On the way to dinner we drove along what I still refer to as ourCote d’Azur, the stretch right by the water betweenHamptonBaysand Shinnecock Hills.
We gorged on lobster as in “nothing-special-what’s-for-dinner” at The Lobster Inn. Hitherto known to us as a purse depleting extravagance, consumed with due reference and complicated cutlery that tended to diminish the pleasure of the indulgence. With melted butter coursing towards elbows and a plastic bib it tasted much better.
The following summer we rented a cottage on Penny Cove for the season, stretching it out from early May to November to in- and exhale on weekends. That need to breathe.
A year later, we now were three, and had extended the contract another two years, I was house hunting for “small house with large garden”, as I kept calling “yards”. Soon I found one inSouthamptonwith nary a rational thought interfering. “House as Investment” was for us “resident aliens” an alien concept. Why I fell for it I finally understood while recently settling my mother’s estate. In old photographs I see myself standing on veranda steps leading up to my grandparent’s house, later lost as a result of WWII. The memory of that veranda, the facade behind me with three rows of double hung white windows must have lodged in my memory prompting my spontaneous decision.
I’ve now labored decades with passion and stamina I did not know I possessed in the sandy loam of what deserves to be called “garden”, “yard” still conjuring asphalt and concrete. Any garden reaches its apogee and eventually demands ever larger tools and ruthless pruning decisions. Clematis Paniculata and Ampelopsis Vine are my two cardinal gardening disasters now fully in control of my, and the neighbor’s, property. I could shoe horses, from draft to the most delicate breed, not to mention the good luck I’ll never run out of, with what I’ve dug up over the years.
Apropos, digging up things and ulterior motives. Our American escapade provided an elegant solution I secretly delighted in to a possessive, manipulative, rumor spreading mother-in-law who never insulted me unintentionally. Her simultaneously blunt and cutting insults too numerous to recall are, I insist, not forgiven. Her chicaneries spurred on, not diminished with each year of our marriage.
Her favorite son, a status yielded without rancor even by his four siblings, was caught between the fronts. He had had the audacity to fall for me. To marry me even though, and this was particularly galling, “He didn’t have to”! I wasn’t pregnant!” Unforgivable. Had it been so, his decision could be relegated to her “trapped son doing merely the decent thing under the circumstances”, rather than driving a stake through her heart, as she once put it. We enumerated all advantages international business experience would confer on my husband’s future career, while he contemplated, not that enthusiastically, the offer. These being the late sixties,America’s so-called “Golden Years”, I urged disgustingly unprincipled: “Let’s go.”
I did not keep her thoughtful gift, an apron, sent while I recuperated after a car accident resulting in a gashing wound across my forehead. To belle-mêre, my disfigurement would be my destiny, playing itself out in subdued domesticity. The flattering appellation was one of my sycophantic appeasement attempts. Though she was beautiful (it was said), exceedingly charming (to others), and dramatically gifted when called for.
I wanted an ocean between us, expensive calling rates, and a plane crash-rate that discouraged visits.
Six years ago I discovered something that convinced me I was meant to live right here on theEast End, own the house I do and the garden I tend. Digging a hole I unearthed a stone boundary marker with the chiseled letters “W and O”. For a moment the universe seemed less random, kneeling, dirt encrusted I was staring at her initials.
“I won”, I told the squat little pillar.
Whenever I am too full of myself my husband suggests a walk to “The Pillar”. Thus pilloried I come back deflated.
Much in life depends on one’s perspective: A slight shift in position vis à vis my marker and I am looking at a harmless O and M. A trip turns into a Journey. A temporary home becomes Home. Once I’ve figured out how to spread my own acidic ashes under the lackluster pale-ish hydrangeas and figured out how to live to enjoy the application’s deep blue results, I’ll be ready for the Forever here, too. Forever not being that far off.