Week One: We met Norman back in July when he showed us how to work the elevator. He and his wife arrived at one, two hours before check-in. I watched as he hobbled across the parking lot, went to the door to hold it open for him, and asked if he needed help but he insisted he did not. His wife carried a small overnight bag the two of them were sharing. I offered to show them around the main rooms but they informed me they had been coming to the Yale Chamber Music Series for years and knew the place well.
“Can I help you with your luggage?” I asked.
“No, we’re all set. We travel light. I’ll bring it up. Norman will take the elevator.”
“It works?” I was incredulous. I didn’t know it worked and was nervous about trying.
“Well, it worked last summer,” Norman said.
“But I don’t know how it works. I’ll call my husband.”
“Oh, don’t worry. Norman knows how it works.”
The elevator is in the library and leads directly to the Morgan room where Norman was staying. I opened the door to find a rolled up carpet, two heavy boxes filled with encyclopedias, and six large empty water bottles from the water cooler in the lounge. Rich showed up just in time to do the heavy lifting.
“Let me take a test drive,” he said to Norman.
They closed the metal door that looks like a gate and Rich pushed the button. Nothing happened.
“As I recall, you need to close the outer door, too.” Norman said.
I watched as Rich disappeared behind the door. The elevator is small and looked claustrophobic. Glad I wasn’t riding in it, I started to get a little nervous. Most likely no one had used it since the last ride Norman took a year ago and everything else was broken around here so why not the elevator? What if it got stuck? Where would we find an elevator repairman in rural Connecticut?
“I’m pushing the button,” Rich shouted from behind the closed door. “Wish me luck.
“There he goes,” Norman’s wife said with a smile. “Good luck.”
“Don’t worry. It works,” Norman said.
In under a minute we heard some banging upstairs. Rich shouted down, “I forgot the chair was in front of the door. I’ll be back down in a minute. I need to rearrange the furniture.” After some commotion from the room above we listened as the elevator returned, and Norman stepped inside.
“I’ll come back up with you, Norman.” Rich offered.
“I’ll meet you up there, dear,” his wife said and slowly began her ascent up the impressive mahogany staircase.
“I don’t really need your help,” Norman said, but Rich insisted. Together they stepped inside, pushed the button, and again nothing happened.
“I think it only allows for one passenger,” Norman said with a smile. He had won the argument. Rich stepped out of the elevator and Norman rode alone.
Before they left that weekend, I noticed the next weekend they were returning they weren’t staying in the room with the elevator.
“We need to talk to him about that. The Morgan must have already been booked. He certainly can’t take the stairs. He had a hard enough time navigating the one step into the dining room this morning but he can’t take the elevator to someone else’s room, can he?”
At checkout we mentioned the dilemma.
“That’s two weeks from now. I’ll be better by then.”
Back in the kitchen, Rich whispered, “How will he better in two weeks time? How old do you think he is?”
“Eighty at the least. His wife and he were talking to the couple who were celebrating their anniversary and they said something like, ‘You must remember what that’s like? The mixed emotions of the empty nest?’ Norman’s wife said, ‘Oh that was a long time ago. We have great grandkids now, although I can’t keep all that straight. You’ll have to ask Norman about them.”
Week Two: Norman canceled shortly after returning home. He must have reconciled with the idea of not being able to climb the stairs and decided to miss one Friday night of chamber music. I rebooked his room quickly. The night before Norman had planned to arrive the people who booked the Morgan called to cancel. I informed them of our reservation policy but told them if I rented the room I would give them a refund. I didn’t think the odds were in their favor but five minutes later a man who had heard about our Inn for years decided at the last minute to call and ask if any rooms were available.
“You’re in luck. Just minutes ago someone canceled.” He was very excited. “We’ve been talking about visiting for years,” he told me.
The next afternoon we needed to run out for eggs and bread and other essential items. Check-in wasn’t for another two and a half hours. My older daughter and her boyfriend were visiting. “Don’t worry, no one checks in this early.“ I told them
A half hour later we returned to find a car in the parking lot.
“Shit, who’s that?” I shouted, hopping out of the car.
Chelsea was in the kitchen, all smiles. “I took care of the check-in, Mom. Norman took the elevator to his room.”
“NORMAN?” I shouted. “He canceled.”
