by Jackie Gilligan
When you think of simple, old fashioned childhood summers, the Hamptons may not be the first place to come to mind. It is for me though.
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. When I was nineteen I went out to the Hamptons for a summer vacation. A good friend had a summer house in East Quogue, and I had been hearing about this wonderful place since I was fourteen years old. I was working full time, so a friend of mine and I rented a cottage on Ponquogue Rd called Anchor Cottages in Hampton Bays. On the drive out, we started to relax. You could just feel it. Immediately, we got into that relaxed, content feeling that I always get on the east end of Long Island. My good friend with the summer house came to visit us at our cottage. He introduced me to his “summer friend”, whose family also had a summer house down the block from his, in Shinnecock Shores, and whom I had been hearing little stories about all through the years. We hit it off immediately. We spent many nights dancing, and hanging out by the creek at The Mad Hatter on Montauk Highway (The Boardy Barn was a little too wild for me, although my 23 year old son John just loves it!) But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Two years later I married that man. Our first date was at the East Hampton movie theatre, we saw “Young Doctor’s In Love”. As a matter of fact, he proposed to me out in “Shinnecock”, (that’s what we call it), and eventually we settled in Massapequa (which was closer to our jobs), although our hearts were still out east). We raised two children there, and spent many large chunks of our summers out at “Shinnecock”. When our children were born, we chose for me to stay home with them until they reached school age, and aside from a few little part time jobs for me, that’s what we did. Needless to say, money was tight, but we always had “Shinnecock”, and that’s where most of our vacations were spent. Even after our youngest started first grade, I got a job working for BOCES, and had summers off to be with my children.
Now let me explain, “Shinnecock” is a true extended family summer home. There is no insulation. We drain the pipes and close it up for winter. Propane is used to cook, and there used to be an electric heater under the floor in the center of the house, so if everyone slept with their bedroom doors open, you might get a little heat on those chilly mornings. There was, and still is, no air conditioning. It’s on a canal, and the breeze from the canal and the bay seemed to be enough most of the time. My husband Tom’s mother still owns it, and through the years our family, as well as Tom’s two sisters, and brother, used it for their families as well. There was no television. We played board games and cards for entertainment, and many holiday weekends we were all out there. Fourth of July was a favorite. My husband would get some fireworks, and light them down at the end of the block. Over the bay. We would bring our chairs down, and watch a great show. Then, we would all return back to the house for a double birthday party for our nephew DJ, and our daughter Rebecca. Every year, DJ’s sisters Nicole and Stephanie would make a poundcake with whipped cream, and strawberries and blueberries shaped like a flag. Fresh strawberries and blueberries from Densieski’s farmstand. Bursting with flavor! Tom’s sister Dot would come out with her family too. And Tom’s brother and mom would be out for the fun of course as well.
Days were spent looking for crabs with a net, either in the backyard, or at the little beach down the block. Fishing. Boating. Beaching. Sears Bellows, enjoying nature. A day in Riverhead, by the river! The difference between fish in brackish water as opposed to the bay. Hooking the hammock up between the trees, and looking for shapes in the clouds. Toasting marshmallows. Picking and making huckleberry pancakes from our own huckleberry bush. My children got to know their cousins very well. There were eight kids altogether, and even when we were all out there at the same time, there was enough for everyone to keep themselves busy, and very few arguments. All the blocks were dead ends, so it was the perfect place to learn to ride bikes, rollerblade, skateboard, walk the dogs. Our nephew Derek would bring his jet-ski out, and later he jet-skied competitively for a few years. Our other nephew Darren caught his first fish there. He lives on a lake in Florida now, and fishes with his dad all the time. Our niece Catha taught her children to ride bikes there. At night, after we’d play some games, everyone would fall asleep reading a book. In fact, that was a part of the end of the school year for us. Not only did the kids have a reading list for school, but there were other books that they wanted to read. So the books that we didn’t get from the library, we’d go down to the bookstore on Montauk highway, and look for what was on their lists. Sometimes they’d get something else that looked interesting, then ice cream cones at Slo Jack’s, and everyone would return back to the house happy. Whenever we’d first arrive, TV would be missed for the first night or so, then not given a thought. There was fun to be had, not watch.