Sunday, November 9, 2014

Power of the Sisterhood

In theory, it sounds like an awful idea.

Take a half dozen middle-aged women, send them to an isolated house in the middle of nowhere for two nights and hope for the best. In my family, that's what we call the sistertrip, an annual sibling roundup where the goal is to spend a weekend bonding with my five sisters.

Sister #5 opted out from the get-go, claiming that she doesn't need to participate because she has nothing to say. While the remaining sisters know that this isn't true, we have stopped trying to win her over and accept her absence.

This year's trip had been planned for Delaplane by Sister #3, who suggested that any sisters who arrived early should meet her at Three Fox Vineyards. Somehow, I was the only one who made it.

Despite being an incomplete set, we tasted through the wines, enjoying their take on Italian wine-making styles with a couple of Sangioveses and a Piemontese Nebbiolo before taking glasses (mine was of the Cano Pazzo Rose) to the heated patio to sip and admire the property.

Scattered over the hillside were metal tables and chairs for anyone wanting an Italian-like view, but the blustery wind kept everyone indoors. At the top of a hill sat one lone table that's no doubt a popular spot when the weather is fine.

From the winery, it was only half a mile to our weekend digs, a house straight out of the Brady Bunch era. The one-floor house had high, timbered ceilings, there were windows covering all the walls for a view and a stone fireplace was at the center of the house. Vertical blinds, lots of sliding doors, all very '70s.

I was assigned to sleep in the "kids' loft," not a loft at all, but a bedroom that ran the width of the house with double-sized bunk beds and windows on three sides. It felt a lot like what may have been a porch at one time. Perfect for me, in other words.

After the extended unpacking period (so many bags for five people for only 42 hours), we began the real business of a sistertrip: drinking, talking over each other, reminiscing and laughing. The organizer, Sister #3, passed out cocktail napkins that summed up her itinerary: "Drink up, bitches."

You'd think that given that we all grew up in a nice, neat nuclear family, walking to school and taking family vacations together, that we'd share a lot of the same memories. Not so.

A reliably hysterical part of these trips is always when someone begins, "Remember when...?" and others in the group look at her dumbfounded. She may recall with great clarity something that the rest of us didn't even bothering filing away.

The town's annual corn boil and pig roast that #4 mentions fondly? If I went, no memory at all of it. But when I bring up the Bookmobile that used to visit before the library was built, I get a chorus of "Yes!" from the group, except Sister #6 who has nothing but skeevy memories of choosing books from it.

One thing the rented house came with that we weren't expecting was a pool table and I quickly learned that Sisters #2, #3 and #6 not only enjoy playing but aren't half bad. Me, never played before in my life.

That didn't stop me from being roped onto a team with Sister #3 who did her best to coach me in shooting (since I had zero experience) and strategizing, as least as much as an incompetent first-timer can. So there's pool, off my "before I die" list.

Several of the sisters were enchanted by the nearby sounds of train whistles because the tracks were so close. Since I live just as close to train tracks as these were, it was just business as usual for me. But Sister #3 was so curious, she walked down to the tracks to gather data, returning to share that it was at that station that Jackson had loaded 10,000 troops aboard to head north and fight. So, kind of a big deal.

One of the features of a sistertrip is that we each concoct games to play as the evening wears on and everyone's tongues get loosened by their bevvy of choice.

I came up with one where I listed six of the top ten songs from each of the years we graduated high school and you had to pick out which music went with what sister. Another games was called "He said, she said" and involved us trying to guess how our parents had answered questions.

The answers were illuminating in one way or another. When asked about our childhood dog, my mother's answer had been "guilt gift." Not a single one of us had any knowledge that guilt had factored into us getting a dog. As one sister reacted, "We're going to need to do some digging on this one."

Big meals are part of the agenda of a sistertrip and whenever we can arrange it, also fire tending. This house had a massive stone fireplace that allowed all five of us to demonstrate the fire-starting and maintenance skills that our father drilled into us as children. Sister #4 said that whenever she makes an unimpressive fire at home, her husband always makes a crack about reporting her  to Dad.

Since we were up in Fauquier County, we had terrific views of mountains and changing leaves on massive, old trees. Three of us wandered the paths and hillside of the 33-acre property we were staying on, gathering kindling along the way (Dad would be so proud).

Friday night's full moon was impressive enough to sit outside and admire despite the chilly temperatures, but Saturday we did even better by making use of the fire pit and pulling five Adirondack chairs around it. Naturally, Sister #3 had brought the ingredients for s'mores, so we grilled marshmallows for the greater good.

When one sister wasn't participating in skewering a marshmallow, another chided her. "But I don't like s'mores!" Sister #2 explained. "I don't like them, either. This isn't about liking them, it's about childhood memories!" Sister #4 clarified.

We've coined a term for this sort of thing: forced family fun. And by fun, we mean dysfunctional.

