Paradise on Gerard Drive

Written By: Ina  Torton

When I took a subtle right from Fireplace Road onto Gerard Drive in Springs, I could feel the tension leave from every cell in my body. And by the end of that long drive, I was tense- with three restless kids in the back chanting “When are we gonna be there?” But with that right turn all my tension completely vanished. This happened not once or twice but every year for the past 52 years. I am not a “Bonniker” (the name for people who have been living between Acabonic Creek and Gardiner’s Bay for a very long time), but just a devotee of that stretch for more than a mile between the Creek and the Bay.

I came from Brooklyn, where I spent my childhood swimming and beaching in Brighton Beach. What a shock it was the first time I drove up to the windmill in East Hampton and then proceeded to a world that I had never before encountered. Water everywhere, trees and rosehips. I was in my 20’s and in that moment, the world opened up. I try now to conjure up that sensation of swimming in that salty bay water, looking up at the cloudless sky, and feasting on the distant line—the horizon, a memory of weightlessness in mind and body. There was a beauty I had never even dreamed of.

Gerard Drive with houses on pilings and wooden structures simply served as the backdrop for precious friends to come together from all over the country.   This group of high school and college friends had become college professors, therapists, lawyers, journalists, doctors and parents. They put aside their successful lives in Mill Valley, California, Bloomsberg, Pennsylvania, Austin Texas, and New York City to reconnect with each other in this pastoral paradise. We even arrived via the water–in our 33 foot yawl and dropped anchor in the bay, just behind our friends’ house. We had been guided by the buoy called “Promised Land.”

So each year for two weeks either in July or August, we rented houses on Gerard Drive. We came together by 9am each day and didn’t leave each other until after the sun had set on the Bay. The children of various ages played with the rocks and shells from the Bay and created endless games. (Imagine that they, like the adults, had survived without smart phones, ipads, kindles, or laptops). The children had to steal themselves away from in order to eat the delicious meals the adults had prepared.

We ate lobster, clams, fresh corn, peaches, plums and cooked some of each person’s favorite dishes. Roasted marshmallows completed the throwback to childhood that all the adults experienced.

The salt and the water seemed to wash away the geographic distances that time had created. The fullness of each day of the 2 week vacations filled whatever gaps existed.

The house of our friends and their parents was far too small to accommodate us. Sue’s father Lou had built it in the 1940’s with some of his shop students from a Bayside, Queens High School. First they built a “shack,’ a one room cabin with just a sink and toilet where the original family of 4 slept for a few years while the main house was being built. The main house was also small, with one bathroom, a kitchen and a living/dining area. The lack of space didn’t matter. Unbelievable warmth and hospitality emanated form every corner of the house. The children felt completely welcomed and loved. I never remember any child crying. The feedback that I get from the now very adult children is filled with great enthusiasm and considered the most cherished and enchanted memories of their childhood. Perhaps I’m romanticizing it, but I know in my heart that it was idyllic.

Because space was limited, we had to be very creative. We slept in the shack, in tents, and on the boat.

Much of this peaceful happening occurred in the 60’s, when the rest of the country appeared to be falling apart. There were political riots, assassinations, and student rebellions. The hippies were in full force, and the music reflected the poetry and chaos of the time. On Gerard Drive, we sang folk songs and played classical guitar. I guess we too dropped out—in our own style.

The houses on the strip were modest and reflected the difference between “The Hamptons” and the humble lifestyle typical of that time and place. It didn’t pretend to be part of the luxurious Hamptons, it was more like a remote fishing village. So whenever I return, I feel an ache for those simple times, and the promise that the future will be OK.

The friends don’t assemble there much any longer, because time has a way of changing things, and may even better left as a profound memory. May Gerard Drive live in everyone’s heart who experienced it as a paradise and “Promised Land.”