Suffragettes and Day Dream Believers: A Footnote to the Innkeeper’s Journal

A year ago Rich and I were in the waning weeks of our days as innkeepers. The shit had hit the fan and we were finding it increasingly difficult to work there. We hadn’t realized our days were numbered in single digits but we knew the Inn was for sale and our situation was precarious. Promises had been broken and our future was uncertain but we had bought a house in Vermont so at least we had a home if it all abruptly came to an end. Which it did.

It was a slow time of year. Most week days we had the big old mansion to ourselves. Until Adrienne arrived. She was a rare book collector and archivist. Her online reservation included notes with special requests. She had food allergies and was also allergic to mold.

We had dealt with these situations before and she was our only guest for three nights so we were sure we could accommodate her. Adrienne and I hit it off the minute she arrived. She was friendly and quirky and I sensed she was a kindred spirit.

Traveling on a budget, she had booked one of the smaller, less expensive rooms. She also brought her own linens. Forewarned of her allergy problems, I had done a deep cleaning of her room but the minute we stepped through the door she detected mold.

“Listen, you’re the only one here. I can upgrade you for no charge. Let’s take a tour.”

I showed her the other rooms and she settled on one of my favorites. The room Rich and I stayed in when we first arrived because the innkeepers quarters were a mess. We were responsible for cleaning all the dog and cat hair. We even shampooed the rugs – twice because Rich is allergic to cats and dogs. That should have been a warning sign but we were seeking this adventure and we ignored the signs.

The room had a king size bed and Adrienne had brought her own Queen size sheets but she said she could make it work. She asked me not to fluff the room. She was also allergic to scents and brought her own toiletries and cleaning wipes.

The following morning I prepared a giant bowl of fruit for Adrienne’s breakfast and boiled water for tea. She didn’t drink coffee. When I went to the dining room she was sitting on one of the sofas by the large fireplace, a stack of folded sheets and a blanket by her side. Sometime in the middle of the night she had relocated to the living room. Something in her upgraded room was bothering her allergies.

I apologized and asked what I could do. She said not to worry. She told me she was used to these inconveniences and found the sofa supremely comfortable. She was very excited about her day. Bob Seymour, a rare book dealer from the Colebrook Book Barn was picking her up at eight. They were going to investigate a collection of letters and papers that had been found in a box in a Connecticut home. They appeared to be connected to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffrage movement.

“What a fascinating line of work,” I said. It seemed like a perfect combination of my passions-books and history. “How did you get a job like this?” I asked.

She told me it had always been her passion but somehow or other, as we all know happens, there were bills to pay and better money doing work we don’t have a passion for. Reality and everyday life tripping us up. So Adrienne found herself working for a large government agency in Arlington, VA doing statistical analysis or something like that. I can’t remember. It was her dream job that fascinated me.

Years later she was suddenly hospitalized for a severe allergic reaction that involved a long complicated recovery. While she was in the hospital for several months, her husband retrofitted their home. She never returned to her desk job. She began to work at a job she had always been passionate about – archiving rare historical books and papers.

Adrienne and I spent three mornings together over coffee and tea discussing chasing a dream, following your passion, and the suffrage movement. Adrienne became increasingly excited during her time with us in Norfolk. She had a premonition she was in possession of something important but she told me she couldn’t tell me much about it.

At the time of Adrienne’s visit I was writing a series of blogs about Daydream Believers. It was named after the Monkees’ song. I was interviewing people who had left their day jobs to chase a dream of what they thought work would look like when they were young and optimistic.

Adrienne told me I could write about her but I couldn’t mention the suffragette papers. I never pursued it because from her enthusiasm and energy I knew the suffrage work was a huge part of her story.

A little over a year later, here in my house in Vermont sitting by the wood stove on a cold Wednesday morning, I opened my lap top and logged onto the New York Times as I do every day. I noticed an article half way down the page titled A Trove on the Women’s Suffrage Struggle, Found in an Old Box. I instinctively thought this could have something to do with the woman I met at the inn.

The box contained a collection of letters from Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, the half sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Isabella lived with her husband and three children at Nook Farm, a literary colony in Hartford, Connecticut, along with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.

Shortly after Adrienne visited the inn I hosted a girls weekend. My friends and I visited Mark Twain’s house. At that time I had never heard of Isabella Beecher Hooker. Our tour guide did mention Nook Farm.

