We call it a yacht club. Our fleet consists of a two-person kayak with yellow paddles, a white Sunfish with a purple, pink, and turquoise sail, and a royal blue tender with a two-horsepower engine that my husband found on eBay. Last summer my son shipped his paddleboard from Florida and he gave the kids rides as he paddled in North Sea Harbor. This year we added another kayak, bright orange, to the private navy at our idyllic summer rental on Towd Point in North Sea.
I promote our yacht club of bay-worthy craft to my children and their families as an incentive to visit. It is a rare chance to have all three of my grandchildren together at the same time. My son has a daughter, Lucy, 6, and my daughter has a son, Cullen, also 6, and Cormac, a year and a half. They live in Florida and California, so I don’t get to see them very often. The grandchildren see one another once a year, but the older ones bond as if they had had a play date the week before.
“Cullen, I need you. Come play mermaids with me,” Lucy says.
“Okay, then we can play Lego.”
They play for hours chasing hermit and fiddler crabs. I provide nets to scoop up fish and seaweed.
Kid-size life jackets are lined up along the fence in yellow, red, and blue. The older kids can swim, but it’s better to take precautions. We take turns going out in all the boating vehicles, and kayak over to the island preserve just across North Sea Harbor. The kids call it Crab Island. We search for bird and animal prints, and periwinkles, oysters, mussels, scallops, and clams. We navigate the waterways of the nature preserve and feel like adventurers on the African Queen, with birdcalls as background music. White herons, cormorants, osprey, and cantankerous seagulls all shout to be heard. Swans parade in a leisurely flotilla while cygnets follow in a row.
The kids play on the anchored Sunfish, pretending to be pirates, and Cullen shimmies up to the top of the 15-foot mast and balances precariously, holding on with one hand like a three-pointed star until I yell, “Cullen, wrap your arms and legs around that flagpole and get down, please! No showing off.”
Blessed with superb weather, hot and dry and perfect for the beach and swimming, we enjoy our natural playground. We swim outside the backdoor, and the kids love a $15 inflatable pool where we have dive races. They are awarded points just like at the Olympics: “And now, Lucy Pateman, from the United Kingdom.”
We sit and watch the boat traffic in and out of Conscience Point Marina and observe speedboats getting stuck on the sandbar. Being on the water is soothing, calming, and hypnotic. I get a voyeuristic pleasure looking at big and small houses by boat in North Sea Harbor and Davis Creek. Smells can be fishy or fresh depending on the tide, and I can actually hear the weather — the wind, the thunder, and the Paolo Soleri bell by the front door, pealing its chimes in rhythm with the breeze.
We eat well, with fruits and vegetables from local farm stands. I make strawberry-rhubarb crisp and baked macaroni for the little ones, and swordfish and chicken thighs on the grill, marinated in fresh ginger, orange juice, and brown sugar. And my famous turkey meatloaf with spinach, covered with crisp bacon — always a crowd-pleaser.
“Hey Lucy, let’s be dinosaurs,” says Cullen, sitting at the table.
“Okay. We are carnivores.”
Cullen waves his chop in the air and roars as he and Lucy devour the meat. I enjoy seeing them pretending to be prehistoric creatures, ripping into grilled baby lamb chops, getting some protein into their skinny little bodies.
My son-in-law’s family invites us to a down-and-dirty crabfest at their house, conveniently located in Southampton Village. The live crustaceans run amok around the kitchen floor, and the kids squeal with delight as they chase the creatures before they are thrown into the boiling cauldron. The kids are amazed at how the crabs turn from blue to pinkish red when cooked. They eat the crabs along with sourdough bread, corn, green beans, and sliced tomato salad. We eat outside on a long table covered with newspaper that makes for easy cleanup after the crabs are demolished.
The kid-size red table with blue chairs I bought at a yard sale is well used for outdoor meals and arts-and-crafts projects. Cullen and Lucy do amazing drawings of the marine life they are learning about. I took them to a friend’s art exhibit, after which they put price tags on their own artwork.
We make sand castles at the beach, where my husband constructs a sand airplane. With a 10-foot wingspan, a wooden propeller, and a stick throttle, it provides an hour of creative play.
We read books that my kids had loved. “Crictor,” about a boa constrictor, “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “Petali and Gurigoo, or How the Birds Got Their Colors,” and “Anansi the Spider” are read and reread as the almost-40-year-old pages separate from their spines.
“GrandJo, be careful, the pages are falling out,” Lucy says. Both Cullen and Lucy point out the crayon marks on one page. I tell them their mother or father did the scribble. They think it very funny that one of their parents had drawn in a book, something strictly forbidden.
We sit around a fire pit made up of flat stones piled one on top of another and watch the flames create images of dragons and ghosts under the stars. Bars of Hershey chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers are the magic ingredients for making s’mores, everyone’s favorite. We use two big forked prongs and put two marshmallows on each. Roast according to taste — some like them charred, others gently warmed by the fire.
I’ve been doing a Christmas card every year, using a photo of my grandchildren. As they’re together only once a year, I plan ahead. Last year each kid got a special outfit — blue-and-white-striped T-shirts and orange shorts. They put them on and were hams for the camera, smiling and hugging each other and waving the American flags I gave them. The photos turned out great.
A week after the families had arrived safely home, my son sent a thank-you present. It was a dozen plastic highball glasses. He cut each logo out by hand and sent them to the glass manufacturer. My son, a lawyer, not an art director, designed the logo in a circle around a pennant of a Union Jack morphing into an English flag, a red cross on a white field, in honor of my British-born husband.
When friends come to dinner, I show off my perfect gift — beautiful, practical glasses with a “Towd Point Yacht Club Southampton NY” design. “My son designed them,” I say. The glasses are empty now but will soon be filled with assorted juices, iced tea with fresh mint, and beer for the adults.
Hurricane Sandy hit Towd Point hard. Eight inches of water flowed through the cottage when North Sea Harbor met Davis Creek. I wonder how the family will like the new kitchen, new decks without splinters, and the new queen-size bed when they come this summer?
Joanne Pateman regularly contributes “Guestwords” to The Star.