It was mid-July, and I was starting to get desperate, so I gave my mother a call, hoping for an easy out. I scored. She immediately began talking about the usual first-two-weeks of August. With no exceptions, the first half of every August of my life has been spent with my family at our cottage out on the Sound.
"I know your life is in shambles right now, but you don't want to miss it. It's probably going to be the last year, because I'm thinking seriously about selling the place."
"C'mon, Mom--you've been thinking seriously about selling the place for years."
"Yes, but this time, I am seriously thinking about selling the place."
"You can't sell the place, Mom, and you know it. It's what Dad lived for."
Early in his career, Dad had made a killing--and killer rep--in the bonds market. He was a raging bull down on Wall, and hated every minute of it. He revived in the glow of his dream cottage on the Sound. When he was alive, we came out all the time. The place was a summer cottage but built to be comfy in winter as well. As kids, we did four or five Christmases out there. Some of my fondest memories are being fifteen and sixteen and going out with Dad to make repairs on the cottage, having him show me how to do such things. For a guy who made his living juggling electronic numbers, he was remarkably adept with tools.
Not to mention the time we were hanging new gutters and needed a third body, so my older sister Carol came along.
In the ultimate balance, Dad worked too hard and didn't get enough cottage-time. He was 53 when he sat down to some power lunch, and got served the businessman's special. He went face-down on the table. There's always a doctor in the house, or someone ready to show off their CPR training, but the heart attack was too total. By the time the EMTs arrived, there was nothing left for them to work with.
Mom sighed. "I know the history of the place. But it's become a money-pit. It's not like anyone's ever out there to take care of the old place. That's what I'm thinking this time: how sad it is. Houses need people to live in and love them. How sad the cottage must be all the rest of the year. The old place falling apart--I don't think that really honors your father's memory."
I cut her off. This was going too good. "Listen, Mom, we'll talk about all this when we're there. We'll figure something out. Otherwise, you're preaching to the converted. Yea, my life is in shambles, but I've never missed an August yet."
"I know. Carol and her clan will be there. Charles is such a nice guy, and the girls are so adorable."
I couldn't argue there. My big sister had married a great guy, and her 4 and 6 year old daughters were adorable.
"And even Lynnie said she'll be flying in."
I wasn't going to hold my breath on that. Lynne was her own person, and always had been. While Carol and I were a year and a half apart, Lynne always was the baby sister, born three years after me. After a year not liking the local branch of the state university, she just moved to Seattle. She did a few Augusts after Dad died, but then she switched her annual dutiful daughter trip home to November, something about it better fitting her work schedule. Whatever. I hadn't personally seen her in maybe three years.
I hung up the phone ecstatic. My life was in shambles. My job was great, but I was four months into a rather acrimonious divorce that I won't discuss. Except that I was out of the house. I'd exhausted my supply of friends' livingroom sofas. The problem would invariably be the friends' wives, which just made all us guys feel old. I'd managed a short-term sublet, but--DING!--I had to be out the first of August.
My intent had been to eventually chat my way into Mom allowing me to stay on at the place for a month or ten, while I got my life in order. This was going to be easy. All of Dad's tools were still down in his basement workroom.
Maybe I could sort out my life, rustically, as the caretaker of a cottage.
I drove out late in the afternoon. I pulled in and got out, and as I half-expected, Mom was out on the front veranda enjoying a cup of tea. "So nice of you to join us," she hailed.
I bounded up the front steps and stooped down to give her a good hug. "Oh, Mom, you know I always look forward to this."
Finally she pushed me away. "Enough of me. Go inside. There's a mob inside, and they're awfully noisy. Which is why I'm out here enjoying my tea in the quiet."
So I did go inside. First up I encountered Charles. "Hey!" he brightened. We slung out our hands to shake, and then pulled together for a man-hug. "Great to see you, man."
"You too, man."
"Hey, honey," he hollered, "your brother's here!"
