East Hampton Memories

Written By: Alison Johnston

As I waited for my bag to come down the carousel at JFK, which took about as long as my flight from Arizona to New York, I reflected on my summer in West Hampton – a really long time ago. It was my first and only summer there because the guy I was dating at the time paid for my share and when that ended, so too did my free ride. Nevertheless, memories of that summer came flooding back – cruising out of work as early as possible on Friday afternoons to catch the Jitney, lazy afternoons on the beach, crazy nights of multiple cocktails and family-style dinners and biking from West to South Hampton on Montauk Highway (what was I thinking?). I could almost taste the ripe tomatoes, sweet corn, and homemade pies that we bought every weekend from a local road-side stand. I remembered being in love with the beach and my guy and whoa…I was so caught up in my revelry that had it not been for the kid next to me, I would have gotten a direct hit from a bag flying off the conveyor belt.

Having been “bagged” back to reality, I saw my suitcase make its way down the shoot, grabbed it and looked for my ride to East Hampton. This time, it was no Jitney for me. Thanks to the generosity of my brother-in-law, I was travelling in style in a large, black sedan with my own personal driver. I’ve come a long way baby – both in miles and status.

I was on my way to the first vacation I’ve taken in two years. My sister and brother in-law own a home in East Hampton and have invited me to come every summer. I always said, “I can’t make it” because the thought of leaving my teenage son alone for two weeks brought visions of fire engines and police cars coming to my house. Not to mention, my neighbors, who probably would have gotten stoned from second-hand smoke! With my son off to be a sleep-away camp counselor, it was time to say yes!

Since I arrived on a Saturday, I was lucky to avoid the usual Hampton traffic and sat back to enjoy the drive. After living in Arizona for the last decade, you get used to a lot of brown so I was reveling in the trees and green grass as we made our way. I could feel the tension in my neck and shoulders start to loosen as we got closer to East Hampton.

When we turned onto Main Street and I saw two women strolling downtown in mink flip flops, my shoulders started to tense again as I worried that I didn’t bring the right clothes or footwear. I had this image of East Hamptonites in my mind – Gucci loafers, madras shorts, big, big diamonds, designer clothes, luxury cars, lots and lots of money and hifaultin attitudes. I was sure that I would not fit in being of much simpler means and lower net worth. I wondered whether it was truly my pot-smoking teenager that prevented me from visiting all these years or my own jealousy and insecurity about being a “have not.”

My anxiety quickly abated when I walked into the house and was met by my bare-footed, T-shirt donning “mishpucha” welcoming me with open arms and blocking my way to the bathroom which I desperately needed. Peeing completed, I exchanged lots of kisses, hugs, and hellos with my sister, brother-in-law, cousin, his wife and a bevy of teenaged kids who were “staaarving.” Even though they had enjoyed copious hors d’oeuvres while waiting for me to arrive, the smells of BBQ ribs, corn, asparagus and fresh, hot bread enticed everyone to the table rather quickly.

While I get to see my sis et al when they are in Arizona, I hadn’t seen my cousin and his family for 10 years but we just picked up where we left off- albeit a little older and wiser. The time melted away as we sat around the table recounting our fondest and funniest memories of growing up together. Living around the corner from each other almost all our lives, we have a long history and lots and lots of stories. We spent hours recounting our antics and we laughed until the wine ran out. Of course the kids were both amazed and appalled to learn that we did some of the same things they do today (and think we have no clue.)

We picked up again the next day, enjoying a spectacular day at Georgica Beach while munching on our hot turkey and avocado sandwiches from Villa Italian Specialties (VI as the locals call it). The kids went body surfing and we dipped our toes into the ocean, pretending that we might go in. We watched all the other people on the beach doing much the same thing – enjoying a great day with friends and families. It occurred to me then that the beach is a great equalizer – no one cares what you have or how much you have – they care about the sun, sand and sea.

After my cousin and his clan left, I had some alone time with my sister. We went to boot camp at Truth Training and to my surprise the class was filled with regular people sweating and grunting, and focused on getting a good workout. We walked through downtown and window shopped, went grocery shopping and visited the Ladies Village Improvement Society – a thrift shop filled with designer clothes at prices anyone could afford – and the store was packed! Our last day, we spent the late afternoon at Egypt Beach and actually went into the ocean. The kids were doubtful that we did this and demanded to know if “we got our hair wet.” We did.

The day I left East Hampton, I took the ferry from Orient Point to New London. It was another glorious day so I sat on the upper deck and looked out on the ocean as we chugged our way into port. I thought about my vacation and how special and easy it was to spend time with my family. I thought about how relaxed I felt and I didn’t think about what others had or what I didn’t. I thought about the people I met and the experiences I had and the new memories that I would be bringing home. And, I started planning my trip for next summer.