Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dear Abbey

Some notes from the Golden Pear at Grandview (!) where the view on this perfect autumn eve, from this particular hilltop in western Connecticut, is, well, grand.

It began like this. I am in Bethlehem to get out of the city and to see the Abbey at Regina Laudis (about which the movie "Come to the Stable" was made; this note to remind myself to see the movie). I know I need time away from the City, and so, even though I can't get the perfect weekend of guest arrangements at the Abbey (they don't have guests in October), I can't bring myself to drive back tonight.

So I decided to play around with the Magellan Navigation System in the rental car. The rental car, which I basically had to fight with the counter clerk at Hertz to get (which I felt horrible for doing afterwards). The Magellan thingy was in the car and offered as a concession for my difficulty, though, as it was in the car to begin with, what were they planning on doing, taking it out? Anyway, it was in there, and I used it (and it's actually very cool).

It led me to one B & B, by a winding road that led past signs that said, "Tibetan Festival" -- a new age confab if I ever heard of one. Doesn't that doesn't give me warm fuzzies. The town looked really run down in one part (as run down a town from the 1700's can be; it's not like we're talking about Brooklyn-like run-down). But one part was trashy old New England and the other part was too polished up, too dressed-for-the-part of traditional New England. Freshly painted signs on the little "downtown" street of shops named and decorated to appear quaint, homey, simple-but-sophisticated, and temptingly sinful. That was enough for me. It was all too tacky. This place was all talk and no walk. I felt very uncomfortable there, and I knew I had to be near the Abbey if I was going to stay here.

So I turned right around and followed those Magellan directions backwards and returned to Bethlehem. Imagine, looking for an inn at Bethlehem.

After driving strictly at the speed limit owing to the policeman on my tail, I stopped at the post office and used the Magellan-thingy to look up another B&B. It was so simple. Touch a couple of buttons, and I'm on my way to someplace called the Golden Pear at Grandview or something. It sounded nice, it was nearby, so off I went.

I arrived at hilltop a few pleasant minutes later at sunset. The horizon was belted with hayfields and those electric oranges that become pinks that become blues and whisper a hint of mist on cool evening, overlooked by a stark, white, full moon. Bordering the hayfields were trees giving off the earthtone colors of the sunset of summer. Beyond those, more hills with more color.

The Inn itself was a typical Yankee farmhouse on the corner of a large hayfield, modified, it appeared, for the hospitality trade. There were a couple of cars in the driveway, but it appeared to be deserted. I walked up to the door, wondering if it were a "tibetan" sort of place. I rang the bell. It was a bit reassuring to see a "guardian angel" plaque on the wall, asking "peace on all who come here." That's a nice thing, even though angels seem to be regarded as ecumenical in the extreme. A little American-flag tin offered some brochures, so I helped myself. Nothing written there scared me away; I thought of going to a payphone to call, as no one came to the door. I finally said a quick "whatever, Lord," prayer, and milled around for a moment more. It appeared that they were closed and didn't wish to be disturbed. I wasn't going to whack the doorknocker in that case.

Consoling myself with "it won't so bad" thoughts, I turn to leave. I'd already forgotten whatever it was that I prayed a moment ago. Just as I turn, as if on cue, a car pulls in, and a middle age lady emerges from the passenger seat and greets me warmly. I ask if they are the proprietors, but she didn't seem to hear me. "Hunh?" "Is this your place," I rephrased (at tastefully increased volume, just in case), and she said, "Yes, it is." I apologized for not having a reservation, and asked if a room was available. Well, actually someone's son had gotten sick and that someone had to return to the City and yes, if it was one person for one night, there was a room available. I asked how much and she told me. It was more than I'm used to paying, but not a lot.

I knew from the moment I talked to this lady that this was the place to stay. Still, I remarked that the price was a bit high for me (not high in general) and asked if I should negotiate. She said, no, not really. Then something very interesting happened.

I said, "I'm in town to see the Abbey," meaning only to explain my business here in this little spot. She beamed at me and said, "Well, how about I take ten percent off since you're affiliated with the Abbey?" I protested that I'm not really affiliated with them, "I'm Catholic, that's all." She positively beamed, "Well, that's wonderful," and took my hand. It was such a warm greeting that I was blown away. And she didn't rush the words. She looked me right in the eye and said it very deliberately. There was some connection here and I decided I would just accept it.

I said, if you'll take a credit card, I'll stay here. Then I put out my hand and said, "By the way, my name is Charles." Again, with the beaming. "That's my husband's name!" Again, looking me in the eye, a pause, and then, again, very deliberately, "That's a wonderful name!" I melted. Thank you, was all I could say. It was such a dignifying experience.

Later in the evening I went for a walk on the moonlight dirt road to say a Rosary. This one was for Lauren, because I was breaking-in the Rosary "beads" (they were actually a series of colored strings with knots in them, almost macrame style) that I intended to send to Lauren for her birthday. I looked at the moon and said to God, "if this isn't the perfect place and time to do something to me, I don't know what is."

I turned back, still praying the Rosary. Headlights appear over the hill, temporarily blinding me so that I put up my hand to shield my eyes. They dimmed, I put down my hand. An SUV rolls up and I hear, "how you doing there?!" A friendly, booming voice repeats it. It was Tom Donegan and his wife Jean, just getting back from dinner. We make really pleasant smalltalk. Tom says, "buy some land!"

Mass at 8 am tomorrow at the Abbey.

And as soon as I got home, I started looking for a piece of land.


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