The House Guest Hall of Fame

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‘Entertaining is easy — with the right guests’

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of an extra room, must be in want of a guest. (Sorry, Jane Austen.)

When I told The Child about my plan to write about house guests (both the really great ones and the really, um, not-so-great ones), she was concerned. “Mom! What if one of the Not-So-Great Guests reads your piece and sees that you’re writing about him (or her)!” And I’m like, “So? Maybe he or she would benefit from being thusly outed.” So. Be warned. Especially if you ever stayed with me and upon leaving I said to you, “I hope you had a really nice time.”

Really great guests in a hammock. I did not ask them if they “had a really nice time.”

I first wrote about the House Guest Thing a few years ago. But somehow gremlins (or maybe scorned house guests?) ate the post. Anyway. The story somehow disappeared from my archives.

I didn’t think much about it. I had other, more pressing, things to write about. How I almost went to work in Arkansas for Wall-Mart (“My Almost Arkansas Commute”), My recipe for corn salad (“Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Lend Me Your Ears”) and so on and so forth.

Cousins hanging around waiting for corn salad

But today I waved good-bye to my Brother-In-Law Bill. Who is The Dude’s brother. Aside from a propensity for buying multiple loaves of crumb-producing bread, he’s a pretty good house guest. He doesn’t expect to be entertained. He doesn’t leave wet towels around. He doesn’t try to cook; in fact, he likes my cooking.

The Child and another Very Good Guest display one of the humongous crumb-producing loaves Bill is so fond of

Okay. Back to Jane Austen. I bet, like Bro-in-law Bill, she’d make a swell house guest. But since she’s not a possibility, I have to make do with live people. Speaking of which, my daughter and her female friends make excellent house guests. They happily (and quietly) pursue shared activities not requiring any hostess participation or even supervision. They share a bathroom, a bedroom, or even a bed, if so required. Without complaining. And without eating or drinking in said bed. Model house guests.

The Child and her friends. They did not eat in bed. Homework, maybe. But no eating

To be perfectly honest, most of my guests are, in fact, close-to-model house guests. If they weren’t, well, I wouldn’t keep inviting people to stay, now would I? It’s kind of like that thing they say about babies: if it were all that awful having them, everyone would be an only child.

Of course, even model house guests sometimes sit on the couch in wet bathing suits, or walk around with sandy and/or muddy feet, or even set wet glasses down on prized hardcover books. But that’s (sort of) okay and eminently forgivable. And kind of within the bounds of “make yourself at home.” That is, if you live in the kind of home where books serve double-duty as coasters.

Speaking of which, when your hostess says, “Make yourself at home’” (which I never do, by the way) imagine that you are at, say, your mother-in-law’s home. Would you pare your toenails in Mother Smith’s living room? Or give your spouse a scented-oil massage in her bed? Would you ever even think of dying your hair (yes, this really happened, and no, red hair dye does not come out of a chenille bath rug) in her bathroom?

These guests did not bring food. They did bring a decidedly cute baby

Oh, and then there are the guests who bring food. Now, I don’t mean a nice jar of jam or a home-baked pie (usually from a hideously-expensive farm stand, but delicious, so who’s complaining?) I mean I’ve had guests who’ve brought huge coolers and shopping bags full of provisions, as if they were going into a Cold-War bunker or on an Antarctic expedition instead of to my well-stocked Hamptons home. And these provisions are not for communal consumption. They are for themselves. It’s like they can’t trust me to provide food they can actually eat.

Another perennially great guest: my mom. Nuff said

Now, think about this. It’s kind of like taking your own food to Lutece (Nope, Lutece is gone) or, hmmm, Gramercy Tavern, or (wait!) it would be like going to Shake Shack and taking your own burger.

