The Path to Serendipity

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It’s not every day moments of serendipity happen, but when they do they are sure to change your life for the better. For Jimmy Reilly and his sister Bridget, serendipitous moments have filled the chapters of their lives through unconditional love; touching people’s hearts wherever they go.

This past spring’s shutdown took a toll on countless small businesses like Barntique Village in Shirley, N.Y., a one-stop antique shop filled with sheds and small old buildings rented individually to antique entrepreneurs.  Although some long-time faces are no longer there this year, the village has seemingly remained resilient, and is now filled with new shops like Bridget’s own, Brigadoon’s.

Bridget (Reilly) Costello was born only one year before her 59-year-old brother Jimmy, and come from a large family of eight children.  They spent their childhood together growing up in Sayville, N.Y., and as an adult Jimmy continued to live with his parents and moved to North Carolina with his mother. Their mother passed away in 2017, and in 2018, the entire family agreed it would be best if Jimmy came back to live with Bridget and her husband, Mike Costello, in Mastic, N.Y. 

Jimmy was born with cerebral palsy and having been born in the 50’s, Bridget remembers it being a time where it was standard practice for a person diagnosed with such afflictions to be institutionalized.  In spite of the times and the shocking diagnosis of Jimmy’s disability at the age of 2, that did not deter her parents, and she said her late father who passed in 2005, former SUNY Farmingdale Vice President William Reilly, and mother Patricia, an advocate for special needs who became the first president of the Women’s Auxiliary of AHRC Suffolk, could not have set a better example to follow in life.

“He (Dad) was such a great influence on us.  He used to say, ‘Every house needs a Jimmy,’” she said.

With her own career in working to help people with disabilities, Bridget said she chose to go into the field not only to help other people, but to help her brother, knowing in her heart the day would come when they would be living life together again.  Over the years, Bridget has predominantly worked at AHRC and Camp Pa Qua Tuck, but now she is spending her days being a full-time caregiver and running her dream shop with Jimmy by her side.

Growing up, Bridget said her house was like a group home filled with neighbors, cousins, friends; who were eating over, or staying over, and it didn’t matter.  She said Jimmy always kept up, and now he has a plethora of friends from all walks of life surrounding him.  Throughout the years, Jimmy competed in the Special Olympics and has always been a social and happy person.  He loves Elton John, and his favorite song is Celebration by Kool & the Gang.  His favorite hobby is crossword puzzles; he usually has one with him everywhere he goes.

The highlight of Jimmy’s life came when he went to Austin, TX, to be a part of the 2005 Farrelly brother’s film, The Ringer, starring Johnny Knoxville, Katherine Heigl and Brian Cox.  The comedy surrounds the Special Olympics and tells the story of a man who joins the competition under false pretenses to help a friend in trouble, and ends up becoming a better person himself, while making lifelong friends along the way. 

Bridget said the opportunity came for Jimmy when their brother, Brendan, who is a friend of the Farrelly brothers told them about Jimmy, and they asked him to come down.  By the time Bridget and Jimmy got the call and arrived in Austin, a majority of the filming had wrapped, but that didn’t stop Jimmy from having the time of his life.  Bridget said you can see Jimmy in the outtakes after the movie on DVD, but it was behind the scenes with the Farrelly brothers during their time on set where she saw him having the most fun; laughing with the brothers and making people smile.

“They loved Jimmy,” she said.

Bridget, Mike and Jimmy, along with their entire family, love spending time together and are life-long Mets fans, so much so that the couple even named their daughter, Sheaugh, after the former Shea Stadium. Up until this year, Mike would take Jimmy to Florida for spring training every year.  In the spring of 2019, Mike, who is a Vietnam Veteran and served in the U.S. Army for three tours, was asked to send out the first pitch at the Mets final spring training game as part of a day honoring veterans in Port St. Lucie. 

In Jimmy’s eyes, he took it as his day to shine and Mike wanted to make that happen, so as fate would have it when Jimmy escorted him to the mound, Mike simply handed Jimmy the ball and let him go.  Before Mike knew it, he said Jimmy had the baseball positioned in his hands; throwing a strike right down the line. 

The list of things Jimmy loves about life is long and full.  During the summer, he is an avid outdoors person who loves to play cornhole and mini-golf and relax in the hot tub.  He loves to collect sticks for firewood, and recently thanks to hurricane Isaias, he has been happily spending his days taking walks through Barntique Village and picking up countless sticks while spending time at Brigadoon’s.

“Jimmy is all about goodness.  He is all about sharing, smiling and being social,” Bridget said.

She said Jimmy has always been about turning lemons into lemonade and he exemplifies that everywhere he goes.  Thanks to a loving family and a supportive community, Jimmy has had every opportunity to live the fullest life possible.  For Jimmy, competing in the Special Olympics and being a part of a movie that tied it all together are moments he does not forget.  While reminiscing about his favorite moments of the movie, he was proud to say he still remembers his line and said, “Let me win.  But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” the oath of the Special Olympics and a motto Jimmy seems to live by.

