The East End of Heaven
My Wife’s a Long Island girl, through and through. Born on the South Shore, she grew up as a young girl on the beaches of Long Island. Her family’s house was only minutes from Jones Beach and they vacationed every summer in Montauk. She was from a middle class blue collar family. Her father was a New York City firefighter, the youngest Lieutenant in the history of the NYC Fire Department, in line to be running it all, before he was forced into retirement by injuries sustained in a chemical fire.
She went on to become a teacher, studying at Post, teaching special education for New York City. All the while, going to the beaches of Long Island whenever she could. She made her way to Hampton Bays, during her early twenties, renting homes with girlfriends and going out in South and East Hampton. Later, she spent every summer day she had at the beaches of Long Island meeting up with her other teacher friends. They had a routine, some bringing the food, others the drinks. Every summer, year after year, until we met by chance one summer in Ocean Beach, Fire Island. And, I was from New Jersey.
I didn’t know anything about the East End, it’s beaches, the culture, it’s food, ah yes, the food. I had my first steamer with her. What an odd looking thing, I thought. Couldn’t be good. I followed her lead, dipped it into a cup of clear brine to clean it, then into golden melted butter and…wow, didn’t expect that…it was really good, great in fact. I couldn’t get enough, and haven’t since.
When I met my Wife, she was still reeling from the tragedies of life. Her father and brother had died within a couple of years of each other. I would later learn only through observation, because she never talked about it, that she would go to the beach to find solice, whether that was from her father’s death or her brother’s I didn’t know, I did come to realize though that the beach healed her, it was something she needed.
It wasn’t long before we were married, well, that’s my story anyway. I took my Wife to New Jersey, where my family was, but she longed for the proximity to the beach she had growing up and it pained her to be away.
And, then came our boys and, of course, then came Montauk. Every summer, our young family rented a motel room on the beach. The indoor heated pools were key for those rainy days. The boys played in the sand, then surfed in the waves. Our nights were spent walking the town and buying lobster cookies, our mornings, waiting in line to buy pancakes. Her family memories, became our family memories.
As the boys got older, every summer we settled into condos in East Hampton or on the beach in Amagansett. Our tastes, with their age, became somewhat more sophisticated. We ate lobster rolls for lunch, my Wife would find the newest, hottest restaurant for dinner in East Hampton. I remember being in Wei Fun (now way defunct), and hearing aloud Bethany Frankel from the then New York City Housewives plotting the next episode with other cast mates and her one year old baby in tow, like a scene out of a reality show. I didn’t even know who she was at the time, now, I see her Skinny Girl everywhere.
And, then, came, the Springs. We had come out to East Hampton in late March to find a house to rent. Our boys were teenagers now. It was a cold, brisk day and the sky was a pale gray, still reflecting the light of winter. We had first taken a drive to Main Beach, checked out the blue-green waves crush the shore and then circled around to drive by the sweeping lay of the golf course on Dunemere and take yet another look at the haughty mansions the Hamptons are famous for along the way.
We turned back onto Montauk Highway, drove through the center of East Hampton, turned at the old windmill and then headed up Springs Fireplace Road. This area was new to me, but I would learn not to my Wife. A friend’s family had rented here many years ago and she had visited when she was a young girl. It was funny, she never mentioned it before and we had never been here before, after all the years of staying in the East End.
We were heading towards a house that was for rent when my Wife had me turn towards the right, she recalled the road, Gerard.
It was like nothing I had ever seen before in the East End. I thought I was in Maine. There were large boulders on the sides of a long single lane, a patch of road surrounded on one side by an estuary of high stalked grasses and on the other by a large expanse of open bay. It was cold and raw out, but beautiful and crisp. Small old wooden homes hung to the edge of the water, precariously sitting on stilts. It was heaven, my heaven.
I remembered an article I read about Neal Young and his ranch in California. He said the first time he flew over the land, he “fell in love with the geography.” That phrase stuck with me. Now, I knew what he meant.
We rented a house that summer in the Springs, and the summer after that. We came to know the bike ride to the General Store, even Kristy at the General Store. Kayaked up to Gerard and Louse Point. Leisurely walked the stores in Amagansett. Took in the sun at Indian Wells and Atlantic on the ocean. Drank wine and chased sunsets on the bay at Clearwater. There was nothing better. It was heaven.
Late that summer, I got a call from my Wife, she was driving, on the radio a house in the Springs was being advertised, maybe we should check it out. The market was at bottom, I thought, maybe, well, why not at least look. Never did I think we could actually own a house in the Hamptons. We were of moderate means. I was a bit of a late bloomer (my Wife would give it another story), having spent way too much time in graduate schools, and too little time making money. But, I called up a broker, got prequalified for what we could do, and we went house shopping later that week.
Our boys were with us. We saw about ten houses when walked into a house and my youngest turned to me and said, “oh yeah.” How did he know, he was only fourteen at the time. But, we all felt the same way. And, there were other things, unexplainable things…like the large awning over the deck that was the exact same print as our awning over our deck at our home in New Jersey, the owner’s name, Conchetta, was also my Wife’s grandmother’s name. What were the odds.
We put in a bid, only to find out we were outbid, but then to be told we could put in yet another bid. Then I received a call from the manager of the brokerage, they wanted us to participate in a silent auction. It wasn’t going to be just about the money, the owner wanted the house to go to a special family, a family that would enjoy the house as a family for decades to come. She wanted to know “Why we wanted the house, her house.” I spent all night writing up an email as to the why, how important this was for my Wife, my family, but ultimately, it didn’t feel right, it felt contrived somehow. I let the manager know in a call, we weren’t going to be putting in a statement, yes, I told him that my Wife’s grandmother was also named Conchetta and that the awning was the same as ours, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking for the house this way.
I received a call the next morning, it was the manager, he told me he wanted to know one thing, did we want the house. “What”, I asked, “I don’t understand.” “The house is yours if you want it.” I was in shock, I had never won the lottery but it felt like I just had. I turned to my Wife, “Do you want the house.” “What?” She had had already absorbed the fact that we had let it go. She yelled again, “What?”, then cried. Tears came to my eyes. I told her, “Things like this don’t happen in life very often, you can’t walk away when life brings it your way.”
I’m writing this from our house in the Springs, under that awning, on that deck, where my family has now enjoyed three straight summers of incredible joy.