As occurs every time I head back to my North Fork home, Tim Kelly’s column on Boothbay Harbor brings back a flood of emotions not unlike those James Joyce expresses in his short stories found in “Dubliners.”
Like the Irish author, I feel conflicting emotions of the land I’ve left behind. Unlike most teenage youths, I reveled in our North Fork in the 1990s, before it became what it is today.
I ran between rows of potato farms, climbed the dunes on the sound in Mattituck without a soul in sight, scuba dove at rocky neck in East Marion and, most importantly, sailed all the waters surrounding the forks with my father from the day I was born.
I always wanted to come back. And I did, for a time, after college, working as a dockbuilder and teacher, but the economic divide began to stare me down. I could not picture my child’s future the same as mine on the North Fork, struggling to pay rent in Jamesport in my early 20s.
A big part of going to medical school was the dream of coming back to the North Fork to live the same quality of life I grew up with. In 2004, just before he died, my father said, “Well, when you become a doctor, you can afford to come back here.” I suspected even then how wrong he was.
I still love coming back home and I don’t rule out returning at some point, but this is not the place it was.
The focus is on wineries, expensive restaurants, summer-only recreation and folks claiming to be part of a community they don’t care about for nine months of the year, and who seem to carry an elitist attitude for the three months they are present. The North Fork I grew up on was full of working-class people who appreciated where they lived year-round.
Nowhere in the U.S. that I’ve traveled is the economic divide between rich and poor more evident than the East End of Long Island. Children of the hardworking middle-class pushed out to western towns, their children to never experience an idyllic country North Fork. It has become a seasonal playground for the rich, it’s true soul replaced by materialism as the South Fork became decades ago.
I read with particular disgust about the Soundfront homeowner in Mattituck who brought that man to court for having the audacity to sit on the beach in front of her house. As I remember, one online commenter mentioned, “They think they own the sunset.”
Now a Mainer, I do not see that same level of superficiality and elitism. It’s where I’ve come to give my child an opportunity to live as closely to the land and sea as I did. Maybe a lakefront home, or one near the shore where I can moor a sailboat.
No matter what, I’m way behind on that dream compared to the simpler time of my parents’ generation in the ’70s and early ’80s and now I’m the outsider up here. My Joycean conflict constantly brews: Should I have given up on my home land? Should I struggle to buy a home in Riverhead and pay the “nonresident” pass to the beaches I lived and worked on as a child?
I have run or biked every public road on the North Fork. I have swum at every public beach, and paddled and sailed every inch of its shoreline — but like many in my generation, it’s no longer mine.
Mr. Claire is a former Mattituck resident who now lives in Ellsworth, Maine.