We went to the annual volunteer fire department fundraiser as we always do, and as we always do, we bought twenty dollars worth of $1.00 raffle tickets. The ticket collection boxes for the various prizes were laid out along a long table, and as was the case in previous years, we had no desire to win any of the items on display.
Our raffle tickets held out the promise of winning : a painted name slate for your front door, or a cuddle contraption sleeping bag with arms, or a coffee mug with the name of our hamlet on it, or a gift basket filled with bath salts, candles, wine and chocolate, all encrusted with mummified dust (I am convinced this same basket has been part of the raffle for the last seven years, minimum), or a gift certificate to the local hair salon, specialists in hair lacquer and mummification, or an oil change from the corner auto shop that seized up my husband’s engine when they took out oil, but neglected to put some back in, or a gift certificate to . . . well, that’s enough, you get the idea. Suffice it to say that there were at least twelve more offerings equally as seductive.
However, at the very end of this homage to small town stasis and reclaimed freight, there was a prize we had never seen before, a gift certificate for Two Nights, (excluding holiday weeks) at the Blue Bird B&B located just two miles away from the center of town in one direction and the State University in the other.
“Ere, now, wot’s all this” said my husband John, in his best Cockney accent, as he examined the promo flyer for this new entrant in the sweepstakes. “This could turn out to be actually useful. What do you say we put all the tickets in this one?”
“Sure, why not?” I answered. We had agreed to host an upcoming family event in the next month and were completely stretched in terms of the occupancy of our available spare beds, couches, and futon. “We can put Bud and Betty there if we win and get them out of everyone’s hair.”
Bud and Betty were an aunt and uncle of John’s who argued, bragged, disagreed, debated, and criticized every single statement made by any other person around them. No conversation was possible with them in the room, since they turned every discussion into alternating monologues between the two of them. Their participation in any family get together was limited to showing up late and explaining how how they would have done it much better.
John stuffed all twenty of our raffle tickets into the Blue Bird B&B ticket box and we proceeded into the fire barn for the breakfast where we met up with our friends and ate and had a fine time. I had forgotten all about the raffle when I got a call from the president of The Ladies Auxiliary a week later announcing that we were winners in the raffle and our prize was — the gift basket.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Martin, but that simply can’t be,” I said. “We put all of our tickets in one box for one prize and it wasn’t the gift basket.”
“Oh, dear, I must have messed up this list, “ said Mrs.Martin. “What box did you put your tickets in?”
“The one for two nights at the B&B,” I answered. “The Blue Bird? I’ve never heard of it, but what the hey, who doesn’t love a getaway, right?”
“Oh, that one, “ said Mrs. Martin. “We had a problem with that prize, it was pulled by the donor after the event. Bit of a kerfuffle at the Ladies Aux, I’m afraid. She left in a huff, withdrew the prize and quit her membership.”
“What was the problem with the prize?” I asked. “It looked lovely on the promo.”
“That was the problem, “ answered Mrs. Martin. “Some of the members were concerned about a possible tort due to vicarious liability, fraud, and misrepresentation.”
“Vicarious liability and tort?” I repeated. I admit that I was surprised at Mrs. Martin’s transformation into Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As far as I knew, she worked in the yarn store and not the Public Defender’s Office.
“Yes, that what Sonya Maynard said. She was a paralegal and her husband is a lawyer and she said if anyone stayed at that so-called B&B as a result of the raffle that they would end up owning the Fire Department and probably the whole town to boot. I guess she lives quite close to the Bluebird. Anyway, she got into a dustup with Bronwyn Brooks, the Bluebird owner, and basically words were exchanged and that’s when the raffle package was withdrawn. But we do have that lovely gift basket. It’s yours.”
“No, thanks anyway,” I said and put down the phone. Since we had ended up on a winner’s list and the only box that had out tickets was the B&B box, I deduced that we must have won the B&B stay. I was a bit miffed about being litigated out of my raffle win as well as being offered the moth eaten gift basket as a consolation prize.
I was also intrigued and determined to find out more about the Bluebird. I went and rummaged around until I found the rumpled flyer John had stuffed into the desk odds and ends drawer and made a note of the address and then went out for a ride.
Our little town is unique in that despite being a university town and home to numerous Atlantic Coast beaches and ponds and marinas, it offers close to zip in the way of lodging. This fact is often a complete surprise to the carloads of summer tourists from New York and Connecticut and even Canada who drive here to experience the coast in summer, as well as the university parents who come to drop off or collect their offspring and who think it’s no big deal to find a room for the night after a day with the kiddo. They will bounce into a store or restaurant and say, “Where’s a good place to stay?” and be met with a blank stare, or a sympathetic shrug or even sometimes, a sadistic laugh from one of the locals who professes to hate tourists. The answer turns out to be a minimum of a 45 minute drive in any direction in order to reach what might constitute a sort of cityish place where they have these things called Hotels.
Because of this state of affairs, there came to exist an informal network of people who would “let rooms” on a one or two night basis who made themselves known to various restaurants and shops as a resource to be called upon when someone absolutely insisted that they must stay within our boundaries for some pressing reason. The more ambitious homeowners realized that putting out a toaster and some English muffins along with coffee and tea in the morning could allow them to award themselves with the moniker of B&B.
