A summer place
Some families never have to ask: 'Where are we going on vacation this summer?' The decision was made years ago.
EAGLES MERE, PA. — Anne Hoopes knows she has arrived at summer when she reaches Route 42. The winding, wooded road marks the final leg of her climb up to Eagles Mere, a turn-of-the-century mountain resort in central Pennsylvania.
Home here is Hawthorne Cottage. The summer place of her parents in the 1950s, it has been stretched and pulled over the years to allow for sons-in-law and grandchildren, rambunctious boys and fussy babies. At six bedrooms and 5-1/2 baths, it is now a warren of thimble-sized rooms, which can house six adults and five children nicely.
Many families have their own versions of Eagles Mere - at the beach, on the lake, or in the mountains. There, in homes that may have been in the family for years, the generations mix easily, the children roam freely, and the conversations that left off in September resume without missing a beat come June.
Sharing the childhood home as adults, though, and keeping it in the family after the first generation, isn't easy. Money can help. So can organization. But success is mostly a function of people being able to get along.
"If it's going to work, individual family members have to be willing to make their relationships with each other primary," says
estate-planning attorney Thomas J. Burke Jr., whose Ardmore, Pa., firm has helped many families arrange trusts for summer homes.
Some siblings like to entertain, while others are happy only when a dozen children are underfoot. Some forget to ante up for the water bill. Some don't want to invite certain cousins, while others insist on seeing them.
Mr. Burke remembers a call from one angry client whose sister-in-law flatly refused to leave when her scheduled stay was over. "Sometimes we are more family therapists than lawyers," he says of the second-home-related problems his firm is asked to solve.
At Hawthorne Cottage, as with many family-shared second houses, expenses are absorbed by the first generation. The younger folks will bring a casserole or a case of soft drinks, or will paint the porch.
Later, the first generation may set up a trust fund to cover things such as taxes and maintenance. Some families elect a sibling to book visits, pay bills, and divvy up the tab. Others look to an outsider.
Sometimes a sibling's money troubles will force the sale of a house, but that doesn't have to be the case.One brother who manages his childhood summerhome for four brothers and sisters says there have been years when he picked up the tab for a sibling who couldn't pay. "No one but the two of us ever knew about it."
That families continue to traverse the emotional hurdles and to trade the comforts of home for a tripled-up bedroom and a line for the shower is a testament to the tenacious tug of grandparents, grandchildren, and childhood memories.
It isn't really the house that's the draw. It's the year each child danced with grandmom on her birthday. It's the time everyone rode out the hurricane together. It's the summer of double-Dutch jump-rope contests.
For Anne Hoopes's daughters, Eagles Mere has been a geographic and emotional anchor. In the course of her husband's career, the family had to relocate often, and to all corners of the country. "It was the one stable place our children could come back to year after year," she says.
Today, the cottage barely resembles its first life as a tiny, kitchenless, satellite cabin attached to a nearby hotel. Her parents added on when she got married, to make room for the newlyweds whenever they could visit.
Since the death of her parents and the marriage of their own children, Anne and her husband, Frank, have again remodeled.
Other families with summer homes may add another cottage, if there's enough property. Kearney Snyder of Stone Harbor, N.J., bought the house next door for his daughters' families.
Ann Wetzel, of Ocean City, N.J., is easy-going about accommodations. She tries to have family members stagger their visits, but sometimes there isn't enough space. "Once in a while someone sleeps on the floor in my room in a sleeping bag."
In any large family, there can be tension. Teenagers snarl. Mothers nag. It rains. "I'll take a walk if it gets a little heated," says Mrs. Wetzel.
Frank Hoopes has another solution. When visitors get on his nerves, "I send them all to the beach," he says.
He sympathizes with those who marry into the family and spend time at the cottage, but don't share any of their spouses' summer friends or memories. His father-in-law kindly included him in the golf crowd, and now, with close friends of his own nearby, he says, "I love it."
Ashley Wilks, the Hoopeses' daughter, tries to be sensitive to the concerns of her husband. She visits without him early in the season, for instance, to spare him the "million conversations" necessary for catching up with friends.
And then there are other, more mundane matters. The prospect of feeding the multitudes who descend on a summer home could be daunting, but few adults seem to worry about it.
Wetzel says her family is casual about meals. "I don't make it stressful, that everybody's got to be here at a certain time. After all, this is a place of peace and rest."
Frank and Anne's daughters aim simply to feed their young children by 5 p.m., so there will be plenty of time for the children to take a walk or watch a video before bed.
The daughters also take care of scheduling visits. "It seems that when there was a baby crying at night, they came separately," says Anne. "Now they come together more."
"It's an unspoken thing," explains Ms. Wilks. "We love to overlap for a couple of days, but when our husbands are there, we try to give each other space."
Frank is now mulling the future of the cottage, assessing their daughters' interest in it. "Especially if you have two siblings, you don't want them to fight over it... You hope both families get along well enough that you can just give it to both of them."
That's the simplest route for parents who think their offspring can work things out, says attorney Burke. But the best answer differs for each family. "Parents, when they do their estate planning, have to decide whether keeping this vacation home in the family will help to promote a loving, ongoing relationship among the children, or whether it will drive a wedge in the family."
In Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, Anne Stout is delighted that her husband's grandparents' home remains in the family. A representative from each second- and third-generation family gathers each Easter to make decisions. The clan was even able to rebuild after a fire several years ago. They broke into committees that oversaw pieces of the project.
"Then we all got together for a 'christening of the camp,' " where each family member added his or her own nail, says Mrs. Stout.
It was all part of building the memories that are so much a part of a family's summer place.