Many years after Isabella passed away, her suffragette papers ended up in Bloomfield, CT at the home of Elizabeth and George Merrow. Mr. Merrow’s grandfather had bought the former Hooker house in Hartford. Bob Seymour, Adrienne’s friend and colleague from Colebrook, recognized the signature of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and sent the letter to Adrienne. When I met Bob and Adrienne in Norfolk they were just beginning their research into this valuable cache of historical papers.

I had to smile when I read this:

“But as she (Adrienne) started sorting through the material, dusting away ample mouse droppings, she was stunned to realize it was a rich archive of suffrage material.” ~ NY Times

I remembered her returning to the inn in the evenings and telling me about the dusty old pages ands the mouse droppings she had encountered during her work day. I had asked how this effected her allergies. That’s when she showed me the mask she wore when doing research. She was fearless and passionate about her work. An inconvenient medical problem wasn’t going to stop her from pursuing her dreams.

The Times quotes her as saying: “It really shows you what these women went through,” Ms. Kitts said. “They really busted their butts for us.”

Yes, that was the Adrienne I met. The woman who slept on a couch in a big empty mansion, wore a specially fitted mask to get her work done, and braved mold and other allergens in pursuit of a dream.

And now here she was, a headline in the New York Times:

“It’s a stunning collection,” said Ann D. Gordon, a retired professor at Rutgers University and the editor of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project. “That it’s being delivered all in one piece, with such a clear provenance, is remarkable.”

I believe there is a message here for all of us. For me, it is to keep pursuing my dream of writing.

And for all of us struggling in the days of Trump the message is: Our small everyday efforts at protest will bring about results. As the New York Times reports:

“The material, mainly dating from 1869 to 1880, may not upend current scholarship, but Ms. Gordon said it sheds light on a contentious period within the suffrage movement, while underscoring the degree to which the movement was driven by complex networks of on-the-ground activists.”

Mrs. Gordon adds this optimistic thought:

“We don’t pay enough attention to what a local movement this was. We’ve warped the story by only knowing the names of the national leaders.”

And as Adrienne reminds us, we are busting our butts for our children, our democracy, and the planet’s future to name just a few of the struggles that are the story of our time in history. Although we may not be the national leaders whose names will be mentioned in the historical books written about the Trump presidency, this movement is being activated by those of us on the ground.

I sent Adrienne an email and told her I had seen the piece in the New York Times. She got back to me two days later and apologized. She had been on a road trip with spotty cell coverage. I can only hope she has found more boxes filled with pieces of history that will enlighten these difficult times we live in.

Adrienne’s email closed with a quote from Vincent Van Gogh:

“It is with the reading of books the same as looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, and with assurance, admire what is beautiful.”

There is hope my friends. Keep fighting for what is right and keep chasing your dreams.
If you’d like to read more about the suffragette papers the New York Times article is here.

I will close my blog with a quote from another brave woman who history will admire.

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” ~ Michelle Obama

Epilogue: An Innkeeper’s Journal

“Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life”
~ Mary Oliver

It was a year in a life. My one wild and precious life.

A full life is filled with missteps, hardships, laughter, and joy. Like Sam Ryder in my novel Life Is all This, I think we must make sense of time spent, and I too have always been a fan of the epilogue for after making sense we must move on.

Time spent. Think about that term for a moment. Life is short, years are precious, and how we spend them is priceless.

What did I learn, if anything? I like to think of myself as a decent judge of character but possibly I am not as good as I once thought. In my defense, I usually enter into relationships with an open heart and an open mind. I trust most people are good. This time my trust was misplaced.

Am I too old for another adventure? Does life ever settle down? I believe in my case the answer to both questions is an emphatic No. Apparently I am not too old to evolve and change, to learn new life lessons. I may have come out of this past year a bit more wary, slightly cynical and distrustful, but it won’t last. I created Sam Ryder and I agree with him on this, life is good and I don’t need a T-shirt to remind myself of that sentiment.

I don’t imagine anyone leads a settled life. I looked up the definition of settled and found this: adopt a more steady or secure style of life, especially in a permanent job and home. In the past few months I witnessed my parents lose their home to a fire,  my mother move in to a nursing home despite my father’s best efforts to keep her at home, and my own move to Vermont. Life constantly changes. We continue to learn and grow from every experience, good or bad, and to paraphrase Tom Petty, we can learn to fly though we ain’t got wings.

