The Column: summer in the “country” of Long Island

Here comes the summer.

Spring was slow to arrive, but one morning the oak leaves fluttered, the lawns turned green, the azaleas turned red. Daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, rhodia – all pointed to duty.

Most of the time we plant hostas – lots of them – because anyone can keep them alive.

They don’t ask for anything: water, sun, fertilizer. They are dedicated, non-complaining, constant – in other words, everything you prayed to various gods your children would turn out to be.

I’m attached to hostas — solid color and zebra stripes — and tempted to give them animal names, but that sounds like the kind of thing that might work against you at the nursing home admission interview.

“Now let’s see, at some point you started naming garden plants, didn’t you?”

“Good -”

“Larry, Moe and Curly, right?” »

“Yes, but -”

“Huey, Dewey and Louie. The whole crowd.


“Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie – ‘Honeymooners’ fan, right? – and, aha, the Lone Ranger and Tonto too.

Under pressure, I seal my fate. “Okay,” I shout. “Kukla, Fran and Ollie, if you really want to know. “Frankie Lymon and everything teens.”

The admissions person whispers to my wife. “I really don’t think this is the right place for him.”

Yes, as the unnamed hostas attest, it’s late spring in the suburbs – or “the country”, to quote my son, who lives in Queens.

It’s a joke – Long Island is not Idaho or Indiana – aimed at reminding me how easy it is here, away from the noise and crowds and the alternate side of street parking.

My son knows I’m not by nature a commuter, but this is where my wife and I landed years ago, and I won’t complain. As the world outside our windows bursts with color and the swanky boats and Sea-Doos return to port and the sockless men inquire over a table at the pricey restaurant downtown, I think, well blood, isn’t that something, it’s home to me – and probably will be forever.

From our little cottage, our precious and privileged perch, the world seems to me an amazing place, blessed with beauty and well-being. A neighbor still has her lawn maintained. Another prepares for the new stand up paddle season. Across the water, the folks at the big house have finished building their dock, long and with lights to guide them to shore at night.

There are plenty of hardships in the suburbs too, though they can be easy to overlook. A friend who volunteers at the food pantry says groceries disappear immediately and often the shelves are empty. People show up at the local mission church for second-hand clothes. At the gas station, a woman wearing an outrageous wig asks for change and is chased away. She steps back. Talks to herself. Move on.

The rest of us are lucky. We may worry about our health, our retirement accounts, or even the fate of the world in times of stress, but we have everything we need and more. Our cars are running, we can afford gasoline despite crazy prices, we won’t ask strangers for change.

We are charmed commuters, you might say, and especially in this glorious season when the world is opening up wide.

I didn’t expect that much, to be honest. My parents were regular Joes – truck driver and pool secretary – and lived on a narrow margin. Could have fooled me. Through the third-floor window, I saw streetcar tracks and power lines. I thought that was wonderful. Who needed more?

Once, at the end of June, I went with church children through the Narrows by ferry to Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island – an adventure abroad. Someone brought a portable radio. The Penguins sang “Earth Angel”, and Perez “Prez” Prado and his orchestra played a mambo, “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”. Toy sailboats leaned in the breeze.

We were teenagers, boys and girls, working-class children, lovesick, carried away, dreaming of the unsupervised activities that could take place when night fell and the adults were busy talking.

Soon it will be summer again. I am comfortable in what my son calls “the countryside”. Long Island is awe-inspiring this time of year. On a balmy day long ago, Staten Island was too.

About Roy B. Westling

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