A Different Experience

Written By: Eleanor  Gaus

I have been coming to East Hampton since 1990.  East Hampton impressed me  the first time I got off the bus after my week’s work at Lenox Hill Hospital. I had read so much about the wonderful beach and the quaintness of the town and how it was attracting people.  It sounded exciting.

I read about the Maidstone Arms Hotel and decided on staying there. I found it impressive when they picked me up at the Jitney stop.  I had no idea where I was going or what it would be like. I was alone and in a blur but I was ready to explore and go on an adventure.

The next morning, after breakfast, I walked through the town. I was taken in immediately by the openness of the streets. The vision of sky through the trees struck me like lightening. In addition, it was indeed a quaint town.  I noticed the Windmill Deli because it was simple and I remember thinking that it just did not exactly fit in. The ice cream shops were so basic. But that was the beauty of it all. It was put together by the people who lived there.

The beach was beautiful and swept me away into dreams of far off places as I looked out over the vast and sprawling blue ocean while being on the safe shore. I would watch an occasional boat passing in the distance and try to imagine where it was going….   I walked up the strip from the hotel along the tree-lined broad streets to the beach to get exercise, the vision and smell the fresh air. The experience of being taken back to another time when the old, well-maintained cars would pass occasionally was historical. THE PLACE WAS MAGICAL AND ORIGINAL.  After I went back to New York City and felt the heat and passed the dark buildings, I felt the contrast so sharply.

I observed as lovers had elegant tents pitched on the ocean front, eating catered meals in the evening dusk. It was so romantic!  It was like being in a movie or a novel, but would be better in real life. I passed horses along the way at Dune Alpin. I liked that there was a camp for children.  It was interesting that the town attracted writers. I liked the feel of it all.

Inevitably, I got married in 1993. I returned with my husband and then with my  son. We enjoyed ourselves – became regulars at the Penny Whistle Toy Store, where my son played with the trains and where we bought original board games and outstanding puppets. We enjoyed shopping at the The Barefoot Contessa, especially on Monday’s half-price sale. We had occasional dinners at Nick and Toni’s where the reservations were so exacting. Babettes was for Sunday brunch and Gosman’s Seafood Restaurant, among the seagulls in Mantauk, became a must do each time. The combination of the views, salty air and birds had won us over.

The bookstore in East Hampton kept us entertained into the late evening and the park was definitely a stop-off with children. The Maidstone Arms and the beautiful swans across the street always make a good first impression. It is a chef’s delight, like myself, to stop at the vegetable stands and bring home rich flavors from the farm. The vineyards  just add more beauty.

We met many people.  We would watch the fireworks on July 4th with friends and eat lunches overlooking the ocean. It was surreal.

Then we returned with our second son and bought more one-of-a-kind games and puppets at Penny Whistle and they played with more trains. One time we stayed somewhere else, also very nice. My second son was still only about nine years old. That day, my little scientist studied the pond life of fish and turtles and then we went to the beach. We made the trip without our nanny for the first time. My boys were certainly rambunctious and climbed trees like monkeys. Pretty amazing!

I am usually like a hawk with eagle eyes. But I was tired and my guard was down for the first time. All of a sudden I saw two lifeguards running into the water with such velocity. They were like sharks. One of them threw out this bagel on a long rope. The other dove into the ocean. I spotted the activity and my intuition was that it could only be my younger son, Brian. I ran like a jet and watched them swim out to rescue him. If not for the lifeguards, my son could have surely drowned.  My husband and my older son had been with him. The waves were winding around them and taking them out further and further and they could not help each other. Luckily, they were stronger. But there was no defense for Brian. It was turbulence in the ocean. The twisting and turning could not be avoided. Brian started to drown under the waves.  I almost died that moment.  His father and brother could not reach him even though they were close by. The waves just threw them. I realized that he had gotten taken into the “washer dryer” twisting and turning of the ocean.  There was no way out for him.

It was a scene. I died ten deaths in those few minutes.  These two lifeguards were strong and the power in their bodies was iron. They brought him back. I could not believe their strength and I thanked them for their high level of responsibility and capability. They were really doing their job and could be relied on when I failed to oversee what was going on and was unaware of the danger. I have never been more grateful in my life.  They were absolutely amazing heroes!  My life would have never been the same if Brian had been taken out to sea and I would never forgive myself.  I never neglected my children at the ocean ever again or went there tired. The lesson was huge. My son was waterlogged and we got him to the doctor.  He was going to be o.k.

I had loved the ocean and had ridden the waves myself. It was such an experience of freedom and the waves felt cold and fresh.  However, I started realizing that the waves had too much control and that I need to pay attention to that message. Now when I go to the ocean it is a different experience.  I love the beautiful and vast blue ocean that is home to the pelicans, the sun- bathers and those who can handle the ocean well. The kites and dogs in the early evening with the easy breeze are an added pleasure and it is a place with so many other healing treasures.

Later that day, I got a parking ticket in the parking lot in town. We were so disoriented by the episode at the beach, that somehow we also misplaced the beach pass we were given at the hotel. The manager told us that would cost us five hundred dollars to replace it.

In my almost defeated state, I realized that my parking ticket had been a mistake due to the ticket machine, so I went to the Police Station in town to let them know.  While I was there, I mentioned that we were being charged five hundred dollars for a replacement of a resident beach pass. The Police let me know that it should cost a small fee to purchase a duplicate.

I went back to that hotel and let the manager know that I happened to have been  at the Police Station for a parking ticket and they told me….

She said that “I did not know you were that smart”.

I must have looked awfully trusting to her originally. Nevertheless, I felt good that I actually ended up playing that game so well.

Believe it or not, I still love going to the East Hampton.  I have seen many changes over the years….from the quaint town with the original townspeople of whom many were of more modest means, to the influx of millionaires/celebrities and the final change to Tiffany’s, Citerella and Ralph Lauren.  It is not that I don’t love these stores…….I just liked it better when it was back to the real deal and not an over-commercialized place.  It was like going somewhere away from it all, not toward it again and again.  It was so interesting to talk to the original townspeople and find out their real stories before being taken over by this influx realizing that this beautiful place was so valuable. However, the nature of East Hampton still beckons me as well as the charm of Guild Hall-so small, yet meaningful with its entertainment that brings so much talent, creativity and originality together.  I just have to be more aware and enjoy things on a different level as a more seasoned traveler.