The sunset from our deck on the first night in our new home was stunning. As we drank cocktails and unpacked boxes, the music on the local radio station was a playlist I couldn’t imagine improving upon. Ray Lamontagne, The Cure, Dire Straits, Dave Matthews, The Allman Brothers, Mumford & Sons, Ben Howard.

Vermont sunset from deck

This small piece of the planet where we are now living is populated with artists, hippies young and old, eccentrics, and people who work with their hands making furniture, stone walls, art, and poetry. Despite the tumultuous world we live in at this moment in time, I feel calm.

The owner’s wife called on the Saturday after we left the inn. I was out of cell phone range and missed the call. She left a message. “It looks like we have an almost full house and I can’t find the guest book. Do you know where it is?”

Was she talking about the bible? The reservations book with the names and dates and notes on eating disorders or the need for a blowup mattress or feather free bedding? The one with the numbers I gave to her husband each Tuesday? I left that on the reservations desk where it always resides.

I look out the window at Haystack Mountain shrouded in fog. It is a gray, rainy Sunday in May, similar to the weather when we first returned to New England full of hope and optimism for this new venture we were embarking on. During the past days of our new life in Vermont, we have been licking our battle wounds, sleeping late, unpacking boxes, but mostly healing.

A friend asked, “Does it hurt?” Well yes, of course it does. Innkeeping is the sort of job you put your heart and soul into and even when you’re ‘off-duty’, you’re on. You live where you work, you adopt a new lifestyle. We were required to answer the phone from nine a.m. to nine p.m seven days a week, forwarding the calls on “days off”.  On the job is where you reside. And this was someone else’s business we were making this sacrifice for.

And that is when it dawns on me. She is most likely looking for the guest book that usually resides on the table by the front door. The book that has very few empty pages left and is filled with testimonials I copied into my writer’s notebook on days I was so beaten down I couldn’t find the words to tell the stories. I carry them with me like talismans of my own. I too Mine the Divine.

Here’s a small sample of what is in that book:

Sheila & Richard – Thank you so much for the wonderful hospitality! This was our 3rd stay here and you two are a breath of fresh air! We can’t wait to come back!” ~ Paul & Melinda Haddock

“Thanks for the warm welcome and delicious breakfast. Wonderful night’s sleep. Glad we found you. Off to Vermont to get married ~ Steven & Daisy.

Applesauce pancakes

“We stayed here the night after our wedding. It was fantastic. So beautiful. Sheila & Rich, you are amazing! :)” ~ Steven & Kayla

anniversary package

Wedding Night Package

“Sheila & Rich, you guys are amazing. We’re already talking about coming back in the fall.” ~ Andrea & Bill

“Out traveling every once in awhile for business you find yourself in an amazing place like this with beautiful innkeepers. Thank you Rich & Sheila!” ~ Kendra Eliagoni, Boulder, CO

Carriage rides

“Thanks for your flexibility, hospitality, welcoming presence, and all around good cheer. We hope to see you again.” ~ Celeste and David Welch, West Hartford, CT

“Rich & Sheila, you guys are amazing!!!! …Take care and stay warm and sweet.” ~ James & Brenda, NYC

cocktail hour

“Richard & Sheila you were a total delight! Oh the conversations.” ~ Thanks Ellen & Al

“Thank you very much for the much needed rest.” ~ Bus Driver Brad Thomson, Lubbock, TX

“Thank you so much Richard & Sheila for a spectacular retreat.” ~ Lauren & Colleagues, Yale University, New Haven, CT

breakfast buffet

“Thank you Rich & Sheila (not Ralph!) for a most lovely stay. Perfectly peaceful ‘Staycation’ ~ Meghan & Paul Geary, Hamden, CT

“Great place. Best innkeepers in the world!” ~ Dino Federici, Wethersfield, CT

More roses

“What a wonderful place to wake up on our first morning as a married couple. Thank you so much for looking after us so well.” ~ Jon & Jess Stuart, Brooklyn, NY

“After only 24 hours I feel like a new person! Charming Manor & even more charming hosts. Thank you so very much.” ~ Ani Church

Flavored water

Our short one night stay was absolutely fantastic. I felt like a guest at Downton Abbey! We shall return again.” ~ Jim & Carol Foley, Norwalk, CT

“Thank you…Rich & Sheila, A class Act! See you soon.” ~ Mill

“Will tell everyone about this gem. :)!!!! ~ Linda & Gary, Valencia, CA

roses and champagne

“Another great time. This time we met the new innkeepers, Rich & Sheila. Great people and we loved the music discussion.” ~ Kathy & Dave Simons, Naugutuck, CT

“Those who know, know awesome stay” ~ 704 KCA

“Rich & Sheila went above & beyond to make our stay memorable. We will be back. Happy New Year.” ~ J.M.

