03/14/14 5:00pm


If you were born around 1950, you might remember a very popular children’s television show that ran for a few years called “Ding Dong School.”

It began with the smiling “Miss Frances” who would, bell ringing, lovingly welcome her TV class to school. But there are rarely bells anymore. In fact, the only “ding dongs” in the schools nowadays are in Albany at the State Education Department. The bells are now electronic tones, to which students move every 41 minutes in Pavlovian response. (more…)

11/18/13 10:30am


Just when you think you know everything about someone or someplace, something happens that proves how much there may still be to learn.  So it was the case this past week when I read the account (“When the war came to West Neck Road,” November 7) of Carl Sabal, who relived the day in January 1945 when his mother, Grace, received the news that her brother Ed had been reported missing in action in the Pacific.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the house “down in the hollow” where Carl was born was, in fact the very same house where my wife and I now reside.

According to Carl’s brother Ed, who was our neighbor when we first moved in 31 years ago this month, his mother Grace was also born and died here.

Our daughter was born in an A-frame over on Marc Street on May 1, 1982.  Having tried to heat that house to little avail the previous winter, we decided to look for something a little cozier for our new family.  We happened on this rental on West Neck Road and moved in around mid-November.  Not having much insulation it wasn’t much warmer than what we had left, but it was somewhat of an improvement.  We eventually bought the house, closing in February of 1983, and it was then, armed with a slew of original documents, that I started looking into the history of where we had ended up.

According to Bill Meringer, at the time the leading authority on old houses, the house wasn’t on the 1860 map but it was on the 1870 map, so sometime between those years it  was built.  It was erected by Max Walthers, who with his wife Henrietta sold it to William Konrad in 1879 for $650.  William acquired some adjacent land from one Bernard Walthers for $70 in 1884.  Five years later William also acquired some more land from Althea and Adrian Raynor for $25.
In April of 1912, William Conrad (now with a “C”) deeded the land to his son Carl for one dollar, but also accepted a mortgage and a bond totaling $1,800.

What happens next is a little confusing.  Evidently, Carl’s daughter Grace married John Joseph Sabaliauskis and in 1956 had their names, along with the names of their children Carl Raymond, Nancy Lee and Edward Conrad, legally changed to Sabal.  But according to a deed dated September 25, 1953, Carl had deeded the house to one Grace Sabal.  So how the deed had her name that was not legally hers until nearly three years later is a question I don’t have the answer to.

It gets a little murkier after that, and hopefully Carl or his brother Ed can shed some light on it, but evidently the land was left by Grace to her son Ed, who sub-divided it and sold a portion to Cecelia Beckwith, who we bought the house from in 1983.  Ed and his wife Dawn were our neighbors for several years before they sold their house and moved upstate.  That house has changed hands two more times since then.  Our house has gone from Walthers to Konrad to Sabal to Beckwith to us, now the fifth owners of this house and land.

Our home has been totally renovated over the past three decades.  Every wall has had its plaster and lath removed, and has been insulated and sheet-rocked or paneled.  Two layers of siding, one asbestos and one cedar, were removed and replaced with the current cedar shingles.  A basement was dug under the house in 1987, the barn torn down and replaced with a cottage in 1996, the kitchen torn down and replaced in 2000, and a pool put in last year.  Over those years we’ve come across numerous artifacts, like school notebooks belonging to the Conrad children, little toys and bottles and even a calendar stuck in the wall in 1887.

The Behringer sisters, Anna and Juliana, whose brother George ran the Shelter Island House (now Maison Blanche)  gave us a very special gift one Christmas.  Evidently an artist who had been staying at their inn over the summer in 1930 had sat outside and painted a picture of the landscape looking out towards West Neck Road, which just happened to include our house, then still owned, I’m guessing, by the Conrads.  Anyway, we now have the picture, and if we ever sell the house (not likely) it will stay here.

We have our own history now.  Our son Adam, a true Harelegger, was born upstairs in September of 1983.  We’ve had our graduation parties and weddings, logging more memories into this house as time goes on.

Every old house here probably has a similar story.  You never know what you’ll find until you start digging.

