A Home in the Hamptons
We have in have a grey house with white trim like many other Hampton homes, but this house is unlike any other Hampton home because the people and life that have flowed in and out of it are extraordinary yet common. Perhaps so, as they do not shun reality but enjoy trips into the imagination with always a poke at some fun. They can be ludicrous yet grounded, cheerily warm and trusting yet astute in observation, relaxed in demeanor yet hard working.
Nature invades the house whose windows are almost always open. Lace curtains billow in the breeze. Getting up in the morning, the transition from bed to front lawn with a cup of coffee often starts the day.
There’s nothing fancy about this house. In fact, it has no heating or air conditioning system, and except for the extension we put on, it has no insulation. It’s still a summer home, a cottage by the sea. It’s walls are of wainscoting, all wood, even the ceilings. I feel like I am on a ship. The kitchen is a galley and was never remodeled .The floor in the living room is brick, indicating that this room used to be a patio. This house is my father’s hands. He scraped off every ounce of white paint on the walls and ceilings, fixed the plumbing, built a “bird cage” for us to dine in outdoors (leaving a tree growing through the screen roof), flattened out a bocce court, and built a deck to hold a Jacuzzi with bay view.
We found this house in the Spring of 1988 hidden behind a forest of straggly pine, plastic on its windows, toilet in the hallway, paint so peeled it covered the floors, …by sheer luck. My mother and I emerged from our broker’s car and seeing the ruin before us, declared “It’s perfect for Dad”. We were house hunting in the “Hamptons”, but not knowing exactly what “the Hamptons” were, and the map confusing us more with towns marked “Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton”, we decided “Hampton Bays” must the “The” Hamptons and pulled off on Exit 65 of Sunrise Highway. That day we looked at two other homes before this one, and bought it. Well not exactly that quick but we decided to buy it that day. The owner who had not lived in it for years, had killed a few prior deals with buyers. He gave us hurdles to jump through that were not for the light hearted.
My eight year old son and I, its first inhabitants slept on hard futons in an empty bedroom that first weekend. A neighbor who saw us was astounded we spent the night (apparently as vagabonds). Needless to say it took months and months to clean up and repair the basics, and every moment was a joy. The seagulls cried delight and bounced shells off our neighbors roof. The salt water intoxicated our senses and mixed with fresh cut lawn and the scent of wild flowers.
This house sits back from Shinnecock Bay with an easement letting us drag kayaks, fishing poles or just ourselves up to the ever moving water of this ocean bay. From the easement, second floor balcony and jacuzzi the water views are clear and tranquil. The yard is spacious and quiet, harboring birds, rabbits and an occasional deer crossing.
A golden brown oak table has been with our family for decades and made its way into this home’s dining room surrounded by its familiar captain chairs. Being circular there was always room for one more at the table with a squeeze over to the left or right. The only one who presides over this table is whoever is speaking at the time, and there is never a shortage of speakers. Tales of tall and small amuse (and sometimes confuse). But what my parents did and do at this table is love each and everyone who sits down with them.
We found out that the former name of Hampton Bays was “Good Ground” and no wonder. The first time I drove up onto the Ponquogue Bridge and looked out and saw bay stretching to either side and ocean in front, I breathed “This is God’s Country”. I still do it every time I cross this bridge and see commercial fishing boats lolling at dock, silhouettes of people clamming knee deep in the low tide, and the sea grass gently bending to the current’s flow. Ahead I can then see white caps of waves crashing towards sand dunes extending as far as the eye can see, uninterrupted by man. No other town in the Hamptons rivals the magnitude of this natural beauty.
History has it that this grey house was a farm house that was transported by truck or trailer and was first used by David Dubinsky as a fishing cabin whenever the heat of his running NYC’s International Ladies Garment Workers Union during the Great Depression became too much. I’ve read that his work forced him to have to deal with gangsters such as Rothstein, Legs Diamond and Little Augie in the days of Lucky Luciano. Years later he had the property divided into two lots and a home was built closer to the water for his daughter to live in. She was gone a few years before we moved in, but the Dubinsky open property arrangement between the two lots caused us some problems with use and easements rights; nothing that a few attorneys and some court intervention could not cure.
I think the Dubinsky’s loved this house. The gardens that were uncovered over time showed great care and variety. Many people who visit think this house is haunted. I tell them it’s true, but it’s a good ghost. That usually brings up a chilled smile; guests never know who’s kidding and when. Gizmo is nailed up on the corner ceiling of the dining room, next to the shark teeth and above the glass ball buoy hanging over the alligator photo.
My Grandmother, now deceased, loved this house and each time her favorite bush blooms we think of her. My Aunt Mary died in the house one lone tragic night (from an undiagnosed health issue). She remains with us in spirit and some belongings, like her bear collection, 18th century reclining women art pieces, and the stuffed cat hanging by its tail from the curtain rod.
Guests approaching the house can ring a captains bell, there being no door bell, bang the door a bit, or just come in. But often they will be greeted by my mother and father sitting on their decades old wicker rocking chairs and be regaled with hellos and how are yous and entertained with stories.
Mother: “Jim dear, he already heard that one”.
Father: A quick look on the half beat as the story continues. “…..you see, it was the Battle of the Bulge and I did take six Germans prisoner, but I wouldn’t accept a medal for it, no way, as they could have killed me anytime. They were happy for me to escort them into American lines. But that reminds me of the time I ate peaches and was the last to leave with my outfit and the guy in front of me was shot by a sniper. See, peaches saved my life”.
Mother: “Are you staying for dinner? We have plenty of food. You can stay over. Which room would you prefer, the Tahiti room, George Washington room or the bunk room? She then listens quietly and most earnestly for the next ten minutes to all that is going on around her. In fact, it might be imagined that her steady loss of hearing may be due to the overuse of the organ itself. “Well, stay as long as you like. How long will you be staying? We’ll miss you when you go. Do you play bridge?
Father: “Would you like me to play the horn for you? He picks up his trumpet and give a rendition of Downtown Strutter’s Ball. “Name any song, I’ll play it if I know the tune. I play by ear.”
As evening draws in, my parents, now both using walkers, sit on the porch and watch the backlight of red from the setting sun between the trees to the West. The onshore breeze is cooling, soft call of gulls in the distance can be heard, and a sip of wine is tribute to the day drawing to an end. As the “kids” come back to Last Lane from the beach, the barbeque is lit, and a game of wiffle ball is started in the backyard by the more energetic. Soon family and friends will gather once again round the dinner table to share the ephemeral joy of a summer’s eve and the good luck to have found this broken down grey house, now a home, on Good Ground, in God’s Country.