We “walked into the party, like we were walking onto a yacht.” The Devon Yacht Club to be exact. And we weren’t members. Hamptons summer vacation circa 1972. It was the Fourth of July and I was one of five children clamoring for fireworks, and my Dad did not disappoint.
My summers in East Hampton, Springs to be precise, were magical and are the source of indelible memories that my siblings and I never tire of recounting. Spousal eye rolls and envious sighs notwithstanding. We began as renters every summer on Gerard Drive (please don’t call it Old Fireplace Road), and eventually bought a one bedroom Bonacker bungalow bulk headed above the splendor and bounty of Gardiner’s Bay. A more beautiful strip of land – bordered by briny Accabonac harbor and glorious Gardiner’s bay – does not exist. Balmy, breezy days were awash in that singular scent of Rosa rugosa, salty sea air, and melting road tar, along with a soundtrack of raucously laughing gulls.
This particular Fourth of July was hot and my Dad dispatched us to catch whitebait for lunch. When we lifted the net out of the water it was thrilling to see all of those jumping, tiny black eyed silver fish. From there my Dad would take them and quickly bring them to their fate – a big bowl of milk. Chins propped on hands, we gathered around to witness their death throes in that sea of white. Once we reported their post mortem to Dad, their next stop was a dredge in seasoned flour, and finally fried till crisp in olive oil. They were ceremoniously dropped onto newspapers and showered in salt and lemon juice. We would eat them head to tail and my father pronounced them Italian potato chips.
It was a perfect desultory summer day which was rare for us. Our dad usually had us engaged in clamming, fishing, and that particular summer an ongoing project of collecting only the most perfect little white stones we could find along the beaches of Gerard Drive for our driveway. On the day he finally pronounced the project “done,” we were sure that on nights with a full moon, the glow of that driveway was visible from Venus. On most days we would also be responsible for baiting the lobster traps with bluefish heads, and the Have-a-heart Trap with carrots so we could marvel at chipmunks or rabbits or an elusive opossum up close. So perhaps the comparative idleness of this Fourth of July made us five particularly restless. Or maybe it was the random and all too eager premature pops of fireworks in the distance. We wanted to see some that night.
As the afternoon waned, dusk threatened to fall along with our hope for pyrotechnics. But then my father emerged in his dapper seersucker blazer, followed by my beautiful mother in a flowing and flowery summer stunner she’d snagged at the Mark Fore and Strike sale. This purchase was a special indulgence- we knew something was up. Dad told us to get dressed as if we were going to church and get in the car. He didn’t have to ask twice. We drove to the Devon Yacht club where Mercedes and Jaguars were already parked along the road for what looked like miles. He eased our “wood” sided Country Squire into place. We were very curious and very silent as we followed his lead. Beautiful people and an even more beautiful beach greeted us, and we watched our parents glide off into the crowd of cocktails and iced crustaceans.
We did our best to act naturally, but felt more like Nick Carraway at a Gatsby party – in awe of it all. My Dad found us later and bestowed a plate of grilled lollypop lamb chops upon us. There was never a meal more delicious than a hand held grilled lamb chop on that beach. At sunset. Fireworks assuredly on deck. When darkness fell, we took our place among all the other children on that long pier, feet dangling, tilting our lamb chop smeared faces up to that fantastic firework sky. The world was alive with color and flash, and I felt like I, too, could burst.
After the booming finale, we found our parents sipping espresso out of little Devon Yacht Club insignia demitasse cups. My Dad considered it a souvenir, or maybe a talisman, and today that cup holds salt on my kitchen table. We walked back to our car in the velvet Hampton’s darkness under impossibly starry skies and a cacophony of crickets, tumbling in on each other in perfect familial happiness. Driving home, I remember listening to the somehow comforting intermittent tapping of my father’s left foot engaging the high beams, while over the radio Sammy Davis Jr. assured us that “The Candy Man can.”