Roses in the hall.jpg

“The room & ambience was terrific. However we will be back because of the relationship we made with our wonderful innkeepers…Thank you Sheila & Richard for making this an experience we will repeat.” ~ Gail & Joe Petrowsky

“There is nothing to say but…WOW! Thank you so much Rich & Sheila.” ~ Tom Drennan & Sharon Davis, Madison, CT

“Thank you Rich & Sheila for a little bit of heaven. Wonderful feeling of cordiality and home. We will spread the word in our little corner of the world. Good health and good cheer to you both.” ~ Tony & Marie

Spring flowers 2

“Best B&B EVER-Rich & Sheila, the innkeepers are golden!” ~ E.R.

“Had a wonderful time. Rich & Sheila are our new found friends. We will see you again.” ~ Unknown

“The hospitality is second to none. Thank you so much.” ~ Peter & Irene Cosgrove, Jersey Channel Islands, UK

“What a magical place and what thoughtful and helpful hosts you were! Thank you so much for a lovely stay.” ~ Darcy, Cambridge, MA

Rich and I earned each and everyone of these comments over the course of one year of our precious, wild life. A year filled with hard work, kindness to strangers who returned it in kind, laughter, long days, new friends, and music.

Memories are the best things we own. What we will always remember is the year we spent in a twelve bedroom mansion in a beautiful corner of New England with the wonderful people who slept in the beds we made, ate the omelets and French toast we prepared, and shared their stories with us.

***Stay tuned. New stories are on the way. It’s time to turn the page. I am going to take a short break from blogging to find my way back into the fourth novel I am writing. For a time my profession will be writer and if you’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve shared and would like to help a struggling artist there’s always the three novels I’ve already published. And about those Amazon reviews – they help, they really do. Thank you one and all for joining me on this ride.***

CICI'S REVIEW

The Final Days: An Innkeeper’s Journal

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life. ~ Jack Kerouac

We have been living between Vermont and Cape Cod for the past month.

My life got ahead of my innkeeping story. I first thought I might save these entries for a book, the somewhat sequel to The Reverse Commute. But I lost interest in that as the days got busier. The notes came in handy for blogging, which I also couldn’t keep up with.

Stained Glass Winter

Throughout the winter months, we took day trips up to Vermont to hunt for houses. In March, we found a house we could afford to buy for cash from the quickly diminishing nest egg we acquired after selling our home in New Hampshire three years ago. Since arriving at the Inn we weren’t just making omelets. We’ve had to dip in and crack a few eggs when we scrambled to pay bills like car repairs and health insurance.

We saw yurts, houses shaped like igloos, A-frames, ski chalets, and crazy trailers with add-on additions. We found a small Swiss chalet. It needs some work but nothing Rich can’t handle. We considered renting or trying AirBnB while we worked and lived at the Inn. We need the extra income.

Four weeks after the fireplace screen didn’t fall from the sky we met with the owner. He offered no apologies for his outbursts. I expressed the concern that we felt we were in a precarious situation now that the inn was up for sale. After all, not only would we lose our job but our home. I asked what the incentive was to not start looking for another job. He told us to start looking now and plan to leave by the end of the month. I don’t know how to describe this final meeting as there is nothing nice to say so what unfolded is best left unsaid. He ended the meeting by getting up and walking out of the inn, his usual modus operandi.

Later that afternoon, we started packing. The next week we took a day trip to Vermont with some of the boxes. It was a warm spring day. I took a walk on the sunny side of our street past a babbling brook. Birds back from a winter down south chirped happily, as if glad to be home.

Back at the Inn I laid on the couch in the early evening, the low sun in my eyes. I was mentally and physically exhausted. As the sun set behind the trees in the backyard, the room took on shadows and the walls we painted sage green and cool gray along with the old yellow in the kitchen beyond looked like a stack of Necco wafers.

I thought about the strength of people who persevere in the face of unimaginable adversity. However hard you think your life may be there is always someone suffering greater hardship.

I was reminded of the man with multiple sclerosis who visited in the summer. He had a difficult time walking and coordinating his hands but his smile was wide and even his eyes twinkled when he spoke of the days he played saxophone with Dizzy Gillepsie.

