Hampton Bays: Beloved Childhood Memories
This past January I reached one of those milestone birthdays that come around every ten years. I celebrated with my cousins in Miami. A wonderful party, delicious food, and a terrific duo singing and dancing, hot sizzling Cuban music. My cousins and I reminisced about that much loved Caribbean Island where my family and I would visit every year right after Christmas, until 1959.
In the days that followed, my mind traveled to the places I have visited that contributed so much to my outlook on life.
France:Where I lived for seven years. While there I enjoyed trips to England, Spain, Italy, and Holland. One of the most memorable trips was to Morocco , where for the first time I saw women covered from head to toe, with only their eyes visible! These were certainly fantastic experiences, but only one place stays forever in my heart. Hampton Bays
In the early 30’s my father had a small pre- fabricated cottage built in Hampton Bays .Our cottage was on East Tiana Road, and from the time I was born it became our summer retreat.
We had an apartment in Manhattan, and I recall my impatience for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter and summer vacations to begin.
This included the weekends when we would pile into the station wagon, pets included, and take off for the Hamptons.
We had wonderful neighbors whose home was directly across ours.
It was during those years that a special friendship was born with a little girl, my contemporary in age, that endures to this day.
At the time the Greenberg family owned our main grocery store and we got to know them well. The main pharmacy. or drug store as we called it, was run by Mr. Backstatter . There was one small movie house in the center of the town; the church I attended was St. Rosalie, established in 1900.
On Saturday nights we would often dine at the Ambassador Inn owned at the time by a charming Italian family. The owner would greet us with a hug when we arrived. Another place my parents enjoyed was Canoe Place Inn. If memory serves The Statue of Hercules was nearby, and I would kiss it and make a wish. Upon reaching my teens I shared evenings of dining and dancing with my family and friends at Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square.
We often had guests during the summer and we would take them on day trips to Riverhead, Southampton, Montauk Point, and one of my favorites Water Mill.
One of the well-known and much respected members of our community was Chief John Sutter. He was elected to be police chief during the summer months and eventually permanently. I recall him as very pleasant and charming. My parents would always stop and chat with him whenever we were shopping in town. In private I would refer to him as “Chiefy Weefy” but was firmly instructed to address him as Chief Sutter, which I always did. He died in 1953 and rests in Good Ground Cemetery, he remains one of our most respected citizens.
Although I was too young to remember the hurricane of 1938, the story was told to me many times, as I grew older. My father was in Manhattan at the time, he called my mother in Hampton Bays telling her to leave immediately as a “monster storm” was on the way.
The harm it did was unimaginable. A wall of water with tremendous violence rushed in from the ocean leaving hundreds homeless. Chief Sutter and the owner of a fishing and tackle store, Altenkirk, put up their own funds to stabilize the area. The results, which up to now had been impossible, finally connected an inlet between the Atlantic Ocean and Shinnecock Bay.
My father, Van Campen Heilner, was an avid fisherman, a love that took him to many places in the world and produced a number of books and documentaries. He kept a boat in Hampton Bays that he christened “The Flying Clam”. During the summer months, at exactly 1 PM he and I and whatever friends were visiting would go fishing. We would first stop at Altenkirk’s store to make sure we had all the tackle we needed. Then we were off on the “Clam”.
If no fish were caught he would raise a flag, he had personally designed, with the face of a skunk. It would announce the results of our fishing trip; we’d been “skunked”!
During the 30’s and 40’s Hampton Bays, was a small hamlet surrounded with family homes and small business. The Hamptons have greatly changed since those days. There are now more stores, elegant boutiques and luxurious homes, many owned by celebrities
After my father’s death in 1970, I kept the cottage for a few years. Then, with much regret it became necessary to sell.
My childhood friend of all those years ago has a home in Southampton and I visit whenever possible.
I will forever enjoy returning to this beloved town, walking along the beautiful beaches and reliving a wonderful, happy childhood that only the unique beauty of the Hampton could have given me.