This is a long post. However, it could've been a lot longer. There just aren't enough words to convey my feelings.
Every day that Hans and I have been underway heading north, we were getting closer and closer to our jobs at the inn, with Hans playing piano and me waitressing.
At around one o'clock on the morning of May the second those plans came to an abrupt end.
Entering into its 132nd year of hospitality, the inn was leveled in a devastating fire and a small community and its employees will forever mourn her loss. She was family.
In the mid 1980's the inn was literally falling into sad disrepair when Mike Halliday stumbled upon her. He bought her anyway and for a solid year he and Marie (although Mike will honestly tell you it was mostly Marie) worked on getting the inn up and running and once again becoming the glorious matriarch she deserved to be. Wait staff who worked there relate how after a shift or when things were slow, they would be painting, wallpapering, be out on the porch scraping old paint. .. and slowly but surely the inn came back to her old glory. Maybe even better than in her heyday, back at the turn of that other century. So far she'd survived the downturn of the whole mineral springs era that had brought her to life, the depression which wiped out the other remaining inns, electrical and plumbing updates, the 1970's when she put up with hippies owning her while they grew 'herbs' and painted her bathrooms (including the fixtures) lime green. And now with the Halliday's help, which included purchasing innumerable antiques to fill her many rooms, she once again reigned supreme over the town.
A ballroom, Victorian Room for weddings and dinner theater, the Rose Room and Blue Room (small private dining rooms), back lobby fireplace room, breezeway, three bars, and main dining room boasted china, glassware, vases, buffets. The dining room's ceiling light fixtures were the originals and converted from gas to electric. Over seventy guest rooms were outfitted with antique beds, dressers, tables, quilts. The hallways of her three stories held bookcases, paintings, tables, lamps, pianos, vintage radios, sofas, chairs.
The lobby was typical of that special era of high ceilings and spacious rooms. The stairway was wide with a huge landing (great for group photos), the front desk was the original, and on the wall behind it was the board that used to light up when a guest requested room service. And the woodwork! Hanging on walls throughout were old photos of the original inn and it was amazing to see that the only thing that really changed were the people and clothing fashions. The structure of the inn itself remained virtually unchanged.
I was thirty eight years old when I found myself unexpectedly employed there and I ended up staying for ten years before I met Hans and moved away. A few years later I came back and this time Hans came with me as the dining room piano player. I still remember years ago at Christmas after finishing up a dinner theater shift the waitstaff were all standing in the breezeway looking out over the grounds. With the moon in the sky and the twinkle lights under the snow covered shrubbery glowing, it was impossibly beautiful. I told the college kids I worked with to remember this place, that there was no other place like it and someday they'd tell their kids about it. Those college kids are now pushing 40.
We had golfers who stayed at the inn when they were young and every year thereafter, only now they brought their sons and their grandsons with them. Couples who'd been married there came back for anniversaries, some celebrating 60 or more years. Many men, well over eighty years of age, would stand in the lobby and reminisce about the days when they were bell hops. And all of them would get a hug from us because they were our family.
Weddings (sometimes three in a weekend), Christmas dinner theaters with both matinée and evening performances sold out (that was hard work!), class reunions, rehearsal dinners, family reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, showers, not to mention Mother's Day and Thanksgiving (both of which brought in over 1,000 guests each); we did it all and we did it together.
Since the day I received the horrible news about the inn I can't stop looking at the pictures I've taken along with all the pictures and memories my friends have posted on FaceBook.
Those old photos on the walls? Gone.
The piano that Hans used to play? Gone. Along with all the sheet music.
Our cranky ice machines that gave us hell all summer long? Gone.
The little Christmas villages sitting atop their mirror ponds surrounded with cotton snow? Gone.
All the antique beds, dressers, buffets? Gone.
Stainless steel tables, food warmers, coolers, ovens, pots, pans, chafers, our fabulous new vacuum coffee pots that kept coffee really hot? Gone.
The century old maps of the town depicting all the competing inns? Gone.
Our trays and tray jacks (there were 4 tall ones us older ladies used because of our backs)? Gone.
The stainless steel pitcher we shoved our shared tips into for years and years? Gone.
The dreaded elf costumes for Breakfast with Santa? Gone.
Help's Hall (I would roam this area whenever I had the chance.); the middle wing of the inn that contained all of the seasonal decorations, tons of glassware, plates, dishes, punch bowls, outdated coffee carafes, rolls of wallpaper and carpeting, laundry carts, linens, quilts, and an abandoned garden sized clawfoot tub I had my name on if it ever got sold? Gone.
Our massive freezer (where we had to scoop ice cream in the summer or it would melt and it didn't matter if we were freezing) with its huge steel door? Gone.
All those salt and pepper shakers we filled and emptied each season, hundreds of them? Gone.
Never again will I answer questions about the inn with guests or share the many ghost stories I've been privy to. I won't wipe down high chairs or booster seats or sweep the dining room where I knew that one spot on the floor was paint spatter and not food. Because they're all gone.
Never again will I wrestle and fight with an overloaded, wobbly wheeled cart as I kick and shove it into the dumb-waiter in order to get it down to the Victorian Room for dinner theater. And I also won't get cable grease on the cuffs of my white shirt when I retrieve the cart once it's down there. Because my dumb waiter and those wobbly wheeled carts are gone.
I won't say, "Don't take that cute teapot to that table of ten women or they'll all want one!" Because all our cute teapots are gone.
Hans, who has worked and traveled all over the world, remarked to me once, "I've never seen a group of people work together the way you guys at the Riverside do."
I see the inn standing tall and proud, and I see all those things in our pictures and in my head and they seem so tangible, yet I know they're gone and I haven't grasped it yet.
At the Riverside you could always come home. You could be gone for years, your life could have taken all kinds of twists and turns, but when you entered the doors of the inn you were home and someone was there to greet you. Welcome back! We've missed you!
But we can't go home again.
Because she's gone.