When Fireflies Dance In The Hamptons

Written By: Sharon Azzato

Summer nights in the Hamptons can be a surprisingly quiet, reflective time, especially when you live in an old sea captain’s house from the 1850s, and live next to a church and cemetery.  The neighbors have been silent for over a hundred years.  As I sit, motionless in my back yard, the darkness envelops me and removes the normal distractions of the day from my mind.

Then out of the black nocturnal night comes little beacons of light randomly flickering on and off through the air.  I call this the dance of the fireflies. Their brief luminescence shines here and there in the vast darkness before me.  I have watched these summer harbingers since I was a child, as I suppose generations of my family have.  I often feel a sense of the infinite when I perceive the night sky and the mystery it carries until another brief flame of the fireflies appear and illuminates the night. Their light in the darkness return  my thoughts from the eternal to the present moment.

The original owner of my home was a local lad by the name of Josiah Foster, born in this small hamlet of East Quogue, in the early 1800’s.  He had this house built for his bride and future children in the 1850’s.  He survived the turbulent life of a seaman and then returned to farming the land.   Later, he sold the farm and eventually my family purchased the house and land, and has lived here ever since.

Josiah Foster built a new farmhouse, in Sagaponak, and tragically died, in a farming accident, when he fell from the loft in his barn.  Such is the randomness of a person’s fate.

Tonight, I sit outside in the darkness in reverie of this man I never met and all the other known and unknown people who have lived here.  They probably sat as I am sitting, in the heat of a summer night, chatting and watching the dance of the fireflies.

Sometimes I think I could be like the sultana, Sheherazade, who to save her life told the tall tales of the Arabian Nights, to her jealous, murderous sultan.  My tall tales would be to tell the stories I know, of the myriad of people who have lived in this old sea captains home.  I would, I hope, be validating their lives; who they were and how they lived by the tales I would tell.

The night is now filled with the earthen aromas of a summer eve, of fresh cut grass, and the musky smell of flowering shrubs, and other ethereal scents of a summer evening. Even the salty ocean breeze caresses the night air.  And of course there is the swirling little flames of the fireflies punctuating the night. All this is a wonderful backdrop for a remembrance of one who lived here long ago.

I use to sit here as a child just as I am now with my Grandmother, Selma Hill.  We would search the night sky to find clusters of stars and constellations and of course watch the fireflies.  Of the many people who have touched my life and left an imprint on my soul, it would be my grandmother.  Memories of her are more dreamlike now, little snippets of the times we spent together, float in and out of my mind particularly in the quiet of the night.

Grandmother Hill was one of the last, one room schoolhouse, teachers on Long Island.  She came to live with us for the last few years of her life.  Her gift to all who knew her was her passion for learning, her spirituality, and her dedication to protecting mother earth. She would instill, in the children she taught, a thirst for knowledge and a sense of duty to make this world a better place.

Some little poignant memories I have are of her taking my hand and skipping together into the family parlor, on Christmas day, to revel at our beautiful Christmas tree.  I still have the book of stories by Hans Christian Anderson, she gave me, and remember most the story of, “The Snow Queen” being read to me as a child of seven.

Those intimate times we shared together as she took my brother and I on nature walks and collected flowers to press into a book, for posterity I will always treasure.

Sometimes she would show me a copy of a famous painting, in a book, and have me write my impression of the painting, on a sheet of paper. Other times she would ask me to memorize a poem and then deliver a speech about it with feeling and expression.

My Grandmother Hill, was always concerned about those who were less fortunate then we were, so we would sponsor an orphan in another country, and I can still remember the photo of the little girl, who lived in an orphanage, in Israel.

Being the perpetual teacher, she was trying to stimulate and challenge her students, and of course I was a benefactor too, as she was my Grandmother!  What few remembrances I have  shared  are but a few of the many fond memories I have of this remarkable person.

Then illness came and my Grandmother took the reality of her declining health with grace and faith and the hope that she might survive.  She, however, became weaker and often spent more time in her chair by her bed, writing poems and looking out the window as the seasons came and went.

One time I was playing dress up in the next room, I was probably nine years old.  I had put my mother’s makeup and lipstick on my face, and was looking at myself, in a mirror, when I heard my mother talking with her.  My Grandmother had separated from her husband when her six children were small, and she had raised and supported them by herself.  She did not believe in divorce so she remained separated from him.  I never met my grandfather but I was told he was a minister, a “man of the cloth” who was very charismatic, but let the world influence him more than his faith and calling.

On this day, my mother told my Grandmother that she had found out my Grandfather had died.  After my mother left the room, I could hear my Grandmother crying so sorrowfully by herself, unaware that any one was witness to her loss.

I sat in the next room, a little girl with her mother’s makeup and wearing her costume jewelry, around my young neck.  I looked in the mirror and bore witness to this sad moment.  I often ponder, “ Did my grandmother weep for the love she still felt for this man, who had abandoned his family?” “Did she weep for a man who had lost his way and now had lost his life?”  Unfortunately, I will never know.  But as I quietly listened to her crying, my reflection in the mirror looked so very young and yet so very old, and I knew I would never forget this moment in time.

A few years later my Grandmother Hill would pass from Cancer.  It was a valiant fight.  Her hope for healing yet her acceptance of her time on this earth coming to an end.

Now as grow older I think of her more often particularly on summer nights.  I carry so much of what she taught me so long ago within the person I have become.

Summer nights in the Hamptons can be a time of reflection, a time to watch the dance of the fireflies.  The quiet of the night in my venerable old homestead, the dark sky, and the flickering fireflies will always bring back illuminated memories of a grandmother whom I loved.