Last summer my husband, daughter, and I returned to the family beach house for a two-week vacation. As usual, the number of people staying at the house varied from about a half dozen on quieter week days to as many as eighteen on one very hectic and crowded Saturday night. During our stay we celebrated birthdays for a five-year-old and a ninety-year-old. We also cooked and ate wonderful meals, drank great red wine, went antiquing, took walks along the sea wall, and swam in Long Island Sound. By unanimous consent the beach house contains no television, allowing us to enjoy our evenings with conversation, Scrabble, and books. The important social and cultural work of the family beach house continued as we rehashed old problems, tried to heal old wounds, retold old stories, and remade family ties.
But other sorts of work sometimes intruded. The multitude of vacationers brought with them one laptop computer (I admit, it was mine, but in past years others have brought theirs), one fax machine, and three cellular phones. The FedEx truck arrived almost every day with a package of papers. I recall one specific afternoon when a fax was arriving over the phone line, one person was talking on a cellular phone on the porch, another on a cell