BE MY GUEST
Recently, I stumbled upon the books, the stack of my assorted guestbooks that I’ve kept for seventeen years in the main floor bathroom of our Southampton home. They hadn’t been moved or looked at for years, except for the purpose of cleaning around them. Something compelled me to pick one of them up and thumb through the pages. I thought to myself, Wow. This is a memoir! Not just a list of names, moments, and sentiments, but a full arc with a beginning, middle, and end, the story of our life in the Hamptons. As I sat in relief, I was captivated.
From the guest bathroom I was immediately transported to 1996. I am 17 years younger and carry my eighteen-month-old baby boy on my hip. I open the beautifully wrapped gift that my mother has given us as a housewarming gesture. It’s an ivory leather-bound book with 1996 inscribed on the cover. She says I should put it in the guest bathroom for all our visitors to write in. What an ingenious idea! I look forward to creating a collection of these books during our summer retreats.
I smiled at that beginning and came back to the present. I looked around at the ocean blue floral wallpaper and gazed into the mirror on the opposite wall. I couldn’t believe how the years have flown by. So much has changed. I looked back down at that very first guestbook, from our earliest Southampton days. I wondered how the childish scrawl of my three children had matured so quickly into beautiful script by the end of the book. I yearned to turn back the clock.
1996: FROM YOUR BESTEST KIDS….
“I had so much fun today at Coopers Beach, building sand castles and eating hot dogs from our thermoses.’
“I caught two fishies today in the pond and I want to catch more tomorrow…Please, Daddy!”
I couldn’t leave the bathroom. I was glued to the guestbooks. Who would have thought that what began as something of a joke—sharing writing while on the toilet—would have evolved into such a tradition? My eyes welled up with tears as I read the playful entry from our dear friend who soon after tragically died in 9/11. His appreciative words about the Hamptons and our first house party are poignant:
JULY 1997: FIRST HOUSE PARTY
“We love your bathroom! (Don’t ask why I came in here with Jill) This party is just the cherry on the cake after the fireworks display over the bay. What a weekend! Mesmerized on your deck, watching the colorful explosions in the star-filled skies was truly sensational. Can we make a reservation every July 4th for the rest of our lives?”
I savored his memory, but the bitter irony of his entry gave me a chill—wanting to celebrate Independence Day for the rest of his life here in the Hamptons, and then his American life robbed from him that day in the Fall of 2001. I recognized that no matter how much this place is a safe haven to me, not even the Hamptons could protect us from the dangers of life.
I continued to read. One particular author was constant and reliable: My sister. Her family. Our closest friends. She came every summer to enjoy our slice of heaven.
LABOR DAY: SEPTEMBER 2000
“Sis, thank you for another glorious weekend out east. This place is like Camelot! Celebrating our anniversary with the entire family here is priceless. The Shinnecock Powwow was a blast! Let’s make this a Labor Day tradition!
I’m going to stay in here reading as long as I like, I thought. Surrounded by water, in the water closet, these treasured records in hand. A lifetime of memories.
I read on. Our parent’s entries are always inspirational. Their words exude pride and gratitude, but most of all they impart years of wisdom. As they age, they have a keen appreciation for the smaller things in life. Family. Children. Grandchildren. Sunsets. Sunrises. Health. Each other.
“To our children…our pride and joy…
This is Shangri-La. To wake up each morning to bright sunlight reflecting over the blue water, and to look forward to an exquisite orange/pink/purple sunset night after night…well, it doesn’t get better than this! Thank you for sharing your Hampton’s home with us. We feel blessed each and every day to have you and our grandchildren in our lives.”
I smiled at the entries from our ‘big chill’ crew. This group of friends has been connected since high school and college. Their visit is one of the highlights of every summer.
“There’s nothing like the gift of friendship! I am not sure how many years I’ve added to my life from laughing, how many alcoholic beverages I‘ve consumed or how many pounds I’ve gained this weekend. (But who cares!) Whether it’s our home-cooked breakfast extravaganza or pigging out at the Hampton Maid, it’s always absolutely perfect! Don’t want to leave!”
I finally came to the last guestbook, the most recent one. There are hardly any entries from the summer of 2012. It was a somber season and vastly different than the summers before. My sister, our most treasured and consistent guest, was no longer able to enjoy Southampton with her husband. Just before the start of summer, her husband informed her that he was leaving her and their three children for another woman. She found solace in our Hampton hideaway and came out weekend after weekend to heal.
I was told to ‘look beyond the crashing waves to smooth seas beyond.’ And here I am. Back to a place filled with decades of memories, images of happy, silly, carefree times; children romping, innocence. As I look out the window I see smooth water, breathe in the salt air, and witness a majestic sunset. For a moment, I am at peace. Hopeful.
My guest sign-in books have painted a picture. In their fragmented form, they have told an entire story. Southampton has been a refuge, a delightful retreat for my family and my friends. It has been a place where you can laugh, cry, relax, and reflect. And through it all, it’s peaceful and magical. Unlike words that are written in sand, which are swept away with the changing tides, these words and memories are forever etched.
It is the beginning of the season, 2013. A brand new guestbook sits on the white table to the left of the toilet. On its periwinkle blue cover, centered under the sweetly painted beach scene, the words ‘GUESTS… PLEASE SIGN IN’ are hand printed.
My son, who I carried on my hip 17 years earlier, has returned for the summer after completing his freshman year at college. He asks if his entire pledge class can spend the weekend in Southampton. We are blessed with 20 handsome, bright, charismatic young men in our home to kick off the season. Most have traveled from all over the country to experience the Hamptons for the very first time. One of them emerges from the guest bathroom and politely asks, “Mrs. Tarica, would it be all right if I sign the guestbook? I see that it’s new.” It doesn’t take me more than a second to reply enthusiastically, “Of course you can. That’s why it’s there!”