There was also the couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. Years ago they lost both their children to a drunk driver speeding through the cemetery adjacent to their backyard where their little girls were playing. It’s impossible to imagine how they managed to go on but they now have two grown sons and were celebrating thirty five years of marriage. In their room they had several talismans on the dresser including a plaque that read Mine the Divine. It was obvious they still carried a deep sorrow but they carried it well.

I felt I needed to finish the story I started, The Innkeeper’s Journal, but needed some distance before I wrote about the final days at the Inn. Distance from the bad feelings, the disrespect, and the insult.

The last chapters have been posted from The Valley View Saloon in Vermont because we haven’t connected to WiFi yet, and Cape Cod where Rich is doing some work for friends. It is uncertain if and when we will receive the small bonus we earned, the severance pay we are owed per our contract, and our final paychecks.

strawberry pancakes

Our last full house was a rowdy, friendly crowd of Walter Trout fans. In the kitchen my daughter’s boyfriend, Kyle, played bluegrass tunes on his iPhone. He was up and showered early to help with the final breakfast for twenty. The realtor was showing the Inn at three. Just another clueless move by the owners. The guests were late in leaving. It was already noon and we had nine rooms to clean. Wine glasses, empty beer bottles, and nacho chip crumbs were scattered throughout the living room and lounge. One group driving back to New York needed air in their tires. We searched for Rich and his compressor, calling for him throughout the inn. He had his head stuck in the shower in one of the rooms where the glass door came loose and almost fell on a guest. With the help of my daughter and her boyfriend we had fun getting it all done for the very last time.

A young writer and teacher named Darcy was our final guest. Here to meet with a friend who was also a writer, he told us he would be back often because the project they were working on was ongoing. We told him we were leaving.

“That’s terrible news,” he said. “You’re both so warm and welcoming and so very much a part of the experience.”

By Thursday the rooms were clean, the laundry was done, the bills were paid. I even planted pansies in the window box.

Spring window box

I slept terribly the last night at the inn. The innkeeper’s house made loud snapping noises as if it might crack and tumble down. I dreamt off and on of the owner. The next morning I had one last condescending email communication with them regarding debit cards and check signing. I had sent the financials detailing the small bonus we earned to the owner’s wife as she is who we were dealing with to avoid further outbursts. His wife forwarded it to him with a short note. “Here’s the plea.” That remark still gnaws at me. I wasn’t begging for anything. I was asking for what I had earned and what I am owed.

I had planned to go to the grocery store to re-stock the fridge for the couple taking over before the closing, for yes indeed, some mysterious buyer has dropped from the heavens and made an offer. Apparently we were in a precarious situation well before I brought it up, and they will have to figure out a way to buy their own eggs.

Since we sold the house in New Hampshire we have been traveling light and flight by night was in the realm of possibilities. We loaded up the last of our belongings and left the Inn at five o’clock on Thursday night.

Three years ago, as I pulled out of the driveway on River Road, I snapped a photograph through the rearview mirror of a house filled with twenty three years of memories. Two and a half years later I took another photo of my husband’s truck pulling a trailer onto the entrance ramp to Interstate 95 North out of Boynton Beach, Florida where we started our fifteen hundred mile journey to embark on a new adventure as innkeepers.

Thursday evening there was no photo op. I hesitated for a moment, thought about it, then pulled out of the driveway behind Rich’s truck, with the trailer attached once again. I was ambivalent about looking back, more focused on looking forward, not behind to a place I came to in good faith never imagining the other party wasn’t on the same page.

The lights on Rich’s trailer started blinking somewhere north of Springfield. I followed close behind, hoping a cop wouldn’t pull him over. The Florida license plate on the trailer expired the week before. Our hasty departure didn’t leave time to register the trailer for what we hope will be it’s final move.

Darkness fell by the time we crossed the border into Vermont where we traveled another twenty miles along a winding country road running along a rocky riverbed, breathing a sigh of relief when we pulled into our driveway.

We’re not sure what the next chapter will be. We have lots of skills and we live by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assessment of his good friend Henry David Thoreau. “He chose to be rich by making his wants few.”

Our first night in Vermont we slept straight through to noon.

Knocking The Wind Out Of Our Sails: An Innkeeper’s Journal

The fireplace screen was the bolt of lightening that struck the bow of the boat. No longer are we just deflated and demoralized. This ship is sinking fast.

