Where’s Summer? by Hy Abady

It’s gone. I know. Another summer, another year barreling by.

That title up there actually has a second meaning. Summer is the name of a poof of a poodle, under six pounds, jet-black hair, now aging with some white around the mouth. She’s got this very (purposely) unkempt look — her hair covering her eyes and dangling haphazardly in soft twirls off her bony body. She also appears as if she’s walking on tiptoe. Everyone on the street wonders what kind of dog she is. 

She’s Summer, dark and small and shapeless, hard to tell her front from her back. At rest, she resembles a black mop head. Or a fake-fur throw pillow.

Her owner passed away this past winter. A lovely and courageous woman named Carol Lee, of Southern heritage. The dog wound up outliving her at 14 years old. Carol Lee was 74 when she died but told everyone, for years until the end, that she was 59. (Except, of course, when she was 59; then she recalibrated to the mid-30s.)

Sam, her brother, had a summer house this summer in Sag Harbor. A rental, a spectacular one on the edge of the cove, a more remote part of Sag — you travel along Long Island Avenue to Redwood Road to Cove Road, and there it is. About a mile from the American Hotel.

It’s a gorgeous house, modern and chic, with stunning views of the cove — a tranquil body of water, smooth as glass; it ripples slightly when a family of ducks glides by, or a lone paddleboarder drifts along, or a kayak, a canoe, or a rowboat. There’s a low bridge at one end, so larger boats are blocked from entering. You rarely hear a motor. It is quiet and serene and reflects the ever-changing skies above. Even the recently complained-about noisy helicopters don’t seem to pierce through, but, frankly, the workers who trim the hedges on a Saturday slightly annoy. 

The house has a small fenced-in pool, but the rest of the grounds, with an elaborate grill and an outdoor dining table where we would often dine, is open to woods and nearby houses. After dinner, we would sit outdoors, look out at the water, and listen to music, the air glittering with fireflies as night began to fall.

“Where’s Summer?” is what Sam asks a thousand times a day. Even when the dog is on a leash, sitting under us at an outdoor table at Page restaurant, for one, inches from our feet. 

“Where’s Summer?”

Maybe I passed over too quickly how the dog came to be Sam’s. She belonged to Carol Lee since May of 2003, and my husband and I were there on her first night in Carol Lee’s East 60th Street apartment in Manhattan. For years, when we had a house in the Amagansett dunes, Sam and Carol Lee would come and visit, Summer tiptoeing behind them.

The two of them (make that the three of them) would rent houses each summer in various locations but seemed to settle on Sag over the last few summers. Houses, some grand, some simple, with pools and without, and always walking distance to town.

There were dinners and backgammon and rosé wine. Carol Lee’s passing was sad for many people who were touched by her. But no one was more bereft than her brother. They were closer thanthis.

This was his first summer in decades that she hadn’t been there with him, often in the city, and constantly in the summer houses. Shopping together. Museums and movies together. Gabbing and laughing together. Screaming at each other.

David (he’s my husband) and I became sort of grateful stand-ins for Carol Lee this summer. Sam was lost without her, and we would show up. David would cook — David and Carol Lee often cooked together on summer weekends, and also holidays and birthdays, for as long as I can remember.

And now she’s gone. And summer is ending. But Summer, the dog, is always right there no matter how many times Sam asks where she is. We wonder if she misses Carol Lee. We always do wonder: What do dogs think? (They must think something.)

Maybe Sam believes that Carol Lee lives on in Summer. He takes her everywhere, in his arms on the subway to his office (she’s that tiny). She’s there at any outdoor restaurant here and in N.Y.C. Carol Lee may be gone, but the dog seems to be thriving.

But back to the house where we have spent weekends, four in all, since Memorial Day. There were lots of laughs and lots of reminiscing about Carol Lee, the dog a constant reminder among other reminders and stories shared. How we would curse at each other over backgammon moves. How we thought how she would have loved to see Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” or Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly.” Carol Lee was a sometime actress, along with her other gifts. Gifts of interior design, of fashion styling — the greatest gift-giver I have known. (Lorne Michaels, in fact, used her for a time as his personal shopper.)

I would write pieces in this column and on my blog and she would insist she portray one of the characters in my stories. She wanted me to write a one-woman show for her. In the end, she would have been much better qualified to write her own story and portray herself in a one-woman show. She had an Imogene Coca comedic quality. And she looked somewhat like Carson McCullers. It was often discussed how she could play those two women in that never-to-be-done one-woman show.

Meantime, summer does speed along. It is August as I write this; my husband and I are in Provincetown for the month, a new summer spot since selling in Amagansett.

But I’m lucky enough to still spend time in Sag Harbor and the Hamptons, driving around, getting takeout from Round Swamp Farm and Cavaniola’s, eating dinner at the bar at the Palm, shopping at Turpan. Reading and reminiscing.

Weekends in June and July were not great, weather-wise. Some sun. More clouds. Rain.

What happened to the summer of 2017? Where did it go? And, more specifically, where is Summer, that wayward, but always underfoot, shadow of a dog?

Where is she?

Oh, there she is. Right there.

Hy Abady has collected his “Guestwords” essays in two books, the latest of which is “Back in The Star Again Again! Further Stories From the East End. And Beyond.”