My husband, Ken, and I just returned from “Our Happy Place.”  That’s what we like to call Montauk.  We’ve been going there for about forty-five years and never tire of the small town, the clean, uncrowded beaches and the sound of the waves crashing to shore while we drift off to sleep.

We first began going to Montauk when we started dating.  We would rent bikes in town and pedal our way along the Montauk Highway to the lighthouse.  On our way back, we would stop at Gosman’s Dock for an early dinner and a walk around the shops.  There was a great children’s shop called Captain Kid’s Toys, which had baby clothes with a nautical theme.  I used to imagine that one day I would take my own child there.  Rumrunner Home was another store we loved to visit; and after we were married, we bought many home furnishings there.  Unfortunately, since then, most of the shops have become cheap trinket shops with the same sweatshirts, sunglasses, nautical knick knacks and jewelry.

A familiar sight on Gosman’s Dock, was a caricature artist perched on a canvas fold-out stool with an easel.  Years later my daughter and I had our portraits done.  We were depicted in exaggerated strokes, she as a cheerleader with pom poms, and I in exercise clothes with headband and weights.
Our family usually stays at the Ocean Surf Motel, which is right on the water; but the year I was pregnant, we rented a house further in from the ocean so I didn’t have to climb any steps.  It was a good feeling to walk on the beach and have the warm sand between my toes.  Again, I imagined someday having my child strengthen its leg muscles trying to walk on the sand.  As it turned out, she was like a little engine that, when put down on the sand, would zoom full speed ahead and fearless into the ocean.

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Forty-five years later and we still drive the three and a half hours to Montauk to enjoy week-long vacations in the sun and surf.  Over the years, we have witnessed fireworks as we huddled under blankets on the beach during July 4th celebrations, flown kites on the beach, collected rocks and shells and played miniature golf at Puff N Putt.  We’ve eaten hundreds of slices of John’s Pizza in the heart of Montauk, and one of our favorite places to eat over the years has been Wok and Roll Chinese Restaurant, where signs would boast, “You Hook ‘Em, We’ll Cook ‘Em.”  It was amazing to see the fisherman bring in their catch and wait for it to be served.  Does it get any fresher than that?  Sadly, after all those years, Wok and Roll closed its doors last season.

Celebrities abound in Montauk and the surrounding Hamptons; and we have witnessed celebrity sightings galore:  Billy Joel, Martha Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Christy Brinkley, Richard Gear and Mick Jagger.  Not bad!  Have they discovered My Happy Place or have I discovered theirs?
During at least one night of our vacation, we take the forty minute drive to Sag Harbor, a quaint old town with a vintage movie house, pizza parlor, five and dime, antique stores and a dock where mega boats can be seen, photographed and ogled. Last, but certainly not least, is Sag Harbor’s Big Olaf’s Ice Cream Shop, a must-not-miss.  No matter how full we are from dinner, we always top off the evening with a Big Olaf’s ice cream cone.  My favorite is the toasted coconut.

We said “farewell” to this year’s summer vacation on Montauk with a fire on the beach.  After digging a deep hole in the sand, we filled it with logs, light them and toast marshmallows.  The beach is pitch black but for the flames.  Each year I try to capture the colorful flames as they dance on the logs, but somehow the colors just don’t translate on film.  Perhaps next year I’ll just sit back and watch them in real time as I listen to my family’s banter and the sound of the crashing waves in the background.  It was a calming and almost hypnotic  end to another beautiful vacation on Montauk.  Until next year, good-bye to Our Happy Place.

joannfrancella@aol.com