Again we have a three hundred dollar budget to replace the old, broken fireplace screen but this time it is is even more difficult to work with. We searched home and hearth stores, we searched Google, we searched Craigslist. During our two day vacation getaway we even visited an iron worker in Damariscotta, Maine that our friend Bob Whear recommended. There were lots to choose from but nothing for three hundred dollars that would work for a fireplace this yuge, as we say nowadays.

roaring fire

The owner also requested a list of the innkeeper’s duties and told us to ask for anything we wanted. “You can even ask for a raise,” he said. “Not that you’ll get one, but you can ask.” How does one approach this request when it starts like that? We started with procrastination.

So he shouted in frustration, “What’s with this fireplace screen? Are you waiting for one to fall out of the sky?”, then stormed out of the meeting. We sat there, stunned. I was reminded of my children when they were ten years old.

The American bluster also increases. The Election of 2016 is in full swing and many of our guests can’t resist the fractious discourse. Politics come up quite frequently during this unusual election season.

There were the two nights the wine connoisseurs from outside of Philly visited. Both nights we sat by the fire wondering what the world would be like if the Supreme Court hadn’t elected George W. Bush. We knew there wouldn’t be a heated debate when we all hesitantly admitted we were voting for Bernie in the primary. The handsome retired U.S. History teacher and his HR wife were in full agreement with us on the current state of affairs.

Another guest was angry about a social security loophole that is being closed in a few months. It affects married couples and the ability of one spouse to retire sooner but collect the higher earner’s social security benefits. Always moving cautiously into discussions like this, I sensed I couldn’t get into it with him, how I don’t like this bill either but it was a compromise President Obama had to make to get the do-nothing Republican Congress to pass a budget.

Aiko from Juno, Alaska was our guest for an evening. She arrived late but I was up watching the election returns so I made her a cup of tea before showing her to her room. After she went to bed, Bernie pulled a yuge win out of Michigan.

Aiko needed a ride to Harney & Sons  in Millerton, New York the next morning. Another taxi problem arose but we are now infrequent quasi-Uber drivers. We wish there were more guests in need of rides. This time I made the trip.

Harney's Tea

Aiko grew up in Osaka, met her husband in Paris as an exchange student, and flew in the night before from Vancouver. She sells tea filters for a company in Japan and has a sixteen month old son back home in Juno. We discussed the election. Both of us were in agreement. A President Trump is a scary thought.

Later that night a skunk came out of hibernation and stunk up the driveway. The couple arriving for the night remarked on this. As they came in the front door a bat swooped through the living room. The woman shrieked. Rich brought them to their room. The bat followed.

The owner’s wife called from Florida to tell us her husband has decided to sell the inn and a photographer from the realtor’s office might stop by to take pictures. This will take some time, she told me. After all, the other inn in town has been for sale for five years.

How do I feel about this? Relieved.

Friends visited for a girls’ weekend. On Saturday morning we walked to the Farmers’ Market where I ran into the photographer from the local paper. He is a shy, elderly man, and was wearing his large camera around his neck. I re-introduced myself and he said, “Oh yes, I remember you. It’s hard to remember all of you, there’s been so many of you over the past few years.”

There have been five innkeepers in ten years. It’s a small town and most of the residents know the reason why there have been so many of us. I’ve seen peoples’ responses when I introduce myself as the innkeeper, I’ve heard the veiled comments, and the frequently asked question, “does he still own the inn?”

The photographer kept poking in his odd way. Although the paper is actually a small monthly newsletter and he is a photographer not a writer, he apparently has a journalistic curiosity regarding this topic. He was in search of some local gossip.

I refrained from giving him the scoop he was looking for and pointed out the micro lettuces that are all the rage at the local restaurants. “I’m so glad I found them here. I was wondering where the local chefs were buying them. They’re delicious. Have you tried them?”

“No,” he shook his head and gave me a knowing, sympathetic smile.

Road to Farmers Market

Winter: An Innkeeper’s Journal

Like stepping into a deep cave, a sharp chill greets me after walking down the three steps to our side of the Inn. The ceilings are high, the living room has seven windows and two sets of glass doors. The porch is dusted with snow. Our salary has little room for oil bills during a New England winter so we keep the thermostat setting low.

Winter Porch

Jonathan from England is staying for two nights. He originally contacted me by email to say he would love to see the Ani DiFranco show at Infinity Hall but couldn’t find transportation from Hartford. It is difficult to get from anywhere to here.

