The sap has been flowing at the Hawthorne Inn. We have a tradition of tapping a selection of our Sugar Maple trees in March each year. The process of refining the sap to syrup is simple, but labor intensive. There is NOTHING like fresh syrup from the tree. We have added a delightful breakfast offering to help convey the syrup to the taste-buds of our willing guests: Croissant French Toast! Delightful. Be sure to look at our recipe section for the Buttermilk Pancakes.
Archive for the ‘Tales of Innkeeping’ Category.
We were waiting for the Russians. Glasnost was new and fresh in the air. The Republic of Karelia, we learned, was an autonomous region within the United Soviet Socialist Republic and bordered Finland. A non-government organization was sponsoring the Russian’s visit and the NGO rep told us that more cows than people lived in Karelia. Our Inn was to host the Minister of Agriculture and the Directors of the major dairy co-operatives. This was a precursor to our hosting the Karelien President and Chairman of the Communist Party.
The Russians arrived and they arrived travel-worn and tired. Though it was early evening, they had made an arduous, non-stop journey by train to Moscow, plane to New York and a bus to our Massachusetts Inn, the interpreter got them all settled for the night and then left. My wife left also, to attend one meeting or another, trusting me to shepherd my sleeping flock.
I heard a light rapping on the door and there stood a grinning Russian with a bottle of Vodka in one hand and two 10-ounce water tumblers in the other. The invitation was clear, and I, ever being the gentle host led my charge to the comfort of the Inn’s sitting room. I wasn’t much of a drinker, pretty much drawing the line at a cup or two of white wine, so I was mildly concerned when the Russian treated the Vodka as water and filled the tumblers to the brim. My first sip and I was amazed by the delightfully fresh and smooth flavor of this hand-imported wonder drink. My new friend was truly gladdened by my reaction and company.
About half way through the first glass I began to speak Russian. This was spurred by necessity, as my guest owned no English, and it was powered by miracle, as I had no previous instruction in the language. We shared mightily. I learned of his beautiful wife and two daughters and I became familiar with his life history. He had been a Commander in the Soviet Navy before becoming a University Professor.
Somewhere in the second twelve-ounce glass other guests of the Inn, a husband, wife and their 11 year-old daughter, returned from having dinner out. I hailed them, as they started up the steps, and the man chose to join us. I quickly rummaged up another glass and some salted nuts. I say rummaged because I noticed that I was not quite as graceful in movement as sometime earlier that evening. I then settled into my newfound avocation as a Russian-English language translator. Our next discovery was astounding. The Russian had not been simply a Navy Commander but also an Intelligence Officer and the tourist, who had recently made us a party of three, had once been in US Naval Intelligence. We established with certainty, through cheers, toasts and pats on the back that these two had, at one time, been spying on each other in the North Sea.
Overcome with emotion the ex-US Navy man ran off to fetch his family. He wanted them to be present at this major historic event. A couple more of the Russians ambled down to join us. The vodka had evaporated into a fine mist of warm cheer and friendship. I ran off to the basement to see what I could rustle-up. As I mentioned, I was not an active drinker and payed no attention to what hard alcohol was kept in the house. I gathered, from dusty shelves and harvested from boxes, a mongrel collection of partially full bottles, all leftovers from parties and New Year’s celebrations past.
The Russians thought that I had tapped into the mother lode. A taste test was a fine way to pass their first night in America. The ex-Navy guy kept saying to his daughter” Can you believe it? Can you believe it? Glasnost right here in Concord, Massachusetts! Can you believe it?” The glasses were filled and emptied.
At some point I found myself in our kitchen and my wife came in. “Hi”, I said. “I’m really drunk”. She kind of laughed at my joke, “No you can’t be” she informed me “You don’t drink”.
“No, really, I’m stewed”, and to impress upon her the truth of my statement, I collapsed flat out, Andy Capp style, on the kitchen butcher-block table.
My next memories are of living Dante’s Inferno. At one point I remember bartering that I would give up sugar, meat, coffee anything! If only the room would stop spinning. I recall alternately pleading to God to make it better and to kill me outright to end the misery. I fell asleep hugging the dog.
The next morning at breakfast my wife greeted the Russians, through the other interpreter, and asked how they were feeling. “Great!” they all exclaimed. They had had a good sleep and were ready to go. They were simply incredulous to hear that I was in bed.
If truth were known, I stayed there for two days.
I suppose I should try to redeem myself and attach some higher meaning to this tale. But I hardly think that I merit even a footnote in the history books as one of the last casualties in the fall of Soviet Communism.
