Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Shack in East Hampton

Sammy's Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
(Corcoran Group Real Estate)

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills – the opening sentence of Isak Dineson’s novel, Out of Africa.

Having lived in several states during the past 18 years, I play a game upon arriving at a new home.  How to imitate Dineson’s sentence?

I had a house in Abingdon, at the edge of the Appalachian Trail.

And so forth.

Between 1967 and 1985, my parents owned a small beach house on a windswept road in East Hampton, N.Y.  One drove from the stately old town, through woods crackling with sunlight, to arrive at a spit of land which faced a bay whose water turned every shade of blue. 

The bay was named for a seventeenth-century English settler, Lion Gardiner.  He had lived in the middle of the bay, on Gardiner’s Island, which he purchased from an Indian chief named Wyandanch. 

Sammy’s Beach Road ran along the spit, and we were the second house from the end.  The homes were modest.  I remember one contemporary cantilevered house; otherwise they had all been there since the 1940s and 50s.  One house looked like a shingled box and was extra-mysterious because its owner never, ever appeared.

The beach had not yet eroded.  A dune covered with beach grass and Rosa rugosa sloped from the deck to the end of the path.

 Easthampton Elms in May by Childe Hassam
(Smithsonian American Art Museum)
Main Street, East Hampton, looked much the same in 1970 as in this 1925 print. 

The town was still fun: pre-Ralph Lauren, pre-Tommy Hilfiger, pre-Tahari.  The hot spots were a grocery with a donut machine and the Ladies Village Improvement Society bookstore, packed with books that had been abandoned at beach houses after the war.   

About a half-mile down the beach from my parents’ house, an old shack stood back from the shore.  Made of weather-beaten boards that had turned splintery and silver, it contained a few benches and a partition from its days as a place to change into a bathing suit.  You could sit on a narrow deck and look at the water.  In the manner of teenagers, I thought of it as mine.

I drew the shack, as recalled, in the mid-90s. 

Recently reminded of the shack, I examined a few real estate photographs.
  It’s definitely gone.  That feels poignant, for this is exactly the time of year, a baby step toward summer, when we would head out to East Hampton to open the house for the season.  It became a habit to cast an eye toward the shack to make sure that it was still there.

I had a shack in East Hampton . . .


1 comment:

  1. That's what we called out place in the Berkshires, which was a helluva lot shackier than yours, I guarantee you. I visited once, with Ellen in 1979. I read my student script out loud to you both, I could hear how static and sterile the dialogue was. it was an invaluable lesson and I rewrote it accordingly.
    I love that library of books left from the war. And I also often quote that opening line -- it is particularly fun to land it with Meryl's Danish accent. "I had a two bedroom in Hollywood..."

    ReplyDelete