On “Golden” Pond

Written By: Jayleen Lawler

Glitter and gold—so some gifts come wrapped. Artfully dressed to impress on the outside, declaring a king’s ransom on the inside. How can a homemade card compare to such extravagance? Who would value the pearls of sincere affection caught between its clam-shell pages? I am fortunate to know many who would. And they live right here in East Hampton.

You see, the world’s landmarks are very similar to gifts. There are the million dollar mouth droppers: the Eiffel Tower, Victoria Falls, Mount Rushmore. And then you have the places that have a more subtle glory. Those that mark events in our lives, timeless emotions, and may be special only to us. A place’s simplicity can move us in ways the giants just mentioned never could. Take Town Pond of East Hampton. Now, I can hear you, “Seriously? Town Pond over Paris? Over South Africa?” With great conviction, I assure you, “oh yes, definitively.” How much simpler can one get? And yet it has always been there, through the joyful and painful experiences of our lives. These experiences have given way to the pearl of Town Pond. And I’m not the only Bonacker that feels this way; we all have our individual reasons for cherishing this gift. I would like to share mine. They begin more than 30 years ago when I was a little girl and I believe they will never end.

Before I could ride a bicycle, I could ice skate on Town Pond. My family would drive by in the winter on our way out of and into town. A very ordinary event. Another ordinary event could make the day extraordinary: liquid would turn into solid. Water would turn into ice. Like a flock of pigeons people would convene around the banks, put their ice skates on, and masquerade as clumsy, giddy, swans. (I apologize for those of you with talent—I never noticed. I only watched for black patches to avoid. And I also watched when you missed them and fell in!) When we saw our distant relatives (meaning the whole town) skating, we’d beg our mom to take us back to Town Pond. Sometimes we’d go with or without skates, depending on our family budget. More often than not I preferred no skates, because then our mother, the mother of three daughters, would dance with us on the ice while singing a song to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I think about that song every time I pass the pond in the winter. I sing it to the pond. Maybe you know it too.

“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.

I know you, that gleam in your eye is so familiar to me,

and I know it’s true that visions are seldom what they seem.

But if I know you, I know what you’ll do—you’ll love me just once, the way you did once upon a dream…”

The movie I forget. But the song I remember. And it doesn’t mean romantic love to me. It means home. Just like Town Pond. I was very happy when my mother danced with me on Town Pond.

And I was very unhappy a few years later when my mother and my older sister were hit by a car—where? On Main Street, right next to Town Pond! This was devastating to watch as a 5 year old. My younger sister and I saw it happen, like a flash of lightning, with the aftermath rolling in slow motion. We had hit a duck while turning the corner from route 27 onto Main Street. We pulled over onto the shoulder of Town Pond, leaning on the pond for support. My 11-year-old sister had noticed the duck was still alive, trying to hobble away. She asked if she and my mother could remove it from the road. I remember looking out the window as they crossed—searching for cars. Seeing no lights. And then BAM! Out of no where. Turns out the man was drunk. Pulled out of a driveway unseen. My mother was thrown clear to the other side of the corner—onto Route 27. Police and Emergency services couldn’t locate her upon arrival—she was so far from the scene. I remember my older sister lying flat on the ground with blood on her. She had literally been run over and was flown to Stony Brook Hospital immediately. Both have permanent injuries from this accident. Obviously, it had a profound impact on their lives. They may think of pain, scars. We all think of surviving. To think of what happened and where we are today, we can just take a drive by Town Pond. Any time, no matter the season, when passing Town Pond that memory electrifies. Though for an instant, Town Pond has seared it into my brain. Town Pond is still here. And so are we.

We don’t always stay put though. We up and leave for new experiences, which I have done several times. And every time I leave, I say goodbye to my home right after we pass Town Pond and make the turn onto 27. That’s it! My home ends there—I’m not a Wainscott girl, I’m not a Sagaponack girl, anything beyond East Hampton village really. Sure, I know those areas as much as I know Springs and Amagansett. But East Hampton is my home. When I leave my home, the last landmark that means anything to me is Town Pond. And after being away for so long—my most recent sojourn took me away for 8 years—the first landmark that tells me I’m home is Town Pond. I could be within the town limits, driving from Riverhead or New York City, and only when I see Town Pond and feel that gravitational pull as I turn onto Main Street, do I stop holding my breath. I can’t wait to leave again, but only because I know Town Pond will stay waiting for me. And everything and everyone I love with it.

My aunt, an artist has sketched and painted Town Pond several times. And I’ve mentally carried her pictures along with my memories wherever I go. Like all families that stay in touch, I’ve been updated on the happenings in East Hampton over the years, and I will never forget hearing what news was so important that it made the front page of the East Hampton Star: The swans in Town Pond gave birth! How adorable, though Town Pond was where I also learned as a teenager, don’t go near the male. He will scalp you—territorial Adonis that he is. Now where else would this birth announcement mean anything?! But half way across the world I jumped for joy upon hearing it—so many years we saw a lonely swan, then 2 swans, and now a family was living in Town Pond along with the rest of us living around it. Currently their home faces environmental challenges which means I face environmental challenges, because their home is my home.

I returned last fall, and therefore I am experiencing the summer in East Hampton as if it was my first time. You never forget the heat, the humidity. Nor the cool breezes in the evening as summer progresses. When someone asked me about the weather of my home 2 years ago, I knew instantly how to respond. Knowing your home is like breathing—second nature. But to experience your home—to walk out into a sauna, feel the heat, hear the ocean, smell the salt, see natural beauty everywhere, eat outside because the weather is so comfortable—It’s like drinking a cold glass of water on a hot day. You want never-ending refills. I have visited many places since I’ve been back, rediscovering why my home is a jewel. And at the right time of day, when the sun is out, and you walk by Town Pond, take a seat on the grass. Lean back just a little. You’ll see what I see. Glitter and gold.