Carol ran in the room squealing. Her hug was much less manly. It was, in a word, awkward. With her husband standing around watching. Her tits were mashed against my chest, and I felt the sharp nudge of her pubic bone against mine. Thankfully, then the delightful little girls poured in to see their favorite uncle. I wound up down on my knees, at their level. The older one kept having to run back to her room to fetch the things that she wanted to show me--a new stuffed animal, a crayon drawing, a pair of slippers embedded with diamonds. The little one furiously imitated her sister, except she never moved. She stood before me and kept showing me something. Every time, she opened her fists and showed me her pretty little palms.
I was thoroughly mesmerized, until I caught a glimpse of movement where I didn't expect it. I looked up. It was Lynne moving into the room.
"Hey!" I smiled widely. "Didn't know you were here."
She shrugged. "So, don't I rate a hug?"
"Well," I laughed, "sure, but you have to charge me at knee level, and then show me lots of stuff." The words were out of my mouth before I got embarrassed by what I'd actually said.
Lynne crossed the room, so I stood up, and we hugged lightly. "It's so good to see you," I said.
"Same here too."
We were a crew, quite a crowd on the house. It made obvious sense how the sleeping arrangements worked out. Same as when we were young, each in the room we knew. The difference being Carol's room went to the girls, while she claimed for herself and Charles the guest bedroom. This was an addition I'd helped my father build. It was on the other end of the house from the rest of the bedrooms, so the guests would have that much more privacy.
It was en suite, with a private bath. Ostensibly it was built, like an attached guest house, for grandparents that might come live with us and thus become part of our every cottage vacation. But that never happened. And really, the bathroom he installed was much more exotic than senior living.
The whole construction was meant to impress our overnight guests. But I don't really remember any guests. When I was 17, and everyone else was clearly gone away from the cottage for at least a couple hours, I did indulge in a guest-bath, lounging in the wide deep tub with the Jacuzzi jets turned on full. I thought it would be really sexy. Maybe it could. But alone, it was just about the saddest thing in the world. The churning water jets just felt like nagging sweat bees.
So I certainly wasn't that envious. I would be scared of taking a simple shower in that place.
It was barely an hour or two, when Charles' cell phone chirped out a tune. The idiot had forgotten to turn it off. As punishment, he had to give his apologies. He had to turn around and drive back to the city to deal with some huge crisis. It might take a couple days to sort out, sorry. The debate that started he quickly squashed. "What can I say?" he said. "They said I could come in and join the team, or obviously I'm not a team player. So, sorry, but for now I'd like to keep my job."
I was sorry to watch the guy I was going to sit around and be guys with drive away for a few days. I was trapped alone with all these females. But as dinnertime approached, I was glad. I was prepared to be happy with whatever sandwich I managed to cobble together.
I'd gone to my room for a half-hour power nap, so I was a bit groggy when I came back down the hall to the kitchen. I was drawn by the scent of a fresh pot of coffee. In the kitchen, the women were working.
Mom was juggling an ambitious dinner from scratch, with my sisters running around helping as they could. My little nieces were running around the floor like escaped hamsters, asking to help as well.
It came home to me that I was the only guy in the cottage. The women were making me food. I stood there, sipping my mug of fresh coffee, gazing upon my empire. Until Mom looked over her shoulder and quipped, "Feel free to set the table or something."
It was later, much later. I was disappeared in the kitchen, a victim of my own torture. I was so a martyr! I cleaned up dinner all alone. Carol came in towards the end, remarking on Mom and Lynne having a private conversation, successful in having gotten her little girls asleep in her old bed.
Lynne came in the kitchen just in time to grab a dish towel and dry a couple pans. "Mom's off to bed," she announced the obvious.
We all sat down at the kitchen table. Soon enough I was up and opening the fridge. It would've been very melodic if I'd pulled out a bottle of beer, ringing it against the others as a question. But going in the fridge involved tearing back glued cardboard flaps. A can of beer tapped against another makes a sound like clunk.
.... There is more of this story ...