Sunday, April 15, 2018

Setting the Example

The potential was there, but nothing harmful was set off.

Friday, a sunny and warm morning, I was headed to Colonial Beach for one of my annual rites of passage, the sistertrip. My Mom long ago decided that there was no point in having six daughters if they didn't meet up and bond on a scheduled basis, away from other family members and loved ones. Which means that for 16 of the last 19 years, one of the six has planned a long weekend where our loftiest goal is having fun without reducing anyone to tears.

Please note, it's not as easy as it sounds.

Driving past signs for the Explosive Experimental Area near Dahlgren, it occurred to me what an apt metaphor for what I was heading into those signs might be. Our assigned meeting place was Denson's Grocery, a 106-year old grocery store focusing more on the restaurant side than the store side these days.

When I walked in, the host squinted his eyes and asked if I was Karen. When I admitted as much, he gestured and said, "Your friends are at a table outside." Those are no friends, I told him, those are sisters. He chuckled and led me to them.

So began the next 48 hours of non-stop talking, with - sleeping aside - a hefty amount of eating and drinking in between to keep us fueled and loquacious. After lunch, we caravanned to our weekend digs, a compact blue house boasting an impressive deck overlooking Monroe Bay and a pair of nesting swans, with Colonial Beach proper visible across the water.

Best of all, the deck shielded us from others in the neighborhood and the bay allowed our overly loud conversations to drift over to the swans without sharing all our secrets with the neighbors. Naturally we modified the deck to best suit our needs at any given time, adding an umbrella for the table at peak sunny times, rearranging the seating when the sun moved and adding wraps and throws for the evening sessions.

Although there are six of us, only five were along for the trip (one having opted out years ago), which is still a whole lot of middle-aged women putting aside their many differences to kick back and enjoy the people our Mom likes to remind us are our closest blood relatives.

Getting together with these women who have known me longer than any friend is a guarantee of almost constant laughter, repeated anecdotes ("That old chestnut?") and amazement at how completely our childhood memories differ from each other's, despite all six of us having been born in a mere 8 year span.

Sure that I'd be interested, two of the sisters showed up with the Washington Post article about the thousands of people who'd waited by the tracks to see Robert Kennedy's funeral train go by in 1968, but I'd already read every word when the piece had come out. Like me, both sisters remembered not only Mom taking us to see that train go by, but finding a honeysuckle wreath that had fallen off the train and feeling like we'd found something special.

Sisters think to share stuff like that, knowing what's part of the collective memory.

We wouldn't be our Mother's daughters if we didn't devote a good amount of our weekend away to planning and making meals - one sister was ambitious enough to do a lobster risotto that took hours - when we weren't snacking, that is. I marvel at how we all came from the same loins and grew up on the same mediocre Mom cooking, yet now have such wildly varying palates.

One of the recurring activities on these weekends are games, some tied to our family history (fill in the street names of the community where we grew up) and others more general ("Kill, Marry or F*ck," a game which requires a bowl full of names from history and pop culture and an open mind). One sister laid out dozen of photos, two each of the same one, so we could play "Memory" and try to locate the matching pictures.

Sister #4 had found the 1966 game "Mystery Date" and we even played that, although I couldn't help but take issue with a game where potential dates dis women if they aren't wearing the proper ensemble for the date he's selected.

All I can say (and did) is thank heavens we moved beyond that world order.

To anyone listening in on our marathon conversations, it might be tough to keep up. We have an abbreviated language that allows us to express thoughts or memories without uttering entire sentences. The men who've married into the family, claim it gives my sisters and me an unfair advantage when playing on the same team.

Undoubtedly true, but I'm here to tell you that as the big sister, it's small consolation for having grown with five younger girls, all eager to use my lip gloss, borrow my clothes and play my records.

Saturday evening, we got cleaned up and went to the High Tides, notable because of the riverfront Black Pearl Tiki Bar that allowed us to wait for a table outside at a bar populated almost entirely by men (and smokers). I wasn't even halfway through my Blue Battleship cocktail (incidentally, more green than blue) when one of the men came over and asked us the same question we've been asked on almost every sistertrip: "You ladies aren't from around here, are you?"

Believe me, it's always that obvious to the locals. After telling us that we were beautiful, he wished us a good weekend and made his way back to his stool as another sistertrip milestone was notched in our lipstick cases. After a leisurely dinner, it was back to the deck.

By the time the wineglasses were empty and the conversation was finally winding down, it was 2 a.m. and everyone but me was marveling that they were still awake at such an hour.

What was even more magical was that unlike in years past, there hadn't been a single careless insult, hurtful word or thoughtless aside to mar the weekend's pleasant vibe. Despite the potential for explosions, not a single one had been detonated.

It takes a long time to appreciate so many sisters. Finally, after 19 years of sistertripping, I wouldn't kill a single one.

What matters is that I'm the oldest, so I'll always be the boss of them. At least for 48 hours a year.

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