07/29/14 2:00pm
COURTESY PHOTO | One Day in History comes to the Havens House on August 2.

COURTESY PHOTO | One Day in History comes to the Havens House on August 2.

If history teaches us anything, it’s that plenty of people on Shelter Island love it.

That’s why the Historical Society’s annual “One Day in History,” put on with the help of 100 volunteers, attracted nearly 400 people last year and promises to enthrall at least that many again this year on Saturday, August 2. (more…)

12/03/12 10:06am

The columnist wonders why getting out of town never gets easier.

It takes me longer every year to pack our motor home for the trek that leads us snowbirds from Shelter Island to Key West.

This year our RV had been serviced, our house was ready for the winter and the proof-of-insurance cards for the RV and the car it tows were under a magnet on the refrigerator a full three weeks before our departure date. There was no excuse to not do it right this time. And yet — once again — as I sit here typing, I can hear my traveling companion rummaging around for his good belt. If he asks I’ll say what I always say, “Oh, it’s here. Somewhere.“ But I know it’s not.

No matter how much time I have to get ready for a trip, it’s just never enough.

What happened to me? I’m the woman who could travel anywhere on a moment’s notice. “Paris? Sure, let me grab my toothbrush.”

Here‘s a perfect example circa 1976, Virginia: My husband was at sea and I was fixing breakfast for our two preschoolers when another navy wife called and said that our husbands’ ship was going to dock for three days in Florida. She was flying on a plane that was to leave in less than three hours and when that plane taxied down the runway, I was sitting in the seat beside her.

During the span of time between her phone call and take-off, I’d managed to shower, dress and convince my neighbor, the over-worked and perpetually tearful mother of three preschoolers, to add mine to her mix (they were so small, I figured, she’d hardly notice them in all the chaos.) I packed clothes for me, clothes for them, then raced the boys to the house next door so fast their four little feet never even hit the ground.

“Kiss kiss. Mommy loves you. Be nice to Mrs. Westbrook, she looks like she’s having one of her nasty migraines.” And … I made it to the airport with a half-hour to spare.

But I don’t operate that way anymore. I need three days just to plan an excursion to Riverhead and it takes me 45 minutes and 10 trips back and forth between the house and car before I ever leave the driveway.

Phone? Yes. No. Go back and get it.

Bathroom? No. Yes.

Out to the car. List? Yes. No. Go back and get it.

That’s why I was relieved to have so much time to get ready for this year’s trip.

When I was whining about packing up, a friend said “I know what you mean. I hate packing for a vacation.”

Vacation? Pardon me, but this snowbird stuff isn’t like that. When you go on vacation you take sunscreen, “50

Shades of Grey,” and a party dress; not a vacuum, the crock pot and the entire contents of your medicine cabinet.

A veteran of many snowbird excursions told me that she prepares by placing items into piles. “You’ve got your yes piles and your no piles,“ she explained, “Yes goes with you, no doesn‘t.” I used her method and made yes-no piles throughout the house of clothes, shoes, belts (!) and kitchen items. There were yes-no piles of important papers, foods, books, medicines, everything. I was so pleased that I’d finally discovered a workable system.

I will admit to feeling kind of uppity when we finally hit the road. Never before had I been so organized, nor had the packing up process ever been so painless.

The flaw in my system wasn’t apparent until our second day on the road when my husband pulled out a pair of paint-spattered denims with the baggy seat.

“I didn’t mean to bring those!” I said, wondering how they managed to jump from the no pile to the yes one. The next pair of denims had paint spatters and acid holes (and a baggy seat.) It was then that I realized what I had done, not with just his pants, either, but with nearly every well-sorted pile. All the rejects are with us, here, in Key West.

And the proof-of-insurance cards? Yeah. They are safe. Under a magnet on my refrigerator. On Shelter Island.

Editor’s note: Joanne will  be checking in regularly about life on the road, in Key West and on Shelter Island.

07/14/12 7:00am

Is it any wonder that Shelter Island sometimes feels like the unwanted child in a custody battle, getting tossed between the legislative districts of two forks, neither of which really seems care if they get us or get to keep us?

Yes, well, it’s déjà vu all over again! In 1992 — 20 years ago — I wrote a column about being plucked out of the South Fork and handed back to the North Fork, where, by the way, many Island locals felt we always really belonged anyhow. And I can still recall even years before that, when Shelter Island was originally removed from the North Fork and placed in the South Fork state Assembly district, that my mother-in-law was one of many locals who objected.

“We are not South Forkers!” she insisted and resented being lumped with the demographic that drank bottled water back when those bottles were made of glass and who tied their sweaters around their necks instead of wearing them.

“We’re flannel and Timex; they’re linen and Rolex,” she said. “We’re fried fish and Friday night home games; they’re quiche and celebrity softball. We’re Jell-O salad and Heavenly Hash and they’re cilantro and crème bruleé!” She had a dozen more we/they comparisons but by then I had stopped listening.

My mother-in-law vowed that, no matter where the lines were drawn, in her heart she would always pledge her allegiance to the North Fork.

