By Naomi Serviss / New York City
When I became
a Newsday family entertainment columnist
in the ’90s,
the world was my oyster.
As in Oyster Bay,
a cozy hamlet on Long Island,
lauded for oyster shucking and ingesting
(if you’re so inclined).
My Sunday column’s purpose
was to inform readers about
regional cultural, historical
and just plain, good old-fashioned
for family and friends.
Bonus: My kids Emmy and Ben
were invited cohorts.
Not exactly as guinea pigs per se,
but their preteen perspectives
were duly noted and appreciated.
On second thought, maybe they were guinea pigs.
The Long Island Oyster Festival
was a joyous occasion for all, pre-pandemic.
Canceled in 2020 and 2021,
organizers hope to bring it back
in October 2022.
It’s a big deal.
More than 150,000 participants
traditionally hang out
for the live music, carnival rides
and the star attraction.
We scoured Long Island and Manhattan,
covering the sublime (Broadway!)
to the ho-hum
(an old time-y General Store).
It was a dream gig,
right up my proverbial alley.
As a suburban mom,
I was forever on the lookout
and teachable moments.
We learned some stats and fun facts.
The Isle of Long is
118 miles from east to west
and 22 miles at its widest.
The eastern end is divided
into two narrow peninsulas,
the North Fork in Orient Point
marking the far south end.
In the mix we discovered
a plethora of beaches,
from the Rockaways to Jones.
The long split, aka Fire Island,
is a national seashore,
treasured by generations of families
who appreciate its car-free lifestyle.
With Emmy and Ben in tow,
we soaked up the island’s
enticing and disarming sites.
We charged around
Teddy Roosevelt’s historic Sagamore Hill,
the summer home of the 26th president
and his flock of relations.
He had a big flock.
We learned that his Oyster Bay-area estate
Included 83 acres of nature trails,
a salt marsh and a chicken coop.
But wait, there’s more!
The house tour was fascinating,
in all its stuffy, musty glory.
We averted our eyes
from the animal head trophies
hanging spookily on the walls.
But learning about
Roosevelt’s prescient conservation efforts
made us feel better about
the dead animal head distractions.
The Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary
was the country’s first
National Audubon Society songbird sanctuary.
The 14-acre park protects goldfinches,
grackles, kingfishers and kingbirds.
Planting Fields Arboretum would make
a nature lover out of the most cynical.
It’s a sprawling, lush, 400-plus-acre
Gold Coast oasis for nature lovers.
Gold Coast as in The Great Gatsby.
The air smells expensive.
Tree tunnels (!) cozy cottages,
fountains and stately structures
impressed us all.
The arboretum played host
to myriad family events in the summer.
What’s not to love?
It’s listed on the
National Register of Historic Places,
meticulously landscaped and nourished
by groundskeepers and horticultural experts.
Two lush greenhouses overflow
with exotic and Crayola crayon-colored blossoms.
Hidden benches beckon and a visitor’s center
has an interactive exhibit
about the estate’s history.
We explored museums in
Nassau, Suffolk and New York counties,
counted our lucky stars
in planetariums and visited a taxidermist.
It wasn’t all light-hearted
reverie and galivanting around, though.
Like other parts of the country,
Long Island has a shameful enslavement past.
the first published African-American poet,
was born into slavery
at Henry Lloyd’s estate
in über-wealthy Lloyd Neck.
He was granted access
to the manor’s library and
educated with the estate owner’s children.
The Lloyd family encouraged Hammon
to attend school, where he learned
To read and write.
He went on to work for Henry Lloyd
As a bookkeeper and negotiator
For the family’s business.
His first work was published in 1760
and he was considered a religious scribe.
While a slave,
Hammon preached to
other enslaved members of the Lloyd estate.
He became a member
of the African-American community
and in 1787,
Hammon delivered a speech
at the African Society of New York.
He was buried in an unmarked grave
on the Lloyd property.
On a more light-hearted note,
we checked out a Long Island game farm,
explored a guitar museum,
played at the Children’s Museum of New York
and ventured backstage
during the run of
Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast.
The kids were young enough
to believe my whopper
when we visited the world-famous toy museum:
No critics, please.
I didn’t always exaggerate,
only when it served a greater purpose.
Regardless, it was win-win.
Ben and Emmy made music
on the second-floor keyboard
from the movie Big.
I was able to luxuriate among
the over-the-top, futuristic playthings
and insanely priced stuffed animals.
They marveled at
the giant Teddy Ruxpin mechanical bears
taking up valuable real estate
inside the magical establishment.
The bears were all the rage in the ‘90s.
But to be honest, it was a creepy toy,
in a hauntingly sinister Twilight Zone way.
Meanwhile, Emmy caught my Broadway fever
and she got it bad.
She was already a creative, published writer,
and became an entertainment columnist
for ZuZu, an outstanding children’s newspaper.
It’s worth a Google.
But my all-time favorite outing
was to the annual New York-hosted Toy Fair,
where hundreds of toy representatives
hawk their wares to vendors strategizing
for the following year.
Broadway actors love Toy Fair
because they’re hired as
A job’s a job.
They boldly strolled
the three floors decked out to the nines.
Latex and spandex bodysuits
and he-man duds turned the joint
into performance art.
They improvised and goofed around
among themselves and onlookers.
freestyled dreamily through the air.
Moods were buoyant.
Toy vendors gamely courted toy buyers.
Free samples and sweets at every booth.
It was a three-floor kids’ party
teeming with brand-name dolls,
stuffed animals, classic games
and industry stars.
Another year the original Bozo was afoot.
R.L. Stine signed his latest YA book.
Slinky aficionados, of which I am one,
were rewarded when the inventor’s family
showed up to celebrate
the toy’s 50th anniversary
on February 18, 1996.
They were funny, warm
and not afraid to look silly.
After all, playing with a Slinky
is supposed to look silly.
They gifted me with an autographed Slinky Dog
and posed for photos.
Exploring and writing about
Long Island’s unsung treasures
was a dream gig.
The world was indeed our oyster
And each outing was a pearl of a day.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com