Weary of expensive vacations and tourist traps and seeking a new adventure that wouldn't break the bank or involve extensive travel time, my girlfriend and I decided to spend a long weekend at the inn to experience our first "staycation." The application form for The Chalfonte Hotel had a list of “chores” for which you could offer your talents. One could choose painting, landscaping, carpentry, cleaning or laundry. It’s ironic how all of the chores you dread doing at home suddenly sound fun when you get to “pick just one.”
Since I don't have much of a green thumb, and my girlfriend didn't want to ruin her real nails by hammering metal nails, we signed up to be “chambermaids.” Nothing struck our fancy more than getting the green light to peer into each Victorian suite decorated with flowing white filigree curtains and crisp, cotton coverlets. We envisioned ghostly apparitions of ladies in crinoline petticoats and couldn't wait to wander through each nook and cranny of the 100-year old, grand, elegant inn.
With bandanas donned, we were trained in the discipline of folding meticulous corners on the seashell white Victorian linens, fluffing the lace-edged pillows and, yes, even scrubbing toilets. We transported linens to the laundry room housed in a separate outbuilding where we washed and folded the crisp white cotton sheets in preparation for new guests. Giant rotating fans whirled slowly, providing the only relief from the outpouring of steam and heat produced by the huge revolving commercial washers and dryers.
Our next task at hand was to oil each one-inch plank of the wooden shuttered doors in the hallways that led into each suite. We looked at each other. What had we gotten ourselves into?
But as we painstakingly detailed each slat, we witnessed the comings and goings of a wedding party that had rented out part of the inn since it had not yet opened to the public. High-swept hairdos were being sculpted and sprayed on giggling bridesmaids in one room, wiggling flower children were being bribed with yet more candy to behave in another room, and handsome, tuxedo-clad men were yanking at their collars as they paced nervously behind us in the hallways. Grandparents sat patiently, biding their time and people-watching on the white wooden rocking chairs on the wraparound porch.
In return for our labor, we were treated to buffets of traditional Southern cooking complete with biscuits, ham, greens, yams and sweet tea. Recipes had been handed down to the generations of resident cooks, who had remained loyal to the innkeepers and regaled us with stories of the comings and goings within the stately inn. With the muscles in our legs feeling like overstretched rubber bands, we both sat quietly on the trip back home. No words seemed necessary as we basked in our memories of the grand lady and beamed with pride knowing that our small contributions will help keep her in tip-top shape as she continues to invite future generations to slow down, stay and sit a spell.
We may sign up again next year. Maybe this time, we’ll opt for working in the kitchen, a little closer to the biscuits.
Catherine DeCenzo is a freelance writer living in the Broadlands. She prefers the glass-half-full, humorous side of life and has an appetite for the irreverent in her personal blog at catclause.wordpress.com.