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My Long Island Adventure

Updated on December 6, 2019
Bonnie-Jean Rohne profile image

I started taking flying lessons a couple of years ago, to re-certify my pilot's license, since it had been 40 years since I got my ticket.

view from my cockpit
view from my cockpit

This was in many ways the best vacation I ever had. Yes, in others I have stayed at great hotels and done some memorable things. But this trip was a growing experience. My original purpose was to return to my roots – I “fit” on Long Island and felt like a duck out of water in my present location. I was homesick. So I set up the following itinerary:

Tuesday, 9/3 – fly down to Brookhaven airport in the Moriches with my instructor, Mike Bjerga. This would give me experience with the longest cross-country flight I’d ever flown myself. Good for racking up lesson time, and having an instrument rated instructor there, the flight was guaranteed to happen.

Wed 9/3 – 9/6 – stay with Linda, my best friend in high school.

Sat 9/7 – 9/9 – stay with Karen, an old high school friend.

Tues 9/10 – 9/14 – stay with Bonnie, a friend from Garden City whom I have visited every couple of years. This was my only ‘known commodity’ part of the trip and therefore if any other part of the trip went south I knew I could run here to revive.

Sat 9/14 – fly back to Williamson with Mike.

My expectation was that I would reluctantly return, jealous of how well others were living and as disappointed as ever that I have gotten myself into a living situation I hated, stuck here for another 20 years. I did hope that I would do some things, like parasailing, to take back as vacation rewards. Instead I came back with rewards to my own life, different rewards from each person I interacted with. I didn’t get to parasailing, nor swimming in the ocean (though I did wade in the surf), but I am OK with that. The people I interacted with were educated and as cosmopolitan as I remember, so I had the joy of cracking jokes and passing comments without having to explain the references. That I will miss.

learning the instruments
learning the instruments

Mike Bjerga. Got to know him some more. It could be a death sentence to fly with someone for 2-3 hours of silence. But he mixed casual conversation with pertinent instruction, well worth the money as usual as more than a safety backup. He knew I was excited about flying above the clouds and said at one point “We’ll make an instrument pilot out of you yet!”, knowing I am cowed by the instrumentation available in today’s planes. He showed his understanding by taking pictures of me in front of the instrument panel and above the clouds. I was hoping to get VOR experience, but the control towers took over almost immediately and sent us on shortcuts both down and back. And he made me feel like I was in control – when Mike is quiet it means that I’m doing fine. When we arrived back home, it was dusk and landing lights were on. I learned a new phrase – red & white, you’re alright; red & red – you’re dead. Yet another new experience.

Linda has always been an accommodating person, saying the right things, not arguing about anything (unless she agrees with you). Her perfect house is one we all dreamed of having when we grew up. Still, the house, like Linda, was unassuming; a guest felt comfortable. My mother would be sooo impressed! With all these attributes, it’s no wonder I felt welcome. But while she would brag to others about me, she never mentions all her achievements. I think the reason we took to each other in the beginning and kept the friendship going for so many years is that Linda never judged a person, despite others’ gossip. And under it all, she’s as adventurous as I am. Linda went to Cambodia after college with the Peace Corps. She has skydived and parasailed. She married Lou 7 months after meeting him (and was obviously right about her choice). She is a phenomenal photographer; I am not surprised that she never sold any of her photographs – she’s too modest. But her photographic work is of the highest quality, worthy of the walls on which it has hung. I’m not sure if we’ll ever meet again in person, but I sure hope so; we banter and tease easily. I remember once I visited her at Tom’s and her house; we were in our 20s; we sat on the grass and blew bubbles. Only Linda would think of doing that. She understood my love of the ocean and took me where I could ‘commune’ with it. She showed me eastern Long Island, which was farm land when I left and is now built up to the level Lindenhurst was when I left there. She took me on a short tour of Lindenhurst so I could see the house in which I grew up and all the changes. She took me to visit Margaret Rocco, whom I assumed would not remember me. It’s as if Linda sensed what I needed and gave it to me.

The first day with Linda, I suffered from verbal diarrhea. I spilled secrets I never shared with anyone about my childhood. I don’t know what triggered it, and did apologize. Dear Lou was very tolerant, having no idea what the references were. Perhaps that was how Linda knew what I needed.

Karen and I skipped fourth grade together, along with Ruth Busick. I believe that was in 1955. I hung around with Karen until I found more compatible people in high school. I approached our meeting with great trepidation – our relationship was never chummy on my side; I even remember slapping her twice over her unsolicited opinions. Still, she seemed to be eager to see me. The Karen I met was much more serious than I remember – I didn’t even recognize her face except when she was smiling. She was generous, showing me things and chauffeuring me around on my errands. I wish I could have enjoyed the time more, but my allergies made me anxious to move on. Where I roosted to smoke (her back porch) was damp; there were three dogs there who were very friendly to me; her sheets were washed in a highly perfumed detergent that caused me to cover the edges with a towel in order to hunker down to sleep. The combination of all these usually-mild allergies (mold, mildew, dogs and perfumes) collected to make my time at her house difficult, and I didn’t want to say anything to someone going so far out of her way to show me a good time.