Speaking of bringing things. It’s not necessary, but it is polite and awfully nice when guests do. If you’re stumped for an idea, think “consumable.” You know, something that everyone can enjoy together, and that soon will be gone. Many hostesses have not only their own ideas about décor, but also short memories. They might forget to drag out and display the purple majolica soap dish or the heart-shaped rag rug (both actual gifts given to me by actual guests) the next time you spend a weekend. So think fancy olive oils in pretty bottles. The afore-mentioned jams. Chocolates. Wine. Did I say wine? When in doubt, bring wine. Just don’t keep it in your room and drink it all yourself. Which one house guest of mine did. Really.

Another great guest. Gee, I don’t have photos of the bad ones. I wonder why?

There’s an old saying (I think Steve Allen said it first) that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Which must be why Bad Guests are much funnier (after the fact) than Good Guests. All I know is they’re much more fun to write about than actually live through.

Like the guest who couldn’t sleep in the guest room because she found an ant in her bed. Or the couple who left one Sunday morning for a nice brunch, “forgetting” to take their toddler along. Or the guy who sneaked downstairs in the middle of the night to turn the pool heat to 90. Or even the pair who declared that “you don’t need to cook for us tonight because we are going to The American Hotel for dinner“ but failed to include their hosts (um, us).

Well. When these various guests waved good-bye after their respective (interminable) visits were over, I politely waved back. But did I say, “Come back again soon”? Or “It was great having you”? Or even “Thank you for coming”? Nope. I smiled sweetly and said, “I hope you had a really nice time.”

The unsaid part being, of course, “Because you are never ever coming back.”

Thank goodness (and Thanksgiving) for great guests!

Amagansett, New York. September 2021

 

Beware the Rage Rover

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‘The pitfalls and perils of traffic in The Hamptons’

I’m a little late today. I had to (gasp) leave The Compound by car. Which is something I rarely do out here in The Hamptons.

Why don’t I like to drive out here? Take a guess

Did I dash out to Citarella for a twelve-dollar loaf of bread? Or to Lunch for a forty-dollar lobster roll? Nah. I loaded up the Toyota for a trip to the dump. Er, “recycling center.”

I usually put off my Dump Run until Thursday, when I can combine it with my Groceries/Mail/Liquor Run for a trip I call my “Vector.” But I made grilled chicken involving a garlic-loaded marinade the other night, and the garbage bag which I hung on a hook in the basement (to discourage mice) was starting to, well, infuse the entire house with a not-very-enticing aroma.

There’s even traffic at the Forty-Dollar Farm Stand. But there’s a nice aroma of roasting corn. So there’s that

So I screwed my courage to the sticking place and nosed my way out of our driveway and into — Hamptons Traffic.

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August: the ‘Sunday night’ of summer

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‘The season winds down while I’m still winding up’

I was on the phone with my mother the other day, discussing the fact that most of the 2016 championship-winning Cubs players had been traded — one, my fave, Javier Baez, is now playing for the Mets — when we interrupted our solving of the world’s problems with a big…heavy…sigh.

We didn’t even need to ask each other what the sigh was for. It was August, after all.

If June is spiked with the thrill of Friday-like expectation, and July is packed with the pleasures of an endless Saturday, then August is tinged with Sunday’s bittersweet longing.

The Child and her Whitmore Grampa solve the world’s problems on an endless July afternoon

It’s like when you were a kid and you were doing your homework at the dining-room table while Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was playing in the next room. It was Sunday night. Where on earth did the weekend go?

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Before the parade passes by

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‘Believe it or not, summer’s almost over’

I’ve written about the astonishing swiftness of summer before. (See “The Days are Long, but The Season is Short.”) And more than just that one time. (See “Yup, Summer’s Officially Over,” etc. etc.) One would think that by now, with so many summers under my baby-boomer belt, I’d be used to the swiftness of it all.

One would be wrong.

What made me realize that this particular pandemic-plagued summer was already sailing inexorably into its sunset was a photo my beloved Favorite Only Sister posted on Instagram recently.

