Technically, she never quite became my mother-in-law, but that never stopped me from thinking of her that way. Multiple sclerosis had robbed her of her mobility and cancer had stripped her of her life, a life that ended too early. But disease and death are not what this story is about. This story is about love and life and Nancy’s Place in East Hampton.
Maybe you haven’t heard of it, most probably haven’t to tell the truth. It’s not a bar or a motel; it’s not a farmer’s market or a restaurant. Actually, it’s all of those things, wrapped up in one. It’s a bar because the liquor cabinet is always stocked, a motel because in the summer months, there are no vacancies, a farmer’s market because every morning there’d be Jerry in his garden picking out the good veggies for the day (complete in sweatpants held up with a belt, UGGs, and his giant farmer’s hat), and a restaurant because you never went hungry while staying there. It was Anna’s sister’s house and her favorite place to go; a place where if you looked outside at seven in the morning, there she’d be—sipping coffee, soaking in the sun’s rays, and playing Sudoku. Maybe she’d be eating a piece of crumb cake, but she’d definitely be smoking a cigarette. They were her friends; they were always there, especially in the morning hours when she was free to smoke them without judgment, without scorn. It was her only vice; one that she held onto until the day before she died when her daughter pleaded with her to stop, to live to see her wedding and know her children.
And by ten in the morning, Nancy’s Place would be humming with its inhabitants. Bagels, eggs, tomatoes, lox, coffee, and bloody marys would be in abundance. Maybe something from last night’s dinner would be out on the table in a Citarella container, something that you wouldn’t usually have with breakfast, but at Nancy’s Place you had it with breakfast and ate it without a second thought. Nancy’s boys, Dan and Sam would be in the pool already and everyone else would linger around the table, picking at food that had no business being in our stomachs, discussing what to do with our day. Now, certain activities had to be accomplished while visiting East Hampton, mini-golfing in Montauk, shopping in Sag Harbor, drinking at the Talkhouse, but none was more important than clamming in Napeague. It was Anna’s favorite thing to do out there. It afforded her the opportunity to wade in calm seawater, dig up dinner, and laugh with her loved ones. We would have contests to see who could dig up the most and who could dig up the biggest. Stefanie (my wife now, girlfriend then) would love to watch her mom in those moments, moments that you wish could last forever. There’s a picture of her that we have during one of these days: on all fours with one arm up, a huge grin on her face, and in her hand, is a clam—the biggest one.
Nancy’s Place isn’t the same without her; her absence is felt, her energy is missed. Regret, guilt, and loss hang like specters. Good times are still had but it’s different somehow. A part of you still expects to see her out there on the deck smoking that cigarette. Anna loved it out there and loved being out in that bay, digging up happiness. So on her birthday this year we’re going to do something that she would have loved. We’re going to scatter her ashes across that body of water and then… go clamming of course.