An Innkeeper’s Christmas Morning

Six o’clock comes early on a dark, cold, Appalachian December morning. It’s the kind of morning that you just can’t seem to push back the bedcovers and summon the courage to force your bare feet to make contact with a cold, hardwood floor. Yet, there is work to be done. People are expecting me and I cannot let them down. I get dressed and bundle up for the pre-dawn drive across town. The streets are empty. The only person I encounter on this drive is the radio man, and I think of how he too got up and out of bed to go to the station because he has people who need him this morning as well.

action, blur, car

Today is Christmas morning, and the radio man wishes me a Merry Christmas just as I pull up to the sleepy, late-19th-century, onetime house that compelled me to leave the warmth of my bed. I am an Innkeeper, and my guests are sleeping soundly within. When they awake, the house will be filled with the smells of hot coffee and the breakfast that I will prepare for them. For now though, the house itself seems to be sleeping peacefully, so I unlock the door and slip quietly into the warm, old house.

As always, I am struck by the different world that exists within the inn. Outside, cold winds blew through bare trees. Inside, the warmth of the house envelops me. I am met with the energy that only an inn that has hosted so many wonderful people through the years can contain. It is a special kind of energy; a joyful, peaceful, contented feeling. There is a certain peace when the house is dark and everyone is sleeping. The few, soft lights that are left on through the night are not nearly enough to dampen the lights of the Christmas tree pouring out of the parlor and into the hallway.

I follow the glow into the parlor and look up at the tall tree reaching to the very top of the high ceiling. I light the fire in the fireplace. I warm my hands over the flames and say very quietly, so that only the house can hear me, “Good morning, you beautiful old house. Merry Christmas.” I can tell the inn wasn’t sleeping, it was just standing it’s silent vigil, keeping those inside it warm and safe. It is them to whom I turn my attention now.

celebration, christmas, christmas decoration

I turn my back on the fire and start for the kitchen. As the door swings open and I see the tiny room, I think about the thousands of people who have eaten around this table and who have laughed and made new friends. I heat the oven and think of all the hungry bellies this kitchen has filled. I am proud to do this work on cold mornings. I am proud to give this to our guests. As I start the water in the kettle that will eventually steep in the french press to make the coffee,

I think about how terribly lonely Christmas can be when one is unable to spend it with family. My work doesn’t stop for holidays. In fact, even in the biblical nativity story, the Inn that Mary and Joseph tried to go to was booked all the way full. Apparently, inns were busy on Christmas even before Jesus was born! And so I am here making coffee and breakfast for perfect strangers who have come to share this holiday with this old house and the beautiful community around it.

chef, cooker, cooking

Dawn is breaking now, and I can feel the house waking up around me. The old pipes must all run through the walls in the kitchen, and I can hear one shower turn on, then another. Floor boards creak softly above my head and I imagine a man upstairs, waking up warm and comfortable in our soft bed, looking at his just-rousing wife and saying, “Merry Christmas, my darling. I’ll run downstairs and get you a cup of coffee.”

Whether or not that is exactly the conversation that was held, guests begin to come into the dining room, most of them wearing our thick terrycloth robes on top of their Christmas pattern pajamas. I have their coffee, hot and ready. They fill two cups (with the exact amount of cream they know their partner likes), grab a couple muffins and head back up to the comfort of their room. Each guest pops their head into the kitchen to wish me a Merry Christmas, which I earnestly reciprocate. I think of my own family waking up far away and wishing they could tell me Merry Christmas. I wish that too, and it is nice to have so many guests greet me warmly in my family’s absence.

Christmas Cupcake & Coffee

The house is fully awake an hour of so after I arrived, and the sun is shining brightly through the big, old windows. I turn on the carols on the computer speakers in the parlor, sensing now that I will not disturb anyone’s sleep. The guests come down fully dressed and begin to gather in the parlor and the dining room. I can hear them laughing and talking with one another, making friends with other guests who were brought together this Christmas morning by serendipity and this beautiful house.

I am too busy to join them now. I must finish assembling the fruit parfaits and fresh pear syrup before the souffles finish baking at 9:00 sharp. I do, however, take a quick moment to interrupt the joyful group to announce that breakfast will be served promptly in five minutes, and that they kindly take their seats. As the French say, Le Souffle n’attend pas, that is, The Souffle waits for no one, and I cannot bear the thought of collapsed souffles on such an auspicious morning. And so they assemble themselves around our dining table as so many have done before and at the stroke of nine, I place the steaming souffles before them, still light and airy and nowhere near collapse.

Person Holding Silver Pitcher

I retreat to the kitchen to wipe my brow and pour another cup of coffee for myself. Happy, proud of my work, but a bit lonely as I look out at the joyful families around the table. As I take my first sip of coffee, one of the guests looks right at me and beckons me to come out. She says, “It’s Christmas morning and there’s no need for you to be in there all alone! Come out, join us, there’s plenty of room!” The rest of the guest clamored their agreement.

So, I became a guest of my guests. They scooted closer together to make room for me; another guest went and got an extra chair from the parlor. I sat down with my steaming coffee, and spent Christmas morning with them. Squirrels scuttled around in the cold on the ancient oaks just outside the windows and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” wafted gently from the stereo in the parlor. This house is truly a special place and it reminded me that an Inn is the place to be on Christmas morning, most especially for an Innkeeper.

Luke Costlow

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