“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”
- John Ed Pearce
During my week in New York, I decided to get together with a couple of high school friends at Gunther’s Pub down in Northport. Since my reunion, I’ve visited people I’d lost touch with a few times a year. On this particular night, I left my children with my in-laws early so I could walk around the old town by myself.
Traffic in the village was heavier than I anticipated. As I circled the two parking lots at the end of Main Street, hordes of senior citizens armed with lawn chairs headed towards the gazebo. How could I forget that there were concerts on Thursdays in the summer?
As a teenager, I hung out in that gazebo, mostly listening to the music of deadheads who graduated a number of years before me, but hadn’t moved on, strumming their guitars and singing. They were the types that would’ve gone (and probably still go) to Gunther’s. It wasn't my kind of music, but it is the sound of the town.
I spent countless hours with friends down in Northport. And when my husband and I dated and then married, we also spent many days and nights there. Until we moved to Cambridge, no matter where we lived in New York City or on Long Island, Northport was our home place. When I visit, especially in summer, I always make it a point to visit.
My son and husband often their hairs cut at the local barber, Oscar’s. The owner, Rick charges $3.50 for adults and $3.00 for children. I guess it’s all about volume. Then we stop at Harbor Trading so my kids can choose candy by the pound. Sometimes we get ice cream at Northport Sweet Shop. And my children love the toy store, Einstein’s Attic, which wasn’t there when I was a kid. Four Star Variety is like a small Woolworth’s but without the lunch counter. Remember those stores? And in warm weather, I take my mother down to the water while my children play in the two parks. One is the same metal playground that I played on when was a child, while the other is a newer plastic one.
There’s a place in town called Otto’s Shipwreck Diner. A director stopped in there once and decided it was the perfect location to film a diner scene for the film “In and Out” with Kevin Klein and Tom Selleck. Did you see it? It amazed me for two scenes, how long the crew stayed in town and how much they changed the town. The Chinese place (that no longer exists) called Wok on the Dock had to get a temporary sign to fit in a Midwest town. And when the film came out in 1997, the diner scene was a decent length, but the outside part lasted less than a minute.
For this trip, I finally found a parking spot in front of the bar and walked back down the street to the harbor. On the way, I witnessed a mother gathering her brood and reprimanding them with the accent, “Come awwn!” that sounded foreign and familiar.
I walked along the water and sat on a bench. The whole time, I snapped pictures, capturing what I love about the area. It’s at once like and unlike viewing the Boston skyline. Instead of buildings across the water, there are dots of houses. The Charles River is missing the salty scent of the Long Island Sound. And Memorial Highway behind me is noisier than Main Street. While sitting, it hit me that this October I’ll be in Cambridge for nine years. Northport really is no longer home no matter how often I visit.
And while I miss it, there’s also a sameness to the place and people that doesn’t reflect who I am. But here, I settle into my past and feel peaceful. It’s not my current home, but it will always be home.
I watched the sun set in the sky, and then made my way back up Main Street.