Brigadoon’s at Barntique Village can be found at 327 Montauk Hwy in Moriches, N.Y.

Pandemic Summer Gardening

Special Edition

By Amy Nicole Tangel

The summer of 2020 has seemingly become a season of gardening for many people as we seek ways to pass the time at home and make the most of it.  People who have always had a garden have grown bigger ones this year and people who have never gardened are trying it for the first time. For myself, I have always been a gardener, but this summer, I decided to go all-in and maximize my time at home by expanding my garden and learning from fellow gardeners to guide me along.

In years past, I grew my vegetables in pots out of necessity, and I was always left feeling like I was missing out by not having my garden in the ground. Having dogs and limited yard space was always my reason for not planting in the ground, but it really came down to putting the time in to and committing to the work it requires.

This past spring, I began thinking about exactly what I wanted to plant and how.  Throughout many seasons, I observed my backyard space and took note of exactly what area received the best sun for the longest periods of time by how the garden grew in size and what it produced.  I came to learn over time what shadows were cast on what objects when, how much shade I had in the morning to get things done while it was cool and how much light I had left before it was too dark to work anymore.

I decided I was going to keep it simple this year and really focus on just a few vegetables at a time to maximize the space I had, so I planted what I would eat the most of; zucchini, pickling cucumbers, snap peas, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes.  I started most of them inside from seed and brought a couple starter plants back home from a farm in upstate NY.

The time I have spent working on my garden this summer, has been different than years past as it has provided a peaceful focus which has been beneficial to me in countless ways.  The passion for my garden extended to other areas of my backyard as well, and my hibiscus is full of beautiful flowers and there are bees and butterflies everywhere.  Not only has it provided an overflowing of vegetables, the time dedicated to my garden has given me an inner-peace and an overall healthier living this summer.

Fresh salads, sautéed vegetables and zucchini bread have been plentiful, and as we near the end of August my cherry tomatoes and zucchini do not seem to be slowing down yet.  I often share what I harvest with friends and try to spread the goodness around any chance I can.  Being able to provide something good for others and having a garden master to mentor me along the way has been the icing on the cake.

I have been gardening since I can remember and learned from my parents and my grandfather, who was an avid gardener, and had a very full garden for years.  I have so many fond memories of pulling carrots and watching the pumpkins grow in his garden.  There was always a big harvest in the fall, and I would always be amazed at how many different vegetables he would jar and store in the basement.  On my mother’s side we have a family tradition of making pickles and we would gather every summer to make pickles galore.

Over the last decade, I have lost my mother and both of my grandmothers; leaving me with a huge void of traditions I knew and loved.  I feel close to my mother when I garden and it is a life-long gift she passed down to me, so I have tried to make the most of it in spite of the loss.

Last spring, I ran into a local musician at a charity event who I had written about years prior, and he shared with me he had recently made a life change to healthier living by creating an organic garden after having gastric bypass surgery.  A light bulb instantly went off, and I told Karl “BD” Reamer, I wanted to write about his garden in attempt to learn more and help his mission of community involvement.  His garden is an open door, and he welcomes members of the community to come help harvest and to take home fresh vegetables.

As a sign of the times this summer, the barter system has become very popular this season with Karl’s garden and people have been very creative in what they trade.  He said he is a member of various garden community pages on Facebook and through other people sharing they trade and learn from each other.  People have traded homemade pizzas, pies, bread, eggs and even wheel barrels.  He said people suggest to him all the time to sell his vegetables, but he does not want to. 

“I don’t exchange money.  I just don’t like doing that,” he said.

This summer I am grateful for having the time to build my garden and learn from Karl’s.  He is outside from dusk until dawn and his calendar says he is in the garden from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.  He has a shed with an outdoor kitchen area, so you are likely to enjoy a farm to fork meal or snack when you stop by.  I recently helped out at his farm and harvested mounds of wax beans.  In return, I received many lessons as always, and a delicious lunch from the garden.

As the summer gardening season begins to wind down, I am already searching for new fall harvests.  I am going to begin with radishes by planting seeds directly outside and harvesting them in about 30 days.  With seeds from Karl and extra woodchips from his farm to help keep moisture in the ground, I am ready to start preparing outside for fall.

Although I don’t want to rush what’s left of summer, I am excited for pumpkins, apples and cool nights.  Planting mums and changing leaf colors is not far away.  Until then, I will enjoy the last few weeks of my garden and be thankful for all it has provided.

The Power of Social Media

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Patio Pizza of St. James, NY, has been a family-owned and operated staple in this Long Island community feeding people for the past 43 years, and recently owner, Guy Caligiuri has been thrust into the public eye making national news after receiving a recent tweet of support for his business from the nation’s President.

