This week’s column serves up a dish of nostalgia
I remember an NPR show where the guest was asked to name an emotion of a goldfish, and they said nostalgia. I thought yes, they don’t make goldfish bowls like they used to. For those of us with a long lens on the Hamptons, we have a certain nostalgia for our own goldfish bowl.
I first arrived here at three weeks old and at the door of our cottage — and I do mean cottage and not Stanford White Shingle Style mansion — there was a cement slab with my and my sister’s small footprints. Whenever I felt lost as I got older, I used to stand on those tiny reminders of a different world.
I think how to paint the en plein air canvas of that time. In Sagaponack, the land was simply the land, mostly potato fields and sometimes corn tended by large Polish farming families. When they carved up that land for sale with white outlines from aerial shots, it struck me like chalked crime scene scenarios. The McMansions which rose from the fertile loam didn’t seem to nourish anyone.
The Hamptons have always included a large second home population but when it is a beautiful Fourth of July Weekend and your gorgeous beach house is empty without owners, guests, renters or clever squatters, it’s a third or fourth home or possibly an LLC for foreign money. Or perhaps they misinterpreted the open space rule to be within the house instead of between them.
The currency back then was trust. We had house accounts everywhere from penny candy at the Sagaponack General Store to Loaves and Fishes to the Seafood Shop. We’d pretty much sign and enjoy then get a staggering large bill in the fall, although thankfully that was before lobster salad was $100 a pound. You could even trade art in a pinch as Jackson Pollock did at Mueller’s Grocery store where Almond Restaurant now stands. Rumor has it they subsequently sold the painting for about $30,000 but you can only imagine what it would be worth now.
At The American Hotel, gentlemen were required to wear a jacket and they would only accept cash or a check. The American Hotel was also one of the last hold outs for its no cell phone policy. If a gentleman would show up today in a blue blazer without a cell phone and pay by check today, I would date that guy.
The Bridgehampton Commons used to be the Bridgehampton Drive-In where the non-Dolby stereo sound or scratchy picture made no difference. A parent would just pile a bunch of us kids in the back and take us out to watch Fantasia. Our cute golf club had a sign I will never forget that said No Short Shorts or Tube Tops. Of course, all I wanted to do was go roller skate down the driveway in said contraband.
It was a time when beach houses weren’t winterized, bonfires did not require permits and basements were basements and not “lower levels.” Sag Harbor was filled with sailboats instead of motor boats. Bobby Van’s, which was across the street from its current location, was filled with writers like Truman Capote, George Plimpton, and James Jones instead of Instagram influencers. And you could get delicious homemade ice cream at the Candy Kitchen. Okay, so that one is still here. If only the black and white milkshake had the same power to heal any of life’s disappointments.
There was truly a summer season then and we locals would gather at Sagg Main Beach for Mimosa Monday on Labor Day, which was basically a way to say to the rude New Yorkers, “Don’t let the door hit you in the a** on the way out.” You’d see everyone here, from the teachers to firemen to that electrician you were trying to hunt down all summer to fix the porch light. There would be some serious hula hooping, body surfing, and “Oh boy can you top this,” stories of summer people behaving badly. It was a local tradition.
One year the police shut it down. I totally respect the safety issues but we always had a designated driver, and it was such an end of summer ritual where we all gathered to realize how darn lucky we were to be in this amazing place. Green Juice Monday doesn’t have the same ring or alliteration.
Looking back on these times with perhaps nostalgia, is it that it was less crowded, less regulated, less expensive, less painful, less scheduled, more hopeful? Were we in it more all together? Did a basement have to be a media center to make a house a home? Did the goldfish always want a bigger fish bowl with a better view?
Maybe it is that we knew what was enough. It didn’t have to be everything. Just a perfect amount of life well lived to be enough.