We flew to Long Island, Islip/MacArthur Airport, and drove to Baiting Hollow to spend a long weekend with our Ardovino cousins and their families out on “The Island”. There were about 55 of us in attendance at a Sunday gathering, a great event featuring a lot of good food, Italian of course, and the re-connection of people who in some instances had not seen each other in decades. For me, having moved away from New York at age 10, and thereafter only returning during the summer and on holidays, I met many of my more distant cousins for the first time.
It has been 116 years since my great-grandparents left a small town in southern Italy for a new life in America. Spending time with my cousins made me think about whether or not my great-grandparents would be proud of us. Would they be able to look beyond their nineteenth century conservative family values and at least understand our twenty-first century behavior? How would they respond to the fact that our family now lives all across the country? And, would they forgive us for marrying non-Italians?
I can only speculate about the answers to these questions. I do think that they would be proud of us, and pleased that some of us return to the “old country” now and then (a few have even moved back there permanently). While they would not approve of our language, they would like our cooking (well, at least my cousin Mary’s delights). They probably would not like the fact that we live so far apart, and that we do not see each other very often. They would enjoy our life stories, the tales of family, friends, place, work, joys, and disappointments. All of us owe them our best. They took the risk and ventured to the new world.
Long Island stretches over 120 miles from New York Harbor to its most eastern reach, Montauk Point (think the movies Jaws and Sharknado). Long Island has a population of nearly eight million people, but most reside on the western end of Long Island, near New York City. Keep in mind that Brooklyn and Queens are part of Long Island. “The Island” has a rich history that long predates European settlers. George Washington lost the Battle of Long Island in 1776 and we did not get it back until 1783. Washington’s spies on Long Island and other areas of New York City were crucial to eventual victory. In 1790, the population of “The Island” was 37, 000. More recently, but not that recently, before the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, the only way to reach Long Island from New York City was by ferry or some other watercraft. There was no major commercial air travel to and from Long Island until La Guardia airport opened in 1939.
Long Island has great beaches (think Jones Beach and Fire Island) and 43 wineries scattered about, although most of the wineries are on the North Shore. I suggest a tour, one where you are not driving. We had my cousin Vinnie (yeah, I have one of those) and his wife, Blake, to guide and keep us out of trouble. Many city dwellers, some of them my cousins, vacation regularly on “The Island.” Many of my cousins live there.
Strange story. I recently learned that a few of the vending machines on Long Island had new merchandize, crack pipes (yes, crack pipes). Well, that did not last long as small town mayors, city council folks, and the “just say no” crowd expressed their outrage with this development. My sense is that crack pipe vending sales have plummeted since the New York Daily News ran the story. Cracked.com flashed the headline, “Behold, The Crack Pipe Vending Machines of Long Island.” But, don’t you wanna know? How did they get there in the first place?
It turns out that someone(s) decided to repurpose three tampon dispensers. Yes, you may read that sentence again. These were stolen from parts unknown. After a bit of signage adjustment, the machines were placed in front of an apartment complex, a bus stop, and Home Depot (now doesn’t that bring alive a whole new set of images connected to home improvement projects?). The vending machines were advertised as selling pens or “S-Pens”. However, when you payed your $2 you got a crack pipe. Imagine the surprise, cough, cough, when folks got a crack pipe, not a pen. My great grandparents would be mortified.
Not to be missed if given the opportunity is a boat ride anywhere whether it be on the Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean off Montauk or South, or Peconic Bay, east of Baiting Hollow. Vinnie, yeah that cousin again, took us out on his boat to explore the scenery, discuss the rise and fall (and attempted return) of the oyster industry, and visit (boat side) a few of the towns that grew up on the Bay during varies times in the development of the central and eastern part of Long Island. It was a great day for a boat ride, what day isn’t, with plenty of sun, not too much wind, and a lot of cool stuff to see.
The drive between Islip and Baiting Hollow is most interesting. Central and eastern Long Island are very rural, full of all kinds of farms, cool looking small towns, vineyards, coast line, and many historical markers. The families of Long Island suffered greatly on 9-11. Many, many brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, and friends perished when the towers were destroyed. There are now 80 steel beam memorial sites that dot the Long Island landscape from west to east. We saw a few of them on our drive to Baiting Hollow and other excursions while visiting.