I was fully employed at the time our first baby arrived. My job description read: “Must enjoy people, have experience as a concierge, tour-guide, chambermaid and stand-up comedian as well as posses a broad knowledge of the building trades, bookkeeping and horticulture. Should feel confident faking everything else.”
The fact is, my wife and I own a small Bed and Breakfast style Inn.
“What’s wrong with your dog?” one of our Inn guests queried. The dog had one glazed eye forced open and her head was lolling from side to side like a bobble-head toy with a broken spring. “Sleep deprivation.” I explained, my voice revealing a painful intimacy with the answer. The dog looked how I felt. We were both, the dog and I, casualties of a phenomenon known as: “Your first baby who doesn’t sleep and is getting even for every evil deed you ever contemplated.”
Our daughter, Ariel Zoe, had proven, that in the first six months of life, a human child could get by on less than three hours of sleep a day. She also demonstrated how this must be accomplished while held in arms, because the colic, cramps and baby constipation would kick in any time that she lay prone The writhing, screaming fit that followed was keyed by Nature to torture new parent with feelings of ineptitude and unworthiness.
My nerves were rapidly coming un-raveled due to consistent lack of sleep. Our Bed and Breakfast was going gangbusters with guests checking-in till midnight and breakfast always cheerfully served by 7: 00 A.M. I was trying to conscientiously cover the late and early shifts for, after all, my wife had gone through the labor and she was the one nursing. I guess I’m just a sensitive guy. But after six months I was dull, unresponsive and semi-hallucinatory. The dog finally had enough and moved out of the bedroom.
Desperate for sleep, maddened by the list of chores, I searched and found an hour when I might steal a quick nap. Clumsily I lumbered for the bedroom, jerked down the shades as I unplugged the phone, and chose the feather pillow with the best sound-deadening qualities to schmoosh over my ears. Taking one last, deep breath I drifted off and thought, “ Oh my god, I only have one hour to sleep!” Panicked, over-tired and cross-wired I tried, time and time again, to will my racing thoughts toward the void. With my eyes stuck wide open, repose abandoned me by leaving in its place a mind numbing certainty that I would never, ever sleep again.
A friend gave me some “natural” remedy, a milk derivative, called something like L-Tryptophane. It was supposed to put you to sleep, naturally. I took them judiciously. I think I later heard that the remedy was recalled because it caused heart attacks. No matter, not the Big Sleep or any sleep was coming my way.
One morning, while serving breakfast for a table full of animated guests, I suffered a fundamental, emotional breakdown. I had retuned to the kitchen to refill the carafe of coffee. As I wheeled about to leave with the full pot, I hesitated, clutched blindly at the kitchen wall and started to sob,” I can’t go back out there, can’t go back on stage!” My wife came to comfort me. I sputtered and bawled, “I don’t want to be the perfect butler any more”. She told me to get some sleep.
At those words, the certainty that I must get away from everything welled up in me from primordial depths. My demented sanity demanded that I flee. I grabbed a roll-a-way cot from the Inn and banged and bounced it down, step by step, into the sanctuary of the dark, dank bowels of the basement. I was certain that the furnace room held my salvation. Our furnace was a monster. Its massive plates of cast iron, securing bolts and spewing tongues of flame harkened to a time when home heating plants and battleships claimed a common lineage.
My world was then of blackness. The low machine-rumble of pumps replaced civil conversation. I did not breathe air but drank think fumes of oil. A sudden eruption of flame would peel the cot from darkness to reveal my arms crossed tight upon my chest
I don’t know for how long I lay in state, for two days or two weeks. There was no sun to chart, no natural rhythm of body to inform, no mind to think.
The heavy metal fire door scraped open and a black figure appeared at the opening to the furnace room. Disturbed, I sat up in my cot, stiff from the waist, like a vampire rising from its coffin, released at last from the crypt. My gaunt and drawn, pallid-white visage, wild hair and vacant stare were caught full in the tight circle of a flashlight. The meter reader had, unawares, fallen into my hell. He nearly died outright from freight of the living image of torment that greeted him in this dungeon. “I didn’t know anybody was here!” he croaked. With both hands he slammed the door and I could hear his boot heals clicking away, like a mad centipede, as he sought the light.
I sat there in the dark. The absurdity of the scene slowly trickled into my veins like an elixir. I imagined the meter guy peeling out the door heading for the safety of his truck, and the “You won’t guess what happened to me today” that he would greet his wife with that evening. It was all pretty hysterical, the look on his face and how I must appear. My desperation slowly leaked away in laughter. I plodded upstairs for a shower with a will to re-join the living.
I took up my rightful place by my wife’s side, our little one soon out-grew the discomfort of baby ills and gentle sleep thereafter found me easily and left me refreshed.
And the meter-guy? I wonder how he sleeps now.