By Cecil C. Hoge
Starting in the late 1920s my father’s family spent their summers in Quogue. They had decided on Quogue for a number of reasons.
My grandmother, Sidney Cecile Cunningham Hoge, was looking for a suitable summer place to bring up her four sons and a daughter. She and her husband had scouted the Hamptons for just the right place. They really would have preferred Southampton or East Hampton, but even then they were quite expensive.
At the time, Quogue was still extremely reasonable to rent a good-sized house for a large family. Sometime in the summer of 1927 they moved into what they called The Benjamin House, a big sprawling, ramshackle 7 bedroom house. This house was set on an acre plot surrounded by a large green lawn and a not so high green hedge. They called it the Benjamin House because of Sally Benjamin, the elegant lady owner who had moved on to Southampton.
My grandmother was determined that her large family have all the social benefits of the Hamptons. She contacted all of her wealthier friends and organized a socially significant summer. If there were country clubs deemed important to my grandmother, she organized a blitzkrieg to join. If there were cocktail parties, dinner parties, balls, social gatherings of any kind, my grandmother insured the she, her husband and her children were invited.
They did have telephones in the Hamptons back then. The telephone and the dial-up system was somewhat simpler. Basically, you picked up the receiver, gave the phone a few cranks, positioned mouth close to a microphone and said “Dorothy dear would you get me Penelope.”
“Hold on Mrs. Hoge,” Dorothy Dear would say. Dear was not Dorothy’s last name. Dear was the word that my grandmother added to ladies she was asking to help her with something.
“Mrs. Hoge, I have Mrs. Tremont on the line.”
A voice would come then on the line.
“Sidney, is that you?”
“Penelope, I am just at a such a loss,” my grandmother would say, “I just don’t know what to wear. What is the theme?”
In those days every ball and party had a theme. Mrs. Tremont’s theme was birds of the summer. This theme was selected primarily with the ladies in mind, providing them with the splendid opportunity to wear their best three foot hats adorned with bird feathers of different rare species. The men, for their part, would be required to wear white tails.
The weekend of Mrs. Tremont’s ball happened to be the high point of the 1928 social season in the Hamptons. A lot was going on in my family’s social calender. Not only was Mrs. Tremont hosting a gala ball in Southampton, Mr. & Mrs. Witherspoon were having a coming out party for their daughter, Cornelia.
As if that were not enough, my uncle Francis was hosting 2 of his college friends down from Dartmouth.
I am not totally sure what happened on that eventful weekend. I can only offer you my memory of what my aunt and uncles told me. Here, I must caution you. The reminiscing of this illustrious weekend almost always began with my aunt and uncles having a few cocktails – so this may have comprised the truth of the actual events.
This much is clear – on this illustrious weekend, there were different plans for different segment’s of my grandmother’s family. This meant that different members of the family had to take different vehicles. At the time there were two main vehicles, a Cadillac and a Packard, supplemented by two roadsters owned by my uncles Ham and John.
Sidney Cecile and her husband, Huber, sallied forth in the Packard. My father and my aunt Barbara commandeered the Cadillac and headed for the Cornelia Witherspoon’s coming out party. My uncle Hamilton took Amanda Blakesly, his girlfriend of the time, in his roadster to the same party. My uncle John, Francis and his college crammed into the other roadster (it had trunk that when pulled out and became 2 seats) and headed out to explore the pleasures of the local speakeasies – yes, this was the famous period of Prohibition.
Whenever my aunt and uncles discussed the events of that evening, the details of the story seemed to shift and change. Some facts remained the same.
My grandmother and grandfather had a blissfully ignorant and perfectly respectable evening at the Tremont Ball. My uncle Hamilton and Amanda Blakesly departed Cornelia Witherspoon’s débutante party early. John, Francis and his college buddies all got inebriated in search of the most exciting speakeasy in of the Hamptons – apparently, there were several.
In the meantime, my father and my aunt danced and drank the night away at Cornelia Witherspoon’s party in Easthampton. In Southampton, my grandfather Huber broiled in the summer heat and grumbled about how uncomfortable his white tie and tails were. Understandably, Sidney Cecile was not a bit disturbed by her husband’s discomfort and had a perfectly divine time in her 3 foot Ostrich feather hat.
Several hours later, my aunt suggested to my father that they return home before their parents got home. Apparently my father thought that this was a particularly bad idea, but after a few more glasses of Champagne, my father and aunt climbed into the Cadillac and headed back to Quogue. Why my aunt was foolish enough to let my father drive will forever remain a family secret.
I had never known my father to drink more than two drinks or be the slightest bit intoxicated. My aunt and my uncles have assured me that there was a time his life when he was the life of the party. This must have been one of those times. The story is that they almost made it back to Quogue. If it had not been for the tall hedge that appeared as they failed to follow a right hand bend in the road, no doubt there would have been no family tales to tell of that evening.
