The mansion or guest house?
My sisters think this one may be it. A private island off the coast of Maine with a mansion, two guesthouses and a barn.
I know what this means. We’ll be playing the lottery this summer.
We’ll put our chairs and umbrella at the same spot on the beach each day, settling in with our books, cooler, and floppy sun hats. Our toes painted shades of red and pink with nail polish colors like never-tamed red, juicy magenta, soft lavender, Her Majesty’s red, cranberry kiss.
We’ll walk and swim. Well, really just dunk, as the Maine ocean water is so cold even during August heat waves. The sister rules are that you have to put your whole head underwater to qualify for having gone in the water. If you just wade in up to your waist it’s a coffee or beer break.
As the afternoon sun slides to the other side of the beach, we’ll finally get down to the real conversation, one that is just for us sisters.
“What are you going to do with the lottery money,” we begin as if we’ve already won it.
“Definitely the island with the mansion and two guest houses,” says one sister.
“But there are four of us. Who doesn’t get a house?”
“Well, two of us can share the mansion.”
“How about we all share the mansion and rent out the two guest houses so that we have money for the St. John house in the winter?”
“That might work.”
“Or the small apartment in Manhattan with a wraparound terrace and views of both the Empire State Building and the Hudson,” I remind them.
Every year I make a pitch for the New York place, but the beach houses are a priority.
We talk about how to furnish the houses. Rules about dividing time so our husbands, children and friends can come up. Which weeks we’ll always spend together, just the sisters.
We talk, laugh, go back to our books for a while, put on more sunscreen.
Two summers ago when one sister was diagnosed with “tricky” breast cancer there were no lottery tickets or beach fantasies.
Four summers ago when my husband had a horrific accident on top of Parkinson’s Disease, the sisters swarmed down to Rhode Island, bringing food, dishing out advice, compassionately listening to me in my Drama Queen mode, which is never pretty.
When a crisis hits the sisters are a no-nonsense, let’s-just-deal-with-what’s-in front-of-us force to be reckoned with. There’s no talk of vacation or beach.
But, oh, this summer we will buy lottery tickets at the convenience store before going to the fish market, or even before we treat ourselves to piles of blueberry pancakes with local maple syrup. (We might have to hire the diner’s cook for the island. We’ll fix up the barn so he can live there.)
Summer is too short, New Englanders are often heard saying. Usually right after saying the weather is too hot, too cold, too humid, too unpredictable.
Summer vacation with the sisters is perfect. Predictably so. Even in our tiny rented cottage.
Because next year might be too something else.
I’m going to tell the sisters that I’m getting the island guesthouse with the private dock.