Here it is. Showing a mixed assortment of Clinton County Parade spectators. Looks like I missed a *sniff* swell time that year

She posted it because, yes, it’s Clinton County Fair Time again. The Parade pictured was enjoyed during a time when we kids were all grown up, some of us with kids of our own. I was, alas, missing from the scene that particular year. But I did get to witness the “Surfing the Internet with God” float (pictured at the top of this post) on another similarly-memorable Parade-watching occasion.

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Small place, big personalities

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‘The Colorful Characters of Clinton County’

I was watching a clip of Donald Trump slip-sliding his way down that ramp at West Point and immediately thought of Dennis Rose. “Gription,” Dennis would have said. “Trump’s shoes ain’t got enough gription.

Well, if “gription” isn’t a word, it oughta be. Dennis used it to describe what was wrong with his own sneakers during a basketball practice one afternoon long ago in the Carlyle High School gym. (I didn’t witness this word coinage myself, those being pre-Title IX days, when the sportiest we girls could get was playing dodge-ball in that same high school gym. While wearing bloomers. Honest. Bloomers.)

Dennis’ locution was colorful, but, trust me, there were other Clinton County denizens who made him seem pasty-pale in comparison.

There was the guy named Bill who rode his bike everywhere. Sure, no one bats an eye at an adult on a bike now (even sealed in Spandex), but back then a grownup riding a bike caused, well, comment. Indeed, we kids were told to “stay away from that man.”

Kids riding bikes was another kettle of handlebars entirely. We went everywhere on bikes. Well, except not to school. Bike riding to school–even on a swell banana bike like Rog’s–was considered very uncool and just was not done

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A la recherche du Coppertone perdu

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‘Proust and I wish you and yours a most odiforous summer’

Before you correct me in the comments, yes, I know that “odiforous” isn’t a real word. According to Evil Spell-Check, it should be “odorous,” but I’ve been saying “odiforous” for years and, if you ask me, “odorous” isn’t any fun at all.

So what’s with the odors, “iforous” or not?

Well, unless you’ve been spending the last 75 days alone in a cabin in rural Vermont, you know that losing your sense of smell is one of the symptoms of Covid-19. But before we get into that, how about that guy, huh? True story. Daniel Thorson emerged after spending March 13 through May 23 in isolation at a monastic retreat and asked, “I’m back from 75 days in silence. Did I miss anything?”

Once he heard I bet he skedaddled right back into that cabin. Kind of like the Groundhog and his shadow. Except in Poor Daniel’s case it would be the pandemic and the protests. Not to mention the fact that there’s no major league baseball.

Wouldn’t this scare you if you just emerged from 75 days alone in a remote cabin?

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No, you don’t have to put your white bucks away after Labor Day.

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‘Not if you never even got them out in the first place.’

Perhaps some Labor Day will roll around when I won’t say how amazed I am that it’s already Labor Day. But somehow I don’t think so.

In fact, I think my tendency to mutter such things as “boy, this summer sure went fast” and “I can’t believe it’s September already” will only get worse. I have this theory about why time  seems so much shorter and goes so much faster the older you get. See, when you are twenty, ten years is half of your life. When you’re my age, ten years is, well, I won’t get all mathematical, but the fraction would end in an “eenth”.

Me, back when I bought the white bucks. When ten years was still a significant chunk of my already-lived life

Not that I mind. I rather like that time is now so pacey. The calendar rolls along in such high gear that if I get stuck doing something I’d rather not do, I just know that whatever it is will be over in no time. And then I’ll get to complain about it. Dental work? A blink in time. Delay at La Guardia? A mere pause in the clock. Excruciatingly bad musical theater? Well, there was the show last season that had me counting the fake bricks in the scenery. But even that ended, and now lives on as a party anecdote.

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The Summer Selfie, Seventies Style

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‘Taking a look–and a photo–back in time’

It’s funny how genetics works. My Dad was a numbers guy; a civil engineer who worked with a slide rule designing bridges and roads. My Mom was a science-y person too; she was a nurse who in another time and place would surely have been a doctor.

