Articles by

Phyllis Lombardi

09/14/14 6:00am
Wells Homestead Farmstand in Aquebogue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Wells Homestead Farmstand in Aquebogue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Well, here we are again. It’s September, back-to-school time on our North Fork. Teachers in many classrooms will ask youngsters to write a few paragraphs describing their summer vacations. And those youngsters will groan and then settle down, attempting to use big, important-sounding words, trying to impress their teacher.  (more…)

08/17/14 5:00am
Crab cakes from Orient by the Sea. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Crab cakes from Orient by the Sea. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

It seems I’ve failed. During past weeks, I’ve spent so much time searching for something that appears not to exist. And all because of a great big sign I saw outside Modern Snack Bar on Main Road in Aquebogue.

The sign read “The Best Crabs Are Here.” Now I know our North Fork has the best of many things. From beaches to bays, to warm summer days, we are blessed. But crabs? I knew I’d have to investigate.  (more…)

04/21/12 11:00am

Believe me, I’m not thinking about leaving the North Fork. For a couple of very good reasons. One is simply that I love the place.

The second reason has to do with something I read in The Suffolk Times a short while back. Now I consider this newspaper pretty objective, certainly not out to create panic. But panicky is how I felt when I read one lady’s suggestions about what I’d have to do if I wanted to sell my house. The lady’s a respected North Fork realtor so her six recommendations could not be taken lightly.

First, the realtor wrote, I’d have to clean my home, clean it thoroughly. Well, my bathrooms and kitchen are really clean but she said I’d have to replace old shades and blinds. You know what? I don’t even have shades or blinds. I do have curtains on the bottoms of my windows. And I do wash those curtains. But sometime it takes a few weeks to get them back up on the windows.

Then I’d have to “spruce up the landscaping.” I guess I could blame most outdoor problems on my husband, but that wouldn’t be fair. It’s my fault there are old, discolored wooden clothespins clipped forlornly to the clothesline. And I’m responsible for the cracked clay flowerpots I left on the deck all winter.

Next, the realtor advised that I “de-clutter” the inside of my home. I’m gonna blame this problem on one of my children. He lives upstate near a pottery shop and he’s always giving me a cup or some unusual-looking piece he thinks I’ll like. Like them? Yes, but where to put them? Oh, and I have a cousin who causes a clutter problem, too. She lives in New Jersey and sends me big floral arrangements. They’re dried flowers and really quite lovely, but they do take up space. When the UPS guy comes to the door with Diana’s flowers, my first thought is, Where am I going to put them? I wonder if the realtor lady would like some for her office.

And listen to this: The realtor said I must try to “de-personalize” my home. Get rid of most of the family pictures because they are a distraction for buyers. I suppose that’s true. But wouldn’t that depend on who those family members were? Imagine if Vince Lombardi were indeed a relative (you can’t know how often I’m asked that) and I had his photo on a wall in my home. And right below the photo, a table supporting a great big trophy. Wow! Folks would be clamoring to buy my North Fork house.

Here’s more advice from the realtor. Use neutral colors when painting inside or out. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more neutral. But I remember earlier times in another home when I painted the kitchen something the color chart called “apricot.” Somehow that house was sold. Also, the realtor’s advice is if you’ve got wallpaper on your walls, remove it. I did that years ago. I struggled to remove a wallpaper border. Even that small effort was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’ll never remove wallpaper again. Never.

Finally, a suggestion I can comply with. Take pets out of the house when buyers tour the place. That’s easy. I don’t have a pet. Poor cat Toby died a few years ago. His little grave marker is in our garden. And I just won’t remove that.
I have to admit the realtor seems extremely helpful, but one thing she didn’t cover. What should you do with a husband when potential buyers are at the front door? Send him to King Kullen for a box of cookies? Have him putter in the garage and promise to say no more than hello and goodbye? Hoist him up on the roof, where he can pretend to be installing great new neutral-color shingles? Husbands can say things, do things, that may scare off a prospect. Like explaining the dog next door never barks at night. Just all day. Or that your hilly driveway ices up in winter and getting to the mailbox is hazardous. A really helpful realtor has gotta address the husband problem. Until then, I think most North Forkers will never consider selling their homes.

There you have it. The second reason I’ll never sell my house. It will never be thoroughly clean, de-cluttered, picture-free, painted gray inside and out and, I pray fervently, without my husband to mess things up. That’s a North Fork way of life.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

02/04/12 12:00pm

Let’s see. Flowers would be good. Perhaps a few red roses. Or perfume. Lots of women enjoy sweet fragrance. Maybe even a piece of jewelry. Although that could be expensive.

