Last week Mitch and I took a mini road trip to Long Island to see the Treehouse Shakers perform in Huntington. I had booked Coyote's Dance with Huntington Arts Council on their outdoor stage in Heckscher Park (part of the Summer Arts Festival, Family Series) and it would be a twilight show and gorgeous. While I'd been to Nassau over the years, I hadn't been back to Suffolk in eleven years and I was excited to make this less about work travel and more about fun -- beaches, seeing the hold sights, etc. I loved not having to be "on" but just exploring again.
Once one gets past the crappy Belt Parkway traffic (past Kennedy airport) and well into Nassau County, it's so beautiful on the island. We arrived and checked in at our "day in" only to quickly realize it was a real dive (as in, pay by the hour, trucker stop, enter room from the outside, smokey/dingy, something out an after school special hide out place). It reminded me of that horrid little place in Parsippany from years back and now with a 4 year old in tow, I could not in sound judgement stay. L.I. - for being home to many a swank New Yorker's home or vacation home - has its fair share of lodges and motels and even on a budget, I really wouldn't recommend one stay at one of the "lodges." As my good friend and I joked, avoid anything with "Sleep" and "Roadway" in it as well. Fork over the dough and get something nice. It makes all the difference in the world.
A few calls and a dinner later, we were checked into the fabulous Long Island Sheraton in my old hometown and my bad motel experience was behind us with a credit back to my account. Funny how things work out. I feel like we were destined to be in Smithtown for most of our stay.
Sunset over SmithtownI spent a lot of time just driving....driving around, driving to get lost, driving to find. Find my old house, my old school, a beach, a park, the diner, and just to see how things changed and how they stayed the same. Driving to reminisce and tell "when I was a kid" stories to my son. We found our way to Sunken Meadow State Park on the north shore, complete with a big kids' jungle gym area, a beach, bath houses, mini boardwalk, snack stand, and a glorious albeit rocky shoreline. We had glorious weather the entire three days and that Tuesday July 10, it was a sunny 79 degrees on the beach. We didn't have all our beach toys but we still enjoyed the time to just sit and be. To look out and see CT across the Sound...to take in the beauty of the coast.
My old house -- Village of the Branch, Smithtown, NY (top) and the Post Office (bottom)I loved seeing my old house (and the swing set in the backyard) and amazed at how many stories and memories I could recount with such clarity and enthusiasm to my child. I loved that Mitch wanted me to show him all around, show him my old ____.
I had an existential moment over fro yo that Tuesday wondering what if...what if we had stayed? What would have happened? Who would I have been? Who would my friends have been? I'm sitting here with my son in 2012, twenty-six years after we left Smithtown. He might not even be here, at least not in this way, had we stayed.
Sunken Meadow State Park (view of the beach umbrellas that dotted the sky on the mini boardwalk; view of the beach and Long Island Sound; my son a little "meh" over the stone beach)
It was too deep and philosophical for me in that moment, over Red Mango fro yo.
Somedays I miss NY in ways I cannot describe. I may not even be able to articulate it well here. It's not about wishing something had played out differently, wishing we had stayed, wishing I was a true New Yorker. It's a different sort of miss, of longing. It's something that maybe only someone with as much wanderlust would understand. It explains why, when I return, to the city or the island, I feel immediately like I belong. Like I could live this NY life. It's rooted in a love of and need to travel/explore/immerse and appreciation of one's personal history. That despite the family hardships of that time, it really was a terrific town and for me, at that time (aged 6-9), it was formative and impressionable. A lot of wonderful memories there. Most of all, I'm grateful for that wanderlust that brings me back to enjoy every ounce of what that island offers. Grateful I can now share it with my little guy.
Here are some pics of our time on L. I. I cannot say enough fabulous things about Huntington -- Heckscher Park, the ponds with ducks, the huge kids' playground complete with sandboxes, the outside theater, the overall experience. What a family centered town. Had we more time, we'd have gone back and just wandered around, maybe fed some ducks, seen the museum that is right there in the park, even explored downtown Huntington. Treehouse Shakers had a terrific audience that evening and I am proud of them and the community for supporting the arts. A special shout out to John Chicherio at Huntington Arts Council and Jim P. at Long Island Children's Museum - always great to see colleagues.
Heckscher Park - view of the park with the lakes and ducks; Treehouse Shakers perform Coyote's Dance