The Circle We Run In

I could not wait to get to there. Tonight we would pick up my cousins on the way to Noyac. I guess all my stuff was packed. I mean, I didn’t really think about it much back then. Clothes consisted of T-shirts and cutoffs and the Converse I had on could last all summer. I would probably swap clothes with my cousin. Maybe we’d get lucky and steal something from our sisters because they were older, and always had the right stuff, but all we really cared about on this journey was family and food.

After pulling over in a quiet residential block in Coney Island where my cousins lived, I stretched my 30-minute cramped legs as my mom stuffed their luggage in. The smell of this Atlantic was the perfect appetizer before meeting its unpredictable but incredibly beautiful sister 100 miles away. My parents had a beach cottage near Sag Harbor. We lived in Manhattan and came out for a month each July.

“Can I get a soda out?” I interrupt my mom as she’s talking to my uncle about traffic. “Share it! And don’t knock over the eggplant or the tray with the cookies while you’re there!” she says in an annoyed but loving way. Who brings leftover eggplant on a trip to the Hamptons? We do. Mom rushed to get out of the apartment so she wants the rest of her dinner when we get there. Other families order Chinese or simply just brush their teeth and go to bed after a long car ride. Not us. We’re Italian and “the kitchen never closes” as my mom always complains.

The exits on the LIE breeze by as we make jokes, interrupt one another and pass around bags of crinkly chips and pretzels. As the roads quiet, so do our voices. The windows are open now. We don’t need air conditioning since the sea breeze fills our congested city lungs with sweet memories and prospects of more to come. The dividers in the road are perfectly spaced and the sound of our wheels falling into them put everyone in a trance. As we turn off 27 to more twists and turns, mom perks up at the wheel to search for deer. No one wants to ruin Rudolph’s summer vacation. The crickets greet us with a warm country welcome and by the time we turn into our pitch-black driveway they sound as if they have invaded the glove compartment.

The following day we arrive at Circle—a private beach resting on Noyac Bay with wavy, blue water and succulent, salty clams. For some, this is just another Hamptons masterpiece with hand-painted sunsets and camel-colored sand dunes cascading in the distance. To us, the city kids so happy to escape the sidewalk heat, it’s everything. It’s where we learned to swim, watch fireworks light up the loud night and where we first held the hands of nervous teenage boys. It represents everything beautiful and untouched on the East End. It’s an oasis that doesn’t change even as the surrounding bungalows add a fence and soft-colored hydrangeas grow past a kitchen window. Circle Beach will always be the same in our adoring eyes.

Today we’re here schlepping striped beach chairs and library books we won’t ever open. We have already forgotten our Bagel Buoy breakfast and dream of what’s to come from our crammed cooler. We have crumbled brown paper bags full of sugarcoated treats from The Whalebone and mom has prepared fresh scrambled eggs infused with perfectly seasoned potatoes that are stuffed into warm semolina heroes. There are local apples and peaches so bright in color they could only be grown at a nearby farm. We have paper plates and plastic forks so we can dip into the bubbling eggplant parmigiana that practically steams open the small Tupperware. Our Cromer’s Country Market fried chicken almost cracks a tooth at first bite but opens up to a steamy soft surprise on the other end. We wash it down with Hampton Dairy Iced Tea—a summery, sugar staple that we can’t find anywhere west of
exit 70.

We eat, go back for a dip, lay around, trade candies, talk about tomorrow and the next day at Circle. Someone brings up the possibility of spending the day at the Mecox or Scott Cameron. We shrug. The bay is all we need. A wave runner speeds past and my younger boy cousin says he’s going to get one when he grows up. We tease him and decide to go back into the water. It’s nearing 5 o’clock now and the sun is just right. Some folks are packing up. We’re just getting started. A few of us race out towards the buoys but I lay back to float. With my head halfway in the water and my feet up, I can only hear the thud of my calm heartbeat. I look up into the endless sky as the water effortlessly shifts my body ever so slowly. I can smell a mix of SPF, sea life and the hint of gasoline. It all blends together in an aromatic bundle of summer’s best memories. I want to bottle it up and wear it all winter under my coat in New York. I tap my foot down and touch the soft beach floor and peek up for a second to find my bearings. I’m still close to shore and the view is just as incredible from here. I realize this must be what heaven is like and then remember mom promised us Conca D’Oro tonight. Maybe I’ve already arrived.

Twenty years later I’m back at Circle Beach with my young daughter. I watch her splash in the same water that my cousins and I called home. She and I walk the long, rocky shore at low tide and watch hundreds of hermit crabs run in front of our wet toes and quickly descend underground. It’s another bright day at our family’s quiet paradise and my mother, now a grandmother of six, unwraps her hot foils for the next generation. I sit back onto some of the same chairs we carried down all those years ago and take a bite of something she packed as I gaze across this majestic bay that has been the epicenter of so much of my happiness. Colored sails zip past us as new children splash and squeal with glee. Nothing has changed. Circle is the same beautiful beach from our childhood. The only difference is that now I may only have half of mom’s homemade lunch. Somewhere between those memorable summers and now, I found out about calories.

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