But the tall hedge did suddenly appear and in crashed the family Cadillac with my father and aunt. One the iconic features of all the Hamptons are the tall hedges surrounding various houses and Quogue was no exception. These hedges have saved many a wealthy man or woman, and not a few celebrities. Not only were my father and aunt not hurt, but they were less than a mile from the Benjamin House in Quogue. The story was somewhat different for the Cadillac which was actually halfway through the tall hedge and firmly stuck.
Once my father recovered his wherewithal he made several attempts to disengage the Cadillac from the hedge. That did not work and the more father tried the worse the plight of the Cadillac became. A summer rain earlier that day had left the ground soft and after a few vigorous attempts, the rear wheels quickly sank up to their previously shiny hubcaps. Worse, my father and my aunt, while unharmed by the collision with the hedge, found themselves trapped in the middle the hedge.
It took considerable time and some physical prowess to wedge themselves out of the one clear window. These efforts caused considerable damage to their evening clothes. From reports that were given by the one or two siblings sufficiently clear-headed enough to remember, my father’s and aunt’s clothes were, to use a modern term, “Toast”.
In the meantime, my grandparents, if not dancing the night away, were having a perfectly splendid evening. By that I mean my grandfather was getting increasingly hotter and more uncomfortable while my grandmother, being a Southern belle and very social creature, was enjoying the glories of the evening.
I know nothing of the drinking habits of my grandfather. I remember being told he was a very reserved gentleman of few words. I do know when Prohibition arrived, my grandfather and grandmother were not “drinkers”. Several years later when Prohibition began to be regarded as an opportunity to drink and when it became obvious that her children were among the participators, my grandmother decided to deal with the problem in an open and modern manner, serving one or two cocktails to her whole family every evening before dinner.
If my grandfather was having a few whiskeys to moderate his boredom with the party and his discomfort with summer heat, I do not know. I do know that they stayed unusually late at Mrs. Tremont’s Ball. This proved a blessing as the events of the evening enfolded.
An hour or so before my grandparents finally sailed home in the grand Packard, other events were taking place in Quogue. John, Francis and his buddies had retired to the Benjamin House after their strenuous tour of the local speakeasies. Comfortably and safely home, they decided to have a few more cocktails.
Meanwhile things were not going well with my aunt and my father. There was some confusion and disagreement as to the exact direction to set out. It was a dark evening and roads and landmarks that they had known all summer somehow looked different. They tried to hitch-hike, but the one or two cars that happened to pass apparently were concerned by my aunt’s and father’s shredded evening clothes.
The police were more efficient than my father and aunt. They were called by the concerned tall hedge owner only a few moments after my father and aunt had struggled free of the hedge. It seems that my father and aunt were favored by the gods overseeing impaired people because the wrong direction in walking home proved to be the right direction in avoiding the cops.
Speaking of the cops, they not only arrived early on the scene, but immediately recognized the Cadillac in the hedge as belonging to the Huber Hoge family. In an unusually swift turn of Justice, they arrived at the Benjamin House to announce that a yellow convertible Cadillac had been found in a tall hedge and to question the residents how this came about.
My uncle Francis answered the door. He was several sheets to the proverbial wind. The interview went something like this.
“Excuse me, sir,” the Police officer said, “It seems that there has been an accident, your Cadillac has been found in the Mortimer’s hedge about a mile from here. Would you know anything about that?”
Francis, though just 22, was a handsome man of considerable dignity. I am sure that he tucked in most of his shirt and summoned all the bearing available.
“I know nothing about a car in a hedge,” Francis said with the greatest dignity, “but I can assure you it is not our car. The Paddillac is in the garage.”
These words were to become immortal in the history of my family.
It was apparently at this point that my grandparents sailed in from the Tremont Ball, my grandmother in her 3 foot Ostrich hat and my grandfather, perhaps a little flushed-faced from the heat of the summer evening, both fortunately in the full command of their senses.
I am told that the matter was quickly sorted out although it took some time for my grandparents to register that their yellow Cadillac was in the Mortimer’s tall hedge. Francis, John and the two college friends headed off to bed for some well-deserved sleep, my grandparents assured the police that the matter of the Cadillac would be sorted out directly with the Mortimers who themselves had only returned from the same Tremont Ball an hour ahead of my grandparents. The Police were quite satisfied with this solution since it meant that there would be no bothersome paperwork – it was, of course, a different age.
In due time my father and aunt returned home in their shredded evening clothes. I am told that my grandmother was most disturbed by the loss of perfectly good evening clothes and the fact that there were several more parties to attend that summer. That evening and this story, full of the mishaps of a Hampton’s summer eve, forever became a part of my family’s lore.