Keep Looking

Written By: Debi  Kops

Every weekend in the early 70s my Mom, Ellie, and stepfather, Jim ,
drove out to South Hampton looking to buy a house.
I got a detailed progress call Sunday nights.

After months of searching, they bought a house with a garage on one acre
surrounded by potato fields in South Hampton near Watermill.
They began a new chapter in their marriage, renovating.

I came out to work on the house, enjoy the surrounding farmland,
and write prose and poetry.

Ellie and Jim worked on, and lived in the house for several years.
They got tired of being landlords and wanted to renovate
the garage as an all year round home for themselves and the family.
We christened it: the barn.

They sold the house to an architect, Costas Kondylis.
Donald Trump was one of his clients.
He did a House and Garden renovation, and put in a swimming pool.

The barn was moved over to a 1/2 acre lot,
had a basic renovation and winterized.
Hedges were planted for privacy.

In the beginning of the barn’s renovation
I remember taking a shower after renovating ,
going to the beach, or a museum and shopping with Mom.

There were no walls around the bathroom
just wall studs and electrical conduit.
Kinda cool.

Every Spring Ellie and Jim planted a vegetable and herb garden.
Lots of chili peppers for Jim.
He was from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
and was a lover of habanero chillis.

Mom planted tarragon for her classic dish: chicken tarragon.
And parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Thank you Simon and Garfunkel, great album. Great herbs.
And the vegetables: string beans, yellow wax beans, zucchini,
egg plant and tomatoes.

I loved working in the garden before the ten a.m. hot sun;
or, before the 6:45 sun set, when the grass cooled down.
Plus, I had no manicure to ruin.

Nothing like the smell of freshly picked vegetables on a plate or in a basket
on the kitchen counter.

Ellie discovered a patch of mint planted near the front of the driveway.
It was planted by the former owner, a farmer.
We always used the mint in Ada’s ice tea. An old family friend’s recipe.
It stayed in the brewed tea overnight, in the refrigerator,
along side slices of navel oranges.
Canada ginger ale was added right before serving.

Orange and yellow day lilies continued to blossom every Spring.
They grew along the dirt driveway to the barn.

An old non fruit bearing apple tree stood fifteen feet in front of the barn.
Around the base, Jim planted succulents he brought back
from a trip to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

An old non fruit bearing peach tree stood on the barn’s south side
twenty feet from the house.
We attached one end of a laundry line to it
and the other end to a south side corner of the barn.
Nothing like the fresh smell of air dried laundry !

Every holiday Ellie, Jim and I would drive out to South Hampton to celebrate.
Sometimes, we had visits from my transported West Coast sister and brother
and their families. It was crowded, wild and fun.

Loved the neighbors to the right. The Pottshoff family.
Ann and Otto. Native East Enders.
They had wonderful, detailed stories and pictures.
And, Otto served in WW2.

Every 4th of July we all squeezed into Ellie and Jim’s red VW station wagon,
and drove to South Hampton for the parade.
Lots of WW2 veterans proudly marched.
Otto saluted.

August was my favorite time to shop at the local farm stands.
The locally grown melons were in season.
Crenshaw, Calabasa and Musk.
Their sweet, ripe fragrance kissed my sense of smell
as Mom and I arrived.

Loved the East End beaches with their near flat horizons,
dotted with fishing boats, the green-blue ocean waters,
the salty mist kissing my face and body as the waves broke
and rolled up onto the sands.
This Pisces was in her element.

Once I swam in the ocean at Cooper’s Beach
and was carried out 1 1/2 miles by a sea pussy.

Ellie and Jim and visiting friends were up and watching. Terrified.
Come to think about it, where was the lifeguard ?

I swam with the undercurrent as the waves rolled me to shore.
As my feet touched the bottom, I pulled myself up,
staggering out of the ocean onto dry sand and collapsed.

My family said I could have drowned.
I said: “It wasn’t my time”.

I collected shells from the East End beaches
that no longer wash up onto the shore.
They are preserved in glass canisters
above my kitchen cabinets in Central Harlem.

Once I gave myself an hour to create beach art.
I found an ocean worn window shudder with all it’s slats.
I decorated it with seaweed, a seahorse and shells.
The shudder hung in my Bowery loft in NYC for years, before it fell apart.

A boulder was in back of the barn, by the garden.
It was my island.
Early morning with coffee, I sat, wrote and smoked my cigarettes.
Had a glass of Pinot Noir at 6:30, as I watched the painterly light dim at sunset.
And, listened to the trains of Long Island Railroad swing through town.
Early 2000 Jim passed away. Ellie sold the house.
Ellie joined Jim a few years later.
Nothing like the loss of your parents, child or a loved one.

My older brother and sister wanted to sell the barn. I did not.
I encouraged us to get a realtor to maintain and rent it
and keep it in the family.
They said: “No”.

I wish I had had the money to buy the barn.
Part of me remains out at the barn in South Hampton.
My eyes fill with tears as I write.

One day when the house was on the market,
Ellie and I were at the barn packing.
The realtor came to us and said:
“I had the strangest question from a man. He asked if the boulder was for sale”.
My island. I quietly cried.

One Easter in the mid-80s Ellie, Jim and I had an Easter egg hunt.
My request. I’m a kid at heart.
We took turns hiding our colorful eggs.

During our hunt it began to snow !
Cold and excited, we lost an egg.

Every Easter, I can still hear Ellie’s voice on the phone:
“We’re gonna keep looking for that egg”.