Brooklyn Boro

Village, Neighborhood, Community: finding a sense of home in the environs of New York City

September 13, 2022 Jamie MacGuire
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EDITORS’ NOTE:No doubt many residents of New York City, particularly the outer boroughs, must be content to adopt one place in the Big Apple as home. Enhancing their home—the place where they sleep– are countless public amenities to provide an escape from the confines of their inner sanctums, and their workplaces.

But for the New Yorker who can afford it, escape comes frequently in the form of an additional home, an escape from the pervasive pavements, the high-rise density and frenetic human interaction. The additional home is a retreat to private sanctums of grass, trees, sand and water, but many of these retreats are only a short ride—by train or car—from the inner city.

Whether it is the Hamptons (no longer a short ride) or towns and villages in the counties and states surrounding Greater New York, many stakeholders have a significant connection to the Big Apple.

Writer Jamie MacGuire has spent a lifetime experiencing—and even studying—some of the most celebrated communities within the magnetic field around New York City.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Jamie MacGuire’s Column:

“You can’t go home again,” Thomas Wolfe famously wrote in his posthumously published 1940 novel. In the novel’s denouement he adds, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood…”

Maybe that was so for Wolfe and his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, but you know what? In 1994 I went home again to the little village where I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, and the ensuing 25 wonderful years were the basis of my latest book, The Homecoming Seasons: An Irish Catholic Returns to a Changing Long Island .

After many years abroad I returned to New York and spent the hyper- charged decade of the 1980s as a bachelor at such places as Time Inc., Macmillan and the Manhattan Institute. After marrying in 1990, however, having one baby and expecting another, my wife Lanie and I decamped from Manhattan for a small enclave called the Isle of Wight in the village of Lawrence, where I had grown up.

The Homecoming Seasons is the story of our return to that almost hidden world—how it had evolved from ancient times; been inhabited by indigenous peoples; colonized by the Dutch and the English; and then grew from a sparsely populated agricultural corner of western Long Island to an early summer resort, then an outer, and finally an inner suburb of New York City.

“The Homecoming Seasons” tells the story of returning to this my childhood hometown on the South Shore of Long Island in my forties to raise my own family, reencountering its natural wetland beauty, my late parents’ now older friends and making new ones in a community undergoing transition.

While focused on the 25 years from 1995 to 2020 the book also contains a lot of material on the now 70 years I have known the Isle of Wight and surrounding community, including chapters on the Cedarhurst Yacht Club, the Lawrence School and Lawrence-Woodmere Academy. And in some sections it goes even farther back, to provide a history of the Isle of Wight, now in its 141th year.

Though decimated by Hurricane Sandy, it has rebounded healthier and stronger than ever, leaving behind the other terrible times when, after World War II, the community was was almost completely abandoned and in danger of being sold to pay back taxes. It remained for many years a somewhat rustic neighborhood.

Today the Isle of Wight is completely full and thriving.

The quarter century that the book details is filled with life, death, triumph, loss and chronicles a fragile yet ultimately resilient world. I emphasize and go into some detail on the natural world of the marshland environs, especially the bird life.

Along the way, I weave childhood memories and sketches of family and friends with a detailed, almost diary-like description of returning. I try to capture the wonder of the wetlands, the water, and the surrounding natural world; the poignant life, death and rebirth of community; the joys and sorrows of marriage and parenthood; and the profound exultation of safely shepherding two beloved sons to triumphant adulthood. There are portraits of people like novelist Louis Auchincloss, who grew up here. Buckminster Fuller who was married nearby at Rock Hall, the restored colonial manor in Lawrence.

My old publishing colleague Charlie Scribner compliments me excessively by writing the book possesses “the art of seeing the details of this world in all its variety—from the mundane to the sublime—as sacramental.” If I came anywhere close to that, I have achieved more than I could have hoped for.

The Isle of Wight remains an important part of the Rockaway Hunt Club community. The club, now in its 144rd year, approaches its sesquicentennial in 2028.

Although here we started as a foxhunting and equestrian club in 1878, the 1880s saw the development of the first “country clubs,” including our eponymous confrere in Brookline, Mass., which just hosted the U.S. Open in golf. We went on to excel in steeplechase racing and polo, but even by the early 1880s lawn tennis courts had been laid out. The first golf holes followed in the early1890s. Baseball and shooting also became popular in this period.

Today, more than ever, this club community, just 22 miles from midtown Manhattan, provides a refuge from the great city, where members can enjoy the fresh sea air, healthy sport and, of course, congenial company.

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