An Old Tavern Tale of Horror…and Medicine to Cure
It was just about this time of year, now some 28 years ago, that I had an experience here at The Old Tavern which was at once painful and preposterous, but with the passage of years can now been viewed as rather amusing.
Back then, the Windham Foundation (our parent company) had purchased a property called “the Johnson House” which was located high above the village on Middletown Hill at a distance of 1/2 mile from the inn, and was accessed by a steep dirt road.
The house had been renovated in such a way as to create 7 rooms with private baths and was then given to the inn as a rental property. We knew immediately that we had been given a nightmare, and indeed, there was many a snowy evening when I could be found trying to extract cars from the deep ditches or fishtailing at top speed in the inn’s big Suburban, loaded with guests and baggage, all the way up Middletown Hill. We did our duty however, and over time, several of our more adventurous guests came to love the rooms there.
At any rate, one very warm summer afternoon, a lady stepped through the front door of the inn. The expression on her face was pleasant enough but clearly tempered by bewilderment. One knew immediately that she had never been far outside her urban environment, and Grafton village with its antique architecture, the close surrounding hills so densely forested, and the total absence of a bustling life style were as foreign to her as would have been the moon.
Her excitement, both nervous and happy, was palpable, and as I went through the check-in procedure with her, I did my best to be reassuring and calm. My heart sank when I saw that her room was to be in the Johnson House. Still smiling and chatting, I frantically scanned the reservations book for some other room. None, of course. I got out our little map to the Johnson House, and as I explained it to her, I knew that this would not do. No, absolutely not. I took her to the front door of the inn. Looking with her up the street and making gestures like a traffic cop, I pointed directly at the road she was to take. Several times I told her, “It is just half mile. The house is on the left and there are no other houses nearby.” Finally, I managed to convince myself that she would be okay.
Some two hours later, I glanced up from my work and, looking out the front screen door, saw her again approaching the inn. To my satisfaction, she was right on time for her dinner reservation. I glanced up again when I heard the door shut as she entered, and, as she emerged from the glare of the sunlight behind her, I froze in horror. Her face, now red and sweaty, was locked in a soundless howl of despair. Her hair was a tangle, her arms a mass of scratches, and her summer dress was ripped in many places. In one hand, she still clutched the map I had given her. I raced around the desk to get to her before the dam burst, but I was too late and the flood hit me front and center. With heartrending sobs, the poor creature just collapsed. My mind was racing. What in the world had happened to her? – assault, robbery, rabid animals?? What?? What??
As I gathered over the next half hour of challenging conversation……..her car had been parked in back of the inn, and by the time she had driven out of the parking lot and up to the corner (a distance of some 100 yards, if that) she was disoriented. She then referred to the map but did not realize that she was holding it upside down, so she turned right instead of left, headed down Main Street and turned onto Kidder Hill Road. Kidder Hill has a dirt road, just as does Middletown Hill, and this dear lady remembered the “dirt” element and felt therefore that all was well. Within a mile, the road had shrunk to a mere Jeep trail, but on she went. When the trail became a path and her car had driven over a few saplings, she realized that things had gone wrong. Panic set in. Perhaps if she had chosen to back out the way she had come there would have been a chance of success, but “reverse” was not her specialty, so she decided to turn the car around. Bad!
Having rolled backwards down a small embankment, she came to rest in a raspberry patch. One can imagine her desperate state of mind as she struggled to open the door and clambered out into the brambles which made short work of her stockings, legs, dress and arms. (Her heart-rending sobs at this part of the story made it almost impossible to understand her) But she managed to regain the path and, in her party pumps, walked all the way back to the inn.
“You wait right here,” I said, “I’m going to get you some medicine.” An icy gin and tonic (extra gin, extra lime) proved a most efficacious remedy, steadying her hands and lightening her spirit. I then drove her to the Johnson House, got her to her room and started a bath. Then, after calling a wrecker from the inn, I headed up Kidder Hill, found her car, retrieved her bags and brought them to her.
One hour later and yet another martini, and our lady was adopting the air of heroine-adventurer. She ate dinner with gusto and regaled her server with all the details of her mishap. The scratches became her red badge of courage, and the dress a proud, battered flag of battle. For my part, I looked longingly at the gin bottle, wishing it could truly qualify as medicine just this once.