Last year, my brothers and I sold our family home: a little 100-year-old pink stucco house at the end of a road, surrounded by a golf course and water. Exquisite. It was a painful time whose time had come. I was ready for a little “city living,” having neighbors close by, restaurants that stayed open year round, and no pop-up shops for twerking tweens. (Sorry, East Hampton Village, but you have become dismal in winter and downright silly in summer.) I made plans to move to Sag Harbor.
I fell in love with a house on Route 114 and moved last September. It is a beautiful old house built in 1880, with wide pumpkin pine floors, fireplaces, and the first big kitchen I have ever had the good fortune to work in. My block on 114, excuse me, Hampton Street, is as neighborly as can be. I met everyone next to me, across the street from me, and around the corner, before I had even moved in: Adrienne, Starr, Joy, Gahan, Robert, Nancy, Beatrice, and so on. Hurricane Sandy preparations were done together. Advice was proffered.
“Don’t park your car on the street in summer. Fold down your rear-view mirror; it’ll get clipped off.” For some reason, the low speed limit close to the elementary school stretch of 114 is a magnet for moronic driving. I had no idea how moronic until one night in early December.
I was awakened by what I was sure was an explosion within the house, or at the very least, a heavy piece of furniture filled with dishes had decided to topple over. I crept downstairs in my pajamas, sniffing the air for gas, smoke, fumes, furniture in smithereens. Nothing. I turned around to return upstairs. Then I saw headlights shining through my front window — about five feet away from my face. I’m pretty sure I immediately went into some form of shock, and I tore upstairs to bundle up in warm clothes.
By the time I get back downstairs and open the front door, flashing red lights and a gathering of police and emergency personnel are already on the scene. They yell at me. “Don’t come through that door! Is there any other way you can exit the house?!” A car has smashed up onto the porch, crushing the foundation, toppling the pillars supporting the roof and shoving the entire structure sideways, and down. I go through the back gate and come out to see a substantial S.U.V. (natch) crushed against the front corner of my house. The driver is fine, hunky dory in fact, saved by the airbag and calmly calling his boyfriend to come and pick him up.
He had fallen asleep at the wheel, taken out a streetlamp and a tree before swerving into my charming, old, old, innocent, wooden house. That dude must’ve been bookin’ it!
I basically just stood there crying while my neighbor Adrienne tried to comfort me. The police took pictures, the totaled car was towed away. The building inspector came to ensure I could safely re-enter the house for the rest of the night. Orange cones and yellow police tape were stacked and wrapped around the holy mess. I texted my friend and contractor Sal because he is a Sag Harbor volunteer fireman. Eventually, the scene attracted a crowd. One strange fellow showed up with a small child and took pictures. To add just another soupcon of Fellini-esqueness, a deer bounded across 114, up onto the shattered, jagged chunks of porch, danced a confused little jig, and then clattered back across the highway. We all crack up, what else can you do?
Here’s a piece of advice: When someone else’s insurance company balks at your estimate for repairs, sic your own insurance company on them, they speak the liability lingo. My peeps at Amaden Gay made mincemeat of those fellows at Geico.
The porch was rebuilt, slowly and carefully, by Sal and Dave, the whale and spout railing duplicated beautifully, the stone foundation stronger than ever. Terry, the painter, told me stories of having coming to my house long ago, to play with the Earley boys. He had an idea. He described the oldest house in Bridgehampton. “It’s gray and white like yours, but it has this unique green door. I think it would look beautiful on your new porch.”
On the night of the accident, long after the flashing lights and policemen and tow trucks and moronic driver and curious neighbors were gone, Sal knocked on the door. After giving me a hug he quoted John Irving’s T.S. Garp. “It’s been pre-disastered! You’re safe now!”
So when you pass the Yardley and Pino Funeral Home (that oughta slow you down!) and the elementary school, please drive carefully. And take a second to admire the sweet little house with the cool green door. My mantra has become “it’s pre-disastered. We’re going to be safe here.”