The upcoming Valentine’s Day can certainly prove difficult for guys looking to delight a lady. Even clever, sensitive North Fork men may need a little help when it comes to selecting a small gift of love for the women in their lives. You know — moms, wives, daughters, sisters and so on.

If a guy is thinking candy, I have a few suggestions. First off, if choosing candy from a supermarket shelf, our man must be aware of the candy’s name. No matter how good the candy tastes, for a Valentine gift its name has gotta be romantic.

For example, a gift of Snickers or Jelly Belly hardly seems appropriate for a loving wife. And just think, guys, of the distress if your beloved were to open up a gift of Gummi Worms, Sour Patch or Jawbreakers. Milk Duds, Rocky Road or Mounds. Where’s the romance in a box of Airheads or a bag of Nerds? Men, you can’t be too careful.

So if it’s off the shelf, stick with candy bearing a Valentine name. Like Hershey’s Hugs or Kisses. But for something unique, travel the North Fork for candy shops. There are quite a few. Visit them as I did. My goal, of course, was to help you make a winning Valentine gift choice. Obviously I sampled several selections — in this case an occupational hazard.

My first sweet stop was at The Confectionery Corner in Southold. Just open the door and you’ve got romance on the menu. I saw chocolate-covered Heart Peeps, Cupid Candy (pink and red candy corn), chocolate heart lollipops, chocolate-covered cherry hearts. Somehow the chocolate nonpareils, sprinkled red and white for Valentine’s Day, appealed to me. After all, is there any woman who wouldn’t respond when told she is without equal?

Tending store for owner Dawn Powers was Dawn’s mother. From Orient, Mom (and that’s how she wants to be identified) told me Dawn is awaiting the end-of-February birth of her second child. Lucky kids. They’ve a loving, helpful grandma and a mama who owns a candy store. Ah, it’s a tough life on the North Fork!

Now say hello to Fran Liburt, who lives in Orient and travels to Greenport each day to her job at Sweet Indulgences. Fran was happy to show me so many special Valentine candy treats. And so important — these treats had romantic names, names bound to please.

We started off with Conversation Hearts, little candies imprinted with romantic sayings like “I Love You” or “Kiss Me.” If you prefer to do your own talking, the Love and Kisses Lollipops might be just the thing. Or try the Milk Chocolate Presents, little candies each individually gift-wrapped. Now that’s a labor of love. And it’s a labor that won’t be lost on your sweetheart.

There must be something romantic in the air at Love Lane Sweet Shoppe in Mattituck. But more about that in a minute.

Meantime I discovered a number of appropriate candy names at this candy heaven. There were Heartfelts, Strawberry Delights and Wings of Love. And some sweet edibles called Razzles. It’s possible that years ago I had some razzle, maybe even a little dazzle. No more. So a gift of that to a grandmotherly woman might be well received.

Now about what’s in the air. At the Sweet Shoppe I met Ashley Wilsberg, whose mom, Jackie Wilsberg, owns the store. Ashley, a Mattituck High School graduate, has been working at the store for three years.
When I heard that, I asked how she remained so slim with such delightful temptations in front of her each day. “Oh, that’s easy,” Ashley replied. “I’m on a wedding diet.”

That’s right. Ashley will marry a North Fork guy this April and they’ll be living in Laurel. As printed on the Sweet Shoppe business card — How Sweet It Is.

Well, gentlemen, I do indeed hope my sugary meanderings help you win fair lady on this Valentine’s Day. Though I realize most North Fork men, while romantic at times, are more often realistic and practical. If that’s the case, by all means get the candy. But add a little something extra. Like maybe a promissory note offering to wash the windows in the spring. It’s right around the corner.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

01/21/12 12:07pm

Yes, winter’s quiet on the North Fork and it may become even more so. As you might have heard, the Long Island Rail Road has initiated a Quiet Car policy on its trains. The pilot program began a few weeks ago on the Far Rockaway branch. Perhaps Riverhead to Greenport is next.

I spoke with Aaron Donavan, a helpful young guy who is a media liaison at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority office in New York City. Aaron told me there would probably be only one Quiet Car per train. In that car no electronic devices would be permitted and any conversation would be in whispers only. Matter of fact, conductors will hand out “shh” cards to commuters who break the silence. I’m thinking those “shh” cards would be great for teachers with noisy classes or for husbands who claim their wives never stop talking. And wouldn’t you like a “shh” card if you came face to face with a presidential candidate?

I’ve an idea. Make a game of it. If a person receives five “shh” cards he goes directly to jail.

It so happens that Amtrak began its own Quiet Car policy several years ago. In my first Quiet Car experience, I accepted tickets for seats in an Amtrak “quiet, no cellphones” car traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York City. I was with a friend, Ginny, and we planned on drinking tea as we rolled north through Baltimore. Maybe read a newspaper, even take a nap.

