By Heather Buchanan
He went there to get away from a woman. Thirty years later I went there to get away from a man.
My father discovered a small beach cottage onPotato Roadwhen he searched for a summer retreat fleeing a relationship inManhattanhe knew had no future. Decades later I was travelling as far away as fromLos Angelesand my doomed marriage as I could without joining NASA (which is no place for a girl with motion sickness.)
My father bought the bungalow onPotato Roadin the 1950’s, shaving the last few hundred dollars off the purchase price with a bridge game bet. This was before Sagaponack properties were outlined in white like so many fallen crime victims in real estate aerial ads. The dead end road did save my father from his dead end relationship and it later became the place he proposed to my mother and returned to with my twin sister and me at only three weeks old.
A hand painted sign (once with the “e” added in honor of Dan Quayle) announced the overgrown private road where simple shingled cottages lined the dunes, most without any heat or Viking Stoves. Our only concern was if the stairs to the beach washed away in winter storms in which case my dad would ask friends for sunset cocktails and hand them a hammer to get going.
As I put my feet on the cement slab saved from the 60’s with my baby footprints, so many memories descended on me. The times when my sister and I would leave a quarter in the potato field for our friend the farmer Tony if we “borrowed” a few spuds for dinner. The times my mother and her stewardess friends would bury us all us kids up to our necks in the sand which I later learned was a great mommy hangover cure. Sneaking down to play with the neighbors black lab who had just had puppies. My dad in his zuit suit building mini horse jumps for us to play with. The amazing driftwood collages he would create for each of our birthdays. A Karen Carpenter song “Close To You” suddenly playing on the record player in the middle of the night when the electricity returned after a storm.
My father became known as the Mayor of Potato Road dealing with all the disparate elements which ranged from a lovely man who sported a scar from the war who would welcome us with a coke with lemon and his amazing kite collection to aHollywoodproducer who actually hid Serpico in hisPotato Roadbeach house. Our karin terriers would chase down the helicopter that Roone Arledge used to occasionally land next door as well as the old truck of a handyman who became addicted to my Mom’s prophetic woo woo wand readings. You know, the usual childhood.
The beach house was always our safe haven. Despite our insurance agent’s incredulity one winter someone did come over and sawed the deck and stole the hot tub. But mostly we knew if there was any danger it was really the ocean which had the power to erase it all. Over our beloved tenure, the house had to be moved back twice, ultimately resting right beside the now pavedPotato Road.
It was the Mayor ultimately who decided when it was time to leavePotato Road. The old man decided the sea had won and it was time to cash in that ultimate Bridge bet from fifty years ago.
The day of the move is etched in my mind. On our last day at Potato Road there were a heartbreaking set of decisions — putting Dad’s driftwood collection of over forty years in a dumpster, mistaking my mother’s wardrobe for garbage (learning Hefty Bags don’t make great luggage the hard way), and saying good bye to the best place we had ever known.
On that exhausting day my sister and I would take turns moving things out of the house and lying down on the living room floor in between. We left one chair in the living room for my aging Bichon Frise and the bed in the bedroom for dad. The second to last thing we took out was my dogCocoand the last thing was my father.