I drove to the Old Postal Route, expertly navigating the curves and potholes and trying to avoid the herds of bicyclists that always emerged in the warm weather until I finally spotted the house number I was looking for, which was confirmed by a faded painting of a bluebird on a board hammered to the trunk of an old elm as you turned into the drive.
I got out of the car and surveyed the property, which was a charming, albeit somewhat run-down old colonial home built in the style known as a saltbox, with a long sloped roof to the back. The house sat at an angle to the drive that enabled me to see an elderly couple working in a large and lush vegetable garden that took up most of the backyard. Another older couple appeared to be refurbishing and painting a large shed. There was a good sized chicken coop visible and lots of chickens were free roaming in the yard.
I walked up a flagstone path to the front door and rang the bell. It was opened by a small woman in late middle age who was holding a cocktail shaker in one hand and who had stuffed a TV remote under her other armpit in order to free up a hand to be able to open the door.
“Yes?” she said. “If you’ve come about a room, I’m full up at the moment.” She looked like she was going to shut the door right in my face, so I stuck my hand out in order to shake hers to prevent the door from being closed. She ignored my outstretched hand but once again said impatiently, “Yes? What do you want?”
I said, “I came because I think I won your raffle prize for the Fire Department, but now there doesn’t seem to be a prize? I just wanted to let you know how terribly disappointed we are.” I’m not sure what I expected her to say, or why I had even embarked on my Quixotic quest to save my raffle win of a two night stay in a run-down house not even two miles from my own dwelling.
“Well, you should take that up with Sonya Maynard, then” said the ersatz innkeeper. “ I’m sorry I even had the idea to offer two nights. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. I was tired of the Ladies Auxiliary anyway. More politics than the Vatican.”
“Are you Bronwyn Brooks?” I asked. “Are you the proprietor? I’m Rose Mallory, I live not too far from here in Salt Marsh. I was thinking this might be a good place to put up some relatives I have coming to stay next month. Could I possibly have a look around? How many rooms do you let out?”.
Bronwyn Brooks (for it was indeed she) surveyed me slightly suspiciously. “Is this legit? You’re not from the Zoning Inspector’s Office? Or Turn to 10? That happened a long time ago, we’re no longer a naturist enclave.” After accepting my assurances that I was neither a journalist nor a town bureaucrat but simply a neighbor in search of accommodations, she let me in.
The house was authentically shabby chic — lots of nice furnishings gone slightly to seed but warm and cheerful nonetheless. There were many signs and homilies posted here and there, most seeming to be admonishments against “whining” or variants of same. There was one at the foot of the stairs that said “If you need it and don’t see it, GET IT YOURSELF!” There was also one that said “Your Crisis Is Not My Emergency”. Suffice it to say that I knew in short order that Bronwyn Brooks had not attended any Swiss Hospitality Management schools.
Bronwyn gave me a quick tour of the house which cemented the impression that while it was in no way luxurious, it had a certain charm and all four bedrooms were comfortable and featured private baths. She consulted a calendar and told me she did still have one bedroom left for the dates I inquired about and added “Apple picking and cider making,” which made no sense, at least at that moment.
We went back downstairs and Bronwyn announced that she had to see how the corn harvest was going in the back field and to just give her a call if I was still interested in a booking. She threw on a barn jacket, ran out the door, jumped onto an ATV and roared out of sight below a rise.
While I was standing in the large country kitchen, the older couple I had seen earlier in the garden came in through the back door with baskets of fresh vegetables which they deposited on the kitchen island.
“We’re running late, “ the woman said. “You know Bronwyn doesn’t like dinner to be served any later than 6:00. That veg casserole always takes me at least an hour and fifteen minutes.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll help,” said the man. He took out a large colander and put it in the sink and began washing sand out of the spinach while the woman began peeling eggplants and zucchini.
“Hello,” I said. “My name is Rose. Do you work here?”
Both paused in their tasks and looked at me and then each other. The woman wiped her hands on her apron and said “Heavens, no. We’re guests. This is Al and I’m Maureen. Alverson. We’d love to chat, but we have a lot to do before dinner. Al, you’re going to have to churn more butter, too. You know that, right?”
“I’m on it,” said Al.
I naturally was confused by the scene I was witnessing. Why were the guests making dinner? Meanwhile the other couple I had seen painting the shed, came in, laughing and joking and well covered in dirt, which they industriously began stamping and shaking off of themselves and their clothes in the small back utility room.
Maureen looked at me and said, “That’s Bob and Carol, they’re guests too. They drew painting the shed, so Al and I were happy we got KP. Last time we were here, we had to dig a dry well, so we think we got off lightly this time.”
That night at dinner, I brought John up to speed.
“She said she would honor the prize, since I cared enough to follow up with her and she does have those dates available. But I don’t know. We didn’t really read the brochure,” I said to John. I waved it at him. “It says and I quote, ‘stay on a working New England farm and experience the simple life as lived by our industrious forebears. Guests will experience gardening, cookery, landscape design, and animal husbandry among other pursuits. A Continental breakfast is provided each morning before the day’s schedule of activities begins.”
“So not the place to book Betty and Bud then,” said John.
There followed a long pause. We looked at each other and had one of those silent conversations long married couples have. John reached for the cordless phone on the buffet and handed it to me. I began dialing and Bronwyn picked up on the second ring.
©Valerie Kittell 2018