A little over two weeks ago his whole world was turned around when a customer came into Patio Pizza restaurant and told one of his employees she would boycott and put an end to Guy’s business by spreading the word on social media if he did not take down a Trump 2020 flag hanging outside the back entrance to the pizza place. Having been in the food industry for a long time and after years of dealing with customers, he said he didn’t think too much of it, but within a very short time Guy began receiving notifications from people that in fact his name and business were being attacked on social media.

“It’s just hanging out in the back there.  You really have to go out of your way to see it,” he said.

In a sign of the times, Guy said he had decided to hang his flag discreetly in the back of his establishment after his wife expressed concerns about having it hanging at their home due to the possibility of it causing conflict on their block.  He said he did not want any trouble, but as an American citizen and a human being, he said he felt he had a right to express his opinion in a respectful manner and exercised his right to do so.

The next day, Guy said an impromptu rally of support formed in front of his restaurant leaving him feeling “blown away by the response and outpouring” from his community. People from all sides of the spectrum showed up to support the business.  Guy said he is just a person who loves his family and his community, and he wasn’t trying to offend anyone.  The following day he wrote a post on Facebook sharing his story of what had transpired and what it meant to him, and his post spread like fire.

“This was all in response to her post.  It was the community that got together to say, ‘hey, this is wrong, and we’ve got your back.’ I have a lot of friends in this town after 43 years,” he said.

Still in disbelief at how fast it all happened, Guy said before he knew it, he was on the phone with Fox News and was asked to be a guest on Varney & Co. to share his story.  On July 30, 2020, the pizza proprietor was interviewed by Stuart Varney during the Fox Business segment and within minutes of the interview a tweet came from President Trump’s Twitter account expressing his support of the establishment.

“Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.).  Great Pizza!!!” tweeted the President.

Thanks to the tweet, “People are coming from all over Long Island. From Montauk to Brooklyn,” he said.

In an ironic twist of fate, what started out as an attempt to bully and defame a person and their business, because of a difference in opinion, turned into an example of kindness and compassion from not only Guy’s community, but from across the country.  Guy said his initial reaction to the boycott attempt against his business on Facebook was disbelief.  He said he could not believe all of his years of service to the community was being threatened by someone who didn’t even know him, his family or any of the things he has done to help people in St. James.  Through it all, the Smithtown native said he is grateful most of all for the customers and his staff.  In the kitchen, Guy takes great pride in his cooks and said they have been dedicated to their careers with their lengths of employment starting at 17 years, topping out at 35 years and counting.  Patio Pizza was opened by Guy’s father in 1977 a few steps down the road from their current location on Lake Avenue, and throughout all the years, Guy said he has been dedicated to making sure he takes care of his employees and his customers.  On any given day you can find him stopping by seemingly every table to say hello and chatting with his customers while busing tables and doing whatever is needed to help his staff.

“They are at work and they are happy.  They are happy to be here.  If I prosper, they prosper,” he said.

Whether it’s hurricanes, blizzards, blackouts or floods, Guy said he is open through it all. When Hurricane Sandy hit, he walked from his house a mile and a half away and climbed over downed trees to open, and said with his two generators running, he had power and began feeding people.  He said it is important to him to make sure he is there for his community when they are in need.  Throughout the pandemic, Patio Pizza has contributed to nursing homes, Stony Brook ER, Long Island State Veterans Home and has supported many organizations in St. James throughout the years such as sporting events at Smithtown High School. 

“If they can’t cook, I’ll cook for them,” he said.

Aside from the pizza, Guy said the signature dish of Patio Pizza is his Chicken Cisco, an entrée of chicken, spinach and fresh mushrooms served over rigatoni in a pink sauce, but his eggplant is a quick second, followed by other customer favorites like their chicken parmigiana hero and turkey melt.  While you dine at Patio Pizza during the summer months, you can enjoy your meal at one of the many spacious and socially distanced outside patio tables with full-service waitstaff and a relaxed and uplifting atmosphere of the live music currently provided daily.

Family is at the root of everything to the father of five and grandfather of six.  As inspiration, Patio Pizza regularly hosts annual events such as “Cinderella Night” and “Superhero Night,” where the staff dresses in theme and families can bring their children dressed in costume for a family-filled time of pony rides, live music, and face painting.  Guy said it’s all about making kids happy and even though he is disappointed it cannot happen this year due to COVID, he is looking forward to next year.  Hanging on the wall in the restaurant is a mural of photos of countless people–family, friends, and customers who have touched Guy’s heart.  He said he is just a friendly guy who tries to be kind to others.

For more information about Patio Pizza you can visit them on Facebook or at http://www.patiopizzastjames.com.

Photo credit: Amy Nicole Tangel and Kate Fox