In Memory of North Sea
Our house was featured in an article entitled “A Return to the Hamptons,” by Joyce Cohen in the May 21, 2014 New York Times. Technically, it was not ours anymore. Reluctantly we had recently sold it. Still, we could not help but take umbrage as the couple profiled in the article had rejected it. By objective standards, the house was not in great shape. Hence, the statement in the article “both the yard and interior needed plenty of work” was not really wrong. Still it stung a bit. We loved that house because and despite its shortcomings.
Fortunately, the house had never “come between” my husband and his siblings, Jennifer and Tom, as their mom feared. Their Uncle Pete purchased the land, built the house, and gave it to them as a gift. The kids were still in their twenties. Situated on a quiet creek leading to North Sea Harbor, furnished with whatever the elder members of the family no longer needed, lacking a telephone as well as other amenities (like a functioning television) “North Sea” as we called the house was our little oasis.
When I met my husband in 1988, I was living with my parents in Merrick and he was living in Albany, New York. We met through our mutual friend, Doug. Given my future husband’s and my living arrangements, North Sea became our love shack and a great place to begin playing house. Our beach was Towd Point. Between the house and the beach we had everything we needed. It was a great spot for casual weekends, kayaking, windsurfing, or just relaxing. Whenever possible we had as many people over as could join us. People came and went, stopped in and left, slept in the two spare rooms, on the living room couch, and often in sleeping bags on the floor.
One early morning, our friend Doug, who remains one of our oldest and best friends, sprang into our bed yelling for my husband to get up because someone was unexpectedly camping on our lawn. My husband ran outside and came back saying the tent was not on our lawn – it was on the neighbor’s lawn. Fortunately we realized this before the neighbor did and the tent was moved. No worries. The couple in the tent had come to visit Jennifer. Although Jen wasn’t around, the couple stayed for the weekend. If my memory serves me correctly, I think this was the same weekend that we spotted and quickly put a stop to another friend’s nude open-air yoga practice.
Whenever possible we stayed over Sunday nights to dance and listen to the great local steel drum band, the Merrymakers. In those days, Bay Street was a dance club and the Merrymakers played there every Sunday night either free or at minimal cost, which was all we could afford. Once my future in-laws even joined us. Two generations enjoying the music and the relaxed, inviting vibe.
Over the years, the crowd shifted from mostly friends to mostly family. One summer, my in-laws held a family reunion of my father-in-law’s big Greek family at the North Sea Firehouse. And, when I was pregnant with my first child both my parents joined my husband and me for the weekend. I still remember the joy my dad, a former lifeguard and water-lover, had kayaking in our little creek. Another time my dad and my husband’s uncle John were so engrossed in their conversation about “business” that they got lost walking home from Towd.
After we had our children, North Sea became the place they got to know their cousins, who we otherwise just saw on the holidays. At North Sea, there was nowhere we had to go and plenty of time to play at the beach, toss balls around the front “lawn,” which was always mostly dirt and rocks, and jump around and off the bunk bed which was in the largest of the bedrooms and the one we shared. My husband and I took turns cooking with whoever else was around. If we went out to eat, it was to Sip “N Soda for breakfast in South Hampton.
One morning, YaYa, Greek for grandma, showed up carrying a big tray. This was a surprise. We had no phone and cell-phone reception was always spotty, so we were often surprised by who might stop by. But this time, YaYa was here with a purpose – to teach me, her Jewish niece, how to make spanikopita – Greek spinach pie. I was happy to learn. After it was done baking, we all drove to the Morton Wildlife Preserve and walked along the trail to the beach. I still prepare spanikopita the way YaYa taught me that day.
We enjoyed several years of extended family bliss. Too soon my sister-in-law and her family relocated to northwestern Canada and could no longer make it to North Sea. And, for financial reasons, my brother-in-law and his family wanted to rent the house. At first, we only rented for a portion of the summer. After a year or two, it became the whole summer. We only made it to the house before Memorial Day and after Labor Day and only when it was warm enough to forgo heat since we had none.
In retrospect, maybe it was inevitable that we would have to sell. My husband and I could not afford to buy his siblings’ shares. For the sake of family peace, we went along, reluctantly, with the decision to place the house on the market. After making some improvements, Tom and his wife Angela found a real estate agent and the house was listed. Fortunately, it was not sold before my fiftieth birthday and we were able to schedule a celebration at North Sea on a weekend in which there was no Open House.
Shortly after my party, the house sold. That article in the New York Times appeared when the reality was still setting in. One line about the house was “It was too kooky for me.” It made me smile. We no longer own the house and Uncle Pete, YaYa, both our fathers, and my husband’s mom, are no longer with us. But our fond memories of times spent in and around North Sea with those we loved will always remain. I guess it was a little kooky. Maybe we were too.