Column: A toast to the North Fork

There’s just so much to drink in this world. Milk, for instance. I drink at least a quart a day. You should see my bones.

And wine. Every one of us knows our beloved North Fork abounds in grape goodness. We’re proud of our vineyards and we do consume our share of the harvest.

Then there’s cider and soda, coffee and tea. And those eight glasses of water.

I know. I’ve not yet mentioned another favorite of those over a certain age — an age I’ve long passed. Beer. Good old beer. It seems untimely to speak of an icy brew in January, but I do so for good reason. By this time you know Riverhead will shortly have its very own brewery, its first.

Greg Martin and Dan Burke own the company, named Long Ireland Beer Company. That’s no misprint. I think it’s a tribute to that lovely isle whose people know a bit about beer. ’Tis true.

It seems a happy coincidence that North Forkers are able to offer a rousing welcoming toast to the coming brewery at the very time they welcome in the new year, this year 2011. Traditionally subdued, folks on this fork can grow garrulous under certain circumstances. Listen to a few of their toasts.

This first is a sort of mystery toast from a mystery woman. A hostess at Jamesport Country Kitchen in Jamesport asked me not to reveal her name because she didn’t really know what her favorite toast meant. Indeed, she didn’t even know how to spell it.

What she did know, however, was that her beloved Polish aunt had for years said something that sounded like “Hookie Struk” each time she offered a toast at a gathering of her North Fork family. So when next you visit Jamesport Country Kitchen, smile and say “Hookie Struk.” It will get you either a choice table or into a whole lot of trouble.

Our next toaster seems plugged in to just about everything good on the North Fork. She gave years of her time as a member of the Greenport Board of Education and worked hard for Community Action Southold Town and the restoration of Greenport’s Brecknock Hall. I’m talking about Josephine Watkins-Johnson, Jo to all who know her.

And now, in 2011, if you check out the North Fork’s Shiloh Baptist Church in Southold and Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church in Greenport, you’ll see stained-glass windows installed in memory of two recently deceased Greenport men — Mike Brown and Phil McKnight. That’s Jo at work, getting community contributions.

Indeed, that is her toast for 2011 on the North Fork: “May the North Fork continue to support all our people. We are giving, we are loving. May we arise, meeting needs.”

I’ll let you in on a secret. Folks all over the North Fork will be toasting Jo come March 3, 2011. For Jo, it’s happy birthday number 90.

On a windy winter afternoon, I chatted with Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. Full of enthusiasm, Super Scott said, yes, he’d certainly like to toast North Forkers. But first he spoke of his young children and I heard the joy in his voice. Kids will do that.

Anyway, here’s what our Super Toaster said: “I am so grateful for what we have here on the North Fork. I wish for all North Forkers that same gratitude. Perhaps in 2011 we can focus a bit more on our blessings rather than what may be our shortcomings.”

Thanks, Scott. There’s probably not one of us who doesn’t fall short when it comes to counting blessings.

Perhaps the sweetest of all the toasts I heard came from little Dante Cunha. I say little because Dante is only 2 years old. That’s right. I walked into Cutchogue’s Peconic Bay Winery’s tasting room and spoke with Michelle Rebentisch, tasting room manager. We’d just begun to talk toasts when our attention was diverted by a group of six adults and one small child. They were talking and laughing, and having lots of fun.

I went over to their table just in time. Dante, his small bottle of water held high in his right hand, was about to toast his mother and father, his aunts and uncles. Really. Prompted, I suppose, by his mother, Dante exclaimed “Happy holidays!” to the Cunha family and to me. Now the Cunha family was visiting from Farmingdale but at that moment we were all North Fork neighbors, drawn together by a child.

Oh, yes, in this season of toasts there are words aplenty to express our gratitude, our good wishes, our hopes. Recall the toast to George Bailey, “the richest man in town,” at the end of the every-winter film “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I wonder if anyone, after viewing that final scene, has ever raised his glass and proclaimed to gathered friends:

“To North Forkers, the richest folks in town.”

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.