Sister#3, an avid photographer for 30 years, had brought several boxes of old pictures for us all to go through and choose what to keep. She's finally decided that having boxes of photos she never looks at is silly.

As we passed handfuls of pictures around a circle, everyone commented about something - how '80s our hair looked (in the '80s, go figure!), how impossibly young we once were, a view at my parents' house that now looks completely different - and inevitably, one sister or another would find a flattering picture to set aside.

All of those landed on a large piece of display board (Sister #3 is tireless when it comes to sistertrip planning) which we covered in photos of us over the years, laying better photos over less flattering ones to create a visual history of our lives together as sisters. The fact that we all look like variations on a theme just adds to the goofiness of a collage of so many women so close in age.

Not long before dinnertime, Sister #5 - who'd opted out - graced us with her presence, staying long enough to eat dinner, play a game and look at a few photos before heading out into the darkness to make her way back to suburban Maryland.

Because all five of my sisters live in Maryland and I've been in Richmond for 28 years, I'm the one who's out of the loop. They can see each other socially and because they have more contact, they know each other much better than I know any of them. It's a given that I will not know something about a sister that everyone else already knows.

Not to mention how little they know about me when it comes to some things. "I don't pretend to know anything about your life," Sister #4 says, not unkindly but as statement of fact. And that's the sister who considers me her favorite.

Sisters are complicated.

After a big breakfast together this morning, my sisters were all eager to hit the road home while I was hoping someone would want to spend some time in the area wining or dining. I didn't ask what their hurry was (although, like fire maintenance, my father instilled in us a love of football so they may have wanted to make a 1:00 game), but chose to take my time anyway.

Checkout time was an ungodly 10 a.m. so my problem was that none of the wineries opened before 11 or 12. I headed south on Route 17, sure I'd eventually find something.

In Warrenton, I passed a vintage-looking Howard Johnson's with the angular orange roof, a throwback to childhood because my Mom would take us there for birthday lunches.

In the process, I showed my age by employing not one but two maps (one of Virginia's back roads and one of its wineries and vineyards) as I moseyed down Route 15 and Route 522.

When I spotted signs for Old House Vineyards, I followed the signs as far as one telling me that they didn't open for another 45 minutes. Drat the luck.

Eventually, I saw signs for Wilderness Run Vineyards, as it turned out, a  winery that's only been open (unofficially) for three months and (officially) for three weeks. They first put in vines five years ago on what used to be a dairy farm. Now it's a vineyard with an orchard, horses, fields of grain and hops and a huge organic garden.

They had three of their own wines to pour for tasting - 2013 Chardonnay, 2011 blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Petit Manseng and 2012 Merlot-Chambourcin blend - plus wines from other wineries.

I got to taste Ox-Eye Riesling (from 75 miles away according to the tasting notes) and Lemberger, Rappahannock 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (54 miles), Ingleside sweet Virginia Rose (41 miles) and Rock Garden Cellars Vert, an effervescent green wine that would go down like water on a summer day.

The owner pouring for me asked what had brought me out and when I mentioned my Delaplane sistertrip weekend, he wanted to know if I'd visited Three Fox Vineyards. "I don't know how they keep their vineyards so neat," he lamented.

That's nothing. I don't know how Three Fox Vineyards keep their PortaPotties so decorated. When I went in one on Friday, I was caught off guard by its posh interior. First of all, heat (!), plus swags of leaves and flowers hanging from the walls, art, dried flowers in vases and pots It was as if '90s-era "Good Housekeeping" had sent out a crew to gussy up the latrine. It was a first for me.

And speaking of necessary rooms, the bathroom in the sistertrip house stirred up all kinds of memories. The sink, toilet and shower/bathtub were all pink, that '70s pink that no one makes anymore or even likes except for nostalgic reasons. The floral and bird wallpaper had to date back to when the Berlin Wall was still standing.

But the ultimate accessory of this bathroom was a pale pink plastic Clairol lighted makeup mirror that sat on a corner vanity in the bathroom. Just looking at it, you could imagine such a thing from our younger years.

One of the (myriad) problems of being one of six sisters is that you're expected to do a whole lot of sharing. If memory serves, Sister #2 and I were expected to share a makeup mirror as teenagers. As if.

One year, Santa left a set of electric rollers under the Christmas tree. Sister #3 was the first to spot them and presumed incorrectly that they were for her. Mom soon disabused her of that notion, gently explaining that the four oldest would be sharing that one set of curlers. You can imagine how well that worked out.

For the most part, not half as well as this year's sistertrip did. Oh sure, there were the inevitable moments when someone could have gotten her feelings hurt or made a scene, but they were glossed over and everyone got along more or less.

After fifteen years of doing these trips, we finally seemed to have mastered the art of getting along together for 42 straight hours. Mom will be so proud.

But she's still got to answer for that guilt gift business. Now drink up, bitches.

No comments:

Post a Comment