East End on the Weekend
I was his pal.
Peter Jennings’ pal, that is.
When my late grandparents lived in Bridgehampton, I would frequently spend my weekends with them and attended church services at little St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. The reverend (the name Father Ron rings a bell) would often ask the children attending Sunday services if they would like to make their way to Sunday School. I, however, chose not to partake – my grandparents would point out to me that the man sitting in the rear pew was a famous TV person. I was young at the time (about 11 I think), but very impressionable, so the idea that a famous TV person – ABC News’s Peter Jennings! – was in my presence was a big deal. Meeting him was a thrill, which I did on several occasions at the little church we shared. I do recall him wanting to stay low-key because of who he was, but him shooting a smile and wave over to me was pretty cool.
Meeting Peter Jennings, my first Hampton celebrity, was a big deal. This was the late 80s, before the Hamptons became “The Hamptons”, and most of my memories of this beautiful place take place during this time. My grandparents, Fred and Shirley Voss, were at the time the owners of our longtime family funeral home located in Islip. In their later years, they chose to buy a second home away from our little bayside community in Western Suffolk. They first settled on a house in Montauk on Wood Drive. Situated just north of Montauk Highway and with ocean views, I have few memories of this home because of my young age – cutting across the highway and descending down an old rickety staircase to get to the beach to go surfcasting with my grandfather among them.
It was their move to the relatively newer development on Bull Head Lane in Bridgehampton that I remember most fondly. Bill Thompson, the developer (fairly certain of the name!), and the crazy black lab Cricket that accompanied him, befriended my grandparents and showed them the red house at the back of the development, near the old barn and tennis court and right opposite the gazebo. That gazebo, and the fields of open space on either side of my grandparents’ home, would serve as the backdrop for many childhood adventures! The huge backyard of the home provided the space for my grandparents to partake in one of their favorite enjoyments – gardening. Many different gardens – the veggie garden behind the garage, the Montauk daisy garden in the far back, and five perfectly manicured floral scapes that would boggle the mind, even with those pesky Japanese beetles lurking all around. My grandfather found great satisfaction in his gardening and working in the yard – I think it was therapeutic for him because, as a funeral director, he was often surrounded by grief and sorrow. He enjoyed his gardens, and having me there to help, which I was always ready to do! It was his outlet.
My grandmother’s outlet was her art. Later in life, my grandmother took on painting, and specialized in the beautiful homes and landscapes of the East End. She was very proud of her watercolors that were exhibited in East Hampton’s Guild Hall and Gallery East. “The End of the Line” – an acrylic showing Montauk Train Station and the termination of the tracks – is a personal favorite that hangs now at my parent’s home. I think my love for illustrating and the visual media stems from seeing my grandmother enjoy it so.
Making the trek from Islip out to Bridgehampton on weekends seemed to take an eternity, at least to an eleven-year old it did! I always tried keeping myself busy in my grandmother’s station wagon, and I always did, in that pre-iProduct world! But when I would see the signs for the Shinnecock Canal – for some reason, the canal was always my landmark – I knew we were closing in. It was often around dinner time on Friday we would be arriving, so a stop at old “Meghan’s Saloon” in Water Mill was always in the cards – I think its a sushi place or something now. Driving through and seeing the hustle and bustle of downtown Bridgehampton, passing the Candy Kitchen (where my grandparents frequently brought me), and the final push going by the beautiful old windmill that graces Hildreth Avenue – I knew Bull Head was right around the corner!
My grandparents sold their Bridgehampton home in 1992, and, after a brief stay over in Center Moriches, they ended up retiring to Venice, Florida. My grandmother died a mere two years later at the young age of 66, and my grandfather would pass away in 1998. Though not the life-long residents that many East Enders are, the several years they spent there were special, and the wonderful, vivid memories I have by visiting them there will always be cherished.