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Orient man repairing oil burners was ‘hero all winter long’

Joseph Soito, 75, was born and raised in

Joseph Soito, 75, was born and raised in Orient. He meets friends to sit and talk at the Orient Country Store every afternoon. (Aug. 2, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Joseph Soito, 75, a lifelong resident of Orient, meets friends to sit and talk at the Orient Country Store every afternoon.

How long have you lived here?
Always. My whole life. Except I was in the Army for a couple of years.

When did your family come here?
My father came here from the island Fayal, off Portugal, in 1915.

To work. He worked in the big motel, the Mount Pleasant Hotel. He drove a team of horses to Greenport. And you know, they would do everything themselves then. There was a garden, he grew vegetables, milked cows, whatever he needed to do. There were no stores then, you didn’t go out and buy things. My mother came in 1920. She came from the same island. They knew each other, but they weren’t buddies or anything. They hooked up over here. I had a sister [born] in 1925 and I was born in 1937.

What was it like here growing up?
It was -- it still is, I think -- a wonderful place. It was all farmland, fish trapping, baymen. There were some factories in Greenport. Basically, Orient was 36 family farms.
I went to school right here, we used to play in the woods all the time, go ice skating in the winter. On Fridays, you’d go to the movies. On Saturday, you’d go roller skating.
Everyone loved fishing, clamming, stuff like that. It was a good life for me.
I started working as a truck driver delivering oil. Then I went to tech school to repair oil burners, and then I was like a hero all winter long.

Why did you decide to stay here as an adult?
I just loved it. I love fishing, love clamming. There’s everything I like to do here. I go on trips and stuff to go see other things, but I always come back here. I’m happy to come back home always.
I got married. I met a girl that worked at Orient Point. She was working at the marina, she came here with a girl whose father was renting the place for the summer. At 10 o’clock, all the girls would go to Orient Point Inn for a drink. My buddy was the bartender. She was a great dancer. She hated it out here, but lo and behold, at the end of the summer, she got a job at Plum Island and she stayed.
That year was rough. She tried to get me to move to New York City and get a job, but I convinced her to stay. The first 20 years were rough, she’d say. We’ll be married going on 48 years now.

How has Orient changed?
All the young folks that are here now. Farming was always going down. It was hard to make a buck. You had to be more or less a family farm because you couldn’t pay people. It was an easy, simple life.
The ferry boat started in the '40s, then it stopped during World War II. It came back in 1952 -- different owners than it is now. We’ve never seen so much traffic on our roads. It just goes up every year.
What’s changed is that the kids can’t come back and farm. The mothers and fathers sold their land and people have built houses on it. There are so many rich people here now, they build houses and only come back in the summer. It’s not crowded, but we’re small, we can only handle so many people.
There are not too many originals left -- the Lathams, the Youngs, the Tuthills, they all have someone left but not many.

What has stayed the same?
The bays have stayed pretty good.

How would you describe the character of Orient?
Quiet. Relaxing.

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