New to Shelter Island then and unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of either fork, I didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. But I learned the first time we were invited to an engagement party, on the lawn, beside the pool, in the Hamptons. “Casual,” the engraved invitation said and, silly me, I believed it.

This “casual” party was different from the casual pool parties I’d attended on Shelter Island or anywhere else along the Riverhead-to-Greenport corridor. For starters, the women on the South Fork actually wear what is described in Neiman-Marcus catalogs as “elegantly understated, ideal for casual soirées” on the lawn, beside the pool in the Hamptons. (I added the part after “soirées.”)

My casual cotton dress was purchased through a catalog, too: Sears; and described thusly: “Machine washable, no ironing required.” I wondered what was going to happen to those elegantly understated outfits when people got thrown into the pool, which is what often happens during the second hour of a Shelter Island or North Fork party. That did not happen at the soirée.
This was an early summer party but nearly all of the guests had deep, rich tans, the result of winter in Palm Beach. I had a Florida tan, too, on my scalp, from spending five days standing in lines at Disney World.

Several South Fork guests asked where I came from (how could they tell I wasn’t one of them?) and when I said “Shelter Island” they said, “Oh, Shelter Island. How cute,” and moved on in search of someone higher on the East End ladder.

Another difference between the opposing forks is the type of food served at their outdoor events. There were no disposable foil trays of “serve yourself” sausage and peppers or kielbasa and sauerkraut (all North Fork staples, along with baked ziti and baked beans) on the South Fork.

At the party of my undoing, the hired help proffered paper-doilyed platters of unfamiliar delicacies. I thought I was popping a Ritz topped with grape jelly into my mouth. The jelly was caviar; quite a shock when one is expecting Smuckers. It ruined the lining of my purse forever.

There was plenty of glitz at the party but I thought it was kind of boring. Nobody’s Uncle Joe sat on the beer cooler and played the “Too Fat” polka on the accordion. No one told “remember when” stories or karaoked to all the songs from “Grease!” and no one was tossed, fully dressed, into the pool. What’s up with that?

So now the South Fork is about to welcome us into the fold once again on January 1 as we join its county and state legislative districts, even after hardly missing us when we were taken away last time. Back then it didn’t appear that anyone “over there” cared about retaining custody. At the time, people’s overwhelming response when asked how they felt about losing Shelter Island was “what?”

Except for one golden-haired, golden-tanned, golden-jeweled matron who commented that she had come to the Island once, and found it (us?) “interesting,” but sadly non-Hampton and she didn’t think it (we?) would “blend” with the South Fork.
She, just like my mother-in-law, had her own we/they comparisons (one of them being that when we try to tie our sweaters around our necks we look like we have wool goiters). Her list was long and the next time we are together at a “soirée,” I’ll tell you what the rest of them were. Just don’t stand too close to the edge of the pool!

06/23/12 9:00am

Back in 2000, when this year’s departing seniors were in kindergarten, my graduation column focused on the importance of potato salad. As the picture of the tiny tykes on page 2 of the graduation supplement included with this edition of the Reporter shows, those kindergarten kids have changed a whole lot in 12 years. But I’m happy to report that, when it comes to graduation, it’s still all about the potato salad.

That will become evident again this coming Saturday morning as multiple graduation day mini-dramas unfold across Shelter Island while our graduates get ready for the ceremonies behind the school. If you listen carefully, you will hear a repeated thunk, thunk, thunk. That’s the sound potato salad makes when it’s being transferred to the good bowls. And that other noise? It’s the wail of 18-year-old girls proclaiming, “I don’t care, Mother. I am not going to wear this stupid cap. It makes it look like I have a flat head!”

At that same moment, some graduating male will be asking (again) why he has to dress up when no one will see his favorite, “I’m Special, Just Like Everyone Else!” T-shirt under the gown anyhow. Arguing with a potato salad-speckled mother who’s obviously had it up to here, and who waves a wooden spoon in the air while saying, “Look, I don’t need this right now!” is a graduation day tradition.

Some graduates might not yet realize the seriousness of graduation, which ranks fairly high up there in life’s order of things — close to baptisms and weddings and events that require a long period of preparation, followed by frantic pre-event activity that includes the purchase of new clothes and 10-pound sacks of potatoes. Then there is the event itself, which, once safely out of the way, is followed by a massive post-event celebration, attended by scores of friends, relatives and semi-strangers, who will be urged, “Please! Take more potato salad. I made plenty.”

Another tradition is that the graduation takes place during the peak tanning hours of the hottest Saturday of the year. Now we do it outside, under the protection of an expansive tent. There was a time when graduation was in the gym; parents and grandparents of the grads sat on metal chairs and everyone else sat on the metal bleachers. Though fans were brought in and there was air conditioning “of sorts,” it got “catch me I’m about to faint” hot in that room. The only advantage we had then over the more dignified way it is now was that, in addition to applauding the graduates, we would pound on the metal bleachers. That’s probably one of the reasons they had to be replaced recently and maybe why the ceremonies were moved outside.

