Three sisters, inherited property and the posing of a question so morally complex that even Shakespeare couldn't do justice to it. That's the subject of this week's column, my little groundlings. You may recall the tragic story of "The Middle Child," a woman in her 60s who co-owns a cabin on a lake with her younger sister, who's also in her 60s. The two of them used to co-own the cabin with their older sister, who's also in her 60s. But the older sister wanted out, so the two younger sisters each wrote her "a rather sizable check" about 10 years ago. Happily ever after? Alack and alas, no. The older sister has recently requested use of the cabin for a week this summer, along with her two sons and their families, which include "a flock of grandchildren." The cabin isn't really set up for grandchildren - too many family heirlooms, for one thing. Besides, the older sister did cash those big fat checks, did she not?
"Out, vile jelly!"
That's an actual line from King Lear, and because I was too lazy to look for a more apt quotation, this one will just have to do. Should the older sister be turned away like a jar of vile jelly? The younger sister thinks so. But I decided to pass the question on to those of you with cabin fever of your own. Here, in highly annotated form, are some of your responses.
So-o-o...the older sister opted out, extracted her payment and now wants back in, without cost. Hmm, that suggests a lack of class on her part, doesn't it? But let's assume "The Middle Sister" wants to be the bigger person. There may be an intermediary solution: Allow the visit, but put it on a business footing. Draw up a rental agreement and use the cash to deflect the costs of utilities, wear-and-tear, etc. This way, the older sister gets to enjoy some family memories and the owner-sisters are protected from being taken advantage of.
The older sister relinquished her property rights, not her spot in the family. If the two younger sisters decide to sell the cabin one day, the profits will be split two, not three ways. So the older sister should be allowed to bring her family for a vacation, with the proviso that, if things are broken or lost, she may not be invited back next year.
I can't believe the older sister would even ask for this, but that's what older sisters do. (My personal Theory of Relativity: Just because they're your relatives doesn't mean you have to like them.) Middle sisters like to keep everyone happy. That's not possible in this case. The older sister is asking for too much. A few people spending a quiet week at the cabin is one thing. Three generations of marauders in a house full of family heirlooms is another. Keep your younger sister happy this time.
Middle Child: Think about the request as if you and your younger sister had purchased the cabin on your own. If I were to do that, I can't imagine not allowing any of my other family members to use it when it was available.
There's a very simple solution: Have the older sister give the checks back.
Having been in a similar situation, I can tell you it's better to say no. Who would Middle Child rather offend, the sister who stuck with her or the sister who bailed out? Stick with the sister who stuck with you.
I wish I had this problem. I'm still trying to decide where to go camping this year.
If your heir looms, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.