Life is a journey through time, as you travel through it, you learn, you live, you make mistakes, and you have some successes. As a sixty-something, one could say the cycle of the seasons helps guide us on the voyage. The seasons with their unique beauty are time markers somehow. Years back, I made the decision to make the East End of Long Island a huge part of the what’s next in my life. Now, twenty years later, I am glad I did.
When I arrived, I decided to learn all I could about the history of the East End. I soon realized the history of the East End is part of the cradle of history of our country. It’s fascinating to read how at one point the founders of East Hampton wanted the settlement to be its own country, or that at another point the East End reported to the British Royal Governor of Connecticut, only to be realigned as part of the New York Colony in the 1660s. The point is, there is quite a collection of past generations that had their journey through life almost exclusively on the East End. Who while living on the East End hasn’t had someone just say: “My family goes back 14 generations.” To me, that’s amazing now, but I suppose my great grandparents in Italy said their families were there for almost two thousand years. Yet, here I am now on the East End, but 20 years.
I love the classic old farms of the East End. Each one has quite a story. The Halseys, the Whites, and others have buildings and family markers on their property that date back hundreds of years. Some families have their own cemeteries with numerous graves from the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s, along with the 20th and now 21st century. History and progress live and die side by side.
You see old windmills nearby wind turbines, along with old flagpoles located not far from new cell towers. I always wonder what the beaches have looked like through the generations, or even when the true natives occupied the land before the settlers. Did they have beach days too? Did they ride the waves as young children, perhaps being taught body surfing by their elders? Did they ever have the time for beach parties or was it always all work and no play to survive.
I read historian Henry Hedges and enjoyed how he recalled being a pre-teen boy swimming in Georgica Pond in the early 1800s and then walking the short distance to swim in the ocean there. He wrote of it fondly in his eighties, the thrill of being that boy still deep in his mind. It genuinely surfaced in the passage as he wrote of his pure joy on such days.
In 2007, I interviewed Tate King and his wife Mildred in the kitchen of their home on the land of their North Sea Farms. Every time I drive past that home, I recall seeing him look out the window and saying how as a chicken farmer and a dairy man, he hardly ever had any money. He credited his wife working as a nurse as the true constant provider for him and his children that now include cookie tycoon Kathleen King (Tate’s Cookies). Then he said this, “Most of my life all I had was the change in my pockets, now they tell me my land is worth many millions, but how can I sell it? My mother and father are buried over there (as he pointed out the window) and my brother over there.”
I encountered many similar stories over the years, the men in their seventies, or beyond. They worked hard their whole lives, tending to East End family farms or businesses, and all of the sudden they are rich men. Yet, I always got the impression they’ve give up all that accumulated wealth to go back to the beginning and start all over again.