Kara, who runs Hands Fuel in Orient along with her husband, Jeff, had called me in New York to report a problem. Two months after their previous oil delivery to my house they had tried to replenish the oil tank. Impossible: The tank was still full. It meant: Heating system not working. Big problem, I thought. I’d been away for a few weeks. A vision of broken pipes, debris and repairs I could ill-afford had suddenly disrupted a quiet time in the Big City.
After the 2 1/2-hour trip from New York, inside my house, 42 degrees. I borrow two space heaters from my brother, the ones we used when we had a house with no central heat. It was fun being cold then. We were young. Within an hour Jeff arrives. We go down to the basement. He’s quick to see the problem. Not enough water pressure. Jeff gets the water flowing again. It will take hours for the temperature to climb to 70. How slowly it goes up, degree by degree. You cannot rush nature. Of course, if my wife, Nancy, were here my whole world would be a warmer, friendlier place.
What would we do without the experts? People we can trust who know how to make broken things work. From past and present, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters. It always felt as if they were volunteers wishing to help. For decades they would come, members of our community, some living a few doors from us. When one retired, a son might take over. Carl King gave us Ed King. We’d never look for someone else.
When we bought our first house in Orient, through Floyd King back in 1968, he gave us a list of the people we should call for help. We followed his advice: Don McNeill, Carl King … many others would follow. When we are away we expect our lonely old houses to stick around with no special anxiety. Can a house feel lonely at night? Does it miss our opening and closing of doors and windows? And the music we play, the voices between friends, the dog running from the living room to the kitchen. The sound of pots and pans and plates, silverware set on the table. When the house is empty, only the sound of the wind or a radiator hissing and growling.
When we are away, the house, a monument to our lives. In Orient I have so often referred to Dr. Kenneth and Muriel Brown’s house, the Harris house and Rita Martinsen’s, Floyd King’s, Troy Gustavson’s, our neighbors the Spohns, the Dormans’ house with Dr. Dorman proudly raising the American flag every morning right across from Orient bay. Over the years I have acquired houses that came along with a name: the Linda Stoffel house, the Mitchell house that I moved by barge from Greenport. No matter how long a house has been mine I still refer to it by the previous owner’s name.
I know it’s 2015. And Orient will always be my bond to earlier times. My family house may be known one day as the Gazarian house but it will also remain the Douglass house. George Douglass sold it to us.
I have traveled to many parts of the United States, West Coast, Great Lakes, all the way south to Key West, but nothing quite compares to reaching the causeway before Village Lane and slowly entering Orient Village the way it was 10, 20, 100 years ago. The color has changed on some houses, from yellow to blue, from white to barn red. The cars, yes the cars, not just good old Chevrolets, Fords and Plymouths, but fancy cars, too, around The Country Store and the post office to pick up morning papers and mail while children are busy at the ice cream parlor next door. A spot on the Main road has become a popular destination for chocolate treats: The Candyman. This is where you get your Easter bunnies or boxes of chocolate at Christmas time. This is where I stop at any time of the year to bring back chocolate truffles to the starving crowds in New York.
We arrive at the obelisk, a monument honoring the local heroes of wars. Some left their peaceful hamlet to fight overseas and were lost so far from home.
The sleepy dogs in the car wake up. How do they know we’ve arrived? We drive down Village Lane, sort of gliding gently into this oasis, founded in 1661. I am proud of that. Impressive, even from an Old World point of view. The village was born before the country was born. It was called Poquatuck. It became Orient, a little village, so old yet so fresh and new. That’s where our first house stands, white and dark green with a red cedar roof.
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]