I am hard to classify. A local, yes, but more so, if that is possible. To explain the how is easy, but to put into words the feeling – that’s another matter altogether.
Here in the Hamptons, the strata consists of those with new money, old money, the renters, the day trippers, the tourists and the locals. And that’s where I come in. An anomaly, I am more than a local as I live in my 1760’s ancestral home – the 13th generation of the Foster family, a descendant of the early Southampton settler, Christopher Foster.
I grew up in the old farmhouse, with my grandmother, my parents and two older sisters. My mother was born there, as was her father, his father and his father. Although now gone, it is as if they are all here with me.
My family now rests beneath the fallow Flying Point soil, names and dates on weathered granite slabs. Parents, grandparents, sisters, nephew and many, many greats. I visit often, sometimes stopping by the small cemetery without an invitation, opening the simple roped gate latch. I bring gifts, like one would do when visiting a friend. Sometimes it’s a bouquet, a small flag, a palm cross, little notes and once a small moon shell I knew my mom would like.
I am no stranger to the cemetery, having fond memories of my parents tending my grandparents’ gravesite. Even now, more than 50 years later, the earthy smell of geraniums conjures up a small girl silently playing, while her mother trims the errant grass at the headstone base. The cemetery remains the same, although I am painfully aware of the recently planted headstones. The neighboring landscape, however, is a reminder of what’s different – surrounding fields, once so lush with cover crops of rye or acres of potato plants, now are home to huge weekend houses which seem so out of place and time. The roads were my playground, where my friends and I would ride bikes to Flying Point main beach or the cut, or down Wickapogue and back home again on Flying Point Road where the shacks of migrant workers once stood.
Often, it seems, all of the ancestors are with me at home. Not ghosts, per se, but a constant presence. I find myself wondering what their lives were like when they settled here all those centuries ago. I imagine the farmland leading all the way to the ocean, the house being built with timbers from trees felled on nearly lands, the long gone barns and farm animals, the dirt road leading to the mill, which now resembles a parking lot most days. What do they think of the renovations to the house? For that matter, what do they think of the changes to the Hamptons, not to mention our country and all the global happenings? It’s hard not to ask them, especially since their images are everywhere in sight – old photos of solemn men and women in carriages, gentlemen farmers with their horses, smoky miniature degarreotype portraits of many generations. I search their faces for hints as to who I might resemble. Sometimes when I am alone, I speak to them, hoping for answers to my many questions.
I still have many friends here from high school. They left, they came back and began lives of their own. But I do not know one who lives in their family homestead. I love the comfortable feeling that being “home” brings but yet some days and more often on quiet nights, it’s hard not to look in the mirror and wonder where did the girl go who grew up here, and who is the aging woman in the mirror.