The sounds coming from the porch of our beachfront rent house on Whidbey Island distract my mom from her book. She shakes my dad awake, whispering, “Someone’s outside!”, but he brushes her off. So it is perhaps appropriate that he’s the one to make the unsavory discovery in the morning, when he steps outside for a stretch in the cool air blowing off the water. He rushes for the hose to clean up. Someone had peed on the patio furniture!
Turns out, the Russian man and his father who live in the house next door hold some sort of grudge against the owner of this rental house, and by extension the yuppies who come to vacation in it. And thus a feud is born.
My brother and I arrive by ferry the next night, blissfully unaware of the tense atmosphere between my parents and the neighbors. But not for long – my mom is quick to fill us in, her words breathless with scandal of it all. Not only did they urinate on our porch, they also play loud music and likely run an illegal business out of their home – the horror! However, when I step outside the next morning, the neighbors’ glares and harsh manners soften. My dad takes note.
We forget about the conflict with a day full of rural charm at the Island County Fair in Langley, where we check out the island’s runaway population of fluffy bunnies, miniature horse chariot racing, and a “Chicken Olympics” children’s show. All are delightful, but the highlight of the fair is the cat agility competition.
We get front row seats in a little playhouse, where a miniaturized version of a dog agility course takes center stage. It is clear from the get-go that this setup is NOT a recipe for success. The cats crouch in their carriers, hissing at each other and the room full of strangers. The felines that can be lured from their kennels ignore the obstacles and try to claw their way out the back door.
One little boy takes matters into his own hands, attaching a leash to his cat and dragging it inch-by-painful-inch through the entire course while we choke back horrified laughter. Finally, Shadow the black cat shows how it’s done, slinking through tunnels and weave poles with only a few pauses. Everyone cheers impulsively, and the cat freezes in terror.
After we leave the fair, my dad, who’s been out fishing, calls with instructions to buy a bottle of Stoli. That night, he grabs the vodka, says “Come along, Katie”, and marches off to the neighbor’s house. Realization dawns as I tag along – I’m being used as a peace-offering!
Sure enough, the Russians welcome us inside and we start tossing back shots of vodka chased by pickles. I’m handed a raw egg from the farm next door and take a shot of its contents alongside more vodka. The younger man repeatedly asks my father’s permission for my hand in marriage (despite already being married himself) and even gets down on one knee. I laugh uncomfortably.
But my dad’s diplomacy does the trick – the rest of our stay, he and the Russians are besties, fishing together off the rocky beach and sharing each other’s salmon catches.
Two years later, I return to Whidbey Island on a clear, cold November weekend to find it a different place in the off-season. Gone are the Mario-themed wedding at Fort Casey State Park and the field full of war reenactors with their guns and bows. But the Whidbey Pies at Greenbank Farm are still delicious (this time we sample a savory veggie Thanksgiving pie and the Salted Caramel Apple à la mode) and you can still get cinnamon rolls the size of your head at Knead and Feed in Coupeville.
Plus, I can always count on Nash to keep things interesting.
“I think it should be called Squidbey Island,” he proclaims over coffee and banana bread with our Airbnb hosts in their straw bale co-op house. The retired doctor pauses for a beat before replying, “I actually think it used to have a native name…”
After breakfast, we bundle up and wander the island, pausing to hunt down a geocache or two, pet a bookstore cat (who’s not being subjected to hoops), eat ice cream in 38 degree weather, and watch the sunset from Double Bluff Beach. Everything is calm and still.
The two different trips prove that Whidbey Island can be a silly and relaxing little Puget Sound retreat any time of the year – even if your neighbor pees on your furniture.