It’s the scent of rosa rugosa mixed with a bit of ocean brine that transports me in time. That particular aroma when exiting a wood-paneled station wagon after a long ride signaled Sagaponack summers, a Shangri-La away from schools and suburbia and stifling social structure. Bless my father who had picked up the sweet cottage in the late 1960s before he even met my mother. In the years and family that followed, a well-loved Hamptons house was judged not by square feet but by the amount of sand brought in by kids, dogs, and friends after a not-exactly gourmet clam bake.
The current beach mansions, empty even on summer weekends, would be found severely lacking by such a standard despite their Sonos sound systems and in-home theaters. We had a record player and the Bridgehampton Drive-In for those needs, perfectly fine for The Carpenters and “Fantasia.” Summer was all about playing in the sand. That definition of fun now reads as a prohibition list: driving your friends and dogs down the beach for a beer and s’mores-filled bonfire with an impromptu band, which for sure is going to disturb the Piping Plover.
Rules didn’t really apply then. Moms with hangovers burying their kids up to their necks in the sand was an acceptable method to have a few minutes of peace and quiet until the headache subsided. And the treasure hunt was for beautiful pieces of sea glass, opaque with rounded edges, not discarded plastics, which are destroying the oceans and strangling sea creatures.
I wonder now how life got so complicated. I appreciated summer’s simple pleasures. The epitome of culinary creation was a fresh tomato sandwich with salt and mayonnaise on country white toast. Candy Kitchen homemade ice cream was perfection without offering sugar free, fat free, gluten free, free range, free of adding an inch to your thighs options. And no need for salted caramel truffle — chocolate was fine, thank you very much. Local business operated on house accounts where you would just sign the bill at Loaves & Fishes or the Wainscott Seafood Shop and only face the sticker shock with the post-Labor Day bill. When you have trust, Apple Pay is completely unnecessary.
Excitement was going to the library for a Nancy Drew mystery where the world’s problems could be solved by a teenage sleuth with a powder blue roadster (changed to a hybrid for her newest incarnation.) I still wish I had a boyfriend like Ned Nickerson. Great literary figures abounded either at the Hampton Library’s Fridays at Five speaker series or drinking at Bobby Van’s back when Bobby Van was playing piano there. Truman Capote, George Plimpton, James Jones, and Kurt Vonnegut bellied up to the bar. Now, town is more likely to be filled with Instagram influencers taking selfies for their liquor sponsors.
Riding a bike was like . . . riding a bike. Not a chance to be texting with a friend about what you were going to wear to the party. Thank goodness the millennials have to at least stop at the deli for food and water, because if there was an app for apps, they’d just be licking their phone all day. And somehow everyone was able to fully appreciate a sunset without taking a single picture. It is called a memory. Remember those?
I remember that my Dad could truly relax. He didn’t need an “out of office” reply because, well, he was out of the office. He would scour the beach for driftwood and create magnificent collages, one for each of my sister and my birthdays. These creative creations have long outlived him, the wood embodying its former life before the ocean waves as well as his insurmountable love.
Our favorite trip was to the American Hotel where it was required he wear a jacket. I always had to remind him to bring the checkbook because they did not accept credit cards. They also did not allow cell phones — for as long as they could — before asking patrons to refrain became a health hazard for the bartenders.
It is a privilege of age to wax nostalgic of how life used to be. Yet we still have the beaches, and Candy Kitchen, and the American Hotel, Loaves & Fishes, the Wainscott Seafood Shop, the Hampton Library with its Friday at Five, the bar at Bobby Van’s, and a farm stand tomato sandwich. And a few of us writers still hanging on tooth and nail to keep our footprints in the sand.