The Truth About The Good Life
There’s a house on Main Street in Southampton that looks at the local CVS, where my grandfather lives. It’s old. Like him I guess, and he lives there by himself, along with the 10 guests that stay over and pay to visit this beautiful B&B. It is well kept, and charming and he created it about 20 years ago. Inside the kitchen he keeps newspapers- all different kinds. He cuts them up, and finds the good parts and uses the rest to throw away. He sends me interesting articles, opinion pieces, and notices for the occasional writing contest.
They say the novel is dead. But who’s to say this idea is true? Because I can still walk into Barnes and Noble and see plenty of them in plain sight. So why is the novel dead? “Why is the novel dead?” I ask grandpa. He stirs and moves his head about to give a deep complex response that my young intellect is not quite ready to grasp. It’s as if he agrees with this statement but also desperately wants the world to fix it. Blogs, newspapers, magazines, where are our good novels? Some would say they seem to be stuck in the past with Jane Eyre and Pip and Gatsby, and we know they can’t be replaced.
When the summer months roll around, I being like many a child growing up in an affluent neighborhood on the West End of Long Island, travel out to the East End. Where there are fewer suburbs and the beaches are nicer than Jones and Breezy Point and the clothes and food are much more expensive. Writing about Long Island and the East End in the summer time is exciting because of the always-changing scene. The local people seem to be hiding and the town takes on a new façade of pretention. Women with dyed-blonde hair, in BMW convertibles cruise down Main Street to see and be seen. During off-season, they’ll be driving on the Miracle Mile, only to appear again on Memorial Day expecting some kind of show and over priced ice cream. So growing up I too, expected that this is what you do when you live on the Gold Coast. I never really knew what “having it good” meant, because visiting the East End in the summertime is simply the norm.
Needless to say, I didn’t know much about locals, until my Grandparents decided to become them. From what I can tell from my mom, grandpa likes fixer-uppers. He likes to make something out of nothing, start from the ground up. Starting in Manhattan on 2nd avenue, with tenements that were all wrecks and that he was prepared to fix. He had ideas, and good ones too. He knew how to take advantage of an opportunity and bring something to it’s full potential. Grandma was an entrepreneur-and an only child, who by birth was placed into the good life and whose father owned a successful Italian restaurant on 3rd avenue. She knew what living luxuriously was, and also knew how to work a business. All these important things were happening well before I had arrived.
After my grandparents wed and set into a small family oriented town, they eventually made their way to the Hamptons, and found a well aged historic house, and a small shop that grandma planned to turn into an antique collection. Yet this house was a disaster, a pile of garbage with horrid teal paint and scary flowered wallpaper. Naturally my grandfather fell in love. It was exactly what they needed. The rickety, disgusting looking place was about to be torn down anyway, and in that same year my parents had just gotten married. So grandpa built it the way he did, from the ground up, inside out, chopping down paint and picking weeds daily. New everything. Locals probably wondered what the hell was going on with that house down on Main Street.
A year went by, and another year and another year, until 1996 when this wonderful face was brought into the world, and graced with a fresh new Bed and Breakfast in a quaint town with posh restaurants. Of course I was only an infant and had no idea what they had been creating for the last three years. Yet it would be imbedded in my blood, as if I was born into this business, this house. Grandpa would always make sure a room was reserved for us when we decided to spend the weekend. Grandma would always stock the fridge with juice and get us pizza and buy new shovels for going over to Cooper’s. My childhood summers would go this way, and I hardly ever remembered that I too was staying inside the business.
During this adolescent time, I would’ve never understood the same grandfather that handed me this writing contest. Five and six and nine year old me didn’t know that this thing called “the good life” was something that wasn’t supposed to just fall into your lap-even though it may have seemed that way. I didn’t know the grandpa that talked to me over lunch about an article he found discussing that something as simple as books, seem to be floating out of existence.
Of course I did not understand at first. But before he could tell me I realized it wasn’t just books he was talking about, but more of an ethic, an attitude of hard work- that he thought was going away as well. Maybe I misread him because it seemed so cynical, but it always felt like his philosophy to never forget to work hard at what you do.
So the child that would sneak into her grandmother’s shop on 25 Hampton Road to put the sticky child hands on every antique in the collection, didn’t understand. When faced with billiards, and Fourth of July parades and Easter eggs- it never occurred to me that the good life wasn’t only given but earned. So the more I grew the more I learned that pages in a novel take time and perseverance before they can be read and enjoyed by someone with their feet up and accompanied by expensive white wine.
I watched my business change, like most things do, it is still living and breathing, but the Antique shop on 25 Hampton Road has become a new store and my grandfather is only a landlord. My family and I now come out only in the summer months, and pay a visit to my grandfather, who still works the place with the help of some other employees. It is different now, we stop in to say our hellos, maybe get some lunch and be out the door. Yet Grandpa always has more to say.
When I come out to visit now, he hands me thought-provoking articles that say something important, or make a point, or even sometimes tell a small vignette. He reads and he reads and he reads, and sometimes he even writes. He says now he can write about his experiences-almost like the beginning of a novel. So is the novel really dead? (The books in the wine cellar seem a little dead, but I’m sure that’s only because everyone’s been too afraid to open them for the last 100 years). Fear, laziness, these are the qualities I know he doesn’t want me to hold. This thought of something so grand being put to rest, is a foolish thought and he has taught me other wise.
Build from the ground up, he said, and was able to create the most amazing story of them all. He says write about what you know, or what you think you might know, and to do that we must generate an experience. We write about what inspires us. Drive inspires us, having a muse inspires us, realizing that I was placed into the good life before I came out of the womb, but now recognizing the steps it will take for me to remain there. These are the stories that need to be told, the instances that need to be distinguished, and the ideas put into a business that also serves as a home. He taught me- a novel should come from something real; like the journey of an old rickety house that has ways to go on existing and living peacefully in words that are more than alive.