Rich calls a few cab companies. Roundtrip the cost will be two hundred twenty five dollars. “Why don’t you do it?” I ask. “We need the extra money.”

At our first interview we expressed concerns about making ends meet on the salary we were offered. There were promises of extra work for Rich, particularly during the slower winter months. We prepared several estimates for various improvement projects. Most of them have been ignored although at the meetings we continue to discuss potential projects. One day we found a trash bag tossed into the back of the truck for a trip to the dump. A crumpled estimate had fallen out.

The day of the pickup Rich makes a sign to help Jonathan find him at Union Station where he is arriving from Providence, and on the drive back they take a scenic detour past the Barkhamsted Reservoir.

Barkhamsted

Jon is on an Ani DiFranco getaway. He has seen her in Philadelphia, Plymouth, New Hampshire, Providence, and now Norfolk. This will be one of over two hundred lifetime shows he’s seen. At first I thought this was rather strange but then we began to tell him about the back to back Dire Straits shows we saw throughout New England and the two nights in Hartford when I scored a kiss from Dave Matthews. We tell him our daughter has seen Phish at least a dozen times. I realize everyone in this room this morning is strange, or normal, depending on how you look at it.

Winemakers from the Finger Lakes visit. We discuss how farming in New England is making a comeback with small farms providing local produce to farm to table restaurants. They are traveling for several weeks while their vineyard is closed during the shoulder season. They leave us with a bottle of riesling and an invitation to visit.

The weekdays are quiet, our guests are few. This is our shoulder season, too. I deep clean the library, removing old books from dusty bookshelves. Pages crackle like dry leaves and the room smells of bookbinding glue.

Manor House Library

A good friend of ours died in a hotel room in Vail, Colorado. He had been fighting demons for quite sometime. There is an early morning funeral on Cape Cod. I would have liked to have attended the service but we have two rooms booked. It is the first time I make breakfast for our guests by myself. Unlike my husband who uses Pam, I use butter liberally. Life is short. This one is for you Mac.

Oakley Thorne spends a night with us. He is a Yale recruiter, a conservationist, a birder, and a sort of innkeeper at a ranch in Wyoming. He majored in conservation which is now called environmental science he notes and once drove Dave Brubeck around Montana to shows in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula then continued on a private tour through Yellowstone. We tell him about our trip out there when our daughter spent a summer working at the national park.

“Brubeck said children understand the 4-5 beat of Take Five better than adults,” he told us. “His song Blue Rondo Ala Turk mimics the song of the tufted titmouse.”

Oakleigh tags birds to track their migration routes and one of his Wyoming grackles was sighted in Texas. He found a hummingbird in Wyoming that had traveled from Taos, New Mexico. “The migration of bird’s is fascinating,” he says, and having migrated quite a bit myself I believe that is true.

I tell him about my books, and we discuss self-publishing, how people who write series have marketing advantages with built-in readers looking for the next edition. I admit I’m not interested in writing sequels. He quotes Miles Davis who once said this about making the same style of music over and over, “You don’t want to be a human juke box.”

Oakleigh Thorne is on a list of men I have met since migrating to Norfolk with names like Winter Mead, Grant Mudge, and Ted Stone.

Our younger daughter visits for Christmas. Her sister is working in Killington, Vermont on the holiday. The three of us take a four and a half mile hike in the Great Mountain Forest on this unusually warm day. The world is silent except for our footsteps on the mossy, mucky trail. Fallen trees snapped in half block parts of the trail since last we were here.

Christmas Hike

We have one guest during the holiday, a woman who has been here twice before during our tenure. Her mother has early stage dementia so my guest and I have many things to share as my Mom is well into her decline with Alzheimer’s. Gillian is trying to get her mom in assisted living. She tells me a story from when she was young, growing up in Winsted after the back to back Hurricanes Carol and Diane brought the floods that wiped out the factories on the river side of town, including the place where they made straight pins. She was told not to play by the river. Sharp pins floated in the water and covered the rocks where she used to climb, but she was fascinated and couldn’t stay away.

Sixty years later these factories remain vacant. In the coming months this fact will remain with me throughout the political primary season.

Union Pin Company

Here’s Blue Rondo a la Turk. Let me know if you can detect the song of the tufted titmouse.

