Love Thy Neighbors

Written By: AJ Barranco

It’s been twenty years. Where has the time gone? We thankfully found a beautiful home in the country and experienced the first of firsts for us – closing on our house in Bridgehampton in 1997. We were introduced to the idea of owning a home in the Hamptons the summer before by our dear friends who already owned here. They showed us a house just across the street, and it got us thinking. Some time later, after visits to many homes for sale and often with our friends in tow, we circled back to that one place just across the street. I am happy to say that our dear friends became our dear neighbors, and we’ve shared many stories and events since.

Our friends are very funny. When we became new parents, we were a bit shell-shocked, and our friends always knew when we needed a laugh. Once, at our house, our daughter Frances, now a young toddler, was “helping” fold laundry. This typically meant that Frances would take the newly folded items and toss them in the air; another variant of the game was to leap onto the couch and play in the clean, warm clothes. As their visit coincided with laundry day, one of the friends decided to take a teeny pair of our toddler’s chinos, sit on the floor, and make believe she was putting them on. She pulled them just over her stocking feet. She made several grimaces. Said she couldn’t understand why “Frances’ pants-es” would not fit her. She really wanted to wear them. She thought they would look very nice on her and they went well with her blouse. Frances was hysterical. The adults were hysterical. It made doing the laundry much more fun.

Through the years we would sometimes get together in the dead of winter. On one occasion our neighbors had just returned from Florida. We made a fire just to get cozy and chat. And it was during that fireside chat that we heard about the seagulls. On the beach for awhile, the friends decided it was time for lunch. A beachfront take-out spot very close to their chairs seemed like a great option. Why not have hot dogs and fries, some drinks. Yay! Other beachgoers walked a distance to get their take-out – understandably, there was wrapping of sandwiches and fries at the self-serve station before taking the long walk to bring lunch to their beach mates. No wrapping needed since our friend was close to home base; everything would stay warm and fresh over a short distance. Ignoring the abundant warning signs telling beachgoers to cover their food, our friend started walking the brief distance back to her group. But wait. Think of Tippy Hedron and The Birds. Or, in this case, The Seagulls. Their attack was quick and fierce. It drove our dear friend to her knees. She cried out as The Seagulls attacked the lunch she was carrying. It was ugly. Not in the sense of Tippy being hurt. Our other friends ran immediately to her aid. Several gulls were seen flying from the fray, a French fry hanging from a beak here, or portion of hot dog hanging from a beak there. Our Tippy was fine, thankfully. Our Friends were fine, thankfully. Back home, we sat by the fire and roared at the story.

Go team! Our friends have friends who had their glory days in high school sports. One of the friends (we all live in the Town of Southampton) got to talking to an acquaintance (who lived in the Town of East Hampton), and somehow the idea of a rival softball game was born. It may not have been the Artists & Writers annual softball event, but this particular summer a lot of excitement was generated and the competition was palpable. It is not so clear today who challenged who to this game, only what fatefully transpired (from the Southampton perspective). The teams both found the field, somewhere on the western fringe of East Hampton Town. By all accounts, the EH ball players were flexible and pumped; they all seemed to have softball experience, great equipment, depth of players, and strength in batting and defense. Our SH players were relaxed, having a beer or two; and, while no strangers to softball, the SH crowd was a more casual bunch. As we heard the story days later, what transpired after the first pitch was fascinating. Batter up, SH! The ball was an infield grounder. On the way to first, a pulled muscle brought our player rolling into first base … it was a jarring play, not without some embarrassment, until the umpire called it: “SAFE!” Our player was shaken, but also stirred; she needed to be pulled from the game for a bench seat and ice pack, but kept cheering her mates. SH substituted an able-bodied runner at first base. Next batter up to the plate – a hit to the outfield! The batter rounded first and decided to go for it – approaching second, looking good! Suddenly, our SH runner tripped! There was an awkward, albeit effective slide into second… “SAFE”! Our player smiled though she, too, was side-lined with bloody scrapes on both knees. This play brought the EH bench running onto the field in protest: SH had padded their ranks with ringers! SH players were not from around these parts! EH claimed they had never seen these so-called Southamptoners before (though all were from SH). EH was riled up, crying foul. The game would be played under protest! SH simply shrugged, not even believing their ears; they lost another player that inning to an unlucky stretch-split-slide into base. But SH scored several more runs. When they finally took the field, SH was down several players. Covering the open gaps would be daunting for the team defensively. Turned out, they had all they needed. The old high school talent shone through. SH was inspired. Amazing plays were made with EH getting more and more annoyed. I guess you know the ending. It was a true Cinderella story. Our SH friends, bloody and bruised, were victorious!

I always think of our neighbors as being artistic. Maybe because they’ve done work on their own house with consistently lovely results. So it came as a surprise to me that, when off on another vacation, an arts and crafts session was a humbling moment. Our friend was goaded into joining the session to craft a small candy dish. She followed the instructor’s lead, and performed the steps of the project. Alas, there were cracks in the structure. She pieced together what she could. It was messy. The cracks were discouraging. She was ready to walk away. No harm, no foul. The instructor, however, was not interested in failure. He asked my friend to stay the course. “Put a little shellac on it!” he cried. The phrase has become a mini-mantra. When things don’t quite go your way, just “put a little shellac on it!”

Two of our friends got married in their backyard across the street. My wife, daughter and I walked to their house and attended the amazing ceremony and reception. Their backyard, always pretty, had been transformed to an even more picturesque wedding village: an arched bridge over the pool; a dance area under the stars with a fun DJ; a white tent erected for a lovely dinner; the two looking beautiful, all in white. Their friends from near and far attended. It was one of the best weddings ever.

Our daughter is eighteen now and getting ready for college. She still cracks up at the shenanigans, and remarks how playful we act when we are together. She has known these neighbors all her life, and they have made their impact on her as supportive, strong role models. Not long ago, we broke out the Rock Band and jammed. Last week, we played volleyball in the pool. The deep end required noodle equipment; the shallow end was manned by fewer players. This setup was considered fair by neighborhood standards. Who had to stop for a toe cramp; a bathroom break; a broken nail. None of that mattered. We just played and laughed.

Last night we had dessert together from La Parmigiana. We hear this favorite restaurant may close its doors. Maybe. We understand that things change. One of us has retired and others are in a preliminary ‘talking’ phase. I think we are all looking forward to having more time in our busy schedules to relax, be more playful, take part in certain experiences that will be re-told as funny stories. We can crack up every time we hear them. It feels like there is more to come. Thank you to our friends / neighbors. Thank you to the Hamptons, South and East. Here’s to another twenty years and twenty after that.