Once the music starts, no one notices the heat. In they march, this year’s special people. All clean and shiny. No one’s head looks flat and we’re all better off not knowing what’s under those gowns. Most of the teary people who watch the ceremony remember the graduates when they were in that kindergarten picture and, to a lot of them, they still look too young to be crossing over that invisible line, which will finally separate them from those who are not old enough yet.

For a variety of, I’m sure, excellent reasons, no one has ever asked me to speak at graduation. But if anyone ever does, I have my speech ready. (I am also ready should I ever win an Oscar, an Emmy and/or Megabucks.)

In a nutshell, I’d tell them to live their lives by the camper’s rule, which is: “Leave the place better than you found it.” Then, because I believe so strongly in the power of laughter, I would suggest that they laugh, often, and at themselves. Being an adult is such serious business that about the only way to get through it is to laugh. Oh sure, sometimes they’ll mope or seethe or cry but there needs to be room for being silly, for being goofy, for laughing.

I would end by reminding them that the most important things in life aren’t success or wealth or genuine Prada, but to care — about themselves and each other. People who care remember to say please and thank you and I’m sorry. People who care don’t merely point out the problems, they help come up with the fixes. People who care make too much potato salad for life’s special celebrations. And people who care take extra helpings.

Congratulations to the Class of 2012! May your lives be filled with celebrations and potato salad.

06/01/12 7:00am

Memorial Day Weekend is not at the top of my favorite holiday list. Oh, I look forward to the start of the season and I’ve never missed our annual parade. It’s just all the cars I can’t stand. I’m not talking about the sudden increase of traffic on our roads. What drives me nuts is the non-stop traffic in my living room and a weekend filled with varooom-varooom-varooom.

When you live with a racing enthusiast, the whole weekend is devoted to races, but Sunday is the most holy day of the entire racing season for the true racing fan. It is the day of the Indy 500.

If you aren’t familiar with this particular sporting event, picture three dozen racers driving in circles as fast as they can for 500 miles. That’s it. That’s what they do. They go round and round, real fast.

Once upon a time my husband was a race car driver. He drove a car like the Indy cars, a class called Formula Ford. He was the racer and I was the pit crew chief. This was when our kids were pre-college and, if they weren’t available on a racing weekend, I was the entire pit crew.

If you have ever seen a pit crew in action you know that they have to pour gas, touch hot parts of the engine and scrape bug guts off the windshield. Believe me, it is not as glamorous as it sounds.

He got extremely angry one time when, after he got in the car and shouted, “Now give me a push, please,” I responded, “You’re kidding, right?”

There may be plenty of racing fans in America, but I’m not one of them, though I have to admit that once upon a time I may have sort of kind of pretended I was. That was when we were dating. I can remember sitting on a blanket on a grassy hill eating a bucket of the Colonel’s chicken and reading the Sunday paper, ignoring the race cars varoooming past so close I could taste the exhaust in the crispy chicken’s breading.

“Oh yes, this is fun!” I said, because that’s what you say right before you get engaged. I’m pretty sure I uttered those same words while meandering through the auto show, at hockey games and while doing who knows what else.

Served me right, I guess, that I was sort of tricked into getting involved in racing. I assumed, when we discussed spending weekends in the Poconos, that we were going to stay in nice lodge-type hotels. Of course, this is back when I also thought that Granatelli and Fitipaldi were fancy pastas. Turns out that in racer lingo, “the Poconos” means “the race track.”

Before I knew what hit me, I was spending my weekends at the track. And I mean the whole weekend, as in 24/7; racing during the day and at night sleeping in a tent in the mosquito infested track infield and sharing a porta-potty not near as fancy as that one down on Bridge Street with three dozen other racers and their grumbling pit-crew wives.

As a member of my husband’s race team, my primary responsibility was to time practice laps with my official NASCAR stopwatch.

It had four buttons and I could never figure out which was which so I only pretended to use the stopwatch and I kept time by counting off chimpanzees. You know, one chimpanzee, two chimpanzee, three chimpanzee, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s been almost 30 years since our racing family spent weekends at Lyme Rock, the Poconos, and the racer’s favorite, the “Bridge” at Bridgehampton, but I can still remember every one of those races, and especially the time my racer and his car got airborne, sailed over a tire wall and disappeared into the woods. It felt like I counted off a thousand chimpanzees before I saw him stand on the guardrail and wave in the universal crashed-racer’s signal that means “tell my wife I’m alive.” Though the driver was fine, the only part of the car not badly mangled was the side mirror, which was loaned to another driver. Our car did not race that day but our mirror finished second!

This Memorial Day weekend, we did manage to get to Greenport to see the Tall Ships and my former racer marched in the parade on Monday morning but those two events bracketed a weekend dedicated to car races.

I watched part of the Indy 500 on Sunday, mostly out of habit, and saw actress Ashley Judd as she cheered on her husband, who would eventually win the race. At one point, the camera zoomed in on her as she had her hands folded under her chin and her lips were moving. To anyone else it may have looked like she was praying but, as a former-racer’s wife, I was easily able to read her lips: “One chimpanzee, two chimpanzee…”