by Cecil Hoge
Of all the houses in Southampton that my family rented over the years, the nicest one was the Zirinsky House. It was situated at 353 First Neck Lane behind a high green hedge on a 2 acre plot. Not only did it have 14 spacious bedrooms, a large dining room, a huge living room, a good-sized kitchen, a huge rambling porch that wrapped around the whole front of the house, a giant lawn, it also had a gardener’s cottage in the back where the younger members of the family could retire to their own amusements. This house is still there presumably, although it is hard to tell because the high hedge is now twice as high and twice as thick. It is no longer owned by the Zirinsky family. I understand that the cottage in the back has been replaced by a tennis court.
We stayed in the Zirinsky House for 3 years during the early 1970s. This was a particularly exuberant period in our family’s life. Everyone in the family was reasonably prosperous (a condition that was not always the case). I should explain that my family was composed of three bothers and a sister, all of whom were married and had kids of their own. Add to that my Russian great aunt, my Russian great uncle and my grandmother and you come up with a basic family unit of up to 20 people. The reason for so many family members in one house can be summarized by one word – economics. Simply put, without sharing the expenses, we could never had rented such a house.
At this time, the younger members of the family were no longer so young. I, myself, had just graduated from college and was coming up from Virginia to enjoy the many benefits of the Hamptons with several of my college buddies. My male cousins were all of drinking age and feeling their proverbial oats. My female cousins were also quite grown up and creating quite a stir of their own with their long hair, long legs and micro mini skirts. All my college buddies were extremely eager to visit.
The adults were also feeling their oats, the family’s finances seemingly running on all cylinders. My aunt Sarah, was at that time the social director the Modern Museum of Art, giving her not only a great job, but also great social connections. My father’s business was chugging along quite healthily. My other uncles were also blessed during those years with better than average incomes. One was a Sales Manager for Taittinger Champagne and Beefeater Gin, meaning, if a party was to be given, we certainly knew where we could get some good booze.
All the above facts, aligning like so many stars, led the family to one grand conclusion: it was time to have a reciprocal cocktail party. It takes a certain divine understanding to know just when to give a reciprocal cocktail party. Timing is all important. You don’t want to give it too soon (in which case will not have maximized your cocktail party attendance) and you don’t want too late (in which case you will have worn out your welcome and will face declining cocktail party invitations).
If I might say so myself, our timing was impeccable. Once motivated to the task at hand, each family set to work to enlist all the assets available. Each family made up lists of friends. These lists were then compiled by aunt Sarah, who added celebrities from her Museum of Modern Art star party list. Each family called in favors from catering services, grocery stores, florists. My Russian uncle provided a large portion of the drinks, including significant quantities of Taittinger Champagne. Some of my younger female cousins persuaded some local band members to provide music. In short, every family resource was utilized and all stops were pulled out.
The result was really quite extraordinary. The guest list included Henry Ford, Andy Warhol, Gina Lollabrigida, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and about 700 other prominent Southamptonites. Not all these people showed up, but well over 500 did. First Neck Lane was almost completely blocked off by the cars lining each side of the road. Fortunately, one of my aunts had thought to enlist the help of 2 of Southampton’s finest off duty police officers to park cars and to make sure no guest ran into one of the many nearby hedges.
I knew we really had a good thing going after I had a half hour conversation with the FBI agent who had captured Patricia Hearst (I believed he later married Ms. Hearst, who was in the process of recovering from her kidnapping and brief criminal career). Immediately after discussing the ups and downs of Ms. Hearst’s emotional life with her FBI beau, I turned around and found myself deep in conversation with George Plimpton, whose book, The Paper Lion, I had only recently read. Mr. Plimpton, who is quite a tall man, was extremely kind to me, giving me great encouragement as I tried to explain my literary ambitions. I don’t remember him inviting me to submit anything to The Paris Review, but he very kind to me for 20 minutes.
This party was a great success. Wealthier Southampton friends, who had known me for years, suddenly became convinced that my father had come into millions. The same reaction was enjoyed by all members of the family for this was to be considered one of the parties of that summer.
And although that party was a highlight of that particular summer, it was by no means the only highlight of staying in the The Zirinsky House. The house was large enough for almost everybody to have house guests. Myself, my parents, my aunt and uncles, their assorted children, all had various house guests over the three summers we stayed there. Some were kind of odd and surprising. One morning I got up and came down to find my uncle having breakfast with Roger Daltrey, one the founding members of the rock group, The Who.
It was kind of odd. There was my uncle with his pack of Camel cigarettes, a cup of coffee, his New York Times, a bowl of cereal and a pint of heavy cream. Seated next to him at this big dining room table, looking a little out of place, was Roger Daltrey. It seems my cousin Cynthia had brought him by, introduced Roger to her father without mentioning that he was rather famous and had left him seated at the dining room table while she went off to change.
I should mention that my uncle, an ex-marine and a rather conservative gentleman, was rather dubious of anyone with long hair, which Roger Daltrey had in spades at the time.
My uncle began by probing Roger on his opinion of the Vietnam War. Roger was smart enough to say he was not into politics. Then, my uncle, after taking a pull on his Camel cigarette, adding some heavy cream to his coffee and cereal, asked Roger point blank what Roger did.
Again Roger took the high road of vagueness. He was trying his hand at music, he explained.
“Did it pay well?” asked my uncle.
“Not bad,” Roger said just as Cynthia came down, her long blond hair coming down almost to her waist, looking tanned and fit, in a form fitting lavender knit shirt and a white micro mini skirt.
“We’re outta of here, dad,” she said as she and Roger whisked out of the dining room.
When later I explained who Roger Daltrey was and that he was probably richer than most people in Southampton, my uncle made the following comment:
“Nice young man, needs a haircut.” and he then went back to his breakfast of champions – cigarettes, cream, cereal and coffee.
The fact that the Zirinsky House had a cottage in the back was an added benefit that allowed the younger generation to partake in the panaceas of the time – namely, beer, funny little cigarettes and munchies. Each Friday and Saturday evening, the younger members would gather in back by the cottage, have some refreshments and then go back the big house and laugh and giggle while the adults had cocktails. The parents could not quite understand what made their kids so amused, but everybody had a good time in spite of some confusion.
You could say that those three summers were the high moment of our 20 years of renting summer houses in Southampton. In truth, the Zirinsky House turned out to be one of the last houses we rented together as an extended family. The reasons became fairly simple. Just a few years later, owners of the houses on Dune Road, First Neck Lane, Great Plains Road, South Main Street found out that they could rent their properties at tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. Quite simply, the new reality of summer rentals made our four family summer rental system no longer viable.
Still, I think back to that period and I remember the many years our family enjoyed those many summer days in the Zirinsky house and in other summer houses we rented as a one giant family. I remember the summer evenings having cocktails on the porch, throwing Frisbees around yard, playing croquet or badminton on the expansive green lawn, sneaking away to the cottage in the back. I remember as if it were yesterday the smiles and laughter of my many relatives, many of whom are now dead. I cannot help but think, in spite of the odd inconsistencies, it was a remarkable and truly wonderful time for my family.