Relay: Home Again

Back where I always wanted to be

I think of the 24 years since I moved full time to the South Fork as a coming home of sorts . . . the first one in 1993, the second one more recent.

Until I was 4½ I had lived in Paris, mainly with my mother and brother and various family friends. Then we came to New York and lived with my father above the most wonderful French bakery on Madison Avenue and 86th Street. My brother, David, and I enjoyed dropping water balloons on the heads of passers-by. I went to P.S. 6 for a year and hated it. My mother took David to the sculpture classes for children at the Museum of Modern Art. He produced amazing sculptures in clay. 

My parents also bought a house in Amagansett. I fell instantly, deeply in love with the house, the garden with the trees I could climb, the ocean, and the hamlet, and wanted to be there all the time. I never developed the feeling of being at home in the city as I did immediately in Amagansett, although when I was older I did ry to develop a small-town familiarity within whatever neighborhood I was living.

When my parents divorced — I was 6 and my brother 8 — I am sure the impact was softened by our being able to still have the house on Indian Wells Highway, the less fancy portion of it. My parents married other people and both, within several years, had divorced. 

I was too young to understand why we could not simply live on the South Fork all year. There was no way my single working mother, an editor and writer who often had to take jobs she did not like, could have made a living on the South Fork. I remember walking down Indian Wells Highway with her when I was about 9 and asking, “Why couldn’t life be simpler? Why couldn’t I marry a farmer and live here?” 

When I was 16 my father moved the Amagansett Coast Guard Station to a lot on Bluff Road, and I had a second home to go to and also to be at when my younger half sister was there. My parents stayed friends, an accommodation that was easier for my father than my mother.

In whatever bedroom I was sleeping in that was not in Amagansett, all the way through school and university, which included spending a year in France and also in Israel, I would put up on the walls photos taken in Amagansett of family and pets, also the color map that used to come inside the small phone book. I took with me special stones and shells from the beach. In Israel I lived for a while near a train track and the lovely whistle sound made me feel at home, comforted me. 

I came back from a year in England, having decided not to go to graduate school at Oxford, settled in the city, and still came out to both my parents’ houses as much as I could. My mother by that time had reconnected with a man she had been engaged to at 21 in wartime London. They married in 1976 and had a good partnership. While working in magazine and book publishing, and translating articles from French to English, I began running and racing, winning trips, money, and other prizes. And then, after a long relationship and marriage that produced a daughter, in the breakup I came back to Amagansett, where I had a support system of all my parents as well as other friends of theirs and mine.

I learned that The Star was looking for a proofreader. I got the job and, once my daughter had become more independent, I was able to work more hours, go to editorial meetings, and write a bit. Finally, I felt doubly at home, both because of living in Amagansett year round and also working with people who, like me and my whole family, were interested in all sorts of things, including animals, language, and communication. 

I did leave The Star for a while, went off on a kind of sabbatical to the East Hampton Historical Society, where I worked for a brilliant director who was, at heart, a curator. It was an opportunity too good to miss. Once there, I was embraced by a smaller family and also got to learn about East Hampton Town’s cultural, material, and art history. I still freelanced for The Star but missed the day-to-day proofreading and interaction. I began proofreading again part time at The Star and then, when the director decided to be the organization’s part-time curator, I was able to return to the paper. 

Although my mother’s family were among this country’s early settlers, somehow the generations had not stayed in those places, as many of those on the South Fork have. And even though I was unable to keep either Amagansett house and could no longer afford to live there, I live a stone’s throw away and can again hear the whistle of the L.I.R.R. and smell the ocean. My mother’s house was beautifully renovated by its buyer, not torn down, and we gave my father’s house to the town, which moved it back to its original footprint where it is a museum.

And so, dear reader, that is how I was able to return. Not only had I got my wish to live in the place I had yearned for my whole life, I also got to come back to my second home at The Star. 

Isabel Carmichael is a proofreader and writer at The Star.