Ginny and I settled in and began a quiet review of our D.C. days. The Museum of American History, a White House garden tour, even a Nationals game. Then came the voice, a kind of female James Earl Jones voice. “Somebody’s talkin’ in the Quiet Car.”

She, and her voice, headed to our seats. She was large, very, and stern, very. The dark-uniformed Amtrak conductor stood over me and asked for ID. This while holding that steel-cold ticket puncher up to my face. There was to be no talking in this car.

My laughter was not directed at her. Rather, at my foolishness. We knew no cellphones were allowed. We did not know quiet conversation was verboten.

Lady Amtrak didn’t crack a smile. She told me to check for seats in another car if I wished to speak even a few words during the three-hour ride. Dutifully I rose from my seat and rocked side to side up the aisle to the next car. No adjacent seats available. I tiptoed back into the Quiet Car and sat down next to Ginny.

So it was we arrived in New York City well rested. Ginny continued on to her home in Saratoga Springs while I was ready for battle on the LIRR to Riverhead, where my husband would meet me for the ride home to Cutchogue. The dusty, creaky LIRR was crowded and it was not until I changed trains at Ronkonkoma that I found a comfortable seat next to a smiling young woman and across from an equally happy-looking young couple. And then, a revelation.

I admit it. I probably started talking first. My seat companion was headed to Riverhead and we chatted about that town. Her three children graduated from Riverhead High School and remain in nearby North Fork towns. The young couple across from me? They hoped to purchase a home in Mattituck.

Naturally, I told my Amtrak story. We all laughed, loudly. And when the LIRR conductor walked toward us, I thought, “Oh no, not again.”

Bet you can guess what happened. The conductor asked, “What’s so funny?” He was not scowling nor was he waving a ticket puncher. He just stood there, waiting to hear the source of our joy.

So once again I repeated my Amtrak experience. By this time I did so in a most dramatic way. Well, the conductor laughed. Out loud. Here were five of us having a good old time. It was great to be home on the North Fork.

And about a LIRR Quiet Car on the North Fork? I’m not gonna worry about that now. There’s too much laughing to do.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

01/09/12 4:08pm

Right now it’s quiet time all over the North Fork. Windows are tightly closed, locked. Some folks even put up storm windows. No question about it. Chill times are here. Quiet times, too, since those closed windows shut out sounds as well as shivers. Funny, isn’t it? A few months back we read of noise problems on the North Fork. Music that’s loud, truck and boat motors running all night, helicopters intruding on peaceful skies. Finally last summer, a noise ordinance in Southold.

But with our windows closed we come to realize that some North Fork noise is not noise at all. Rather it is sound, sound we take pleasure in, sound we miss during the “closed up” months.

For example, there’s a Greenport guy, name of David Pultz. He’s married to Gillian Pultz of the North Fork Animal Welfare League. So you’d imagine Dave’s special sounds would be a woof, a meow, a tweet. Not so. Dave thinks back a few years and recalls two treasures of North Fork sounds.

One is the Greenport foghorn from early misty mornings past. How comforting it was. How secure. Dave said the foghorn sounded from a Greenport shipyard and evokes emotion still.

The other North Fork sound Dave enjoys is the 6 p.m. siren from the Greenport firehouse. Years ago Ed Pultz, Dave’s father, told Dave over and over again, “When you hear that whistle get home for dinner.” That 6 p.m. sound is familiar to so many North Forkers. Tradition ties it to dinner time in homes from Riverhead to Orient. May it always be.

I’ve a North Fork sound bringing me not memories, but anticipation. Early in the morning, certainly well before 6, I hear the Long Island Rail Road whistle as a train rumbles by about a mile away from my Cut­ch­ogue home.
I wonder, as I listen in bed or in the kitchen eating Special K and blueberries, who the engineer is, who the passengers are. Where are they going? I bid them a safe journey each open-window day. In some odd way they have become my friends and I wish I were traveling with them. Not necessarily to Greenport or New York City but to those faraway places with strange-sounding names.

With windows closed, my friends and fantasies fade.

Now hear this. It certainly appears to prove one woman’s meat is another’s poison. There are, on this North Fork, at least two ears that enjoy hearing a tractor at work. Those ears belong to Southold’s Sue Purcell.

Sue recalls “staying over” at her grandma’s home on Ackerly Pond Lane. That road, by the way, was formerly Bowery Lane. The name change must be a story in itself.

Anyway, Grandma Marta Dramm lived next to Diller’s farm and when Sue had a stay-over at Grandma’s the Diller tractors awakened her each morning. Those machines were “big and exciting” to young Sue.

Fully awake, Sue would rush downstairs to breakfast made by her grandma. A breakfast served with lots of milk and lots of love. And outside a tractor welcomed a child to a new North Fork summer’s day.

