East Hampton: The Summer I Was Five
Leaning out from the kitchen window my mom calls me. There is a strain in her voice. It is 1943, wartime. The men including my father are gone, far away. She, with her sister, my aunt Nat, has rented a house for the summer in East Hampton on Lily Pond Lane. There is a new baby, my sister Carolanne, named for Carol, my mother. I don’t remember her at all that summer, but my mother is in the house so maybe she is taking care of her.
I’m not doing anything. Well, I’m watching my three-year old brother playing in the driveway with dirt and sand. He has some orange trucks and scoops sand with one of them to make a road for his three little cars. I’m watching him because I don’t have anything of my own to play with.
“Beth, run to the beach and get Aunt Nat. Tell her there’s a phone call for her.”
Pleased to be asked to do something responsible, I rush to the giant hedge that faces the beach. Scraping my arms and bare legs I push through a space I’ve made from earlier forays to the beach. I like short cuts. I pull twigs from my blond braids. Running past sea grass taller than I, the sweet smell envelopes me.
A group of women are sitting on folding chairs. Most have towels in hand and are wiping off toddlers of various ages who are dripping with a mixture of wet sand, suntan oil and runny noses. The women all seem to be talking at once, but my aunt has the loudest voice. She sits up gesticulating commandingly. I go behind her not waiting to say, “Excuse me.” I feel very important as I tap her sun-browned shoulder. “Mom says to come quick. You have a phone call.” My aunt wastes no time. She lopes off the beach down the road and I hear the kitchen door slam as I follow around the hedge behind her.
My cousin, Bruce, peels into the driveway spraying sand as he brakes. He hops off his bike swinging a leg over the bar and springing off one peddle all in a single motion.
“Wanna’ come into town with me, Big Boy?” he calls over to my brother. Danny is still small enough to sit in the bike basket with his legs hanging over the front. Bruce likes giving him this thrill. Danny jumps up and Bruce brushes him off a bit and scoops him into his agile thirteen year-old arms. He is tall and skinny. I wish it was me getting a ride. My brother has huge brown eyes that seem to get him all kinds of favors out of my reach.
Bruce puts him down.
“Oh, wait, I have to tell your mom.”
He comes back out complaining, “Well, now we have a list of things to get at the store. Can you hold on to them if I take you with me?”
I say, “No, he’s too little.”
Bruce laughs, “ I’ll sling the bag over my shoulder. We’ll manage.” He plops Danny in the basket.
As they disappear down the road, my mom comes out.
“Come on, put these on.” She holds out a pair of underpants, white shorts and a white blouse. She helps me strip off my suit and holds out each piece of clothing in order so I can dress in a hurry.
“We’re a little late. Rosemary will be there already. I said I’d help her today.”
Every day all summer I go several houses down Lily Pond Lane to the dancing school where my mom’s good friend, Anita Zahn teaches girls and a few boys how to perform the beautiful dances she learned from her teachers, Irma and Elizabeth Duncan, sisters of the famous Isadora. I had heard about Isadora Duncan my whole life.
Both my mother and Anita had been dance students in Austria where Isadora’s sisters had a school. Anita came from Germany to live in New York City where she started her own classes in a studio and ran a summer program in East Hampton with Mary Shambaugh, her pianist and Rosemary Beenk, her assistant. To us they were Mary and Binky.