Judy, Richie, Billy?
Happy 4th of July to All!