Avo Reid ’22
Wherein I recount my harrowing experience with the Rent-A-Grandmother enterprise of America: Bed and Breakfasts.
I have heard the clink of silverware echo across an empty dining room. I have seen a bedroom adorned in three different floral patterns – bedspread, curtains, wallpaper. I have eaten a plate of cookies baked for me, with grandmotherly love, by someone else’s grandmother. I have seen a life-size stuffed bear named Woody, presiding over the living room from an armchair, a please do not feed sign hung around his neck. I have blurred the line between being hosted and imposing. I have obliterated the line between guest and family.
As we pull into the gravel driveway, my mom and I, the Overlook Bed and Breakfast (Make Yourself at Home!) seems starkly out of place in its surroundings. For the past two hours, the same monotonous New England landscape has flashed by my passenger-side window, a patchwork of fields, trees, and small white houses in varying degrees of dilapidation, damp and slick with three days of intermittent showers. The white house in question stands out on the “good as new” end of the spectrum – the grass is neatly mowed, the walls a stark, blanched white, gold lettering etched impeccably into the black sign. The parking lot, big enough for thirty cars, is empty, save for an old Buick in the spot farthest from the entrance. It has the eerie feel of an amusement park in the offseason.
We lug our bags from the trunk to the front door, and – to knock or not to knock? – go inside. I am immediately blown back by a cacophony of colors – deep reds with velvet purples, pale creme cloth embroidered with orange vines. Out of this chromatic jungle rise our hosts – Barbara and Walter, a septuagenarian couple. He has close-cropped white hair and round wire glasses. His hand is somehow both coarse and soft when I shake it. She wears her Sunday best of thirty years ago and says things like, “Oh honey, I’m so glad you’re finally here,” in a loud whisper.
We sit in armchairs around the coffee table, now an impromptu check-in counter, after declining no less than four offers of tea. Dinner is at seven. Towels and soap are already in the bathroom. It tends to get cold at night, so extra blankets are above the closet. We’re just down here if you need anything.
Our room is just like the one downstairs, only with different furniture. The teal bedspread is doing fierce battle with the maroon armchair in the corner. On the nightstand sits a plate of cookies, uncovered, with a handwritten note on the side. It seems like the room has been meticulously prepared by an excellent maid, who unfortunately has never laid eyes on a duster. We begin to unpack, tentatively at first, as though not to disturb this person’s house. Soon, though, we start spreading out: clothes draped over the armchair, toiletries out of Dopp kits and onto bathroom counters. We make the room ours. We mark our territory. I christen the shower. Mom’s voice carries through the steam:
“Do you want pizza?
“What about dinner? Nevermind. Yes. Yes, yes.”
“The nearest place is 27 miles away.”
“And it’s closed.”
We arrive for dinner on time. Walter seats us at a white-clothed table near the door and departs with a small smile and bow.
As we eat, it feels as though I’m slowly becoming infantile. My water refill appears at my shoulder before I even knew I wanted it. I am being pampered, with love. A certain American author once pointed out the correlation between that word and another consumer product, which further increases my infantilism. The reassurance of capitalistic boundaries, of hotel uniforms, of a recognized exchange of money for goods, is absent. I feel like I have contracted Gandalf syndrome – here I am, seated at my grandmother’s kitchen table, fending off her offers of third helpings. But it isn’t my grandmother. It’s Barbara, wife to Walter, my acquaintances of 16 hours, residents of Farmland, New Hampshire. They don’t have to do this. They do it by choice, over and over, welcoming every passerby into their alcove of thirty years past. It seems like time is irrelevant here – things are just the way they were when Walter and Barbara bought this house and will be this way 10, 50, 100 years from now. There is a distinct sadness to it. How many places are out there like this? How many other establishments are free from institutional bite marks? How long will this one be allowed to continue? I should live here. I should run away. My mom contemplatively nibbles on her fork. Walter’s TV drifts through the kitchen door: In other news, yet another mass shooting in Plano, Texas….