As soon as we get into the car, I feel better. A brown bag holding mixed nuts, Wheat Thins and smoked mozzarella is wedged between our seats. The water bottles are in their plastic holders. My husband Dave puts on his sunglasses and turns the key. We are outta here.
Dave cranks up the radio and the Rolling Stones belt out “Gimme Shelter” as we head for the Merritt Parkway North. We’re off to see our daughter Casey performing in a show at Merrimack College, and “Massachusetts Dave and Lea,” our alter-egos, await us at the Andover Inn. They are so much more fun than this furrow-browed pair.
I love my house. I love my friends. I love the deer nosing the bird feeders and the cheery little titmice perched on our shed roof. I love our snuggly cats basking in their sunny spots. But I can’t get out of the house fast enough. In my more desperate moments, I contemplate moving away to escape the strident phone calls and all-caps email alerts. I feel badgered and beleaguered, but don’t seem to be adult enough to define my boundaries.
The mood in our small New England town has changed recently. While I remain firmly encamped with the woods, deer and disappearing foxes, there’s been an influx of new homeowners who are daunted by the three-mile drive to Route 25 where shopping opportunities abound. They long for the convenience of a bank, dry cleaners and ice cream shop just around the corner, and are willing to risk the change in zoning that these amenities would require. The bustle of traffic and strip malls characteristic of nearby towns is brushed aside with a dismissive, “It won’t happen here.” Hm. As if the good people of Monroe had sought the concrete crawl of commerce lining the thoroughfare that bisects their town.
Perhaps I’m over-reacting. Maybe I’m being selfish. Some are gleeful at the thought of a neighborhood Starbucks. Are my views simply out-dated? Maybe I’m just tired of the meetings and urgency.
Thank God for the refuge of The Andover Inn and Room 37.
Room 37 is cozy, dormered, wall-papered in a floral print, and half the usual price. Because of our willingness to share a bathroom with other patrons, we stay at this turn-of-the-century inn for $69 dollars per night.
We’ve tried other rooms – 48 and 45. They come at the same great price and with the same bathroom-sharing condition. They’re nice, but walking into #37 is like coming home – minus the screeching phone and email stream.
Upon our arrival, Laurie greets us at the front desk. “I see you’ve reserved your favorite room. It’s all ready for you!”
I love being a regular.
As we wait for the tiny elevator in the hall, we wave to Tom who is tending bar.
“Well hey! When did you get in?” He asks. “Are you up for one of your daughter’s shows?” He wipes a glass and sets it in a drying rack. His white jacket and black bowtie speak of an era past.
I ask how his bum leg is feeling,
“Ah, same old thing, but the pain is gone.”
The elevator door opens and we squeeze inside for the brief lift to the third floor. We walk down the corridor to our room, slip the key in the lock, step over the threshold and smile. Our green easy chair, our brass floor lamp, our gurgling sink. Breathing comes easier now.
The Inn was built in 1930 on the campus of Philips Andover Academy to accommodate parents visiting their children. My mother and my grandparents, Byeo and Poppy, used to stay here in the forties when visiting my Uncle Ding during his Andover years. When, in the evening, Dave and I read on the comfy sofas by the fireplace in the lobby, I can easily picture Byeo sitting on the couch across from me. A pianist plays old favorites for guests in the dining room, and I imagine Byeo and Poppy heard the same melodies as they enjoyed a drink before dinner. I miss them still, all these years after their deaths, but there’s a connection to them, to their time, at the Andover Inn.
We beat an exuberant retreat from home as the sky hangs low and somber. With a slam of the screen door, we shut off the “shoulds” and shrill shriek of the phone. Nosing the car north, Dave gives me a grin and we are off to see Casey's show.
Leaves blown by blustery winds skitter before us as flocks of birds fly, pulsing like a great insect swarm, over the treetops. In contrast, the cars inch along the Merritt Parkway. We inch along with them, but with the radio blasting and spirits soaring as high as those southbound birds.
Time passes. It is Saturday night. After a blissful evening in the soothing darkness of Merrimack’s Rogers Theater watching Casey perform in “Don’t Drink the Water,” Dave and I have returned to the Andover Inn and room #37. I down a dose of Nyquil to combat a case of sniffles and repair to the bathroom across the hall to wash up. Mission accomplished, I turn the wonderful old brass latch and … um, I turn the wonderful old brass latch. Hm. The wonderful old brass latch won’t turn. I push the door tight and slide the latch… It won’t slide. I rattle the door a bit, push, then rattle again. It’s really stuck.
