Southampton on eastern Long Island in New York most often calls to mind old money summer estates and new money mansions along the waters of the tawny Hamptons. Southampton Summers is not about addresses in either of those neighborhoods. It is subtitled “Stories of three Italian families, their beach houses and the five generations that enjoyed them.”
The subtitle describes the book in a nutshell, but readers will laugh out loud at the stories and the revelations of more than 60 years of summers in bungalows that are technically located in Southampton, but are a world away from money and glamour. The book has its beginnings during the 1950s, when the Marra, Maffei and Saracino families built tiny summer houses near the shores of Little Peconic Bay. Southampton Summers was written by Dr. Albert F. Marra, with contributions from 14 members of the aforementioned families, plus one family friend. It follows the history of the summer vacations, as the families made their way from the bustling Bronx to the wilds of Long Island.
A collection of heartwarming stories, Southampton Summers spans five generations of the families who vacationed near a little beach in eastern Long Island. The stories begin with earliest forays during the years following World War II and continues up until the present day. Although located in Southampton, for quite some time, the families believed they were in Sag Harbor. But regardless of the town in which they were in, it is the personalities and vividly recounted events that brings a freshness to the book. Whether it was searching for clams at low tide or how to fillet an eel, food is never far from a topic of consideration creating stories that are both charming and funny. With many mouths to feed and small galley kitchens in each of the bungalows, innovativeness and cooking skills were put to the test in lessons that today’s younger generation might not understand, but would certainly benefit from.
The warmth of togetherness is perhaps best exemplified by the closeness of Italian families. The humorous descriptions, personalities, peculiarities and traits of the family members add a remarkable degree of authenticity. Especially noteworthy is to watch the evolution of the family dynamics within the annual vacation. There is a sense of transition from the first generation members who arrived from the areas of Naples, Calabria and Campobasso, to the Greatest Generation, followed with even greater momentum by the Baby Boomers and Generation X. Southampton Summers takes the reader all the way up to the youngest generation, who are the great-great-grandchildren of the original ‘pioneers’ who bought the lots. It was also touching to observe that even as subsequent generations became further and further assimilated into the American culture, the bonds and family traditions continue to resonate, as relived in the stories.
Written in a friendly and casual style, as the reader experiences each story, they will almost smell the sea, feel the sand between their toes and the warmth of the sun beating down. The book begins by painting colorful portraits of the siblings from the family’s first generation, who were working class Italian immigrants. Beginning in 1951, when they purchased wooded lots in an undeveloped part of one of Long Island’s most famous vacation towns, you will get a sense of both the challenges and joy as three of the family members cobble together the funds to build small bungalows on their lots, setting in motion more than sixty summers of family vacations.
Southampton Summers shares many reminiscences about happy childhoods and lessons learned from grandparents. It is about family fun in the sun – swimming, fishing and boating and is a great summer read for the beach. It will also occur to the reader that there is much more to the stories than mere memories. Delicately woven throughout are the notions of family bonds, customs and traditions which relate to both Italian and American cultures. There is no doubt that spending time with the three families and their stories will surely delight and entertain; however, readers will find that in a deeper sense, there is likely to be a reawakening of the reader’s own family origins and values. Additionally, the book is set amid the beautiful, historic Hamptons, one of America’s premier vacation destinations, albeit in a setting that will never be confused with millionaire’s row, which only makes this charming book even more enjoyable.
Author Albert Marra is a retired professor, teaching and learning at Old Dominion University and earned his Doctor of Education, EdD, from Catholic University. He was a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary for the past 21 years and was honored with a Special Achievement Award for his work translating key documents related to the 2012 grounding and sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in Italy.
Illustrator John Del Russo, Sr. is originally from Newark, New Jersey and is an artist, illustrator, writer and local DJ/vocalist in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Southampton Summers is published by New Dominion Press of Norfolk, Virginia and is available from Amazon.