There have been enormous changes in this area in the 50 plus years that I’ve been living here, and there have been many things that I grew up always expecting to remain that no longer do. Wonderful places that not only remain in photographs, super 8 movies, paintings and my memory. These losses are things that pain me deeply.
Georgica Pond used to be covered with lily pads so thick that you couldn’t see the surface of the water as you pushed softly through a haze of dragonflies with your rowboat, your oars lifting the flower stems which slide gently off like the thickest, most elegant green noodles you could ever imagine. Now the waters are 190 acres of dangerously polluted toxic soup.
I used to celebrate my birthday with Mr. Nichols and his pony rides on the triangle of land where the western end of Georgica Road bifurcates before joining up with Montauk Highway. I got one free turn for each year of my age and I remember wishing only to be older so that the ride would last longer. If only I was twelve! I think there was a house on the property and a tiny barn where my birthday porters spent shivery winters, but for me it was a tiny slice of heaven. That property, now complete with house and pool, two years ago was for sale for $3.55 million. Bye bye ponies, I miss you.
From the time you crossed the Shinnecock Canal until you got out to Montauk there was only one place where, if you looked south on sunny days, you could see a stretch of silver shimmering just above the dunes, a sliver of the sea. That was Sagaponack and that view is long gone, visible only in the paintings of Barbara Thomas and Sheridan Lord.
The enormous dune that I grew up hiding from the wind behind, building complicated secret dune grass shelters in which imaginary sand fairies played, and in whose sheltering shoulders I reveled in the power of a teenaged kiss, was erased by hurricane Sandy, rubbed flat as completely as if it had never existed.
I used to ride my horse bareback from Patsy and Alvin Toppings Swan Creek Farm diagonally northeast to get to Carvel where we would both have soft serve ice cream cones. I had chocolate with chocolate sprinkles and my horse had vanilla with multicolored sprinkles. Then we would swim, or rather my horse would swim and I’d clutch his mane, as we ventured into Kellis Pond to cool off. To get there and back we could have headed straight through the farm fields, without a single house to block our path, the only structure being the strange bowling pin shaped structure (later learned to be a radio transmitter for the East Hampton Airport) that lived in Jack Musnicki’s fields. We stayed on the roads (most of the time) out of respect for the farmer’s crops, but there was never a more incredible open sky view then that of laying flat back on your horse’s wet haunches, reins slack as he walked patiently and determinedly back to the barns, with nothing surrounding you but fields and clouds.
There have always been out here places where you can experience wonder, and when they are gone we mourn their losses deeply. I don’t think it’s just about growing older and losing the ability to see and be and experience life as a child, although that change is, in its own way, somewhat devastating, and although I wish I could give the people I love the ability to see this area through the eyes and the heart of my younger self, I wouldn’t want them to share the pain.
Last week we gained more pain.
A part of me died when I watched the façade of the Sag Harbor Movie theatre crumble and fold in upon itself. I know they saved the sign, and that’s great (although it’s not the original sign – that was removed in 2004) but for me that building was a lot more than just a sign.
What makes us mourn a structure? Is it the way the building felt? Or the way we felt when we were within it? Or just the loss of the familiarity of something that has been with us for a long time?
I love the Sag Harbor movie theater and everything it represents. It determinedly persisted in being the theater I remember it to be, and wanted it to stay. A single screen theater — like the one in Southampton once was, with its incredible and, to a child, awe inspiring massive chandelier that I still miss — the Sag Harbor movie theater has been with me my entire life. I am a regular now and have always been so. I had planned to see Moonlight there last week, the previous week I had gone with my father to see Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. We’ve been sharing movies there together my entire life.
I loved the seats, even though I know they were uncomfortable. I loved that there were no previews. That the popcorn was not that great. That if this theater didn’t exist the only way I’d ever see the films they showed would be if I rented them at home. But isn’t that the point of going to the movies? To not be in your home. To step out of your own world and become engulfed in a new one, to sit in a dark room with no hint what’s going on outside the walls, no idea if the sky is blue or black, and just be taken to another place by the way colors and sound have been mixed and rearranged on a huge screen that fills not just your vision, but your whole soul?
I have fallen in love in that building and also had my heart broken. I’ve been terrified, overjoyed, disappointed, inspired, agitated, filled with hope, brought to tears, astonished, awed, devastated and laughed until I couldn’t breathe. I sobbed there so hard once that the strangers sitting a few seats over from me offered me not just their tissues, but comfort as well. I’ve been mesmerized, challenged, transported, staggered, amused, educated, and totally swept away.
I’ve been blessed, as have we all, but now that cavernous gaping space on Main Street only reflects the enormous gulf in my chest I feel knowing that the Sag Harbor movie theater is not there anymore. Luckily I know that the reason we love Sag Harbor is that I am not the only person here that relies on these kinds of quirky, non-mainstream, noncommercial stories to keep her whole. And that as a community we will come together to make sure this part of the Hamptons is not going to be lost forever.
Paige Patterson mourns the drive-in too, but in a different way, as that’s where she first saw Dumbo.