My worst nightmare was happening. A double booking with a full house. My heart was pounding as I ran upstairs to explain to Norman he had canceled this date and already received his refund. Besides the fact the elevator room was not his this weekend, he had booked another room.
“No, I canceled next week, not this week” he said.
I showed him the reservation sheet. I didn’t book his reservations, the former innkeeper did, but there was never a room booked by Norman Shemitz for next weekend. I tried to explain this to him as he sat in the chair that was newly positioned across from the elevator.
“I don’t know what to say. She made the reservation.” He pointed his cane at the bathroom door.
“It’s not my fault,” his wife shouted from behind the closed door.
“I don’t have any other rooms to give to this couple.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” I left the room in a panic, but by the time I got back to the reservation desk I had come up with a plan. I called our competition and explained my dilemma.
“You know, the thing with these chamber music festivals is they bring lots of business but they’re all elderly and confused and used to getting their way but you’re in luck, I have two rooms available.”
I breathed a sigh of relief but his rooms were thirty dollars more than mine. I tried to bargain.
“You have two rooms. What’s the likelihood you’ll book both at this point?”
“That’s true. How about I meet you halfway. I’ll give it to him for fifteen dollars over your price.”
I was exasperated but took the offer. The guest and his wife arrived on a motorcycle a half hour later and we explained what happened.
“Aaah, that’s okay. I understand. My parents are really old, too. It happens.”
“Well, we have a gift certificate for you because I know how much you were looking forward to your visit.”
“You don’t have to do that. We could even drive back home if we have to. We live an hour from here.”
“No, I insist. We look forward to having you back.” It was an extravagant gesture of goodwill but it was my first double booking and I wasn’t sure how it would go.
Back in the kitchen, sounding like Seinfeld muttering “Newman”, I cursed Norman.
Week Four: I don’t really remember Week Three of Norman’s summer visits. We were so busy I stopped writing in my journal. There was Anne Marie, The Monacos, Anne Marie’s friends, a gay couple with a small child who was just learning to walk, other guests who were nice but didn’t distinguish themselves. The Bose in the living room played lots of jazz and chamber music for they were all here to attend the festival at the Music Shed.
One of the musicians, Lei Wi, visited the Monacos for breakfast and told me his friends spoke highly of the community of people they have met here, the music, and the conversations. He wanted to share this information with Yale and thought we should have more advertising. He promised to tell the director but I should contact him too so he gave me his email, writing upside down and backwards which was quite amazing to watch.
Students at the conservatory are housed by local families and each morning they walk past the Inn carry violin cases or large cellos. On the last week of the festival, we had a little more time to talk to the Shemitzs as they lingered after breakfast and admired the cutting garden. The neighborhood cat was sitting at the picnic table.
When it was time to leave, Norman had a hard time with the step down from the dining room to the living room but he refused help as always.
“Well, I hope we see you again next year,” said Mrs. Shemitz.
“Oh, we’ll definitely be back,” Norman said, confident in his immortality and future plans. I reminded them to book early so they could be sure of getting the Morgan room.
“I think you need to start calling that room the Shemitz room,” he said.
I told them we were voted Connecticut’s Most Romantic Inn. Mrs. Shemitz’s eyes teared up and she took Norman’s face in her hands. “Oh, Norman,” she said in her high, wispy voice and kissed him on the cheek. I had stepped into a scene with Katherine Hepburn right out of On Golden Pond.
****Update: While we were on vacation, Norman called to book four Fridays in July and August. He called again last week to check the dates. He couldn’t remember what he booked. There was some shouting back and forth between Norman and his wife. On one of the weekends he’s not booked in the Morgan room. I have emailed the guest who is staying there to ask if he would like an upgrade to another room if he doesn’t need the elevator but for some reason I am thinking he booked that room because his wife can’t climb the stairs.
Norman has been calling every few days and hanging up. I know it’s him because we have caller I.D. I hope the Shemitzs make it here this summer. I can’t help but think of my parents and the trips they took long after it was feasible to travel with my mother who has Alzheimer’s.
My siblings and I would call each other complaining about the folly of some of their plans. My father could lose my mother at a rest stop. He could fall asleep at the wheel if he didn’t have his twice daily naps. I imagine the Shemitz kids complaining to each other. “Can you believe Mom and Dad are going to Norfolk again this summer?”
There is something about the human spirit that keeps fighting every day to hold on to the life you’ve lived. Getting old doesn’t necessarily mean you have to admit you’re old.