Cupid at the Privet Hedge

Written By: Terry  Staverman

“Where’s East Hampton?” I asked a friend.

“Somewhere out on the Island, I think.  Why?”

Having recently learned of East Hampton, but knowing little else other than it was a beach resort; I was browsing the Village Voice classifieds for Summer rental shares – beach resort being the motivating factor.  It was early Spring 1972. Summer, my favorite season, was beckoning through the curtains of April showers, and occupying much of my thoughts of how not to be in the city on hot and steamy weekends.

It was almost a year since separating from my husband as I waited for the finalization of a non-contested divorce from a senseless marriage that ate up most of my 20s.  The Women’s Liberation movement, in full throttle at the time, had stirred my consciousness to new thoughts and ideas.  It was a heady time for a newly emancipated young woman shedding the relics of 19th century puritanical constraints.  But just for the Summer I fantasized about a beach, meeting new people, and just chillin’ out.

There were several ads for rental shares in East Hampton. During the first call I was given a brief summary of the splendors of the Hamptons: beaches, nightlife, parties, clubs, and the totally amazing singles scene.  “We’re not far from the laundry,” said one guy.  Why did he think I’d be bringing my laundry out there?  I soon learned The Laundry was the preeminent singles club in the Hamptons.

After attending a few meetings with the organizers of their respective rental houses, and with potential housemates, I joined a group house in Georgica, East Hampton.

Looking out the car window of my ride, the formerly unbeknownst Hamptons emerged recalling memories of my early teen years in western New Jersey among corn and dairy farms, when my family relocated there from Brooklyn.  As we passed by the farm lands the familiarity of the scents and sights made me realize how much I loved being in the country.  It was Saturday, Memorial Day Weekend.

The house was a lovely Cape Cod hidden behind a tall Privet hedge.  The furnishings were clean and comfortable in a decorative style common in rental houses that would become known as “shabby chic” decades later.  Friendly and congenial housemates provided gaiety in the bustling activities of greetings, exploring the house and grounds, and general comradery of great expectations for the season ahead.

After unpacking and settling in, a roommate and I got a ride to the public tennis courts.  We hit balls for a while and then mingled for a while cruising for a date that night, when she caught the eye of a guy with a sporty red convertible, who eagerly volunteered to drive us back to our house with me folded in half and stuffed into what served as a back seat.

Sunday – A group of us went to Main Beach, sardonically referred to as “Asparagus Beach,” for the predominately singles crowd preferring to stand most of the time – the better to see and be seen.   Intent upon obtaining the first coat of the perfect tan I wished to achieve, I spent most of the time lying down in a valley of legs.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day and I was enjoying that beautiful beach, hanging out with my new friends, and falling in love with East Hampton.

Most of us were having dinner at the house rather than dining out that evening.  There was talk of a party somewhere later on and I, along with several housemates, had planned to go.  With newly sun blushed cheeks, my dark chestnut hair blown dry, long and straight like Cher’s, and dressed in a black crew neck sweater over snug, hip-hugger jeans – I looked pretty cute.

Moments before the call came that dinner was ready three guys came to the house, one of whom knew the organizer of our house.  After initial greetings they were shown to the living room.  I’d barely noticed them.  It was late in the evening when we finally sat down to eat.  By then I’d become tired and decided to skip the party and head to bed with a book after dinner.

Sometime between bites of grilled steak I happened to glance toward the living room when, suddenly, as if waiting for me to turn his way, one of the visitors leaned forward and directed a piercing gaze at me.  Hmmm, I thought, let’s check him out over an after dinner cigarette.

The chair next to him was quickly taken up by one of the other gals, the only other separated us with a side table.  I lit my cigarette.  Just as one of the other visiting guys was moving toward my direction, Mr. Piercing Gaze abruptly turned to me and introduced himself.  There followed a brief and intense Q&A session concerning matters of relationship status, children, religious ideology, job descriptions, and most important, geographical proximity of both home addresses – pertinent information gathered and dissected in nano-seconds to determine moving ahead, or not, conducted in flirtatious verbal foreplay.  His gaze hardly shifted but mine rose and fell between his gorgeous blue eyes and full, sexy mouth.  The entire interview seemed to last no more than fifteen minutes when he and his friends got up to leave.  At the door he turned to me, smiled, waved, and left me wondering why he never asked for my phone number.  Well, he had enough information to find me if he wanted to.

Memorial Day – Completely smitten with Mr. Piercing Gaze my head was stuffed with nothing other than thoughts of him and our brief meeting.  Much of the day was spent relaxing with several housemates in the backyard before reluctantly heading back to the city.

Back at the office on Tuesday it was late in the afternoon when, after giving up ever hearing from him, he finally called.  We’d made a date for lunch the next day; as it happened we both had previous commitments involving theatre tickets for that evening.  I hardly ate anything so absurdly besotted by then I barely knew where I lived.

He invited me to join him at the house he was renting with a friend in Tuckahoe, Southampton.  An offer I happily accepted after selling my share in the East Hampton house, as did my former tennis roommate who went off with the guy with the sporty red convertible.

Alas, the seductiveness of a Summer Romance, passions aglow in the heat and succulent humidity, amidst the glistening, enchanting Hamptons, will occasionally collude to make witless the lesser psyches of ordinary mortals.  We’d spend lazy weekends sleeping late after making love throughout half the night; languorous days sunning and swimming at Coopers Beach.  We explored the back roads and charming villages all the way out to Montauk, and discovered wonderful, pre-celebrity chef, restaurants.

Falling in love and discovering this magical place made for wishing the season would never end.  When finally it did end I was completely enraptured with Mr. Blue Eyes and the entire East End in equal measure; so completely enraptured I ignored a portentous warning blip that would become an unresolvable issue leading to our eventual breakup.

As for the prospect of marriage, neither of us was eager to chance it again.  It held no mystery for me and besides, there were those nascent plans for my future.  Houston was booming throughout the 1970s.  There was a desperate need for personnel; clericals, secretaries, mid-level management – an alluring adventure for a new beginning in a different city, as different from New York as another world.

After suffering through bad marriages we both harbored much skepticism; simmering anxieties percolated through intense discussions causing at least one breakup – after which we surrendered our angst and were married the following February.  Five years later we bought a modest house in Noyac, had a child the following year, sold the house in Noyac and bought the one I still keep in Shinnecock Hills.  We had many wonderful, happy years together.  The child is a grown woman now living too far away on the West Coast.

Although there remain vapors of happy and sad memories haunting this house, and roaming the Hamptons along with me, I find contentment in the mystically restoring essence of Mother Nature, and grateful that much of her remains wild and dense throughout the Hamptons to the farthest end of Montauk.

Liberated, once again, I revel in the freedom to pursue my interests and creative endeavors.  There are a few old friends, and a few new ones.

A twenty minute drive brings me to beautiful world class beaches and fiercely protected, pristine coastal wetlands and bays, where I never tire of watching spectacular sunsets.  And I never seem to tire of photographing the landscape, the seascape, and the wildlife dwelling in the woods nearby that always delight when visiting to forage in my backyard.

One love has forsaken me, but the other will always remain.