By Anetta Nowosielska
Here is a confession. Every winter, like so many on the East End, I leave. Like other snowbirds I fly south, where my hair is static free and my skin glows like a golden statue gleaming in the sun’s rays (or so I wish). And while I love baring witness to the changing seasons, my better half longs for the endlessness of summer’s haze. After years of a happy union, I learned to pick my battles. After all, the transient nature of our existence merits minor adjustments with some major rewards. It doesn’t call for ploys worthy of Joan of Arc. So I go with it.
By now I have it down to a science – the moving bit. Logistically, very little is involved in living this ‘bi-polar’ life. There are no cars to move and no furniture to ship. Our overhead luggage includes some of our beloved gadgets and summer sale offerings from the Hamptons shops looking to unload their stock to make room for coats and bulky sweaters. Technically speaking, we can make the switch by simply packing our toothbrushes only. Believe me; getting through the check in at the airport is easy/breezy like the beachy utopia that awaits us in Miami.
Still, the holiday season under the palm trees is simply a blasphemy in my book. So every year we make the trek up north in hope of spotting Santa in his natural habitat: with snow and wood burning fire places, where endless layers of clothing reign supreme and the permanent subject of conversation is the temperature outside.
Last season of merrydom was no different. But as I was meeting some of my local friends, it became abundantly clear that there was an invisible wall between us. As if the season separated us into winter/summer camps. And that’s a hard division to overcome. My girlfriends and I met at East Hampton Grill — a hospitality version of a snowbird with a location in Palm Beach — to catch up. Late as usual, I arrived last and was greeted by the standing procession of ladies, whom I’ve always admired…my Hampton girls, who know all the shortcuts and local happenings. They’re my first phone calls, when the plane touches down in Islip. But instantly I sensed an unease. Apparently, it had to do with my tan. Also, my zest for dressing in colder climates that manifests itself by way of putting together the most fabulous winter gear on account of enjoying it for just a few days per year.
“The holidays were great, blah blah, blah, and now it’s time to go back to the Sunshine State,” I concluded after we finished an incredibly generous serving of a wedge salad.
“You might want to keep it down, if you don’t want to burn on the stake,” said my British girlfriend with a smirk, who is also allergic to sun (not a joke).
“That’s ridiculous,” I said nervously sensing an attack. “Didn’t you tell me you are about to take some fabulous vacation on a Caribbean island?”
“Yes, I am. But that’s different. I’m taking off for a week where I will be wearing a hat and SPF 100. You are a quitter.”
“Look around,” she instructed me. “There is sense of camaraderie among us, who stay here. As in ‘we are going to get through those impossible months when all the cool restaurants close and the only place to bump into anyone is at the grocery store.’” The other ladies nodded their heads in agreement. “When our skin is so pale you can practically see the veins and our children are so wrapped up in scarves, hats and sweaters that they resemble a giant human yarn ball. And you come in here with your bronzed self, wearing winter white trying to tell us that you are one of us? Come on lovey. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
I looked around the dinning room and my sun-deprived friend’s sermon was beginning to make sense. Dressed in military-like fashions with flaky, dried out skin those Hamptonites, who stay behind, deserve a recognition that I could never take credit for. Even those with means to flee the cruel winter months, stay because that’s what real locals do. And that stuck-through-itness bonds them so strongly together that the sense of community truly defines them vs. un-them (just try to change any of the laws to better accommodate the summer renters.)
Going forward I will have to keep my sense of belonging here, in this cold, vast land of the rooted, to myself and perhaps to those in Florida who could care less about where my home is. And just maybe I’ll stop tanning before I come back up in April.