On Tuesday after Labor Day a refreshing breeze swept across Shelter Island. It puffed in through the windows, lofting my living room curtains like the exhalation of 2,500 tired and grateful people at the end of a long, profitable ordeal. Summer was over, school was in session, and no one was wait-listed for a weekend room in my house.
My husband and I rarely have overnight guests who are not family because over the years we have scared off most of our friends. For our first 25 years on Shelter Island, we spent weekends and holidays in a two-bedroom house with one tiny bathroom, the perfect home for the two of us, even after two little sons joined us. In those days, even a pair of guests made the hallway outside our bathroom look like the concourse at Citi Field between innings, with people waiting for a chance at the facilities.
As I reflect on the friends we’ve hosted over the years, there are some standouts. I’m not thinking of the folks who brought a gift, or wrote a note, although they were very thoughtful. I’m thinking of a handful of extraordinary human beings whose performance in the role of weekend guest in some cases rose to the level of heroism.
The Christmas Angels
It was the Christmas of 1989. Our first child, Sam, was six months old and we didn’t want to travel so my sister and her new husband came from Virginia to celebrate Christmas with us on the Island. My husband, baby and I went to fetch them from the East Hampton Airport and headed back.
We got as far as South Ferry.
With our car stopped in the ferry line, I opened a passenger-side door, stuck out my head and threw up in the bushes. This was the opening salvo of a bout of flu that left me in bed for the entire duration of their visit.
I was unable to prepare the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding I had planned for the holiday dinner that year; I couldn’t even get to the table, or for that matter, take care of my baby. My sister and her husband stepped up, somehow cooking a complete Christmas dinner while my husband ensured that Sam and I were fed, changed and hydrated.
In the 1990s we had a visit from our tall, handsome friend from the city with an irresistible Southern accent and lots of charm. He arrived for the weekend with his girlfriend and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Why did I overlook this obvious violation of the code of weekend guests? (It’s Section 3.1 of the Code, “No pet is small enough or quiet enough to be permitted.) The violation was ignored because, unlike me, or my husband, this friend knew how to fix things.
For example, the first time he visited, he noticed as we stepped through the door to the deck that the screen was sagging and decrepit. In fact, it was a kind of Ellis Island for insect life, briefly detaining bugs, screening out the weak and allowing only the fittest to enter the house. By the end of the weekend this delightful — and handy — houseguest had repaired the screen door.
He came out several times after that and always found something to improve (straighten the garage doors, stop a leaking faucet) before going home. This record of Guest Excellence continued until it was overshadowed by a terrible event. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dug a hole in the sofa cushion so deep that the stuffing popped out.
We were proud to call a nature-loving, Volvo-driving couple from Wisconsin our friends. These responsible citizens of Mother Earth came to the house a few days ahead of us with their toddler to do some hiking. When we joined them on Friday night, we learned that on the first morning in our house they had spotted a large brown bat hanging in a bedroom window.
With their child sleeping in the next room and the prospect of a possibly rabid animal at large in the house, they decided to go after the hapless bat with a broom. After some flapping and diving — on the bat’s part — they were able to remove the creature humanely, saving us the trouble and saving the life of an important pollinator.
Silence is Golden
Having weekend guests in the summer often means nonstop activity from the first sounds of life in the morning to the moment they say good night. This past summer we invited a vivacious couple in their early 30s for the weekend and were prepared for happenings.
On Saturday, as soon as the lunch dishes were cleared away, these two went upstairs “to rest” and reappeared three hours later looking very bright-eyed. I have no idea what they were doing up there but I can say that it was silent and consensual. I was grateful to have some downtime of my own.
No bottle of wine or chocolate truffle could rival the gift of an afternoon nap on a summer weekend.
To our Greatest-Ever Weekend Guests, thank you.