I’m writing this on November 11, Veterans Day.  It’s also the day in 1925 that my dad was born.  Pop had me convinced when I was a kid that all the school and government office closings, parades and such were because of his birthday.  “Bill” left this world almost two years ago.  I still think about the fact that had he not answered an ad in the New York Times on my behalf in 1978, I would probably have never landed here.

But I love the Island where we live.  I love our family and our yard and our house.

Thanks, Pop.

10/19/13 8:00am


Has anyone ever told you that you “just have to learn to say no”?

Do you feel guilty when you have to choose between participating in two benefits on the same day and wish that there were two of you so you could? Do you see the same people working at almost every charity event? When asked to help, and you really want to beg off, does “yes” or “sure” inexplicably come out of your mouth instead?

If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, I’m afraid to tell you that you have a serious disease — yes, you are a professional volunteer. While that may seem to be a contradiction in terms, volunteers who exhibit the described symptoms have gone to the next level, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure.

By definition, a professional is someone who gets paid regularly for a service rendered. One could argue that most volunteers are “semi-pros,” in the same way that most semi-pro athletes play a sport but must supplement their income with day jobs. But the only payment volunteers get is satisfaction for a job well done, and most of them log enough annual hours to count as a part-time job at the very least, so professional volunteers it is. True, many professional volunteers are retirees, but seeing as simply maintaining the house and yard and keeping the deer out is a full time job anyway, the rating stands.

When helpmate informed me that somehow I had been left off the kitchen crew list for an event raising money for a great local cause, my throat started to close up as I ran for the phone to rectify the error.

“No!” she said, “It’s all right. They said to just show up.”

I relaxed, a little. But you know what? I didn’t show up.

Here’s what happened. Early afternoon on Sunday we decided to explore a few wineries, keeping to Route 25 so as to avoid that vortex of agri-tainment, Sound Avenue. We wound up at McCall’s, where it had been suggested we go to try some really good reds. In conversation with our server, we discovered that we were mutually acquainted with Tom Schaudel, a famous Long Island chef, and learned that he was busy helping at a benefit in Cutchogue.

Turns out the benefit was for another chef, Gerry Hayden of the North Fork Table and Inn, who has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He gets around with help nowadays, but his eyes, nose and taste buds are as good as ever.
I start twitching. On we go towards the ferry, and helpmate spies yet another chef friend chatting with someone in a westbound parked car. “Hey,” she exclaims, “isn’t that Mike Meehan?” Yes, the same Mike Meehan of H2 in Smithtown. “He’s got to be here for that benefit,” I say, as I start to sweat.

We had already decided to stop at the famous lunch truck at the North Fork Table, and as I’m waiting for my hot dog with “all three” toppings, I see co-owner Mike Mraz and get the details. “You need to go,” helpmate says, matter-of-factly. A quick phone call to Schaudel and I’m committed. Home, I change into my chef togs and back on the ferry I go.

Arriving at Eight Hands Farm in Cutchogue only forty-five minutes before hors d’oeuvres, I felt a little like an interloper, but that feeling evaporated as I was immediately put to work by Schaudel spooning black coconut rice into small tasting spoons, soon to be topped with a seared scallop, pumpkin relish and a delicious sauce, the ingredients of which I am not at liberty to divulge. That dish finished, I’m off to help wherever I can. I am drawn to a cutting board where a slender log of puff pastry filled with braised lamb and figs is being bias-cut for a platter. Across the tent someone is shucking Race Rock oysters. There’s duck breast being seared in a rondeau out back, next to a huge pot of simmering sauerkraut. The aroma is intoxicating.

The firepower at this event is staggering. Restaurants and purveyors like Mirabelle, Nick and Tony’s, H20, Alure, Jewel, the Square at Greenport, Blue Canoe, Catapano’s, McCalls, Browder’s Birds, Blue Duck Bakery, the Riverhead Project, Town Line Barbecue and the Art of Eating have sent their chefs or representatives to be counted as helping one of their own. I spend the night moving sheetpans of duck, local kielbasa and tomato-crusted striped bass, platters of roasted beets and red cabbage, bowls of braised kale and crispy fingerling potatoes.

The crowd of 200 or better barely has room for Claudia Fleming’s apple-raspberry crostada, as Gerry eloquently thanks his guests and comrades-in-food for an unforgettable evening.