In Southold still, stop by for a visit with Judy Clark. Perhaps walk in her backyard for a bit. If you’re lucky you’ll hear Judy’s favorite North Fork sounds — sounds unheard through winter-closed windows.

First, the winter leaves, the ones left clinging to branches. Brittle and brown, dried and desolate, they rustle in winter wind. Judy thinks of that rustle as a feeble protest. Leaves refusing to go gently into that good earth. Come spring, those leaves will be gone, their protests giving way to new life.

And then there are the crows. They settle in the woods behind Judy’s home. Noisy, almost arrogant, unlike their shy, smaller bird friends. Crows are smart, too. Judy recalls seeing a TV show explaining how crows use twigs as tools. Watching the crows through snug-closed windows, Judy can’t hear their calls. But her heart responds to remembered sound.

Perhaps that’s what beloved, familiar sounds do best. Even if just in memory, they bring a sense of well-being to January’s pale days and long dark nights. Someday soon we’ll open all the windows.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

12/18/11 3:37pm

Heading south. Lots of North Forkers think about that this time of year. Perhaps for a holiday visit with grandchildren in Virginia; a tour of lovely, old and temperate Charleston; or, if they’ve got weeks of time, North Forkers might choose to bask on Florida’s beaches. All sounds good in mid-December.

There is, however, one kindly chap who, when he thinks about traveling south, thinks North Fork. Really. Our North Fork is more than 3,000 miles south of his very northern home. I’m talking about Santa Claus.

Now Santa has been traveling south every winter for many years. He and his reindeer must be exhausted. After all, they’re not as young as they used to be. Also, I heard Santa has to remove his boots every time his sleigh passes over an airport. That alone is discouraging.

So, since Santa is such a sweetheart, I thought we could help him out. Meet him halfway, perhaps, and carry his gifts back to the North Fork. That way Santa could return to the North Pole sooner and everyone would be happy. Maybe not Ms. Claus, but I don’t want to start any rumors.

Question is this: Which North Forker would head north to meet with Santa? I suggest Scott Russell, our town supervisor, accept applications for the job based primarily on how far north the applicant had previously traveled. Experience counts.

I, for example, have been to Alaska. But that was in a warm July, when native Alaskans showed me their home-grown tomatoes and went swimming every summer day. So I really have no experience with northern snows. I didn’t even see Sarah Palin, so I couldn’t get a recommendation from the lady who used to be Alaska’s governor. I believe she’s traveling around the Lower 48 but I’ve never seen her on the North Fork. Therefore, much as I would have enjoyed assisting Santa, I knew I must search for other North Forkers who had more experience in cold climes.

When I met Dennis Kedjierski of Greenport, I thought I’d found the ideal applicant. He looked strong enough to carry Santa’s gifts and he had an easy way about him, just like Santa. And he’d been to Alaska.

But alas, Dennis said he felt a sense of “isolation” in so many parts of that northern state. And Dennis made mention of how few roads he had seen in Alaska. Most folks appeared to travel by seaplane. Somehow I got the feeling Dennis prefers the convenience of Main Road and the comfort of North Fork neighbors.

Way east in Orient lives Berit Lalli, but she used to live way north because she was born in Sweden. So she must have some experience with snow and ice. I do know this: Berit warms every heart with gladness when she talks about all the Swedish pastries she bakes. By the way, you can sample some of those treats if you attend the fairs and festivals at her Greenport church. Maybe even meet Berit.

You know, much as Berit might be a good candidate for Santa’s helper, I think we’d better keep her right here on the North Fork. Winter is cookie/cake time in these parts and we can’t afford to have Berit out of her kitchen.

How you gonna keep her down on the farm? That’s the question I asked myself after chatting with Gekee Wickham of Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue. I’d stopped by the farm for apples and Gekee and I started talking north.

Gekee’s been to Norway, where she “shivered,” and to Russia, where she and husband Tom honeymooned. Listen to this. Gekee has actually flown right over the North Pole. Seems she was flying from the USA to Singapore and right down below was the Claus home. Gekee said she didn’t see Santa himself but Rudolph’s nose was distinctly visible.

Well, it’s obvious there are a number of North Forkers who’ve been far north. If they all submit applications to Super Scott, the guy will have one tough job deciding. Maybe he’ll need a committee to help. After all, they have to think about whether a candidate is allergic to reindeer, whether the candidate can fit in a chimney and how many pit stops a candidate needs while traveling around on a winter’s night. But committees work so slowly. Santa’s gifts might not arrive till spring.

Wow! Guess we shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. We’ll just let old Santa do his job, as he has for years, with a generous love. And to all a good night.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.