THE HAMPTONS UNSEEN
In a way, the weekend of Friday, October 28, 2016 really started for us on Thursday night when we picked up the rental car and I searched for a spot to park overnight in Manhattan. We would leave for Hampton Bays sometime on Friday. The season having ended, the traffic out wouldn’t be too bad. The plan was to check our apartment, maybe see another winery and have dinner with friends Saturday night.
On Sunday, we planned to leave earlier than usual in order to visit my mother, Jackie, at the nursing home in Long Beach. I usually visited her alone on most Saturdays taking the LIRR from Penn Station. But, when we came to the Hamptons, we would rent a car and our routine on most trips out was to drive to see her on the Sunday trip home. And because we had a car we could also bring our dog Merlot, to see Grandma Jackie. He’s too big to take on a train so the only time he could visit was when we had a car and we only had a car when we came to the Hamptons. The residents and staff at the home were always glad to see him and vice versa. He would smile, turn on his back with his paws out and get his stomach rubbed. Those residents who could participate would. He brought smiles. On occasion, I would also see my mother smile and react to him.
It sadly worked out that my mother’s golden years were anything but golden. She was afflicted with Alzheimer’s and had stopped being “our Jackie” a few years earlier. She stopped walking at one point although her legs worked fine. She just refused to stand and spent her last several years in a wheel chair. Nothing we tried worked. The physical therapists explained they cannot force someone to stand or walk if they did not want to do so. She also stopped talking and all I could do was to pepper her with anything I could think of to try and elicit some sort of response to show she was still in there. But, for the most part there was just emptiness. I got her an MP3 and head phones. She used to tap her foot once in a while to The Swinging Sinatra. But, by October 2016, there was no more foot tapping. The siege of a long goodbye was well under way. She was now in Hospice. The family was doing the best we could for her.
We wouldn’t know what was happening locally until we arrived and I could get a Dan’s paper and check it out. On Friday night after arriving I was customarily sent to pick up some milk and a Dan’s. I was also told not to dilly dally along the way. I remember getting the paper and the milk, but can’t recall whether I dilly dallied. It wouldn’t be the first time I did something like that. It’s a Y chromosome thing.
It was through Dan’s that we learned about a Halloween Pet parade in South Hampton on Saturday. It’s a fund raiser for pet charities and we decided to go. It was a lot of fun. Many of the dog costumes were elaborate and self-explanatory – pirates, hot dogs, spiders, bumble bees, queens. You name it. Clearly, a lot of effort went into those costumes. However, we were decidedly unprepared because we had no idea the parade was taking place. But, our friend gave Merlot a plaid clip on tie that we carried with us because we never knew when we would go someplace dressy as we liked to be prepared just in case. So, we joined the parade. Not much of a costume but, he marched proudly. It was a glorious fall day. Sun a shining; tails a wagging. Merlot is a Schnoodle: a mix of poodle and schnauzer with salt and pepper coloring and deep brown puppy eyes, even though he is no longer a puppy. A very handsome pooch. So, as we are marching, I was asked what is he supposed to be. Thinking fast, I said he’s George Clooney. Everyone nodded. Several people said they see it. They weren’t kidding. I was thinking he was either George Clooney or an accountant. I also think those people who saw him as George Clooney need to get out more.
My mother’s maiden name was Brunner. On those occasions when we could bring Merlot to see her, I would often tell her that Merlot inherited the Brunner snout. She used to laugh at that. However, by October 2016, she no longer did. Of course, that never stopped me from saying it. I would also tell her how Merlot does dog stuff, fetches a stick and swims in Shinicock bay near our place. So, we came out for some Hamptons R&R before our visit on Sunday. Mom never knew, because she could no longer comprehend anything, that we bought a place in Hampton Bays a few years ago. That weekend it dawned on me that although she was a Brooklyn girl of four score and seven years, as far as anyone knew, she had never been to the Hamptons. Now she could never visit. I wondered what would she have thought.
Had “our Jackie “ ever visited the Hamptons, I think I know what would have thrilled her the most beginning with our apartment. It is tastefully decorated with furniture and art from her home before she had to move to Long Beach. She would have been pleased to see us enjoying those things. Like old friends, she would have been comfortable around them.
A drive along Dune Road would have been a special treat. The mansions of glory along the water in West and South Hampton would captivate her with the wonder of what it was like on the inside. Sometimes you can see the house directly from the road. Many are encased by tall hedges or are set back off the road by a winding and manicured driveways. Some have tennis courts. She used to play a lot and we would have wondered if it was too windy off the beach to ever play. All things considered, it’s not a bad problem to have. But, from our vantage point, there would have been a lot of oohing and ahhing and stories to tell her friends about that drive and the big houses in the Hamptons.
My mother like chilled pinot grigio and would have loved going to a winery- a charming quiet one where she could sit in the shade and savor her pinot. If she could look out over the water, so much the better. But, looking over a vineyard and rolling hills is calming as well. There is plenty of that in the Hamptons. She would have found her spot, put an ice cube in her glass and tell you how lovely the place is. That would have been most joyful.
She also liked to shop and would have felt most at home along the main streets in West and South Hampton. They remind me of the town where I was raised on the South Shore. She had worked in retail at TREES, a legendary high-end hand bag and accessory store in Cedarhurst for many years. She would have been attracted to the relaxed and inviting symmetry of the streets and stores in the towns and enjoyed walking around while having some coffee ice cream. It had to be coffee. She might have seen a celebrity. Then, maybe a drive for a bite to eat at a restaurant along the water and probably a salad with shrimp and glass of Pinot.
We met our friends for dinner that Saturday. Before leaving for the restaurant, I called my brothers to check in on how my mother was doing. They told me it was more of the same. I would see for myself on Sunday and expected to find her in bed early. For many years I would arrive around lunch time and would find her sitting at a table in a lounge room being fed (she hadn’t fed herself for years.) I’d sit next to her and sometimes feed her and always do my chatter thing. By that October, she was being returned to her room and bed sooner and sooner. Weaker and weaker. I’d be there tomorrow. Our dinner was fine. Around 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning the phone rang. It was the not yet expected call from the nursing home.
My mother died in her sleep early in the morning of Sunday, October 30. There would be no other trips to Long Beach to see her. Since then, as I continue to traipse around the Hamptons, Brunner snout and all, I can’t help but think about the visit she never made and the chilled Pinot she deserved, but never got to savor. The Hamptons unseen, I know she would have loved all that she missed.