Northport is a quaint little village that sits on the north shore of Long Island about an hour and a half train ride from Manhattan. Both of my parents were born there, as well as all of my aunts and uncles. Some family still remain there after having kids and raising them in the town, but most have moved and some have passed away. My parents left Northport in the 70s and moved into Manhattan, had me, and then decided to follow their life’s path separately. When I was nine, my mom and I moved back to Norhport. Her parents and her sister lived there, and all of my dad’s brothers, whom she remained very close with even after they got divorced. I think my mom felt very safe there, it was familiar, it was her youth.
Northport is an old place, it started out as a farming town in the mid seventeenth century and didn’t earn it’s name until 1837 when shipbuilding became the village’s principal business. You can feel the age of the town when you walk the streets, it’s like you’ve been placed into a time capsule. So much of Northport seems eerily unchanged from when I was a kid, and I hear the same thing from many generations before me. The village is peppered with long forgotten cemeteries tucked into ancient woods with gravestones that look like they were hand carved yesterday, but the dates on them tell a different story. Some of the storefronts and signage are so perfectly aged and weathered, they seem like they were placed there by a set director from Disney. The Northport Sweet Shop is an old diner that used to be there when my parents were kids. My mom used to sit at the counter in her cheerleading uniform and drink milkshakes with home made ice cream as she made eyes at my dad down the way. I could feel her there this last visit. My uncle and I sat at the counter and shared an ice cream soda and a toasted bran muffin. I didn’t want to leave, It was such a perfect wholesome moment and I wished I could go there every day and duplicate it.
My uncle has a wonderful little house situated on a stretch of beach called Makamah. You can step outside his back screen door and find yourself in the soft sand of the Long Island Sound. If you walk left when you leave the house and follow the arched stretch of beach, past the fisherman looking for blue fish, past the channel that leads you into a labyrinth of marshes, you will find yourself in Crab Meadow. The meadow is really a beach that has been there since before the Revolutionary War, one of many small beaches that can be found all over the village. My mom and I used to live down the road from this beach and many summers were spent sitting on that warm sand eating frozen snickers that are sold from the little concession stand that resides there. Some of my friends lived in the neighborhood of Crab Meadow, you can almost see my childhood ghost riding bikes through the streets and setting up lemonade stands on late summer nights.
There seems to be no end to the charm that Northport maintains. Lewis Oliver Farm is a historic landmark that used to be a working dairy, but is now home to a slew of animals, including a giant and boisterous pig that looks like he’s fifty years old. The farm leaves a cart of carrots out so children can feed the animals when no one is there. You can tell the animals get fed often, they come right to you when you walk up to the fence.
There is a huge depression in the center of Northport called Steer’s Pit, which is the result of sand mining in the 20s. The sand from the pit was shipped to New York City by barge, mixed, and then became the sidewalks of Manhattan. You can stand on the top of the pit and look out at one of the most beautiful views in the town. The pit is now populated with homes, some sports fields and every summer becomes the backdrop for the Fireman’s Fair. I’m going to go to that fair this summer. It’s been sixteen years.
I left Nothport prematurely when my mom had died and I moved to Los Angeles. Because of this I romanticize a life I never had there, or one that I wish I had. I have these vivid dreams of Northport, and my friends, the Sweet Shop, the marshes, the docks, all of it. Like it’s some movie that takes place in a lost and forgotten time, and I was sucked out of it and desperately want back in. But I might be able to see Northport differently because I had to leave, I might be able to appreciate it differently. I am very happy to be near it again, it’s only a short train ride away now.
Though there is one very sad and very ominous presence that can’t be ignored in this town. It sits on the back of Northport like a tumor and you can see it everywhere you go, with every perfect view and every blue sky this thing is there. It’s a giant power plant called LILCO (Long Island Lighting Company), and it has been named the number one polluting power plant on Long Island and the second most polluting plant in the Northeast. The plant billows from it’s massive stacks 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, and is exempt from the Clean Air Act emissions because it was grandfathered in when the law was passed. I hate that Northport is it’s home, it hurts my feelings, and I feel like it’s killing people. I have no proof of this next statement, but I feel like it’s infiltrating the water and giving people cancer. I can name six people, my mother included, who have lived in Northport and died of some kind of cancer. But somehow these four colossal smoke stacks have become such a part of the environment, most people that live there don’t mind them one bit. It’s almost a defining feature of the landscape.
There is so much more history about Northport that I could get into, from the Underground Railroad to Jack Kerouac and Walt Whitman, the clay cliffs and the Piping Plovers, but I’ll leave that to your own interest.
Northport is a very magical place. I know that people take with them different emotions and experiences from the places that they’ve lived and places they visit, but I hope if you ever get to Northport, you’ll be able to take with you some of the enchantment.
*Thank you uncle Chris for your help on this project, your beautiful home, and your wonderful cooking.