Life-changing events can be the catalyst for many decisions we never planned on making, whether they be those caused by our own poor judgment or things that happen to us that are out of our control. Whatever the cause, life goes on and we make the best of our choices.
Living up the Island most of my life, the East End was a mystery to me as a child. Once a year Mom and Dad would pack up the station wagon with us five kids and drive to Montauk, whizzing by the small towns along the way, maybe stopping for an ice cream or at the candy store in Bridgehampton or having a picnic lunch at a beach. We’d head to the Lighthouse, get out and look at it, turn around and drive home.
We didn’t have iPads or cellphones then, so when we weren’t sleeping or fighting with each other we’d be looking out the windows. Maybe that’s why today when we take a drive I’m always telling my wife, “Look up, look at what you’re missing.”
Later, as an adult, the elusive mystery of the East End started to unravel. My work as a truck driver delivering building materials opened up a whole new world for me that had always been really just a short distance away.
On hot summer days, spending 10 to 12 hours a day in a sweltering diesel truck, I’d strip off my jeans and T-shirt and take a refreshing swim at a secluded ocean beach, or sometimes sneak a quick dip in an unsuspecting homeowner’s pool, hoping I wouldn’t get caught.
After moving away, I never expected that a turn of events in my middle age would lead me to living on Long Island again, much less in the Hamptons. Having friends who were driving school buses, it occurred to me that I love kids and they are cargo that loads and unloads themselves, something that was appealing to a middle-aged man starting to feel the effects of years of physical labor.
My first week working as a school bus driver, or a “pupil transportation professional,” as my wife likes to call me, dropping off my last student, I realized there was a 5-year-old on the bus who shouldn’t have been there. With tears in her eyes she stared up at me. I reassured her and took her back to the school, where I knew a nervous mom would be waiting. I stepped off the bus and this tiny little creature put her hand in my monstrously large hand and trustingly looked back at me as my eyes welled up with tears.
As I retire and move on to another chapter of my life, I am grateful that each day I had the privilege of spending my mornings and afternoons with so much life in its early stages, where everything is new and interesting and exciting, knowing that parents placed their children in my care and trusted me with the most important people in their lives. It gave my life a special purpose each and every day.
I will always keep and treasure the cards and letters I have from students and their parents, heartfelt letters that still bring happy tears to my eyes. I will always remember how it felt as I walked through East Hampton to have students recognize me and point me out to their parents. It has been an incredible gift to have been a part of their lives.
We will also always be grateful for the lovely couple in East Hampton who entrusted us with their beautiful home so that we could have a place to call our own for the past nine years. It was truly a gift to know them and become their friends, and we will never forget their kindness and generosity to us.
Leaving the Hamptons will be bittersweet. It was a challenge yet a privilege to be able to live here.
Written with Carrie DeSalvo, who says she and her husband are moving to South Carolina in February.