Growing Old in the Hamptons
Marion Darden, an 84-year-old woman of color, and I, a 96-year-old white
woman, live a few doors away from each other in Water Mill.
But don’t call us neighbors.
We are best friends.
Marion’s parents came to the Hamptons from Virginia in 1926. Her father
became a potato farmer and her mother cleaned houses and cooked for local
They had five children. Marion was the second oldest.
She was born in East Hampton and went to East Hampton High School.
She began cleaning houses in her teens, and at 16 she married Harding Darden,
a local boy (he died in 2001). They had five sons, and there are now seven grand-
children. The Darden boys all live up-island and are successfully employed.
My parents came from Europe in the early 1900s, my mother from Russia and my
father from Austria. I was born on 117th St. in what is now Manhattan’s Harlem. My
mother was a dressmaker and my father was a furniture salesman.
After 30 years as a feature writer at The New York Daily News, I retired in 1974
and moved to the Hamptons, where my partner, Norma Dorfman, had opened an
antique shop, The Blue Door, in Bridgehampton.
Marion was already established as our “housekeeper” and I had met her
on my weekend visits.
During the first week of my retirement Norma and I ventured out to
dinner in Southampton. As we entered the restaurant, we spied Marion and
members of her family at a table at the far end of the room. As we approached,
Marion, holding her baby grandson, John, in her arms, stood up. As we neared,
young John, spying me, suddenly started to laugh and held out his arms. I love
babies and immediately took him in my arms. He giggled in apparent delight –
and so my romance with the Darden family began.
In the years that followed, I got to know Marion on a personal level as she came
to housekeep our cottage very two weeks. I was beguiled by her common sense
and fascinated by her knowledge of the area and its inhabitants.
Like most people my age my hearing is not what it was. When people
get impatient with me I usually apologize, but sometimes, frustrated, I say, “When
you say something interesting I will get a hearing aid.”
But a more serious result of this problem is that I decided to stop driving. If you
can’t hear, your chances of getting involved in an accident appreciates more than is
wise to contemplate. So Marion became my driver.
She drives me to King Kullen, Rite Aid, the doctor, the dentist, anywhere that
As the years have gone by, the increasing traffic in the Hamptons has created
bottlenecks on all major roads, but she knows every back road and we rarely get
Every day I enjoy reading several newspapers, a leftover pleasure of my
newspaper days. So every morning The New York Times is delivered onto my
driveway, and between 8 and 9 am Marion arrives with The Daily News and The
York Post. These daily arrivals are much more than delivery occasions. Marion and
I discuss the news and invariably end up talking about personal and local events.
Marion knows more of what is happening in our area than anyone I have ever
met. When she takes me shopping at local stores, it is a rare occasion that we don’t
meet someone who waves at her or stops to chat. By extension I usually get a smile
and sometimes a hug.
Marion has an active social life and so do I. She is much involved with her church
and, it seems to me, the dozens of friends she has made through the years.
A good handful of my New York friends have moved to the Hamptons and our
weekly poker game continued for 40 years. Alas, one by one, the aging players
have dropped out, either because of illness or the inevitable.
Occasionally, Marion reports, “So and so called to ask if you are still here.”
I’m still here.
Do I think of the inevitable? Rarely.
But when I do, it is unreal…just another ending to a story I am writing.
Housebound, I do not lack for pleasures. I enjoy my computer, my TV, my tread-
mill. The day I got a computer I gave away my Encyclopedia Brittanica.
I frequently use the TV to check my brain – I watch old movies and name the old
stars as quickly as I can – Chaplin, the Barrymores.
And, of course, I write. Whatever else goes, the words keep coming.
But among my greatest pleasures are the memories……
Some 50 years ago I sat with then unknown Woody Allen at a coffee shop in
lower Manhattan interviewing him for the Sunday News Magazine. At the time he
was doing standup comedy in small club down there.
“Where do you go from here?” I asked.
“Well,” he said , “ some French guys have offered me the dough to write and direct
“Why the hell would they do that?” I asked.
Every time I see one of his movies, I am more than a little embarrassed.
One day some summers ago, I wandered into an antique shop on Main Street in
Sag Harbor. As I went into an alcove I bumped into another woman. “Oops, sorry,”
I said, and suddenly realized it was Julie Andrews.
She smiled and I said, “You couldn’t possibly remember it but I interviewed you
for the Daily News years ago,
Still smiling, she said, “And did I behave myself?”
“ You were a perfect lady.”
“I’m so glad.”
And we parted.
In 1954 my photographer, David McLane, and I drove from the News Building
on 42d Street to Arcan Ridge, Conn., to do a story about Helen Keller, who was 75
at the time. (I was 35.)
After an unforgettable morning and afternoon, Miss Keller’s companion, Polly
Thompson, signaled that her charge was tired and the interview was over.
We all rose. Led close to me, Helen Keller reached up and touched my cheeks.
In that guttural voice, she said something complimentary and then added,
“Have a wonderful life!”
It was raining this morning in the Hampton, a hard, piercing rain.
I called Marion. “Don’t go out,” I said. “You shouldn’t be driving in this weather.”
“I won’t,” she said, and as if on cue there was a knock on the door.
It was John, the same John I had cuddled 40 years ago.
Smiling, he handed me the newspapers.
Same old baby face.
But he needed a shave.
Everybody gets old.
Even in the Hamptons.