My earliest memories are of playing with the neighborhood gang in the woods behind our house in Long Branch, N.J.
We were a mixed group: different ages, boys and girls. The older kids were the acknowledged leaders and the rest of us a ready and enthusiastic army of plebes.
The sense of community I felt growing up is something I’ve found in every phase of my life.
Once I entered elementary school, I became part of a clique of girls whose loyalty and whispered secrets kept us close and secure in our very small world. In high school and college, I became more particular, choosing friends based on common interests, shared values or just plain affection.
At the start of my career, I became a member of a new cohort. Young and single, we were ambitious and given to working late, sharing office gossip, messy romances and much alcohol.
At the next stage of my life, with two small children, yet another group coalesced. They were fellow parents who shared tips and play dates, advice and support. As my children got older and entered high school and college, this group fell away, no longer a part of my daily life.
My career moved into its fourth decade and a new work contingent formed, most of them a generation younger than I. They were the young, ambitious ones now, and I held the position of the veteran — available for advice and the occasional after-hours meetup.
Two years ago, I was laid off. I decided to leave the city and begin a new chapter on the North Fork. It was an exhilarating yet unnerving move. Free of any circumscribed routine, how was I to become a part of my new community? I did not want to moulder at home.
I moved during Christmas and early that January, a story appeared in the local paper about a new coffee roastery opening just a few blocks from my house. Previously, my morning coffee ritual had been a pleasant way to kickstart my workday. Now, fresh-roasted coffee would be at hand within walking distance of my house.
The ads for the shop, officially the North Fork Roasting Company, reported the opening for Valentine’s Day. I waited. At 7 a.m. on the appointed morning, I approached the front door and peeked inside. Two attractive young women busied themselves behind the counter. I was their first customer.
I can’t remember what I ordered but I do remember telling them how I had been avidly awaiting the opening. I also asked if they would be selling The New York Times (no, just the Suffolk one.) No matter, I would make do.
That first winter, a fire was often going when I walked into the roastery and baked goods, steaming hot from the small kitchen, were a welcoming sign. It took me a while to stop mixing up the co-owners’ names, Jenni and Jess, but they always remembered mine.
Sharing the overstuffed sofa with their chocolate Lab, Sinatra, dirty chai in hand, early-morning attendance at NoFoRoCo eased me into an entirely new community. I got to know the other baristas, who were astonishingly friendly and so young, some still in high school.
With dogs welcome and babies often in tow, the atmosphere was intimate and friendly. I got to know people from wildly different backgrounds than my own. They were farmers and beekeepers, construction workers and restaurateurs, old and young, gay and straight, left wing and right.
Some members of this new group have already impacted my life. The dispatcher at the local fire station convinced me and my two daughters that life was not complete without a visit to Riverhead Raceway. One warm summer night, we went, mesmerized by the spectacle of the school bus demolition and the harrowing figure 8 oval — a shape designed to increase the rate of collisions.
Another regular at the roasting company convinced me to go boogie boarding last month in the Atlantic while she surfed. Battling the waves in my wetsuit and borrowed boogie board, I experienced thrills and sensations that took me back to my childhood.
I’ve had the benefit of a private tour of the local organic farm whose owner is also a regular.
When my new rescue dog was problematic, worthwhile tips and advice emerged from a whole new cohort of dog lovers.
Need home repairs? My new group has me covered.
After many years of city living, I am ensconced in small-town life. The threads that connect me to this community are stronger and reach wider because of the roasting company. The space that Jess and Jenni have created with their enlightened hospitality welcomes everyone. You don’t need a fancy job title or to be a pet owner or parent; you just need to smile.
Photo caption: North Fork Roasting Co. coffee pictured in 2015. (Credit: David Benthal Photography)
The author is retired from a career in magazine publishing. She was creative director at Women’s Wear Daily and a longtime art director for the New York Observer.