By Nancy Remkus
“Home should be the treasure chest of living.”
What does “Home” mean to you? For two years, it has been my monthly column in The Express. Imagine me, with a column. I have always loved words, and I love putting them together, but I don’t imagine my elementary school teachers would have envisioned me a columnist. I can still remember writing out birthday cards to my best friend Joyce — “Happy Brithday – form Nancy” We still laugh about it today. I’m not sure if it was a form of dyslexia or the handiwork of a kid who would rather be out on the marsh than in reading a book. In fact, we didn’t have all that many books in our house or pictures on the wall. We were the ones running through the woods and digging for Captain Cook’s treasure. I do love books now-some of them. I spend most of my time with nonfiction, but I still like to spend quite a bit of quality time staring into space and listening for hummingbirds.
I used to panic at the old color-coded packaged reading program in elementary school. There was a big chart on the wall color-coded to your level of achievement. I think I was somewhere in the mustard yellow or olive drab zone, longing for the gold. Although I’m sure it was not the intention, it was funny how an educational tool could make you feel inferior. Would I ever make it to the gold? I think Joyce did. Her family was always at the dinner table-each with a thick paperback in hand. In our house, the newspaper was for spreading out on the kitchen table to filet fish or eat steamers and blue-claw crabs. My mom fileted flounder for my Uncle Jimmy at the Remkus Fishing Station. She put the money she earned into buying that kitchen table and chairs. Everything tasted better there.
I think it’s good to grow up with a bit of a struggle. I wouldn’t trade my childhood in Sag Harbor for all of the Ferraris on Main Street. We were as free as the wind and had a chance to grow up in a world without fear. Sometimes we’d sleep in the woods at night and paddle out over the bay by day. If we found a pencil that someone had dropped or an old fishing lure that had washed ashore, it was as if we had found gold. Several shops on Main Street were closed, and we did most of our shopping in the ones that remained open. I got my Keds every year at Ivan’s Shoe Store, and I was convinced they always helped me run faster. My clothes came from my three older sisters, which my mom had bought at the Cracker Barrel. I can remember Rosalie, the little table and chairs, the basket of books and the large heating grate in the floor. And there was nothing more exciting than picking out our new three ring loose-leaf binder in the “Five and Ten” at the start of each school year!
Life was simple then, and simple is wonderful. We learned to drive in the old Ford Falcon and drove the Torino station wagon to the prom. I don’t think I ever went out to dinner until I was 18 when at a Halloween costume party I won a gift certificate to the old Baron’s Cove Restaurant. When I was 14, I borrowed a Harmony guitar from my cousin Tony and taught myself how to play-that was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Lucky as it was, I got a teaching position at Sag Harbor Elementary School and spent 31 years there, hoping that I would never make anyone feel that they weren’t at the superior color on a reading chart. It was a wonderful stretch: loving to see the joy of learning in so many of Sag Harbor’s children. In retirement, it was The Sag Harbor Express editor Kathryn Menu who gave me the opportunity to write a monthly column entitled, “Home.” For me this has been a wonderful gift, as I have had the chance to sit down with some of the finest folks in the Harbor and listen to the wonderful stories of their lives. I’ve made new friends, and my heart has grown three sizes — I’ve been inspired, encouraged, humbled and amazed. This community of ours has brought together incredible people, and just like spokes on the wheel of life, we need each other to keep our world turning.
The journey began by watching my neighbor, Deborah O’Brien, backing into her driveway for the past 30 years or so. At that moment, it occurred to me that Debbie did this several times each day so she would be ready in an instant to answer an ambulance call. Along with Debbie, I have had the chance to sit down with two of our honored firefighters: Tom Horn, Sr. and Bruce Mitchell. I’ve written about the retirement of my husband and former Police Chief Tom Fabiano. I was grateful to have the chance to spend some time with Dave Lee before his passing as he had spent so much of his life rallying for the Sag Harbor he loved. Doris Gronlund shared stories of her time as a shop owner at Sagalund and inspired me with her strength and conviction to live a joyful life. Sister Ann Marino, spiritual director of Cormaria, told me how she prays for the people of Sag Harbor. Michel Dobbs, Buddhist priest, reminded me that we are all walking a path, and we are all connected. Jack Youngs and Joe Markowski are the protectors of Sag Harbor’s past as they help to preserve our history. As a veteran, David Pharaoh is dedicated to keeping our American Legion moving forward. Cathy Carlozzi, Frieda Renner and Rita Smith spread kindness wherever they go. Interviewing Sony Schotland and Virginia Frati reminded me about the importance of caring for our pets and our wildlife. Coach Vishno inspired our youth to be not only good athletes but also good people, and Esther and Joe Ricker shared with us their love of home and of each other.
Words have become my most treasured gift to receive and to give — words attached to emotion, words that lift us up and give life meaning. Some years ago, when I went to the wake of my high school English teacher, Miss Gregory, near her casket in a wooden frame, was the poem I had once written for her. Words are important. Writing my column for The Express has given me the opportunity to work with words.
As I look at the lives of our neighbors: their acts of goodness and the generous gift of their time, I can see the many textures in the fabric that makes Sag Harbor a unique and welcoming place. And though our quiet village continues to grow in popularity: the traffic difficult to maneuver; the restaurants full to the brim, and parking a daily challenge; we still appreciate our most beautiful place in space. It has been an honor to sit down with these wonderful people, and I hope to visit many more folks in the months ahead. I am grateful to each of them for helping to make Sag Harbor a wonderful place to call “Home.”