My siblings and I? Not so numbers-y, science-y. My Only Sister is a writer turned real estate agent, my Middle Younger Brother a filmmaker, my Oldest Younger Brother a photographer. And me, you know enough about former copywriter ad girl me.

The only one who followed that science-y path? My Youngest Younger Brother, a neuroscience nerd turned optometrist, who in grad school was studying the effect of cocaine on the brain. Or maybe it was heroin. Whichever. All I remember is that he had to go to the lab several times a day to make sure the rats got their “fix”. I also remember that he would joke that he wanted to outfit the rats with itty-bitty doo-rags and switchblades.

Youngest Younger Bro Doug takes a houseboat break from his lab-rat drug-dealing duties. Cool photo taken by same (see trigger in hand?) but provided by Oldest Younger Brother Scott

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Only if the plane was on fire

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‘When Whitmores say something is “exciting”‘

There’s a scene in one of my favorite Woody Allen movies (I’m thinking it’s Annie Hall) where Woody’s character asks his date to name her favorite sport. She says “swimming”, and Woody says, “Swimming? Swimming’s not a sport. Basketball’s a sport. Swimming is what you do when the boat sinks!”

Well, Woody, I hear you. I feel similarly about parachute jumping. I can think of absolutely no scenario where I would jump out of a plane. Unless it was on fire — and I’m not sure I’d do it even then.

Obviously The Child feels differently. There is photographic evidence (see the shot at the top of this post) of her smiling while she’s jumping out of a plane. And guess what? She did it again a few years later with a bunch of work buddies.

Not sure if this was before or after that second jump. Those could be smiles of relief — or terror

Anyway. I bring all this up because The Child never ceases to amaze me with her daring. Though, honestly, I shouldn’t be surprised when she does stuff like jump out of planes, leap off cliffs, swing from trapezes, or face off with large animals. She is, after all, a Whitmore.

The Child, outstanding (er, squatting) in her field: staring down danger

Now, some of you are no doubt protesting, “Hey, you’re a Whitmore!” But I am a Whitmore only by marriage. The Child’s Whitmoreness flows through her very veins.

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French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail

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‘Summer vacations, Midcentury Midwestern Style’

The Child is on Day 18 of her solo hike of the John Muir Trail. The JM is a 200-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Her Childness started in Yosemite National Park a couple of weeks ago and will finish in three or four more days at Mt. Whitney.

Here she was on Day 13. Well, here is where the satellite said she was, anyway

We’re not too panicky, since we can track her via GPS. And sometimes, when she has cell service, she calls or texts. She even Facetimed us from the top of Half Dome.

The Child Instagrams from Half Dome, where there were still a few people. Unless those are bears in disguise

Now, I’m glad (sort of) that she’s doing this. But I must say that this kind of trip is certainly not my cup of tea. The blisters and bears and dehydrated food and being alone for hours at a time wouldn’t bother me so much. (In fact, I rather like being alone.)

Nope. It’s the sleeping outside part that’s the deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.

The Child’s home away from home. A veritable trailside Hilton

See, when I was a kid, when we took a family vacation, we drove. We didn’t know anybody who took planes. For one thing, back in those days taking a plane with a family with at least three kids (and ultimately five) was way too pricey. At least for families like mine.

Trains were on the expensive side too, though I remember taking one once from Memphis to Chicago. That was the trip where Middle Brother Roger (who was the youngest at the time) sat on a fancy lady’s lap and asked her why she had a string of dead squirrels around her neck. (It was, in fact, a mink stole, and she didn’t even get mad, he was so adorable.)

Surly Teen Me, with Laura and Roger, on a rare trip that (I think) did not involve sleeping outside. We went, for some reason, to French Lick, Indiana, and stayed in an old resort at the hot springs. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott snapped the photo)

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