I don’t consider myself an expert on Long Island. I wasn’t born here. I arrived here as a 17-year-old college student in the mid-1970s, landing at Dowling College, on a lovely campus situated on the banks of the Connetquot River. It was about 350 miles away from Avoca, the tiny upstate town where I grew up, population 1,996. Before coming here, I knew nothing about the Island. It was merely a spot on a map, a place surrounded by water. After college, it became my home away from home. But it will never feel like my true home because I was not born on its soil.
Long Island, I found, is a place where life is somewhat slow and simple, not unlike Avoca -- you feel a deep connection to the world around you. It’s a place where you can sit outside a Starbucks and be creative on your laptop for hours, and no one bothers you.
It’s a place where you can walk on a beach and feel the sweet ocean breeze on your skin and put all your concerns aside as you traipse along barefoot and fancy-free. You can worship and dream big dreams and lie on a park bench with a book shading your face from the sun. You can walk onto the grounds of a college campus and sit on a concrete block, listen to music, and watch the students rushing to class with armloads of books.
It’s where, on a sweltering day, you can step into a supermarket and be enveloped by chilly air and see shoppers in crowded aisles poring over their lists or apps to see what bargains await. You can go to a matinee and sit alone in a theater, watching a movie you don’t really care about but, for two hours, allow yourself to be swept away to a motion picture fantasyland.
Long Island is a place where you can visit a cemetery and “talk” to a loved one, then read the names on nearby tombstones and imagine what their lives may have been like.
You can visit an aquarium and come face-to-face with a shark, seal or sea lion. Or visit a playground and sit on a swing, ask a friend to give you a few gentle pushes, and be taken back to your youth when swings, wooden teeter-totters, hopscotch and hide-and-seek were the norm. Or visit a convenience store and play a lottery ticket, dreaming about what you’ll spend your money on when you become the lucky big winner.
You can meet a friend at a park and walk along a squirrel-favored path and talk about the good old days, when life was simpler and only nurses and doctors wore masks.
You can experience culture by exploring museums that dot the Island’s landscape or feel patriotic by visiting stirring 9/11 tributes and read the names of Long Islanders who started their day like any other but who never came home that night.
When I arrived here as a teenager, I had no idea I would plant my own little roots in soil that seemed so foreign to me back then. Yet, despite those seeds and an appreciation for all that the Island has to offer, I will always feel like an outsider, smiling as I look through a lens at the special uniqueness that is Long Island. My children and their children, though, can truly call it home.
Reader Beverly Robinson lives in Hempstead.