The Point

Written By: Abby Farrington O'Malley

The Point The boy raised the present over his head and slammed it against the stone counter, breaking it in half. Then he grinned in surprise. He had gotten lucky. It was May of last year and my family and I were out in Westhampton, where we own an oceanfront home on Dune Road. The night before, my four children, husband, and his parents and I had been across the street at the bay searching for female horseshoe crabs. They would soon come ashore to lay their tiny, turquoise eggs in the wet sand, as they did every year. The full moon shone a spotlight on the Moriches inlet, and we found many of the prehistoric crabs, clumped together in groups of five or six as they buried their treasure. The nighttime venture was made only more exciting because our children were sharing it with their grandparents, who owned the house two doors down from us. Both homes are actually located in West Hampton Dunes, its own separate village, having been rebuilt after the hurricane in 1992 that washed away much of the area. We have a photograph of our cedar-shingled house perched precariously over the water, where the ocean escaped to meet the bay. Doc O’Malley, my father-in-law and an orthopedic surgeon, had shrewdly insisted on cross supports for the pilings that upheld the house they had built in 1978. It paid off. For years while the beach and road were being restored, ours was the only intact structure around for miles. Months before in October of 2012, Superstorm Sandy had leveled my childhood home in Sea Bright NJ, making my elderly mother homeless, and launching me into a painful appraisal of my family’s past. I was relieved to see that the storm surge had spared the communities stretching from “the Beginning”, West Hampton Dunes, to “the End”, Montauk. I had been coming out East ever since I was a junior at a private girls’ high school in Manhattan, where a friend’s parents had a home in Southampton. I knew the first time I visited this distinct part of Long Island that it was a unique place. It has a simple, natural beauty and a complex, geographical diversity that is unrivalled by any beach community on the East coast. At seventeen and newly free because of my friend’s driver’s license, I explored the storied destination that I mistakenly thought was only the provenance of millionaires and movie stars. To be sure, there were plenty of both. I was starstruck when Samantha’s older brother took us to Stephen’s Talkhouse in Amagansett and I spied Billy Joel drinking a beer in the corner. He soon left, but two hours later Paul Simon stood up at the microphone and sang about going to Graceland. I prepared a novella for English class on Monday morning at the Convent of the Sacred Heart on East 91st Street, a school run by Jesuit nuns who counted Caroline Kennedy, and now Lady Gaga, as some of their more noted alumni. As far as non-famous millionaires go, I saw my share of those too. The first was a young commercial real estate mogul who owned an elegant modern home located on the Sound in Orient. The house, wrapped in enormous windows, was cut into a cliff on the water, and invisible from the dirt road that led up to it. My friend Jen invited me to vacation at her boss’s home on the North Fork. I had just graduated from Hamilton College as a poor, albeit employed, English major. I was working in book publishing in the city at Viking Penguin, but she knew I had no money for any sort of retreat. We rode our bikes into Greenport, took the ferry to Shelter Island, and stopped at farm stands for corn and tomatoes to eat with the swordfish we had bought at Orient Point. We went out a couple of nights, to Marakesh in Westhampton, and to Southampton, where we danced at Conscience Point. But mostly we read by the glassy pool, enveloped in luxurious silence . I was intrigued by the calmer waters off Long Island Sound and charmed by the myriad of polished stones that made up the shore. Lest anyone think that these are just the anecdotal musings of one bookish and quiet young woman, I offer up the example of my older brother as proof of the East End’s superiority in the beach realm. A boisterous man-about-town, he owns his own beach property in Narragansett, Rhode Island, but admits he was instantly blown away by the sweeping ocean vista of our home the first time he saw it. Its panoramic view of the thunderous Atlantic continues to be breathtaking to me, even after twenty years of coming here. . My husband was never partial to strip clubs for bachelor parties. For his own, he chose ten of his friends, as well as his sixty-five-year-old father, and my brother. They spent the weekend at the beach house, rising early to drive to Montauk Harbor and charter a fishing boat. After hooking dozens of striped bass and bluefish, the fishermen returned sweaty and sunburned. They drank beer and grilled burgers on the deck, while smoking Cuban cigars and bragging about whose catch was the biggest. One night, the guys went out to John Scott’s Surf Shack and the Coors Light promotional girls showed up at the bar, clad in bikinis. They all posed for a few pictures. One of the shots, with my husband smiling like a Cheshire cat as the man of the hour, even made it into Dan’s Papers the following week. That was it, I have been assured, by each man at the party. They went home and slept outside on the deck, since there was a heat wave afflicting the whole Northeast. Breakfast was coffee and eggs on the grill. My big brother, a Wall street trader and veteran of testosterone-fueled parties held in Las Vegas, still maintains it was the best bachelor party he has ever attended. One early morning in August, Tom and I took our younger children to the Montauk Point Lighthouse, while our teenagers went surfing. To commemorate our maiden trip to this historic landmark, I insisted we swim in the waters below the lighthouse. A baptism of sorts, I thought, eager for a fresh start in the fall. I later read in the lighthouse’s newspaper, The Beacon, that the experienced knew that that these rough, churning waves were “a spiritual vortex,” and those who braved them were most likely in for some turbulence ahead. In our case, this turned out to be true. My father-in-law died at the end of that summer, stunning my husband into grief. I was also plunged into a personal crisis, begun months before by losing my childhood home to Sandy. It was the last tangible connection to the memories of my own dead father. Almost every day, I longed to be able to say to him, Aren’t they great Daddy, your grandchildren? Much older than my mother, he was the ever-gentle Atticus Finch to my Scout, and had patiently taught me to read at the age of four, as I sat on his lap with The New York Times. Eventually, my crisis passed. And that boy who broke his present open on the counter? That was our son, Owen. One morning my brother-in-law drove out early to take him over the Ponquogue Bridge to buy fish for our dinner that night. He bumped into an old friend from high school who worked at the seafood store. His friend gave Owen the backstage tour and let him pick out his own oyster from the tanks and smash the shell on the counter. Incredibly, there was a perfect pearl hidden in that particular one. Owen burst in the door yelling, “Mom, Mom, where’s Mom!” He found me reading on the second floor sun deck. Slowly, he walked over and said, “This is for you.” He then bolted outside and ran to the beach for a swim before lunch. I examine his serendipitous discovery and see that on the outside it is delicate and gives off a soft glow. But I know that inside it is as strong as a stone. . They say that when you die, the only question that will be asked of you is this: How well did you love? After what I hope is the first half of my long life, I have experienced much more joy than pain. I have lost a lot of people that I loved, but I have also given birth to four babies, who have more than made up for those losses. I spent my youth well, searching for the people and the places that would bring out the best in me. I am lucky to have found them both. Why is the East End so special to me? Because when I am here, I love well. And isn’t that the whole point?