Today is Columbus Day. I started thinking about what I used to do on Columbus Day when I was growing up on Long Island. A holiday (especially one where the stores were open) was never wasted wandering around the house aimlessly. I grew up in a town called Manhasset, located on the North Shore of Long Island (back in the 1960’s and 70’s, yargh, I be old!). Manhasset was a popular shopping destination, as we were home to the Miracle Mile (surprisingly, this had nothing to do with the location of the town’s churches). This was a mile (give or take) of upscale department stores, boutiques and restaurants. Within the Miracle Mile, you could find Bonwit Teller, B. Altman’s, Lord & Taylor, and a bit further down Northern Boulevard - Abraham & Strauss. Most people from the surrounding towns would come into Manhasset on Columbus day to take advantage of the department store sales. However, when I was growing up, my mother would take Columbus Day off, and we would drive out 25a to a town called Cold Spring Harbor (a 45 minute drive that took us past the estates of the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Whitneys and the estate that was used in the film Love Story - “Honestly Mother, our house is SMALL!”) We’d pass the fish hatchery - a standard field trip for all elementary school students (one of my class mates fell into one of the wells during one trip, and spent the bus ride back to school extracting carp from his pockets - gag!). Then we’d loop around the harbor itself and find ourselves on Main Street, our destination. Cold Spring Harbor was a great place to spend a day, for a number of reasons. It looked like something out of a Currier & Ives print - a small town on the water with some unique stores, art galleries and one really excellent restaurant.
Our main reason for going to CSH was to visit a shop called The Hitching Post, do some window shopping and have lunch at Country Kitchen. The Hitching Post was a small, one room store that catered to the very preppy. This store was 180 degrees from the large department stores in Manhasset. B. Altman’s, Lord and Taylor and A&S carried very main stream, mass marketed clothing. This was the beginning of Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, Candies, Huckapoo and LeSac (think Studio 54, Saturday Night Fever, and a lot of manmade fibers). During high school, most of my friends wore these designers, as that was the style of the day - it just wasn’t my style. I liked the preppy stuff, you know, whales and ducks and LL Bean (fortunately, my friends didn’t hold it against me). At the time, my two older brothers were attending college in New England (as did their girlfriends), and this probably had more of an influence on my taste in clothing than anything else.
Opening the door to The Hitching Post never failed to launch a major assault on my senses. The first thing I would notice upon entering the store, was the sound. The door was wooden, with a brass handle (just like at home). Sometimes it would stick, and you’d have to pull it hard to get it to close properly. Either way, it would squeak and then bang, when you’d pull it shut (everyone in the shop would turn and look at you for a moment, then return to their shopping). You’d take your first step into the shop and the floor would creak (and it would continue to creak with each step). Next came the smell. A mixture of Shetland wool, corduroy, and leather would envelop me as I stepped onto the wooden floor (honestly, it was almost sexual). I’d find myself being pulled toward the stacks of corduroys. First I’d run my hands over them (oh God, it’s like velvet or … puppy ears). Then if no one was looking, I’d lay my head down on them, and breathe deeply. I’d lift my head a fraction of an inch to see where my mother was (eh heh coooordurooooy pornoooooographyyyyyyyy). Next was the visual. Men’s clothing was on the left, women’s on the right. The walls in the front of the store were stacked with pants. In the fall and winter it was wide wale corduroy and wool flannel, and tweed. I would think to myself “one day I’m going to be married to a man who wears tweed blazers, v-neck sweaters, button down oxford cloth shirts, khakis and bucks,” (are you starting to see the Christoph Waltz connection yet? Run Christoph, run like fucking hell!!!) The corduroys came in dozens of colors - lemon yellow, terra cotta, lime and kelly green, navy, Carolina blue, red, fawn, chocolate, patchwork, you name it. Some had Labradors and pheasants or whales embroidered on them (absurd looking yes, but don’t forget about those Huckapoo shirts with billiard tables and Cadillacs emblazoned on them at B. Altman’s ). As you made your way toward the back of the store, the shelves were stocked with Dean and Pringle sweaters, and just like the corduroys, they came in every color imaginable. There were shelves of crew necks, v-necks, cable knits, fair isles, and patchwork. One wall had a rack of Lanz of Salzburg nightgowns. These nightgowns basically came in one style - a long, flannel nightgown, gathered at the wrists with white eyelet lace, with a round neck and two small buttons in the back (close your eyes and imagine the Big Bad Wolf dressed in Grandma’s nightie - there you go). Later, when I was in college, we referred to them as BCP’s or birth control pajamas, so called because no male in his right mind would touch you when you were wearing them (“remember to leave your BCP’s at the dorm when you go away for the weekend”). I think I had five of them. The back of the store displayed shoes. Not a big selection, but it carried the necessities - Bass Weejun loafers - penny and tassel, Jack Rogers sandals, and Jacques Cohen espedrilles (another item memorable from my college years because beer made them disintegrate - most of the bars in D.C. have numerous beer puddles). Near the register, were small tables covered with headbands, key chains, ties and belts. You could get headbands in tartan plaids, striped gross grain ribbons, and velvet with bows (“Look Lambie - just like Gidget’s!”). Eventually my mother would say “Let’s go,” and I would totter unsteadily out the door, squeaking all the way, dreaming about my future with a tweed-clad man.
After leaving the Hitching Post, my mother and I would walk along the sidewalk, looking in the windows of the different gift shops that lined the street, as we made our way to Country Kitchen. This was a family-owned restaurant that served great entrees, and even better deserts. They were known for their pies. Hanging on the wall at the back of the restaurant, was a large blackboard which listed the day’s pies. Alongside each entry was a picture of that slice, hand drawn with colored chalk (the key lime was striking!). My personal favorite was the apple crumb pie (a tall slice of sin, ridiculously dense, with a ribbon of sour cream running through it, and topped with crumbs that were both chewy and crunchy - again, we’re going a little sexual here - so sorry!). The restaurant was always full during lunch. The tables would be occupied by other shoppers, friends having lunch together, and older couples who probably ate there every week. The line with people waiting for a table would start at the door, and spill out onto the sidewalk. Those lucky enough to wait inside, stood and watched as trays of food passed under their noses. Sandwiches, burgers, casseroles, chowders, and pie were served up with a smile by the children of the owners. Portraits of the Wyland children at various ages hung on the restaurant’s walls. It was always interesting to go back each year and see which child had gone off to college and which one was now old enough to replace them (“girls, don’t forget about the BCP’s - you’ll thank me later”). After lunch, my mother and I would roll (and I literally mean roll) ourselves out of the restaurant and head back to the car and back to the land of Calvin Klein.
I haven’t been back to Long Island in close to 25 years. The Hitching Post is still there, providing Lilly Pulitzer to the landed gentry - God love ‘em. Country Kitchen was sold by the Wyland family in 2003 and has turned over twice since then. Preppy fashions are making a comeback and I’m still drawn to the men who wear them (I did marry a man who wears a lot of tweed and khakis - a former, fellow Brooks Brothers sales associate).
Thank you Christopher Columbus for discovering America, giving me a day off from work and leading me to Cold Spring Harbor.