“The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off.”
– Abe Lemons
They packed their bags, and with their young dog Brindle, loaded up their Subaru and headed west for six weeks. Each day they drove four hours on the ‘blue highways’ and stopped where they would find a place to hike for an hour or two and a hotel, of course, that welcomed dogs. Their definition of retirement was not sitting still. The Potters zigzagged the country all the way to California. “We visited many of the natural wonders — the Black Hills, the Smokey Mountains, the Badlands, and then headed back ‘Home’.”
Since my own retirement I have stumbled upon many articles about the best places on earth to retire. I imagine skimming those articles is something each of us might do one day. Before their retirement, Mark and Martha Potter started a list of possible places to relocate for the next chapter of their lives. They took many things into consideration. Among those were: being close to the ocean, as well as a place where they could garden and enjoy nature.
Martha was born and raised in Brooklyn — her mother a Jewish immigrant from Poland had escaped the ‘Pogroms’ (an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group). Her mother was a liberal who worked for civil liberties and impressed upon Martha at a very young age the importance of social justice. Mark was born and raised a Congregationalist on a working farm in rural Connecticut with 50 dairy cows and 500 chickens. “I grew up with the stories of North Woods, and a love of the outdoors, hiking on compass courses through the Adirondacks. They met in Brooklyn at a single parent’s workshop; married in 1978, and blended their family of three sons and now three grandsons. Martha was a teacher for more than 30 years, and Mark worked in direct mail: writing, advertising and analyzing data.
Often visiting Martha’s mother’s home on Sagg Road, Mark and Martha bought Mike Bottini’s book, “Trail Guide to the South Fork” and began to explore the local woodlands. “We’ve hiked every trail,” mused Martha. “Nature is where we both find our spirituality.” When Martha’s mom fell ill, Martha and Mark began visiting more often. In their own retirement planning, Mark and Martha hadn’t included Sag Harbor on their list, but the more they visited, the more they realized that Sag Harbor was “just what we wanted.”
Martha loved teaching. She taught everything from preschool to advanced placement history. Due to illness, she retired after a long and rewarding career. She loved teaching and missed it very much. One day while walking Long Beach, Martha was wondering how she might become part of this new community. A frequent beach walker and friendly Sag Harbor resident, Rita Smith, approached and asked if she could walk with her. They struck up a conversation, and Rita suggested the best way to get to know the community was to visit all of the stores on Main Street to see which one she’d like to work in. Martha pondered that advice and found herself at the John Jermain Library asking if she could become a volunteer. The librarian at the time said they needed someone to work part time and offered Martha a job. “That is where I got to know the town and the people,” Martha commented.
Quite serendipitously the John Jermain Library is where Martha continued her teaching career. She began instructing English as a Second Language classes with BOCES, and when they no longer offered classes, Martha asked the library if she could teach there. One of her students asked if Martha might help him to prepare for the citizenship exam. Martha’s teaching background in U.S. history and love of the U.S. Constitution were a sure fit for that vocation. Her mother’s passion greatly inspired Martha to welcome and assist immigrants in our area. Since that time, Martha has helped more than 20 people receive their citizenship. “It is such a thrill to be thereto watch someone become a citizen,” said Martha. “It is something that everyone should experience at least once. I get great pleasure from helping others. It’s very exciting getting to know people, where they’ve come from and why they came.”
Martha continues her community service working with the League of Women’s Voters of the Hamptons, serving as the past secretary of the Sag Harbor Historical Society, working on committees at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse, farming at a local cooperative, Full Circle Farm, and guest speaking at nearby libraries about the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Mark continues his interest in the local trails; “we tracked down the trail society,” he mused recently becoming the president of the Southampton Trails Preservation Society. “There are 300 miles of trails, 200 members and 500 other people involved. We run two or three local hikes a week, and on Thursday mornings, we work together to clear the trails. We hike all year long, using tick resistant clothing in the summer. We’ve never had a problem. Our local trail system is something that should be enjoyed by everyone.”
Mark has also been president and on the board of the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse on the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike. “Martha and I came from two different religious traditions, and although we have always been spiritual, we weren’t part of any religious organization. When we moved here we were looking for a place that would accept us, and the Unitarians did. They accept whomever you are, and wherever you are on life’s journey. We got involved and currently work on many of the committees there. It helps us stay connected to people.”
Mark is also a skilled craftsman and has built his beautiful quarter sawn white oak kitchen cabinets with his own hands in his woodshop in the basement. He has also crafted all of the doors in their house, and a beautiful wooden jewelry box he made for Martha, inlaid with an intricate abalone dragonfly. Mark also ‘sits’ with the Buddhists on Monday evenings at the Ocean Zendo housed at the Unitarian Meetinghouse where he finds much peace and food for thought. When not out on the trails, or building in his woodshop, Mark is busy writing novels. He has completed two!
Married for forty years now, Mark and Martha have discovered that the secret to a happy marriage is found by “keeping our own individual interests and coming together on the things we have in common. We share the same essential values: hard work, honesty and respect.” And although they have only called Sag Harbor their home for 12 years, they have rolled up their sleeves and become deeply involved and immersed in our community: volunteering and helping others. “We love this place. The people here are terrific; warm and welcoming.”
Some people live their lives; other people craft them. Mark and Martha have crafted lives that celebrate nature, build community, welcome the stranger and appreciate beauty. Not a fancy life, not a life filled with a longing for more, but a life that is active, mindful and grateful for all that is.
And so we welcome the Potters and are so fortunate that they have decided to call Sag Harbor, HOME!