Entering the guest room in my father’s house is like taking a sedative. It instantly calms me, particularly after the six-hour drive from my home in Massachusetts.
When my parents bought their house on Long Beach Island, New Jersey 15 years ago, my sisters and I questioned their retirement arrangements. We soon recognized my mother’s vision was clear and wise. She and Dad nested there comfortably. So do I whenever I visit, which is not as often as I’d like.
After the reunion hugs and kisses, I carry my bags into the 12-by-12 guest room and set my weekender onto the wooden luggage rack at the foot of the double bed. I remember thinking when Mom bought the rack years ago: Who’s going to use this? I toss my jacket on the bed where two handmade pillows lay: one, a country craft doll that I stitched for Mom during one of the weekends in my 20s when I sat home without a date. Next to it is a pillow cross-stitched with the ABCs by Mom when she sat home as an empty-nester.
As I unpack, I scan the room to make sure nothing changed. I lay my make-up case, jewelry and hairbrush on the maple dresser opposite the bed. Mom used to thoughtfully place a tray there for my personal items. I miss that gentle act of hospitality from her. I kick off my shoes and push them under the side chair in the corner.
The guest room has offered me different refuge over the years. I first stayed there with my husband when we visited my parents with our young daughters, who would sleep upstairs. Then I occupied the room alone when I helped Dad after his heart-bypass operation and again after Mom’s stroke. I enjoyed reciprocating as caregiver, chef and housekeeper. After those busy days, I found supreme comfort in the guest bed, collapsing from fatigue with an “ahhh.” It wasn’t how I imagined finally getting my own room in Mom and Dad’s house, but I appreciated it all the same.
My father still surprises me in the evening when I enter the temporary sanctuary after of an island-filled day of walking, shopping and gardening to discover that he turned down the bed for me. His tender act of love moves me. My chest softens. When I lay in bed enveloped in a warm blanket, I take note of Mom’s touches: the floral valances, an antique mahogany shelf with little glass vases that she scored from yard sales and a framed poem titled “Sleeping on an Island.”
I sleep soundly in that guest room. Sometimes the wind howls and sometimes the rain pings the rooftop. Once in a while I hear the awning or our American flag flapping against the wind and other times I hear the faint drum of traffic heading for the bridge a few blocks away. All these rhythmic sounds of the island lull me into a peaceful slumber.
Occasionally, when I hear the deep muffle of Dad’s footsteps from above, it gives me the sense that Father Protector shields me. Yet, somehow I never hear him tiptoe down the stairs and open the front door to claim his newspaper before sunrise, as he takes care not to wake me. When I do awake, my body is fully rested with nary an ache and my skin glows a pinkish hue.
On a recent drive back home, I decided to refurnish my own guest room. Enough with the flowers and ribbons reflecting my daughters’ youth — they’ve grown up. Inspired by LBI, I styled the room with new curtains and a coverlet in the blue, green and sand colors of the island. I displayed my purchases from island shops: a striped chair lamp, a candle, and a tiled beach scene. I placed starfish against the panes of the triple window, facing the front of the house. The old vanity that Mom bargained for at a yard sale back in the 1980s has a new coat of paint and gets used daily by my daughters and me to dry and style our hair. Atop it is a small bowl of golden beige stones I collected from the bay beach.
Since Mom passed away and Dad no longer travels far, this cozy nook in my home reminds me of my home away from home. I lean in the doorway of my guest room every morning, gaze out the window and recall the sense of comfort of the island.