“Those are Hampton Hedges.” My mom would say that as we passed by the tall green Privet hedges on Potunk Lane in Westhampton. I can still remember the bright green color and sweet smell of those hedges.
Every summer my mom would take my brother and I out to Cupsogue Beach. The drive from our house to Westhampton was maybe thirty minutes. It seemed like a journey to another land. We would take the “scenic route” east on Montauk Highway. As we moved from Center Moriches to Eastport I noticed how the “commercial” presence of 7-11 and King Kullen faded to local store fronts in old houses. I was fascinated by Westhampton High School. To me, it looked like an old castle. “That’s where grandma used to teach.” My mom would point out. “On Friday night Grandpa and I would pick Grandma up from the school and drive out to Aquebogue to have dinner at The Modern Snack Bar.” She would add.
As we entered the town of Westhampton I remember seeing the movie theater on the left and the police station on the right. My mom would point at the movie theater and say “that’s where I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time. Your great aunt Rita took me, she was the cool aunt.” We would go through the traffic circle in Westhampton and exit right at Potunk Lane to continue to the beach. We would pass the Country Club with its crisp, green lawn. “That’s where they would hold the annual celebrity baseball tournament.” My mom would announce. “I think they also had a Polo match there at one time.” You could barely see the building behind the chain link fence and green Privet hedge.
There were small older houses with trim green hedges standing maybe four feet tall on either side of the road. “These are the original houses that were settled here many years ago.” My mom said. All of the houses had been restored to their original beauty. Each house had a manicured front lawn and perfectly placed flowers.
As we winded farther into the neighborhood the dark green hedges seemed to become higher. I could barely make out the large houses that stood behind the tall hedges and long driveways. I wondered, who lived in these large houses? Who needed to hide behind these tall hedges? Was there something secret behind them? “Those are Hampton hedges.” My mom would say in a nonchalant way. I just accepted that fact and assumed all houses in the Hamptons followed this rule. My grandparents lived in Center Moriches. They had large green Privet around their property. My family joked that Center Moriches was “the gateway to the Hamptons.” I assumed the rule applied to them as well.
As we got closer to the beach, we exited the neighborhood full of large houses and hedges. We then drove over a small bridge. I would look down and see boats, jet skis, and the like passing through the channel. As we came to the other side of the bridge, I saw a large turquoise swordfish in front of me. To the left was a small marina and what seemed to be a maze of floating docks. We took a right at the swordfish. On the opposite side of the street were several tennis courts with tall gates around them. We drove down Dune Road slowly. The beginning of the stretch was laced with small beach bungalows. Some on stilts, some ground level. My mom would point to the left and say “that’s where Mary Tyler Moore lived.” (I have no idea if this is factual, I think my mom just said this as a joke, but my brother and I believed her.)
As we continued down the road the small beach bungalows faded away. Giant houses popped up on the left and right. Each house seemed bigger and more ornate than the last. One looked like a bowling alley another looked like a medieval castle. “Remember the movie ‘The Perfect Storm’?” my mother would ask, “many of these houses were destroyed and washed into the ocean during that storm.” “Fortunately they were able to rebuild the houses and many of them now have stilts to prevent the ocean from washing through again.”
I wondered why none of these houses had large privet hedges. I assumed that the owners did not want to spoil the beauty of the beach. Surely no one wanted to hide from the ocean. It would look very strange to see tall green hedges separating each beach house on Dune Road. Can Privet hedge even grow in sand?
I still remember admiring the green Privet “Hampton Hedges” around my grandparent’s property. I remember plucking off green waxy leaves and adding them to stone soup as I played outside in their yard. My grandparents have since passed away and the property was sold. The new owners almost immediately cut down the green Privet Hedge on all sides of the property. I suppose they didn’t get the memo about the “Hamptons Hedge.”