The White Gate
It’s no longer in the family but every once in a while I find myself taking a ride by the property that was once my grandfather’s old Hamptons summer home. I never set out for it and never tell anyone about it after, but the moment I take that left, all my worries ebb away, in their place a tidal surge of memories from the high water mark of childhood when this was my favorite place on earth. Bringing a sly smile, an opportunity to reflect on my life, and the wonderful people of my past that I should miss more often than I do.
The McMansion which has landed obscenely in the middle of grandpa’s beautiful lot is thankfully obscured as my vision becomes nostalgic. I now only see the pine and evergreen trees that ran perfectly straight with the weathered ornate silver painted wire fence and the great “white gate” that defined and bound the western end of the property together. The solidly built double gate anchored by huge logs with heavy forged hardware dominated the scene, and dared us to scale it. I feel myself bailing out of my dad’s big 68′ Impala after a breezy ride with all the windows rolled down, sometime in early summer. We’re out and running before the car comes to a stop my cousin James and my older brother Billy, we begin our ritualistic dash to open the driveway gate at the far end of the property before my dad gets there in his big black stock car, always believing it to be a legitimate race.
Through the tall green and brown grass that provided an apron for the estate, and finally assaulting the formidable white gate up we go, leaping and grabbing for the just out of reach pickets with the purpose, zeal and determination of Army Rangers scaling the cliffs at Point Du Hoc. Our pro keds grip and slip on heavily painted true dimension old wood and over the top we go spraying paint chips in the air and scraping a knee or two, landing on a deep soft bed of pine needles, moss and grass never feeling a thing, sometimes doing a cool roll just to get a little dirty and taste the good earth that we were so intimate with, out of the sun and into the cool shade as the property welcomed us as favored guests. We bear left and shoot for the gap between the chicken house on the right and where grandpa piled all the leaves, cut grass and clippings from his constant pruning on the left. A huge pine tree shaded them both and was the site where my grandfather sat, surveyed his kingdom, patiently entertained our constant questions of life, nature, Ireland and his time in France during WWI when he served with the fighting 69th! we were his grand lad’s.
We pick up some speed using the slight dip leading into the field where we played ball, my cousin and brother were older and faster but not as motivated as I to beat my father, for bragging rights. A quick glance left out of the corner of my eye shows the chevy turning right for it’s straight run to the driveway, it can also pick up speed here, this is going to be close! To the right a big weeping willow a couple of pear trees that my uncle Dan always seemed to be spraying with some pesticide that would make my wife scream today. Everyone had their own little jobs, grandpa liked everything just so and was particular about who helped and did what, my uncle Vic was allowed to cut hedges, dad worked on the house and anything with a motor. I had the greatest job of all cutting the grass using the late 40’s vintage ride on lawnmower, It was an awesome machine, it’s 5 horsepower Briggs & Stratton roared like a Harley, red with white accents, big tires in the back and 4 on the floor. Being anointed with this task was one of the great privileges of my youth, for may reasons. there were other adults and grand children more senior who would have gladly taken the honor, my coronation came one day when my uncle Vic was trying to be helpful, and steal my job, but my grandfather would not have and humiliated him by saying “let Timmy do he does it right” I never felt so proud in my life, I could barely reach the pedals but the job was mine and can’t tell you how much I loved doing it.
Beyond the pear trees a vegetable garden a low hedge and the swing set made of pipes grandpa took off construction sites and the same silver paint that could be found throughout the estate, slightly to the right and well camouflaged our fox hole, superbly constructed deep and well maintained defended ferociously as many a battle was fought there, it was also grandpa’s dump as we excavated one interesting artifact after another, shoes bottles and the like.
The end of the field was marked by home plate a copper pipe wired to a piece of angle iron capped by an ancient spigot that rose about 3 ft. out of the ground and often had bee’s swirling about, it also marked the halfway point in our sprint. Dad now ominously gaining to almost a dead heat, as we put it into high gear we startle a rabbit who zigs then zags right towards the flag pole which was dated 1946 then disappeared under a hydrangea behind the pump house and a walkway lined with hedges that separated the old and new lots. This brought the house into view and I could see my grandmother in the kitchen window and smell her homemade applesauce.
My arms and legs were in good stride now running full out, driveway and gate coming up fast. The house which my grandfather and his brother Uncle Johnny built was a glorified bungalow, the “new” lot behind it was purchase later for $400.00, was more structured in design than the more natural flowing original lot, tall Hampton hedges on all three sides, a classic open summer house behind main house let to the pool, which grandpa hand dug. It was in the middle of the lot flanked by a huge apple tree on the left and a row of beautiful cypresses that would have inspired Vincent Van Gough himself on the right. It was also another favorite spot for my grandfather, sitting in metal lawn chairs that are now retro chick, most of the family pictures that I’ve seen were taken there. A step down from the pool and you found yourself walking on white pebbles under a trellis in a perfect English garden surrounded by rose bushes and circular hedges. A bird bath fountain in the middle a silver painted Eagle keeping a wary eye on everything, another construction site gem taken off a dismantled Eagle Boiler that he carried home on the numerous buses and subways that was his commute, knowing just where it belonged, on the other side a bird house with multiple families or wrens living the high life. A beautiful rock grotto precisely covered in vines protecting a statue of Mary finished the garden.
The walkway we just jumped over led from the street to the fount door was embedded with all kinds of interesting rocks lava, crystals, sparkling granite. We made it to the driveway and touched the gate barely beating dad, our happiness was genuine as we pushed open the gate, dad drove in and parked over the spot where is old engine was buried. It was a flat head V-8 that he was supposed to move before he went into the Navy, 2 years later upon his return he asked where it was? grandpa told him he was standing on it! he just dug a hole and pushed it over. He had such a green thumb Im surprised a hot rod Ford never grew from it.
As I instinctively pull up to where the driveway was at the dead end, I am met with a white polyurethane fence, the joyous winners fade, I feel their youth and the good energy of their victory and pull away rejuvenated just like when I was a kid.