By the time a person reaches middle age, there will be, without a doubt, past regrets, whether it’s lost love, missed career opportunities, poor investments or painful mistakes with far-reaching repercussions. And like that failed job interview or the beautiful and brilliant girl who got away, certain homes—the ones we sold, the ones we never bought, the foreclosures, the ones lost in a bitter divorce—can come back to haunt us, forever living in the hidden recesses of our hearts, whispering, “You belonged with me, and now I’m gone for good.”
A home can have that effect. After all, it’s where we lay our heads, conceive our children, make long lasting memories and live so many life-defining moments. Often it’s the place we take our last breath, creating another reason for our survivors to hold onto the property for dear life.
Not long ago, one of those special homes resurfaced for me in East Hampton, and the price quickly set aflame any lingering fantasy that it might once again be mine. Then again, the listing, with its immaculate renovations, large swimming pool, manicured lawn and chic interiors—nothing to betray years of real family life—made clear that what I so badly want is long gone.
My childhood “country house” on Egypt Lane was a magical place. It was, before my family moved to the Hamptons full time when I was 10, our refuge on weekends, holidays and throughout the summer months. It was the last place my mother and since-deceased father had a marriage with promise and no expiration date, at least in my young eyes. It was the first of my two childhood homes to be sold. We lived in a succession of houses after that—none lasting long enough to really be called “home.”
Selling it was the first sign that my father’s once rock-solid financial security was beginning to crack. It was the end of an era.
And what an era it was. The Egypt Lane house stood atop a hill overlooking an expansive grass “green,” where I learned to ride a bike and my two older brothers, father and I frequently played ball. It was an amazingly short ride to East Hampton Village and just steps from the Duck Pond, which became our secret world—especially for my brothers, who would venture far off the trails, build forts and come home covered head to toe in black muck.
The house had a towering blue spruce in front and two cedars with a rope hammock suspended between them in back—all of them now gone. It had grapevines and a vegetable garden from which my mother would pick asparagus and make grape jelly and green tomato relish. These are also gone.
Today, the backyard is nothing but grass and a brick patio surrounding the pool. The old, cobweb-infested garage and our dusty clubhouse behind it are covered in impeccable shingles and lined with well-watered flowers. I expect the inside is refinished and no longer furnished with a few old street signs, a workbench and roughly constructed wood table, as it once was.
Even the land behind the property has changed. Expensive houses now cover the landscape where we once had BB gun wars. Well-defined property lines have replaced the fields and woods that were on the path to Mr. Frankel’s property, where we’d trespass and admire his unique statuary in a clearing we called the “idol place.”
What exists on Egypt Lane today is something very different from the home we sold for $400,000 in 1986. The structure is mostly the same outside, thanks to historic preservation rules, but somehow, a luxury $6.2 million house has taken the place of our relatively modest, though perfectly located, family home.
It’s like the land here in the Hamptons has grown up with me, becoming more complicated and busy and expensive and difficult. It’s well dressed and clean but sadly missing the innocence and freedom of a time that’s impossible to get back.