The Children are Back

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This Postcard started out with the title, Summer Vacation, a seasonal reflection on the crowds along Main Street (which is to say the presence of more than a dozen or so people at one time) until the sound of many children’s voices, from the beach, or bicycling past the Inn, or milling in front of the Market, brought us to realize that the story is more particular than that: after a long year of pandemic, study at home, keeping within their bubbles, the children are back and have burst onto the scene with wonderful commotion. 

This is true at the Inn where whole families are also back, not just one masked parent and child visiting a school or an isolated grandparent, cautiously sliding-in for breakfast and then out the front door. We have had to dig out the booster seats and the puzzles and other assorted games and – we had forgotten about this, because it had been a while – head out to the fishpond to issue cautions about jumping around the rocks, throwing stones, falling in the water! 

(Our golden retriever, Potter, by the way, gets especially excited about the presence of two things: the leash and collar, which generally means a walk, and the booster seat, which always means extra breakfast.) 

We are asked frequently if children are welcome at the Inn. The answer is yes for the reason that in our own lives, as children, inns have been magical places. The touchstone is probably The Oban Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We visited Niagara most every summer growing up. My mother’s family had gone there for many years, as did many people from Buffalo. Visits always included a dinner or two at The Oban, as well as the Sunday brunch which featured a dessert buffet that had the most delicious soft meringues with whipped cream. Pavlovas they are called. My brothers and cousins and I would have eaten them by the handful if allowed. Today, the Pavlova makes regular appearances on our dessert menu at the Hancock Inn. Now you know why.

Years ago, The Oban burned and the original landmark was lost to history. It was rebuilt and thrives today as the Oban Inn and Spa, but we chose not to go in when we were in Niagara the last time, several years ago. What would have been the point of disturbing our memories of the old building? The narrow hallways, blanketed in worn oriental rugs, the twists and turns, flights of stairs, the nooks and crannies, and fluffy, cushiony furniture into which you could disappear if you jumped and landed the right way. 

I can remember standing no taller than the height of the bar where we would check-in with the grown-ups having a cocktail before dinner. 

“Don’t run around,” we would be told. “Stay out of the dining room.” 

“Dinner will be in ten minutes.” 

We ran everywhere. 

Among the visiting families to the Hancock Inn so far this summer has been our own, including our two oldest grandchildren who are seven and five years old. We had not seen them in a year and a half! Apart from the couple of days we take off at the start of a week Marcia and I were working for most of their visit, but it was made easier by the fact that daughter, Sarah, had been clever enough to invite a friend – a neighbor from home – with her two children to join her at the inn for most of the visit. 

The children ran everywhere, and with each speeding step I heard while chopping vegetables below in the kitchen I composed a prayer that our grandchildren would have memories of the Inn like those that have lasted with me of the old Oban. They are touchstones. They are warm and happy memories, the sort of things to want for your grandchildren. (And, yes, there were also prayers offered for those guests trying to nap midst the ruckus, naps being the sort of thing to want for them.) 

Anyway, one particular story about the recent visit of the grandchildren and their friends and this Postcard can come to a close. 

The story is about Charlie, one of the friends. Charlie is six and while he was here, he became enamored of the chess board we keep set-up in the reception area. It is a fine chess board with polished, wooden pieces, some of which are horses and others are castles. If you have not been around a chess board in your lifetime the beauty of the game from the outside can entice you, which is what happened to Charlie. He wanted to play, if only someone would teach him. 

This was Charlie’s quest over the course of his visit, which went mostly unnoticed by us until one morning, before breakfast, when walking through the reception area, switching-on lights, opening doors, etc., there was Charlie at the chess table sitting opposite an older gentleman, one of our other guests, studying the board. The other children had gathered around. 

I felt it necessary to probe the situation. 

“Is everything fine here?” I asked. 

“We’re playing chess,” exclaimed Charlie with enthusiasm! 

I looked inquiringly at our other guest. He smiled. 

“You, sir,” I said to him, “will get an inn keeping merit badge for this.” 

“Well,” he answered, “it is not every morning that you open your door to find someone standing there who asks if you would like to play chess. I decided I should not let such an opportunity pass.” 

There you have it. Magical. 

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