Our house is quiet. Eerily quiet.
Now and then I hear a sound from the bedrooms upstairs; a bang, a thunk or a ca-clunk. But whatever’s making noises above my head is either a raccoon or a ghost. Our most recent occupants have vacated the premises and we are, once again, home alone, just like countless others who hold their breath and cock their heads — the standard pose of empty nesters — when they stop to listen to the phantom echoes.
This is our second go-round being empty-nested. The first time was back in the 80s, but I can still remember what that felt like and how, before that last bird flew away, we’d stumble through our cluttered house, tripping over shoes and books, telling each other how great it was going to be “when it’s just us and we don’t have to live like this anymore.”
Weren’t we shocked to discover, after our last kid left and we continued to trip over shoes and books and clutter, that it wasn’t them; it was never them. It was us!
Flash forward 25 years and it’s déjà vu all over again, except this time we’ve been empty nested by strangers.
It all started more than a year ago when someone asked if we could house a Buck, a member of Shelter Island’s summer collegiate baseball team. I said “Good Lord! No!” because that’s one of my holdover habits from years of active-duty motherhood. It’s easier to say “Good Lord! No!” first, and then later change it to “Oh, sure!” than vice versa. Every mother knows that.
“Host a Buck? Nope! No way!” I said, “Sorry! No can do.” Then I rattled off the multiplicity of reasons why we couldn’t and few were legitimate, but mostly it was that I didn’t want to have to cook. Isn’t that what you do when you take in boarders? I hardly cooked for my own kids way back when — why the heck would I want to cook for someone else’s kids now?
Because I did feel guilty about saying, “No! No! A thousand times, no!” I mumbled, in a soft, soft whisper, without even moving my lips, “Next year, for sure,” assuming that even if my promise was heard, it would be forgotten.
Wrong, and the Thursday before Memorial Day our title, “Host Family,” became official when one Buck arrived, followed shortly after by a second Buck, so we had a pair.
Here’s the deal when you take in a couple of Bucks: the host family provides a bed, a shower and refrigerator space. Thankfully, there is no “you have to cook” rule.
Hosts are also supposed to provide their Bucks with access to a washer and dryer so they can do their own laundry, especially their uniforms because they have five games a week and the league gives each player only one uniform. If the Buck is a “slider,” he’s going to need that washing machine plus a case of Spray & Wash. (More about “sliders” later.)
We established house rules early on when I told my Bucks, 19-year-old college students, “if you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.”
I also advised them about the Police Blotter. They came from big towns, where unfortunate infractions probably don’t make their local papers. “It’s different here,” I warned them, and just like 25 years ago, every time they went out I’d screech out, but in a loving way, “be good, be careful and stay out of the blotter!” (Another thing that hasn’t changed in 25 years — boys still roll their eyes when they say, “Yes, ma’am.”)
Right away we settled into a great routine. I did not cook them dinner, but I did make sure that we were well stocked with bananas, milk and cereals of their choice (Raisin Bran and Cap’n Crunch for this duo). The reason our house has long been referred to as Sherman’s B & B is because I’m more than happy to supply the bed and the bananas, but that’s as far as I go. Surprisingly, this B & B still gets plenty of guests and so far no one’s ever starved.
Some of the other host families cooked breakfasts for their Bucks. Big bacon and egg feasts, French toast and sausage feasts, blueberry-studded pancake feasts, and all the other good stuff that gets served around here once a year, on Father’s Day.
Because I felt a little bad about not cooking hot meals, I compensated by volunteering to wash their clothes. Every night they’d leave their uniforms and whatever they wore that day in a pile at the foot of the stairs. In the morning everything had been washed, dried and perfectly folded by the laundry elf and somehow I managed to convince my foster Bucks that they had it so much better than the poor Bucks who only got hot food. Heck, they could get hot food at a dozen places around the Island. But who else would wash those grass stains out of their uniforms?
It was the laundry that got me out to the old ballgame. I’d never been to a Bucks game before, but this summer I was one of their regular, rabid fans. People thought I was there to cheer on our Bucks. Well, that too, but mostly it was to stand with my face pressed into that cold metal chain-link fence screaming, “No stealing! Don’t slide!” as they raced around the bases, while the third-base coach was shouting “Steal! Steal! Slide! Slide!” Well sure, ‘cause he’s the coach. But he would have been yelling something else at those Bucks if he was also the laundry elf.
I’d say trying to get that red ballfield dirt out of their uniforms was probably the biggest downside of hosting the Bucks this summer. Otherwise, for us, there was no downside, and after that final game, it was kind of sad saying goodbye to those boys who for more than two months had shared our home and filled it with lots of positive energy and noise — good noise.
But, would we do it again?
I’m already stocked up on Cap’n Crunch. And a case of Spray & Wash.