I’ll begin with the food. I’m picturing a perfect Tuesday evening and I’m waiting in line outside McNulty’s Ice Cream Parlor in Miller Place — or maybe the Ice Cream Cottage in Mastic — ready to place an order, my kids bursting with excitement. Or maybe I’m working my way through the massive bowl of mussels that tops off the Bayman’s Best platter at Varney’s Restaurant, or helping myself to seconds at Curry Club’s Sunday buffet, two of my all-time favorites. Or best of all: I’m sitting alone at a booth in Colosseo pizza, a cash-only I’ve been eating at since I was a kid, two fresh-out-of-the-oven slices on the table before me, waiting to be demolished.
It’s summertime. Which for me means visiting my parents on the eastern half of Long Island, where I was born and raised. I now live and teach high school in Oakland, California, but each summer, come July, I pack up my family, fly cross country, and, for about three and half weeks, relive some of my favorite summer pastimes in a strange combination of homegrown native meets starry-eyed tourist.
For obvious reasons, I canceled our trip this year. I haven’t left Oakland since March, and will likely not visit Long Island again until next summer. This realization has prompted me to reflect on my relationship with Long Island and why I still carry such affection for it. Growing up, I was repelled by the racism, segregation, and class divisions I witnessed all around me, which fed an adolescent desire to escape. Having now spent years living away, I still find myself being continually pulled back.
I feel a sense of loss knowing I won’t see my homeland this summer. Compared to the larger problems of our world, it’s an admittedly trivial loss. But I feel it nonetheless. And so as the days of summer slip past, I’ve been trying to experience everything I’m going to miss through memory.
As crazy as this might sound, I keep picturing myself riding the Long Island Rail Road. Not an early morning commuter coffin, but the 1:32 p.m. from Ronkonkoma to Penn Station, the sun-drenched suburbs flinging past the window, that weird dentist office smell permeating the carriage, a book in hand, reveling in the anticipation of seeing old friends in the swelter and energy of Manhattan.
Most of all, I’ve been lingering over those small, unscheduled moments of joy that summer allows. Sitting on the beach with my wife, my kids, and my parents, lazily passing the day away. Watching my childhood friend toss my kids into the pool, their laughter growing louder with each subsequent throw. Or sharing an outdoor meal with my parents, the voices that insist you don’t have many nights like this left melting away into darkness and cricket song.
Back here in California, the (online) school year is underway, and to ward off my end of summer melancholy, I’ve tried to conjure up that feeling you get when you’re driving over the Robert Moses Causeway and the ocean first comes into view. Or that moment when you catch your first glimpse of the beach pavilion sitting atop the dunes at Smith Point County Park. Or later, when you’ve made it onto the outer beach and go running into the surf without another soul in sight. Or later still, when you’re sitting alone at the tide’s edge, looking out at the vastness of the ocean, the waves breaking and returning over and over as they’ve done for who knows how long, and the small sadnesses of your life are thrown into perspective.
A good reminder that there’s always next summer.
Heath Madom grew up on Long Island and is a public high school teacher in Oakland, California.