Autumn Leaves: An Innkeeper’s Journal

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.
If people wanted you to write warmly about them,
they should have behaved better.”
~ Anne Lamott

Labor Day comes and goes the way of Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Summer passes quickly in New England. I can’t remember what a three day holiday weekend is all about but another one is fast approaching. Columbus Day weekend in New England. The height of the foliage season.

My innkeeping story is moving fast and the wheels are falling off. The details have slipped away. It’s all foggy memories from hastily written notes on scraps of paper like autumn leaves scattered on my bedside table, shoved in my purse, or tucked in the pages of a book I started to read but haven’t had the time to finish.

Fallen Leaves

October arrives, the busiest month of the year here in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, and the shit has hit the fan. On Saturday of Columbus Day weekend I find myself trapped at the reservation desk dealing with a Balance Sheet that was part of the 2014 Quickbooks records I forwarded to the accountant as requested. I’ve been here before. This is working for the man in America.

In 2014 I was a bookkeeper for a construction company in Pompano Beach, Florida but I listen to the owner’s fury spit forth like the burst pipe gushing water at the back staircase outside the kitchen after a guest flushed the clogged toilet upstairs earlier this morning during the breakfast rush.

I could go on about this and another incident the following weekend regarding URLs, websites,and reservations, all another error on the owner’s part with no apologies offered. But what does that get me? Nothing but anxiety from revisiting bad memories. The stuff restless dreams are made of.

Anne Dillard is right about sharing our stories but it isn’t always easy to do. There are often complications. The possibility of unintended consequences, hurt feelings, lawsuits, retaliation. Does anyone ever really tell the truth on Facebook or in a blog? It’s not as if the writer is lying, it’s just a matter of selective omissions. That’s why I prefer writing fiction. I love that disclaimer. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Let’s just leave it at this. On the busiest weekend of the year when I should be greeting guests, I find myself spending an hour and a half on the phone with the accountant who also happens to be working this weekend. When it’s over and this kind, patient man fixes the problem that occurred long before I arrived, I pour myself a very large glass of wine.

I do not have the energy to walk through the swinging door from the pantry to the living room and turn it on, so to speak. To make small talk, smile and charm the guests, play the part of Lady of the Manor.

The following week we host a small wedding in the living room. The groom is a Vietnam Vet, a sweet man with twitches and sniffles. His bride has trouble walking in her heels. He tells us his mom lived to one hundred and two and he wishes she could have met this woman he is marrying today.

“It was on a four hour ride with the grandkids when I knew she was the one,” he says, with a big wide smile. They met on the Internet and plan to to visit Gatlinburg next year for a belated honeymoon.

“I’ll call to ask when it’s autumn there,” she says, then blushes, apparently realizing it’s Fall at the same time everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. “Oh, never mind.” She’s nervous. Her groom smiles like she is the cutest, sweetest woman he’s ever met. They want nothing much. No flowers, no music, but I provide both. His son and daughter and her sister are their only guests. They bring a coconut cake from Fresh Market. I set up coffee, pine cones, fine china, and gold and silver ornaments on the table. Rich lights the fire.

Fireside breakfast

We’ve heard rumors of ghosts. Several guests who grew up in the area and moved away stay with us when they return to visit. Pat and her husband Greg are back in Norfolk for the first time in decades. She shares a funny story from her childhood when the Inn was empty and she and her friends would sneak in and play in the haunted mansion. One of her friends dared her to ride the elevator up to the second floor and when she got stuck halfway there her friend shouted up through the elevator shaft that it must be the ghost playing tricks on her. Like several guests, Pat and I are now Facebook friends.

Morale is low. Despite the wonderful people we meet, we’re worn out, beaten down. But then along comes a review on the Bed and Breakfast website from a guest who visited on Saturday of Columbus Day weekend. The day I couldn’t muster the strength to entertain our guests.

Rich, the innkeeper, greeted us and told us good bye, helping us with our bags and telling us about other places to see and things to do on our journey. He was consistently kind, never intrusive or too busy. He built a wonderful fire and served breakfast of omelettes, pancakes and other delights, helped by his wife who also does the accounting. We are coming back – definitely.…

“His wife who also does the accounting…..” I honestly do laugh out loud.

We eventually booked six out of our nine rooms on Halloween, which was the leading cause for the second October Incident. There is something to be said for cool heads and patient dispositions, kindness and empathy, all things that are sorely lacking in the world today. The people who work for you are not a bottom line number on a Profit & Loss statement. They are the most valuable asset on your Balance Sheet.

Back of Infinity