On the 15th day of our road trip, Don and I made it to my old hometown!
Where to Stay?
Weeks earlier, I searched online for a place to stay. I hadn't been back to Iowa since I was 12, in 1969. so I had no idea about options.
My memories of Grinnell had always been ridiculously Norman Rockwell-ish, so I wanted a special place. When I saw the photo of this lovely Victorian B&B, I grew eager. The Marsh House might be as close as I could get, to staying in my old (not exactly grand) house.
Weather had turned cold and blustery by the time we arrived. We spent a few dizzy hours searching for places I remembered.
My old yellow house had turned blue, Cooper School was now a parking lot, my favorite candy store was boarded up... But, I found my old church and favorite park and the old downtown still looked pretty sweet.
Memories of Fall
So many memories came back as I spotted old sidewalks and changing leaves. But I was suddenly eager to get to the Marsh House and be cozy and warm and sulk a little about the fact I no longer knew anyone in Grinnell.
Even the locals I'd spoken with, had been too young or too new, to remember the things I asked about. Everything appeared warped. Not quite how I remembered.
We found our B&B in a quiet neighborhood. As we approached the shady porch, I allowed myself to fret for a moment that we hadn't called ahead to make sure our reservations were in place.
We rang the bell and waited a while. I could see a woman peer out, before unlocking the door. Her expression looked as if she thought we might be selling something. But our quiet host Linda, had been expecting us. She showed us around the beautiful Victorian home, built in 1892. She gave us a key and welcomed us to park in back.
The Back Door
I kind of liked having a key to the backdoor. I felt like a college kid, coming home for the holiday.
The kitchen was warm and quiet, when we entered. Linda had gone downstairs to finish some ironing, but had already invited us to help ourselves to coffee or drinks in the fridge.
Through the House
We carried our bags to the entryway and I peeked through the pocket doors to the parlor, where an antique pump organ reminded me of my old Grinnell home.
My sibs and I used to have a a good old time filling the house with haunted music on our wood organ. One would frantically work up a sweat, pumping the pedals, while another pressed the keys creating clashing chords. I didn't dare touch the Marsh House organ.
We walked by the elegant fireplace and headed up the stairs.
I paused to admire a colorful stained glass window, that refused to let in the gloomy day!
I made use of the beautifully carved banister as I dragged my weary self upward. (After 15 days of 1-night stays, I was beginning to feel my age)
The sight of our door with warm, dark wood and rounded frame was inviting.
Quite the Hall
Our door and about 4 others, opened to an airy hall, with yet another fireplace and more antiques.
Linda told us she would be heading home soon, but another couple would be staying the night. Later, when I heard the floors creak under foot, I wished we'd had the place to ourselves. I wasn't in the mood for whispering and tiptoeing or even chatting with strangers. I was feeling sorry for myself. I was frustrated that there was no one in the entire town who wanted to share Grinnell memories with me. Even our hosts were originally from another state.
Our Sweet Room
We didn't have the turret room, but we did have a cozy, corner room with an antique bed. Surprisingly, it was as comfortable as it was beautiful.
But I was a bit distracted by my homecoming melancholy. I wasn't absorbing all the incredible details. I had to remind myself to stop moping and start noticing.
There was nothing hidden about the gold painted radiator! I love the look of an old radiator and the gold sort of made me grin.
Then, there was a hefty, antique wardrobe, that was hiding a Murphy bed! And there was a TV hidden in the closet. Don and I chuckled over Linda's offer to pull it out and set it up. TV was the last thing we were interested in, but it was nice that she asked.
Room With a View
I wish it had been warm enough to open the corner windows for a breeze. But at least I got to peek through the lace curtains, which offered a nice neighborhood view... along with some curious activity!
Two police cars had stopped to question a woman. That was an entertaining distraction. I felt like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, waiting for the story to unfold.
I adored the pink chaise lounge chair and the Victorian lamp, that had to be turned off for this photo... because the "beaded light" made me look like I had chicken pox.
The bathroom was attached, which was a treat. You have to love a marble sink and wooden toilet with a funny push button flusher!
Morning at Marsh House
Don and I slept well despite a few train whistles. The sound was a little more nostalgia for me! I remember putting pennies on the Grinnell railroad tracks. I also remember lying in bed as a child at night, listening to the trains.
We rose early and tiptoed over the creaky floors past the Murphy bed, trying not to wake our neighbors on our way down to breakfast.
Linda and her husband Jim were busy in the kitchen. We greeted and headed to the formal dining room.
I generally don't stay moody this long, but the gray morning didn't help. After 45 years away, I'm not sure what would have made this return more positive. I promised Don I'd enjoy breakfast and cheer up.
Easing into the Morning
We started with coffee, then Linda brought out our "fruit soup" and raspberry waffles.
We had planned on a quick eat and run, but Jim ended up sitting down to join us. Suddenly we found out we had lots in common with this quiet couple. We shared some Ann Arbor and University of Michigan memories!
Guillermo and Carol
We expected to be gone by 9, but by the time our fellow guests came to the table, I was no longer in a rush. At last I found my connection! Guillermo and his wife had flown in from California, to attend his 50th Grinnell High School Reunion!
For the next hour, we eagerly swapped stories of Cooper School and its eerie basement and curious playground equipment. Both our fathers and been teachers at Grinnell College and we had ridden our bikes on the same quiet streets and had root beer in heavy mugs at the same A&W. It turns out Jim and Linda had lived in Grinnell long enough that they were actually able to chime in and add to the fun. I ended up with my computer at the table, sharing old scanned photos from my Grinnell Days, in the '60's.
Time to Go
Before we headed off, Carol offered to take our photo, standing on those great striped floors. My grumpy mood had been completely lifted by this quirky breakfast gathering and I regretted that we couldn't linger longer. If we had dashed earlier without eating, I would have had a totally different memory of our stay at Marsh House. The breakfast interaction ended up being the medicine I needed!
Even though Don had offered up as much support and enthusiasm as a non-Grinnellian could, I had needed just 1 connection to the Old Grinnell. And I found it just before we left!
I will obviously remember the friendly breakfast encounter, that made my stay. But aside from that, I'll always appreciate how beautifully this Victorian home was preserved and renovated.
I'm so glad the TV was hidden and the antiques were authentic. It was a treat to see portraits and art, that fit the age of the house. I totally loved the absence of unnecessary knickknacks! What a wonderful stay, after all!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!