Karen has been a dedicated Democrat since childhood, but not without a common sense approach. She apologized for her less-than-spectacular life, which I can’t agree with. She was a teacher and administrator in secondary education for 41 years, helping out fellow teachers and guiding those under her administration in what I would consider gentle but great methods. She is still immersed in politics to the point that she has CNN and MSN on TV all day long. You’ll never get your blood pressure down that way, old girl. She also is very active in rescuing sheltie dogs, and the occasional other breeds, to the point of driving all over the country to retrieve, rehabilitate and place the dogs. Her stories of these adventures are great to listen to. And she constantly (and modestly) gives credit to those who went on these safaris with her. I greatly admire people like this who devote so much energy to helping animals the right way, instead of trying to make a fast buck off them. To top it off, she is a remarkable baker and cook – usually a person is one or the other – with the self-control to give the food away while she is dieting. It was nice to break bread with a vegetarian without feeling proselytized or pressured. Karen is a very tolerant person, despite her life of conviction. The only thing she approached me about – very gently, mind you –was smoking, and I felt it better to just accept the questioning without getting on my own soap box.

I found myself wanting to reach out to her, to let her know I admire her, and to show my appreciation for her hospitality.

And her sense of humor came through, which put me at ease. A good example of that was when she took me to where there were salt flats. She waited in her car (bad knees) while I marched into the wilderness for about a mile before I turned around and dragged my exhausted body back to the car. I found her resting in the car. I don’t know how long I’d been missing but Karen said she figured as long as people kept entering the ‘park’ they would find my body and drag it back if I’d collapsed, so she didn’t sound any alarms.

Both Karen and Linda shared their lives with me; instead of wallowing through the last 50-60 years, we stepped into the present. And it was good.

Bonnie was a surprise and a disappointment. Bonnie and I became friends when I was married and living in Garden City. She was a popular and busy person; I felt rather honored when she deemed me a friend. I was at an all-time low in self-esteem at the time, and for decades after that. Looking back with fresh eyes, I now see that it was her sense of superiority (and competition) that kept the friendship going. In the last few years I realized that the only time she called me was when she was having a bad time. She would badger me with questions until I got depressed from the answers; that would make her feel better about her own situation. She tried the same tactic when I visited this time, bragging about her circumstances and her ability to manage people. The problem was … I was not impressed. This put Bonnie into high gear to tear me down as lovingly as she could, to the point of talking until 2 AM one night. I realized that in my own present happiness with myself, I would no longer allow her to pull me down. And there was no longer an advantage to hanging around with her. I can no longer give her the sense of superiority she longs for, and she can no longer give me the solace I don’t seek.

My marriage and divorce destroyed my self-image; I even wrote my own obituary while I was married, realizing that the Old Me was gone. It was only in the last couple of years that I felt the Old Me return. I’m glad I didn’t return to Long Island before that. But then, I wouldn’t have, since it would have been too painful. I was never one for nostalgia; too many bad memories along with the good ones (thank you, eidetic memory).

Along with the experiences with these four individuals, the trip was an eye opener. Eastern Long Island is even more built up than the mid Long Island where I grew up, but it still maintains a lot of the New England-style charm. And of course, the people are so much more cosmopolitan than western New York; it’s so nice to have my jokes and observations understood. Of course, I still can’t afford to live there. Despite my appreciation of Long Island, I found myself much happier with my present circumstance – I can afford the occasional flying lesson and other financial indulgences (within reason) by living here. And western New York is much more like the Long Island where I grew up than today’s Long Island is. I now appreciate the local people and life style and its lack of pressure. For the most part the locals are tolerant of my odd ways. Driving is more relaxed and roads are less crowded. One can spend one’s time here enjoying life instead of just surviving it.

And I realized that I am overdressed even by Long Island standards. I know that sounds like a ridiculous thing to observe. But basically I have been clinging on to “the way I was brought up” when it is no longer relevant to my current life style. That type of lifestyle doesn’t exist anymore.

I actually went out and bought pants and tops that are nice, even though I had 20-year-old polyester pants and cheap tops in the closet. Time to pack those old clothes up and give them to charity. There is no reason why I can’t feel comfortable and neat in casual clothes. Why populate the closet with clothes that don’t fit right or look bad on me? I also have a bunch of linens that are mismatched or the wrong color. Why hold on to them? I gave flatware, kitchenware and towels to my grandson as he set up his first apartment. But there’s still a bunch of stuff that could go to a garage sale – except I hate garage sales. Nonetheless, a women’s shelter could make very good use of this stuff. So it’s all being packed up for that purpose.

I even got the nerve up to ask my son to check up on me regularly, rather than bemoaning my loneliness. That was probably the hardest change, since I didn’t want to whine (oh, that pride!!).

So I guess you could say that this trip made me stop pining for things that never really were and to be happier with things as they are.

But one thing I will always miss is the white sandy beaches and swimming in the ocean.

© 2019 Bonnie-Jean Rohner


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