We Don’t Go to Westhampton Anymore

Written By: Eileen Sharan Smith

We don’t go to Westhampton Dunes anymore. We sold our little beach house a few years ago at my insistence. We had been spending summer weekends there since 1977 and I told my husband it was enough. It was a hard thing to do but somehow I had the feeling that we didn’t belong there anymore. We were old and all our neighbors were young with young children. But it was something more than that. Call it a premonition but I felt that we had to simplify our lives. The following summers were hard for us. We actually had to plan how we would spend our weekends. I hated to admit how much I missed it but I did, indeed. My husband, who loved the place more than all of us seemed to adjust much better than I did. I kept seeing us crossing the bridge to Dune Road each Friday with that same excitement year after year. It never waned and always brought us that same sense of happiness that was lacking in our everyday lives. We actually found a buyer for the house on the same day we decided to sell it. At the end of the week we had made a deal. It was easy – none of the usual stress associated with selling a home.

It was also around that time that I started to notice that my husband had memory issues. Nothing serious. He still played bridge, did tax returns for his clients, told the same old jokes and loved eating in nice restaurants. Gradually, the memory issues became more pronounced and I realized that something was terribly wrong. I took him for neuropsychological testing and the results confirmed the word that I was afraid to utter. He had Alzheimer’s. The decline had begun and I was there to see the whole thing. First, his memory; then his walking; then his personality changes from a nice man to a troublemaker. I placed him in a facility in the same town where our marriage began. He is there now.

There are certain things that bring a big smile to his face. The mention of his children and grandchildren, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and our tiny little house in Westhampton Dunes. I remind him of all the things we did there. How he went looking for crabs in the bay behind our house and screamed his head off when one of them bit him. How he made me buy a house which needed a lot of work and then told me he didn’t come out to the beach to work. How he planted tomatoes and waged war against the birds who kept eating them. How he jogged on Dune Road in intense heat. How he got so excited watching a Dodger game one night that he wound up in the intensive care unit at Riverhead Hospital with what he was sure was a heart attack. It was not. The memories are sweet and there are many. I try to remind him of those days. He could not tell you what month it is or where he is now, but he remembers very well our beach house. I think it was the place where this type A personality was truly happy and relaxed and not thinking about accounting. We would sit on our deck on the night of the shooting stars in August and wait to see something. He was most excited about seeing them and fell asleep as soon as we set up the chairs to watch. He would stand in the middle of Dune Road and stop cars that were looking for a parking spot so they could go to Morgan’s and he guided them into our driveway charging $5 per car and striking up conversations with all the drivers. Strangely enough, he did not like the beach and rarely went there to take in the sun. He preferred to sit on our deck and read or try to get into the hammock he had put up but would always fall out of.

He suffered through the damage of the unnamed storm in 1991 when we tried to rescue our house. He waited patiently until we won our case in court and repairs were made to the jetties near us. It took about six years. I try very hard to bring him back to those days and he still remembers clearly the time he spent there. He remembers old songs and he remembers every word of his high school French. He remembers little else as he sinks further into this most dreaded disease. I ask why he is so unlucky and I ask why this had to happen to a man who lost his hearing at twenty-seven, had cancer in his fifties and now has very advanced Alzheimer’s disease. I then remind myself that he has a lovely family. And he also had the foresight to talk me into buying the little wreck of a house on Dune Road. When I asked him if he was crazy he told me to have a little vision – that we could turn it into something wonderful. Over the years, we did. Little did I know that those memories would spark something in him and that for a few moments he would become the person he was.