JULY 2015: An older couple are at the inn with their grandson so as to give their daughter and her husband a break for the weekend. He is eight years old and appears to be high maintenance and socially awkward. He also has gluten issues but so do many of our guests, or so they say. Grandma gives me food to keep in the inn’s refrigerator; gluten-free brown rice bread, grapes, snow peas, gluten free chicken tenders, celery and carrot sticks. She keeps apologizing for the extra work this creates but thinks nothing of walking through the swinging door with the Private sign that opens into the pantry that leads to the kitchen that we share with the inn and is the buffer between the public rooms and the private house we live in.
I tell her not to worry, I can heat up her grandson’s chicken fingers at lunch time. After a busy morning of serving breakfast and cleaning I sit down on my sofa and put my feet up only to hear someone shuffling around in the kitchen and opening the fridge. I call out, “Rich? Michelle?” No one answers so I get up to see what’s going on and there is Grandma taking her grapes from the fridge, or are they mine? I have grapes in there too that I serve with breakfast. She hands me her trash. Her grandson tells me he saw some of the private parts of the house when we were cleaning the rooms. She laughs and says he was spying on us.
What part of private doesn’t she understand? The sign even has a hand with an open palm like a policeman stopping traffic. Later that night after check-in I pour myself a glass of wine and once again settle into the sofa in my living room. Five minutes later I hear someone poking around the kitchen. I get up and can tell Grandma was in here. The brown rice bread and snow peas she brought with her for a picnic are back in the fridge. I am feeling violated and put out.
I see her the next morning, smile, and ask what I can get her for breakfast. By 1:30 I stop emptying the dishwasher, resetting the tables, and rotating laundry. I make lunch for the gluten free grandson, then limp my way over to my living room with a bag of ice for my ankles which although healed still ache when I’m on my feet for long stretches of time. The skies are gray, a steady rain is falling. Five rooms have cleared out, five more people are coming at three. The other four rooms are out and about, sightseeing or whatever it is they are doing. Grandma seems to be learning the boundaries of the inn.
An Irish family shows up, filling the newly cleaned rooms with grown children and grandchildren. They are a robust, rowdy, healthy bunch and run through the yard playing badminton without a net, kicking soccer balls, fighting, and there is crying from the little ones. The adults huddle around a laptop in the living room watching World Cup soccer. The nanny from Brazil has a broken ankle and is using crutches. We commiserate. This grandmother is a grown-up tomboy and organizer of all activities. When the gluten free boy returns he is wide eyed and amazed there are other children here. He shyly joins them in the backyard and his grandparents sit at the picnic table, exhausted and happy. I am happy for them knowing this weekend was more than they anticipated.
Two weeks later a forceful, demanding sort of woman shows up and immediately complains about the rug in her room. I explain the rug has been vacuumed and is clean and these are old stains but offer to vacuum the room again to appease her.
She and her girlfriend brought a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. I tell them they can eat in the breakfast room and I put out dinner plates, napkins, and silverware and tell them to leave their dishes when they finish. I will take care them. Later that night I am chatting with my visiting brother-in-law on our screened-in porch and get up to refill our wine glasses to find Miss Assertive is washing her dishes in the kitchen.
Again another guest passes right through the door with the Private sign and thinks nothing of it. I appreciate her help but this is my space. The kitchen is old and although Rich and I spent days cleaning, degreasing, and sanitizing, it still has a worn-down, seen better days look. We know it is clean but will a wandering guest agree? And what is it about that word Private that people do not understand?
Next morning I get up first and come downstairs to start the coffee. I am wearing a T-shirt and yoga pants, my hair uncombed, teeth unbrushed. I plan on jumping in the shower after I start the coffee and there in the kitchen I find Miss Assertive cleaning her sunglasses at the sink where an overflow of dirty wine glasses from the lounge are piled high.
“Is this your kitchen too?” she asks, all chipper and perky, just returned from a sunrise power walk.
“Yes it is, and most people don’t come back here. There’s a Private sign on the door.”
I am flabbergasted. I should have added, “You have a sink in your room. There is a sink in the pub and there is a bathroom with a sink by the front door. What the hell are you doing back here?” But all I am thinking is thank God I’m not in my bathrobe.
After we serve breakfast and she and her friend check out, I become paranoid about Trip Advisor. What if she is an undercover hotel reviewer? What if she writes about the old, tired kitchen, the wine glasses in the sink, the linoleum fake brick floor that hasn’t shined in years?
Rich shrugs when I tell him about Miss Assertive. It doesn’t faze him because as he says, “I offered to renovate the kitchen but the owners didn’t want to pay for it. It’s not my kitchen.” Well yes, I already knew that, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.
There is a sliding bolt on the swinging door to the pantry. We begin to use this every night. I now realize Private is an esoteric and flexible word that means different things to different people and if we are going to use my definition we need to take certain precautions.