Suffolk Closeup: A good life

MARTIN BURKE PHOTO Dawn over Peconic Bay.

I’ve lived in Suffolk County all my adult life. And, I was thinking the other day, that’s something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend.

My family, after living in Brooklyn and Queens, ended up in the Gramercy Park area, a lovely part of Manhattan, for 50 years until my mother and father passed away. The apartment had two terraces on its east and west sides looking out on the glitter and excitement of Manhattan. My parents had the key to Gramercy Park itself, their favorite green sanctuary.

Two weeks back, just after the scallop season opened, my wife and I were at the Southold Fish Market. If Norman Rockwell had lived in Suffolk, he would have painted pictures of it. There was a handmade sign out front: “Wanted Scallop Openers.” Also outside was a huge bin filled with empty shells. Inside, folks in rubber waders were shucking scallops, a picturesque scene.

Peconic Bay scallops are, hands-down, the finest scallops in the world, and I’ve tried many, including those on Nantucket, said to be the nearest competition.

At Charlie Manwaring’s Southold Fish Market, not only are shellfish and finfish sold, but there’s a café. At it, scallops are perfectly cooked.

“Dredged in flour and cooked in butter with some garlic in a hot pan,” I was told. You’d never find scallops so fresh, so good, so sensationally cooked in the Big City.

On the menu is a tale beginning with: “ONCE UPON A TIME … a young boy learned to clam and fish from his father and grandfather … That young man… Charlie … still works his heart out at the job he loves. He and his crew look forward to showing you what our surrounding waters and the hard work of our local baymen can offer.”

We were on the North Fork so I could get an epidural injection from a fantastic doctor to deal with pain in a hip. That’s a thing about Suffolk, there’s quality all over the place.

Shelter Island’s Dr. Frank Adipietro presides at the Dr. Frank J. Adipietro Interventional Pain Center, an entire wing of Eastern Long Island Hospital. The hospital is right on the water in Greenport. It’s quite a contrast, besides its setting, to hospitals in New York City. Here medical care is remarkably friendly, personal and on a small scale, yet still of the highest quality. (That shot by the next morning had virtually eliminated the pain.)

We took the North Ferry going back and I thought of the other place where there are small white-painted ferries like this: the San Juan Islands off the state of Washington. A big difference is that waters there are frigid. Indeed, on those ferries there are signs warning of hypothermia in an instant if one falls into the water. Happily, Suffolk waters are swimmable much of the year.

Driving on the Island, past the sign warning motorists that there may be turtles on the road, I thought of the contrast between this sweet Island and much of the area where I’m a journalism professor in now mostly heavily built-up Nassau County.

We were on the South Ferry, named the Lt. Joe Theinert, going to North Haven. Lt. Theinert of Shelter Island was killed in 2010 at age 24 by the explosion of an improvised bomb in Afghanistan. And on entering Shelter Island from the ferry, you see, nearly a decade later, a hand-written sign declaring: “We Love You Joey” and a depiction of a heart.

Service to the nation has long been revered in Suffolk, as the host of monuments to Civil War and World War I and World War II service attest. There’s also a monument in Huntington to a patriot of the Revolutionary War, Nathan Hale who at 21 answered General George Washington’s request and volunteered to be a spy behind enemy lines on Long Island. He began his mission on the shores of Huntington Bay and was later captured and hanged by the British. He famously declared as his last words: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

My wife, Janet, was from nearby Huntington Beach when we met in 1959 on the first week for us at Antioch College in Ohio. (As of the new year, we’ll have been together for 60 years.) A half-year Antioch internship at the Cleveland Press inspired me to get into journalism as quickly as I could.

Janet and I went to Suffolk. Thinking I needed some more college to get a job in journalism, for a year and a half I attended then Adelphi Suffolk College and started up and was editor of the first newspaper at a four-year college in Suffolk, which I named The New Voice.

From the South Ferry we drove through beautiful Sag Harbor and then to our home going on 45 years in adjacent Noyac. It was to Sag Harbor that my paternal grandparents came from Hungary, met, married and settled more than a century ago, later moving to the city. I became a reporter in Suffolk in 1961. Janet, now retired as a teacher in the Sag Harbor schools, and I raised two sons, Adam and Kurt, in Suffolk.

It’s been a good life here, and one to be thankful for.