The Gift

Written By: Claudia  Krimsky

In the days before the internet and all the benefits of personal computers, when international phone calls were expensive propositions, and timeshares were not yet a “thing”, my parents did something pretty remarkable. They managed to convince a well-heeled London family to trade their beautiful, exquisitely decorated, multi-level townhouse for our modest, two bedroom, one bath, wood paneled, ranch-style summer home for several weeks one August. It felt like our home was situated as far as possible from civilization. Located in the Northwest Woods of East Hampton it is literally and figuratively a world away from cosmopolitan London. To complete the transaction, each family’s car would be included in the trade. It is interesting to note that my conservative parents agreed to let someone else drive our station wagon on the “wrong” side of the road so that we could have some flexibility touring the environs of London. We had been vacationing in our little remote pocket of the Hamptons for as long as I could remember. So I was very surprised when my parents excitedly reached out to strangers so we could try something new for part of our summer vacation. My mom was a NYC schoolteacher and something in one of the many publications she received caught her eye. She found a section that facilitated the exchanging of homes. I think she worried that my sister and I, teenagers at the time, were not worldly because we never took a vacation outside of the US. So she made it her mission to find a suitable house for us to swap in a different country. Since the exchange would only be for a portion of one summer, I reluctantly agreed with this plan. Well, did we luck out! Our temporary London housing was far better than any of us could have ever imagined. Each level of the townhouse had a personality of its own. On one level, a lovely family room had French doors open to a patio garden flanked by trees tall enough to provide a view for another level. On a second level, the kitchen and dining area, with state of the art appliances and fabulous accessories, overlooked said trees. I don’t remember how many bedrooms there were in total, but my sister and I each had our own room on one floor and my parents master suite was on yet another level. This was by far the most elegant living arrangement we had ever experienced. We took total advantage of our time in London to see and do as much as humanly possible. It turned out to be a great family vacation and it did as my parents had hoped – it ignited a desire in me to travel … to, in effect, become worldly. I started to feel really bad for the family whose house we were in. Here we were living in an exciting city in luxurious accommodations and they were living in a locale far removed from a lot of things they must have been very accustomed to (like fine dining and a variety of cultural offerings) while living in very spartan accommodations. This was back in the ‘70’s when Ma Bergman’s was the restaurant at 136 North Main Street, not Nick & Toni’s the current “it” place to dine. Flash forward a generation … I am now a mother of two daughters. Each year my husband and I offer our daughters the opportunity to go to summer camp to participate in some of the experiences they hear their friends describe every fall when they return to school. Each year our girls decline the offer preferring instead to be “home camped” as my younger daughter calls it. In the years before they were old enough to have summer jobs, my husband and I took maximum advantage of the girls’ mindset. This was easy for us to do because he is a school teacher and, as a result, he has a lot of schedule flexibility in the summer. Fortunately for us, my parents chose to retire in East Hampton. Since we produced their only grandchildren my folks have generously invited us to live with them for a portion of every summer of our daughters’ lives. Because our girls are so busy with academics and extracurricular activities from September through June, they actually relish the opportunity to have an extended period of downtime with minimal structure and they love spending time at Poppa and Dundee’s (their nicknames for their grandparents). And I smile to myself, content in the knowledge that I am giving my daughters the gift my summer experiences. We peppered the girls’ summers with events and activities that we hoped would be of interest to all of us. We took them hiking and biking, swimming and sailing, kayaking and body surfing. We would sign them (and occasionally us) up for programs at the library or through the Department of Natural Resources and take them to galleries, museums and shows. It was important to us that they develop an appreciation for the area, the arts, nature and humanity. One day my husband noticed an open invitation to an exhibition of a local artist’s work. The exhibition would take place in the home of the artist – a home I frequently biked by and had once (or more accurately frequently) confided in my husband that it was one of my fantasy homes. Situated on one of my favorite roads, it appears to have 270° of water views as it is flanked on one side by a bay and on the other side by a harbor – and off in the distance you can just make out the channel where the two bodies of water meet. We walked into the home and the views literally took my breath away. The artwork was beautiful, but the views were spectacular and more than a little distracting. I found myself eager to strike up a conversation with our hosts and noticed they had a lovely British accent. The more we conversed the more fascinated about their circumstances I became. Yes, they were British and yes they lived “across the pond.” They love spending summers in this location because they fell in love with the area when they were on holiday a number of years prior. Hmmm, this revelation really piqued my curiosity. They mentioned that had seen an advertisement to trade a family’s country home situated near multiple bodies of water and they were intrigued. Now my heart is beginning to race. They agreed to exchange homes with another family and felt like they had found paradise. They decided to build a second home in this area as a result of that one summer experience. The gentleman couldn’t remember the name of the family they traded homes with some 30+ years before, but he did remember it was in this very neighborhood, about a 5 minute drive away … on Milina Drive. OMG! I had been speaking with the patriarch of the family who deigned to switch houses with us all those years ago. He had given my family the gift of a trip of a lifetime and in exchange, we helped them discover paradise!