The House on Potato Field Lane

Written By: Ann  Mathisen

“Nothing lasts forever,” repeated my husband’s client, a former ad executive and all-round mensch. At that time in the opulent 80’s and 90’s, we nodded and smiled politely but really had no idea what he was talking about or what the future might hold. In our young parenthood, life consisted of summer mornings swimming at Flying Point, afternoons enjoying miniature golf and cool evenings playing badminton at the house on Potato Field Lane. Our three children thrived in the glow in what “Out East” considers successful and they easily adapted to the customs of a gilded country life.

The good times evolved and we grew accustomed to the perks and privileges of a family business. Fueled by white wine and vodka tonics, we didn’t acknowledge good fortune and prosperity or for that matter, that the business paid for an extravagant lifestyle more suited to a hedge fund titan than to a small manufacturer. The house, purchased on a whim with the hope that the extended family would gather every weekend, exemplified all that stood to unravel at the company. Over decorated and under used, it stood as a showcase to excessive splurges at the hands of fawning antique dealers. The heated pool remained empty for most of the summer while the billiards table and pinball machines in the lavishly finished “children’s” basement stood idle – we had other things to do.

The best of the best – new granite counters and fancy appliances in the kitchen, hundreds of hydrangeas and arborvitae planted around the property, exquisite linens on custom mattresses and a full pantry within reach, seemed like no big deal – until it was. Breakfasts at Sip ‘n Soda, lunch at Barristers, and dinners at John Duck seemed like no big deal – until they were. Although the house was situated on the “wrong” side of the highway, we lived like Rockefellers but without their money or pedigree. Things usually aren’t what they appear to be.

The company that paid for our lifestyle passed its 40th year, and then began a slow decline that only a few realized and fewer acknowledged. Its prior successes with top fashion brands created corporate excess that like all addictions, craved and demanded more. An in-law, the CFO of a publicly traded firm, attempted to instill some financial controls and forbid his wife from contributing capital that in essence, were to fund operating losses. The family began feuding and the sister with the smart husband was soon fired without an explanation or a regret. The managing triumvirate became a dysfunctional duo and then came the years of unconscious spending without brakes. The House on Potato Field Lane grew larger in size and in its greedy consumption manifested our lack of perspective, humility and introspection.

We were on the road to panic and poverty and like all slaughterhouse animals remained fat and content until key accounts decided to take their business elsewhere. Little effort was made to replace the lost revenue and the company continued to bleed. As the company slowly hemorrhaged, we decimated our cash, retirement accounts, college savings and insurance proceeds. Then we took out a home equity loan. My husband, an eternal optimist because he never experienced otherwise, or the word “no,” continued to hope for the best rather than to plan for a financial Armageddon.

The doors to both the business and the House on Potato Field Lane were shuttered in 2004. In a flash, childhood homes were sold, garage sales held and tears shed. After so many self-absorbed years, we began living life as the majority of Americans do, paycheck to paycheck. Over the past 11 years we’ve experienced bankruptcy, zero employment, several job firings, four residential moves, nasty landlords, repossessed cars, tax liens, lawsuits, misguided advice, Legal Aid, Medicaid, bad credit, unpaid bills, late payment charges, constant calls from creditors, student loan debt, social isolation, family abandonment, church handouts, emotional fatigue, no medical insurance, no life insurance, no car insurance, no food, no savings, no goals, and no hope. We felt regret, guilt, shame and embarrassment. Although we believed in “a power greater than ourselves,” it wasn’t until these dark years that we absolutely needed to. And yet now we realize things could have been much worse.

There exists spiritually transforming lessons in loss and the memories of a summerhouse in Southampton seem but a pleasant dream in another reality. Life continues to move on. We no longer end our days in soul shattering fear or anxiety because through hard work, smarter choices and most importantly, divine favor, we have started to save and to start paying back our debts. Through love and grace, our family is healthy, intact and emotionally strong. The transformation is not yet complete and life blesses us in unusual ways, through unseen angels, humor and a bit of wisdom.

We’ll be taking a day-trip to the village soon because we haven’t been there in many years. I can’t wait to taste a lobster roll from Silvers, a luxurious reminder of life back then on Potato Field Lane.