The Z-Zimmer

Written By: Mary  Engels

Hampton Bays and the Z-Zimmer

©Mary Engels, July 2012



My grandparents loved to entertain and they’d invite their friends and neighbors each year to a beach party. About halfway down this Hampton Bays beach, high on the rocks and sand, my grandpa had built a wooden deck complete with an ice bucket holder. He christened it the Z-Zimmer and this square piece of knotted pine became their summer entertaining area.


The morning of their party, we’d get beach chairs, a few towels and head down to the Zimmer.  Grandma would put on one of her little bikinis, a wide brimmed hat and walk her skinny legs into the water with a bucket and clam rake. Her two beagles would always try to keep up with her but she’d go deeper than their legs would allow. My sisters and I would be swimming, searching the sand for sea glass or daring each other to pick up one of the large prehistoric horseshoe crabs that would crawl from the murky bay water.


A couple of hours before people were scheduled to arrive, we’d go back up to the house where Grandma would change into one of her super cool crocheted dresses and start peeling the husks off corn, or placing chopped lettuce and tomatoes into a large bowl. “Did you get all the sand off, no sand in the house” she’d say as we ran the garden hose over our feet. “Would any of you like an ice cream soda?”


This was Grandpa’s cue to go buy the lobsters and any other groceries he needed. Watching him cook the lobsters was a summertime sporting event. Before dropping them into the boiling water, he would take the rubber bands off their claws because it “gave them a fighting chance”.  We’d rock back and forth outside in hammocks watching it all unfold through the kitchen window.  Though no lobster ever truly won, Grandpa sometimes had a bandaged thumb for a week afterwards to go along with whatever new vocabulary words we had learned from his experience.


Then we’d all get everything ready to bring back to the beach for barbeques. One of us would be carrying a bag of charcoal while another helped with the grill, and you hoped the wind would die down in order to get the flames going. The beach party was a mix of locals alongside their city guests. People would just be walking through the woods down the worn beach path.


One of the neighbors had purchased an old wooden fishing boat years earlier with the intention of fixing it. Instead it sat half filled with water still tied to a dock. It became a landmark. Once you walked past the sinking boat with it’s peeling paint and vacant windows, past the cattails and beyond the barnacled rock you’d see the Z-zimmer. There were also beach towels and picnic blankets alongside it of every size and color, and a few people would have even brought a tent.


As the sky darkened, the air would become a mixture of salt spray, citronella, and coppertone. Sometimes the sound of a guitar would mix with the tide inching up to the shore. Large logs of driftwood found onshore would be made into a bonfire. Then adults would become a unified haze of cigarette smoke, conversation and cocktails. We would look over just to see how many marshmallows were left to toast, and if there were enough graham crackers for s’mores. All the while the Z-Zimmer became the evening’s lighthouse and meeting place if anyone was lost.


At the end of the party, we were given sparklers to wave into the night and flashlights to find our shoes. Guided back to the house by a string of owl shaped lanterns attached to the trees, grandma would ask, “Did you have a good day?”