I take stock and smile. I’ve had dinner and seen Casey’s play. I’m toasty warm and there’s a toilet nearby. I ponder the fact that I’m locked in the bathroom at The Andover Inn and feel more content than I usually do at home. Interesting. This is going to be a funny story soon.
When Dave eventually comes to check on me, we whisper as the other patrons are asleep. I examine the hinge pins, but they are painted solidly in place. Dave dismantles his nail clippers and nudges the pieces under the door. I fiddle with the receiving band of the lock but it’s rusted and the clippers are thick and clumsy.
The helpful night watchman arrives with an old-fashioned skeleton key that proves unequal to the tenacious bathroom lock. He then spooks up a butter knife from the inn’s kitchen having discovered that a screwdriver won’t fit under the door.
I realize that short of bringing in the fire department, my release is up to me. I am empowered by this thought and accept the challenge with calm. Nothing is pending. The solution to my problem rests in my own hands. If only I could bring this attitude to my daily life. If only I could retain this sense of control.
With immense gratification over each screw painstakingly extracted with my never-again-to-be-undervalued butter knife, I remove the doorknob. Triumph. It is womb-like and cozy in my bathroom and I am giddy with satisfaction at my resourcefulness.
The doorknob removal achieves nothing but a glimpse of Dave’s Red Sox tee-shirt through the resulting hole. The only possibility of escape lies in disassembling the lock plate by removing the three screws holding it in place. They didn’t budge before when attacked with the nail clippers, so I’d dismissed that option. Forced back to them by process of elimination and armed now with my trusty butter knife, I bend to the task with renewed vigor, and they come out with ease.
I wiggle the plate free and open the door to a smiling, oil-smudged Dave crouched in the corridor. Bearing screws, door knob and lock plate in greasy hands, we march to the front desk to declare victory.
Things have calmed down in our town; the non-commercial zoning remains intact. My days of urgent alerts are, for now, over. Casey graduated from Merrimack in 2005 and moved to New York to seek an acting career. Dave and I don’t get to the Andover Inn as often. This weekend, however, we’ve combined a stay at the Inn with a visit to my cousin Julie and her family.
It’s good to be back.
Laurie and Tom no longer work at the Inn, but Kate, at the front desk, is friendly and accommodating. We catch up with Colin who is tending bar. He’s dressed neatly, but casually, in a collared polo shirt. He tells us, “There’ve been management changes and a major renovation is planned for 2010.”
Renovation. I fear the word. I love the Inn just as it is. "What, exactly, will it entail?" I ask.
“Things have to be brought up to code and there’ll be a spa. That’s what people want now, you know?”
Just like they wanted an ice cream shop and dry cleaners seven years ago at home.
Breakfast is included with the cost of our room. This is something new, something new that I like. What a treat to pull up to a white-clothed table in the inn’s beautiful dining room with its dark mahogany wainscoting, tall Palladian windows and elegant, floor-length curtains of deep burgundy.
Vivian and Trisha, our waitress and hostess, chat with us while serving eggs benedict, French toast, a fresh fruit plate and crispy potato pancakes. “The curtains are coming down,” says Vivian, “to bring in more light.”
I look around, feeling something akin to panic. “But I love the curtains. They’re elegant, and there’s plenty of light.”
“Yes. Well. They’re coming down.”
Trisha introduces Elizabeth, the assistant innkeeper.
“I love the curtains,” I try again.
Elizabeth looks around the room and nods. “Yes. Well. They’re coming down. I don’t know what we’ll do with them.”
Trisha mentions the scene in “The Sound of Music” where the ever-resourceful Maria makes costumes from curtains. Scarlett O’Hara did the same with the green velvet drapes of Tara, and we laugh in recalling Carol Burnett’s spoof of that famous “Gone with the Wind” scene. “Remember, she sweeps down the staircase, and the rods are still stuck in the fabric! She knocks over lamps and paintings!”
Oh, we have a good laugh. But like a petulant child, I will not let it go. “Please keep the curtains. They make this room feel..."
"They make this room feel the way it must have felt when Byeo and Poppy were here," is what I want to say. But instead, I gaze about and finish weakly, “welcoming. They make this room feel warm and welcoming.”
Elizabeth smiles thinly and says it has been a pleasure to meet us, then excuses herself to attend to other diners. I feel sad. My French toast has lost its appeal.
I hope the curtains and brass locks survive the renovations. I hope the new managers recognize that there’s an abundance of Marriotts and Sheratons with plenty of light and electronic locks, but when the world clamors too loudly and I feel badgered and beleaguered, I want an old-fashioned haven like the Andover Inn.