Always room for one more -- but it may be snug -- at Mom's summer beach spot in Delaware

July 28, 1996|By JACQUES KELLY

MY MOTHER ENJOYED the company of people.

Guests, old friends and schoolmates were all part of this summertime people collection. She felt they helped keep the peace. There was less likelihood of squabbles breaking out and displays of foul moods when the audience included a peppering of nonfamily members. Besides, it was better to invite company lest it come on its own.

From Memorial Day through the start of school, my mother rented a place in Rehoboth Beach, Del. It was a third-floor, walk-up, nonair-conditioned spot under the roof. The Attic technically had two bedrooms, a bath, kitchen and a long living room-dining room fitted with sleeping accommodation. It was rarely empty.

The place slept nine adults but never once in the 12 summers we had the Attic did that limit ever mean there wasn't room for one more. In fact, my mother would get burned up if she ever heard anyone turn down a request for an extra night at the beach.

It was that guest-house atmosphere that made those 12 summers at the Attic a success. Mom liked to have a room full of faces the way an actor likes to see a sold-out sign at the box office. She also liked a cast of good characters.

Some beach houses are large enough to give a guest a private room. Not ours. What you got was a bed with a name.

There was the Midget, a stubby bed with a rather downy mattress located just as you walked in the front door. It was a favorite spot for nappers and those who drifted off to the Land of Nod early in the evening while the rest of the household was still engaged in conversation.

There were a pair of beds tucked under the sloping ceiling. These were called the Left and the Right. These were singles slots and had good locations. They also gave the occupant a chance to observe what was going on in the rest of the room. You could also pretend to be sleeping but listen to everything said about you.

The Green Monster was so dubbed by my mother because she didn't like this sofa bed's mattress. It was a very harmless couch upholstered in a tough emerald fabric. Its gut concealed a spring-loaded double bed. It was only used in a housing pinch. Its reputation for sleepless nights scared people away. It also made a less than flattering noise when you opened it.

For all the years that Mom took the Attic, she never asked that guests supply their own sheets. She had a linen collection that she washed in the bathtub and hung out on some very high

wash lines. She then marveled at the cleansing effects of the July sun and ocean breezes.

Even an apartment that had a couple of windows overlooking the Atlantic Ocean was put to the test the times we hit maximum human occupancy. The last weekend in July seemed to be invariably hot and sticky. Even our best cooling device -- a south-facing window that caught the prevailing summertime southerly breezes -- could come up short.

It was always hard to predict just who would be in residence at the Attic at a given time. My mother and father liked to come and go at their whim. Many guests had been visiting us for so many years they just showed up. We had parking, showers, beds and never a dull moment.

I can recall but one occasion when a guest disdained a bed. This was a Jesuit priest, a former missionary who was back from India. He preferred to sleep on the floor and staked out a spot under the kitchen table. The rest of us said nothing and closed the door. We forgot to tell my sister Mimi, who arrived at 2 in the morning and found a man encamped below the toaster.

One airless Saturday night a couple arrived from Baltimore. Though duly married, they were assigned to the pair of singles, the Left and the Right, in the general sleeping room.

Good sports, they didn't complain. They carried a full inventory of pajamas, robes and best of all, a positive attitude toward communal living.

It was getting late. There was a consensus request for lights out. Lamps snapped off across the big room except for the one by the husband. He said he needed to read before he could fall off to sleep. He then produced a 300-page-plus edition of Edward Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

I laughed so hard his wife got the message and banned the book.

It was no cooler the next day. A dip in the ocean and a day on the sand usually put every guest in a good mood and encouraged healthy appetites.

Here again, Mom was ready. Temperatures hit the 90s and the sun arched over the roof to punish the westerly side of the Attic, the kitchen wing of the house. Mom had two main courses she invariably produced on a stifling day.

One was roast turkey. The other was roast pork.

Her argument was practical. With a big crowd of hungry eaters, there was not much waste on either of these dishes. It did not matter that lighting the oven made the kitchen hotter than a sauna. All the stove's top burners got used too -- Delmarva string beans, limas or squash bubbling away, along with mashed potatoes made with extra rich whipping cream from the dairy in )) the neighboring town of Lewes.

But Mother knew best. Not a scrap of that roast was ever wasted. Family and friends were never too hot to eat.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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