Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine



Plum Sykes

Apart from the pre-nup, when I married Mr. Strange I made two secret pacts: One, with his three grown children, was that should the dreadful day come, I wouldn't challenge their chunk of his estate and they wouldn't challenge mine. The other involved those same sweet offspring. "Please," he demanded, "don't leave me alone with them. Not for a minute. Not ever."

I may shamelessly parade around this town in stilettos and pearls and too much Clive Christian, but I'm all about trust: I've kept my word with both sides, which brings us to the subject of summer. In The Stepmother's Handbook, summer has its own chapter. There is no more complicated span of time in my year than the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The drama centers on a lovely weathered Nantucket house on a bluff in S'conset, with bedrooms for all, verandas, marvelous nooks for reading and napping, huge windows we keep open to the breezes, a gorgeous lawn, discreet hideouts for guests and staff, and a general air of summertime serenity. That is until the entire Strange clan descends: children, grandchildren, friends of same, plus dogs and, for a spell in early August, the first Mrs. Strange, who arrives from Paris or Tel Aviv with her latest boyfriend, an erstwhile Israeli commando, now all-purpose Mideast mercenary.

My secretary, Miranda, devotes March to scheduling arrivals and departures, who eats what, who gets which room, how many each can invite to the July 4th clambake, who is on the jet and who flies commercial. But she doesn't have to be there for the actual bombardment. That's my job. On a typical summer morning my dear husband kisses me sweetly, says, "Cupcake, you take care of it," and heads to either the nouveau or the old fart golf club. That leaves me to field all the conflicting agendas of two prickly stepdaughters and one socially aggressive stepson. If only I had a referee's whistle.

But this summer is different. The Hotel Strange has relocated. Why? For one thing, the gossip one hears is true; Nantucket has become the new Hamptons. And at the rate the old money and new money are dueling over surf and turf, soon we'll be tipping for a table at Downyflake. There has been subtle social unrest ever since the New York Times outed the very discreet Steve Rales as a man who would pay $1 million per acre for 15 acres of sand. The catty "them" and "us" divide is dreary and creates all kinds of self-consciousness about jets at the airport and diamonds at lunch at the Beach Club. Really, did I need all that, plus family drama? In a brief conference call I informed all of them that this is the year we inject some heart and soul into our summer idyll. "I've rented the Nantucket house to a resurgent 90s Master of the Universe who needs a perch while his Quidnet McMansion is completed," I said, gently. "And for all of us I've rented a large, splendid townhouse with full staff in the French Quarter of New Orleans." Silence. "And Miranda has set up interesting projects for everyone with Habitat for Humanity and Women of the Storm." Deeper silence, though I swear the first Mrs. muttered something about this having to do with my hailing from Santa Monica.

Here's the upside of my clever plan. A chance to give back, of course, but a chance, also, to enjoy intimate dinners with bright lights like Julia Reed, Lindy Boggs and Doug Brinkley, to name but a few. And remember how Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid melted the celluloid in The Big Easy? That's my kind of summer heat. Then there's this good news I delivered to Mr. Strange: the Nantucket house rented for a very sweet six figures. He liked the sound of that. Oh, and, God forbid, but if a hurricane should come to New Orleans, the jet is parked safely at MSY. He liked that, too. But, what he liked best of all was this: the children have opted out. They, their mother and her boyfriend, have rented in East Hampton. Score, and boo hoo.

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