Great people, great food, great cause.

At a recent “old-timers” softball game, I saw plenty of the familiar faces at the grill and doing whatever else needed to be done to help raise money for the Shelter Island Boosters. It was especially good to see two or three of the next generation of volunteers coming up, but we could use a few more. I mentioned earlier that a lot of our local volunteers are retirees and they do a tremendous work, but they won’t be around forever.

Do you have what it takes to be a volunteer, even a semi-professional one? There’s plenty of work to go around!

09/21/13 8:00am



In 1966 or ‘67, Paul McCartney wrote the song “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Born in 1942, that would have made him 24 or 25. That song appeared on the album that could arguably be called one of the most significant pop recordings of all time, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Beatle-boomers can most likely recall, with great accuracy, the lyrics to most, if not all of the songs on the album; who played what kind of guitar on which track; the number of celebrities pictured on the album cover; and the exact order of the tunes, beginning with the title track and ending with a reprise and the finale, “A Day In The Life.”

But they can’t remember where their car keys are.

T0day  I  turn 64, so I thought it might be interesting, if not scary, to compare myself with the man in the song, who, if it is in fact Sir Paul, passed this mark himself seven years ago.

The song is pretty much like a proposal when one reads the whole thing. Knowing him well enough to send him a card and a bottle of wine on his birthday, the girl is basically asked to go to the next step, as the chap points out all the benefits of growing old together. So let’s begin!

“When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now.”

Well let’s see. My hair has turned gray instead of loose. But I could maybe substitute “teeth” or “hearing” for hair. Doesn’t have the same ring to it, though.

“Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine.”

Helpmate gives me a touching valentine and sarcastic birthday cards every year, but happily does not limit the bottle of wine to my birthday.

“If I’d been out to quarter to three, would you lock the door?”

First of all the only reason we lock our door is to keep the pain-in-the-butt cat from terrorizing the household in search of cat food at quarter to six, thankfully not quarter to three. And living here, there is absolutely no place that would entice me out of my abode until that wee hour of the morning, and everything is closed up tight as a tick by midnight anyway.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”

Dangerous ground here. The perception and reality of “need” after three decades together is largely in the mind of the “needer” or “needee.” Not wanting to be labeled as overly “needy” perhaps stifles expression of neediness at times. I know of course that the smooth running of the household depends on my expert input, so yes, I feel needed. I am also very happy when I get fed. Both of us, having spent nearly a lifetime involved in some aspect of foodie-ness, feed each other often and well. I do not plan on that ending anytime soon.

“I could be handy mending a fuse, when your lights have gone.”

O.K., no fuses, just the occasional breaker when the waffle iron, toaster and coffee pot are all going at once, or in the case of the increasingly frequent power outage (say fellas, just how is that cable project going, anyways?) And yes, I am the one who goes down and resets it.

“You could knit a sweater by the fireside, Sunday mornings go for a ride.”

No sweaters, no knitting, no crocheting. But reading or playing music by the wood stove, yes indeed. And every Sunday morning we go for a ride, to Greenport, on the ferry.

“Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?”

I am a terrible gardener and I don’t do weeds, ever. If I could ask for more it would be a desire to get better at the former without doing the latter, ever.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” (See above.)

“Every summer we could rent a cottage on the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear. We shall scrimp and save.”

Happily, we don’t have to rent a cottage on an island because we live in a nice little house on the beautiful “Isle of Shelter,” thank you very much. But with retirement on the horizon there will definitely be more scrimping and saving.

“Grandchildren on your knee, Vera, Chuck and Dave.”

One grandchild, Lucy, not Vera, already here, another one, a boy (but probably not a Chuck or a Dave) on the way.

“Send me postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view. Indicate precisely what you mean to say, yours sincerely wasting away.”

Probably could be rewritten “shoot me an email, pick up your cell.” Viewpoints definitely and precisely indicated numerous times daily.

And although deteriorating somewhat, I wouldn’t say I’m wasting away just yet. But perhaps that phrase meant that the writer was wasting away as he pined for the girl. You decide.

“Give me your answer, fill in a form, mine for ever more. Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”
Got the answer 30 years ago, filled in the forms … couldn’t be happier!