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Sister Throws Brother Under Bus

The Cottage

One of Grandma Marshmallow‘s favorite places on the planet was her family cottage on the cape. She brought her children there as a young mom, and this is where my husband learned to swim from his grandfather, Grandma Lisa’s brilliant and reportedly eccentric father.

The 1910 cottage is teeny — barely 750 square feet split between two levels. And it’s, uh, “quaint,” if that word implies run down and without amenities. If one of us remembered to call the town early in the season to turn on the power, we had power. Usually we had plumbing. The cottage has a second floor that has been stuck at the tear-out stages of a remodel since I joined the family, and the whole place has an unlived-in, musty smell. It’s heyday, when a houseful of cousins would gather here for the entire summer, long gone.

Still, Lisa’s eyes lit up when she uttered the town’s name, which became shorthand for the house.

Practically, we used it as a place to change our suits and to shower after swimming in the ocean. To get to the ocean, we’d have to walk through an old and small cemetery. The etchings on the thin, slate or granite headstones had eroded to almost nothing, but I’m told some go as far back as the 1600s. It was eery-spooky to walk through. I amused myself by imagining the ghosts and the stories they would tell.

The Last Visit

A year ago, the last time Grandma Lisa visited her cottage on the cape (during cancer treatments), Tessa and Reed were done swimming, done changing, and were waiting for Daddy and Grandpa to load the lawn mower onto the truck for the ride home. They busied themselves by playing with two scottish terriers across the lane.

There was a path to that house framed by railroad ties. Reed began bouncing on the railroad ties, as boys will do, not realizing that there was a wasp nest underneath.

The wasps were not happy about being jostled by this boy, and their fury was unleashed. Before any of us knew what was happening, two children were shrieking at the top of their lungs, racing for the front door of Grandma Lisa’s cottage. We adults at the time knew nothing of the wasp nest — we simply thought the children were playing a very intense game of some sort.

The Swarm

But the gravity of the situation emerged as we saw the swarm of raging wasps swirling around Reed. Tessa screamed BEES! DADDY SAVE ME FROM THE BEES! She made it, insect-free, into the cottage and slammed the door behind her, locking it as protection from the “bees,” which in her mind had opposable thumbs that could turn a doorknob.

Meanwhile, Reed was at the doorstep and we were plucking angry hornets from his scalp (newly shorn in a Kojak-cut), his hands, his shoulder, his chest, his legs. The majority of the swarm returned to its railroad tie, and we worked at stamping out the offending hornets and calming down an understandably shaken Reed.

As he realized his time on earth was not over, he remembered his sister. His first words, after GET THEM OFF ME! I’M GETTING KILLED! were, Is Tessa all right? Make sure my sister is OK.

Yeah, Buddy, she’s fine. She’s safe in the cottage.

Which she locked you out of.


Soon the cottage will be for sale. It’s the end of a summer ritual that has played out each summer of my husband’s entire life. The wasp story is a fitting end to the sting of the loss of Lisa.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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17 Responses

  1. Hilarious. This reminds me of a time when I was 14 or 15. One evening, my mom and I were sitting on the edge of our back deck. This ginormous beetle/stink bug/monster thing flew out from nowhere and landed in the dirt about five feet away from where we were sitting. It parked itself facing us, and when it flapped its wings it created this unexpectedly LOUD buzzing type of noise. It made that noise a few times, each buzz louder than the one before as if it were threatening us. We’d never seen that type of bug ever before. Both of us were scared sh*tless, but neither one of us could move; it’s like we were in a trance. Suddenly, that thing flew up to eye-level and shot straight for us, and the drone of its buzzing sounded like it was screaming. In unison, mom and I screamed, “OH, SH*T!” and turned around to take off for the back door.

    Now, you’d think a mom would push her child into the house first for safety from the Demon Bug. But, NO – she actually pushed me OUT OF HER WAY, got in the door first, and then LOCKED ME OUT. In my panic, I was banging on the door screaming for her to let me in. She actually stood there and yelled, “NO WAY AM I LETTING THAT THING IN THE HOUSE!” Finally it registered that I was still stuck out there with it, so she opened the door and I barreled in the door. She slammed it just in time for the bug to hit the door’s pane glass window with a sickening crunch.

    The whole episode couldn’t have lasted more than ten seconds, and we still laugh to this day about the time she almost sacrificed her child to the Demon Bug. So much for “the kids come first,” right? 🙂

  2. I love how Reed was so gallant and concerned while Tessa was just desperate to get away! I’m sorry you won’t be making more memories there, but it wouldn’t be the same, would it?

  3. poor reed. I remember when that happened. so scary!

    when my brothers were little, they messed with a wasps nest under their window and my mom pretty much saved their lives by bathing them in a tub of ice.

    wonder if tessa gleaned anything from this incident.
    seems like the end of an era with the passing of the cottage.

  4. I feel so honored to have shared one of those cottage/beach trips with all of you, including Grandma Marshmallow.

    I had such a wonderful time… even though when I visited the cottage, the plumbing hadn’t been turned on. 🙂

  5. This made me so sad. My family has a cottage like this, too. . .and the cousins don’t gather for the whole summer, either. My grandmother is aging, and every summer she spends there, I worry will be her last. The thought of the cottage for sale, though…that would break my heart. I have so many memories at “my” cottage. I can’t imagine any other family there.

  6. I loved the sense of place you evoked in this post. Cape Cod sounds full of history and family memories.

    I always heard there were a lot of WASPs out there. Apparently, that’s true :p Poor Reed…

  7. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or both. To put my head on my desk and just think about this…
    I love how Reed loves Tessa, I love how all of you loved that cottage and each other,

    RIP Lisa, your family sure did love you and they shared that with all of us.

    thinking of you Lor, xo

  8. That is a great story, and I’m sorry to hear of the end of this era.

    Our little beach changed quite a lot this year, too, people-wise. I knew it was coming but was completely unprepared for the reality of it. Definitely made this summer bittersweet. xo

  9. that kid is hillarious and what else would a sister do,, I would have dont that to my brother. Let him get killed. I was bigger and could run faster anyways. Cute story. They remind me of myself and my brother growing up.

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