Going Home

Written By: Rita  Meinken-Sepenoski

I had looked forward eagerly to lunch with my friend Anne, who was visiting Long Island from North Carolina. We had met in 1976 in Springs, East Hampton, when Anne and her mother, Agnes, knocked on the front door of our house on Kent Place and introduced themselves.  Our friendship is now in its 32nd year.

We had lunch at the Amagansett Luncheonette, talking over old times.  The luncheonette with its sixties style of decorating was perfect for two old friends to reminisce.  We chose a comfortable booth away from the busy traffic on Montauk Highway.

On a whim, we decided to stop at Ashawagh Hall in Springs.  My mother, Rose Meinken, had volunteered there for many community fundraisers, and a white-blossomed cherry tree is thriving in her memory.  I read the brass plaque on the ground at the base of the tree, Rose L. Meinken, November 16, 1989.  Anne and I held hands while she said a prayer remembering our families, and how the year 2008 had brought us back together.

Our next stop was Sherwood Lane—Anne’s former street. As we traveled on Springs Fireplace Road, past the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, the Springs liquor store, the Nature Conservancy preserve, and the Miller estate, the beautiful view of Accabonac Harbor appeared.  We agreed that the once-familiar landmarks appeared foreign.  So many years had passed that we felt awkward.  Time changes even the most familiar roads—perhaps a new mailbox at a favorite house, fewer trees, new additions to houses, or maybe new shingles. When passing each day, there may be one new change, but after several years, there are so many.

Anne and her husband, Jerry, left East Hampton in 1987, and I in 1994. Each of us had married men who did not share our deep feelings for East Hampton. Anne and Jerry spent many happy years in Washington, North Carolina, and John and I put down our roots together on the North Fork of Long Island, where John’s family had lived for nearly a century.

Anne quoted Thomas Wolfe, “You can’t go home again.” Reluctantly, I agreed.  The passage of time changes the set of circumstances present at a certain time in life. We continued winding our way down the short streets that lead to Sherwood Lane.

As we approached, a late model, black SUV appeared in the rear-view mirror. Since we wanted to pause in front of Anne’s old house, I pulled over to the side of the road to allow the SUV to pass. The car passed but then turned into the familiar circular driveway. What to do? We just wanted to admire the house and reflect—remembering Anne and Jerry’s garden wedding reception on the deck overlooking the towering oak trees in the backyard, the evening Monsignor Huntington from Most Holy Trinity parish blessed the house, and all the quiet dinners Anne, Jerry and I enjoyed there, far away from our busy careers in Manhattan and in Hauppauge, Long Island.

Our first glance at the house on Sherwood Lane was a wow. After Anne and Jerry moved, Anne’s brother, Jim, had reshingled the white asbestos exterior of the two-story colonial with cedar shakes, six inches to the weather, which means only six inches of the shake exposed to the weather. The lipstick-red shutters were now white wooden ones with Pennsylvania Dutch windmill cut-outs near the top. The overgrown shrubs had been replaced with dwarf evergreens and perennials. The setting is still beautiful—high on a hill behind the circular driveway, commanding attention because of its size and grace.

A woman got out of the SUV and began walking into the house through the garage. Then Anne surprised me. She said, “Let’s go introduce ourselves.”

“Are you sure?” I said. “Remember, you can’t go home again.”

As we walked up the driveway, the woman approached us and asked if she could help us. Maybe she thought we were lost or maybe two volunteers spreading the word. Anne introduced herself, and the woman actually shouted with delight. It turned out that Alyce was the new owner and was thrilled to meet Anne, who had designed and built her beautiful home. She insisted that we allow her to give us a house and garden tour.

For 20 minutes, she heaped praise, appreciation and thank-yous for the home of her dreams. Alyce said that she had fallen in love with the house on Sherwood Lane because it reminded her of the farmhouse where she had grown up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She particularly adored Anne’s choice of a chandelier in the master bedroom. Clearly, the house had brought together two people with the same taste in decorating.

In the five years that they had owned the house, Alyce and her husband renovated the three bathrooms and the kitchen, created a formal dining room where the den had been, installed an outdoor shower, and added professional landscaping to the grounds. All of the changes pleased us.

Best of all, the house on Sherwood Lane had new life. Alyce proudly showed us the three bedrooms used by her five grandchildren, complete with handmade quilts and children’s plush toys. Alyce, an artist, had painted portraits of her grandchildren, which hung on the staircase wall. The house on Sherwood Lane was alive with the hopes and dreams of a new family.

We talked about the garden wedding that Anne and Jerry had planned. We spoke of Anne’s brother, Jim, who lived in the house after Anne and Jerry moved to North Carolina. It had been his home until his passing in 2002. Anne told Alyce that Jerry had died in February 2006, and Alyce was truly moved. We had listened with interest to the details of her life and family, and she showed genuine interest in ours. We exchanged addresses and telephone numbers and vowed to keep in touch. We hugged a few more times before leaving.

Our lives were enriched because we had reconnected with a house and the events that had taken place there so many years ago. We left knowing that the house on Sherwood Lane is in good hands and will provide a safe haven for a beautiful family for years to come.

As we drove away, the landmarks seemed more comfortable and familiar. I said to Anne, “I’m feeling quite good about East Hampton.” You can go home again, after all.