Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Wait! I can explain!!"

You may have read in earlier blog entries how I've praised and respect the work ethic of my folks, Patricia and Wallace.  Here, in their early days at Cleveland Place, they worked long and hard to bring it to what it is today.  One of the many chores and labours that Dad frequently describes is about the original brass and lead antique light fixtures that he at first thought were wooden. How he stripped them of at least 6 coats of paint, buffed them back to a good patina and lustre, and finally shellacked them so they glow as warmly as they did many years ago.  Together, he and my mum transformed this historic village home into a gorgeous five-room Bed and Breakfast.  Dad replaced the heavy, dark solid-paneled doors between the parlour, the dining room, and the den with cheery, beveled-glass French doors that he made himself, then stained to match the wood throughout the house, opening it up to daylight.  I've recounted before on The Jugular Vein blog how they brought the pantry back to its original wood counter tops, and buffed and waxed wood and floors to show and shine.

Back in the summer of 1926, Judson Cleveland had his portable sawmill down at the village wharf when it threw a fatal spark. The ensuing wind-fed conflagration caught and reduced most of the homes in Alma to ashes, including the Clevelands’ original home.  Only the fireplace mantle and hearth were saved, taken down to the water’s edge as the house and the village burned. The following year, Judson rebuilt this house, barn, and garage, and put back the original mantle and hearth.

So Dad fixed and repaired and my mother picked out wallpaper, stripping each room down to the bare walls from the five or six layers of vintage papers in various conditions. Then they spackled, sanded, and pasted quality, tasteful wallpapers, replacing the garish flocked medallions, cracked plaster, and dated 1947 pinks, 1956 aquas, 1962 yellows, and 1973 avocados.

The antique furnishings and family pieces – whether collected over the years, inherited by my folks, or purchased after settling into Cleveland Place – each have a fitting place. Wiring, plumbing, siding, roofing, window sash and pane replacement, wool oriental rugs, new bathroom porcelain to match and complement the original clawfoot tub, were all painstakingly appointed, repaired, improved, cleaned, and maintained during their nearly twenty-five years here together.

When mum died, the obvious woman's touch was lost, and Dad eventually started over with Anna, making a new and happy home at WallyAnna Farm.  There his work ethic has merely changed direction: with Anna at his side, they've made the hundred and twenty-five-year-old farmhouse a comfortable hobby-farm and harvest bakery, where Anna bakes over a hundred loaves of bread and European pastries each week for market sale.

Stephen and I fast-forwarded our goal to settle in New Brunswick, and for several years we timed our work to spend our summers at Cleveland Place running the B&B and bookshop, always following the high standards my folks set.  But two years ago, we finally settled here permanently –fully involved in continuing the business, being members of the community, and making new and keeping old friendships in the area.

Most recently, we've re-established The Artisan Shop (the former barn for Judson Cleveland's horse, Kit) as a quality gift shop carrying only fine Maritime artists and crafts people's work.  That`s how my folks ran it until the late 1990s, when they leased the space for several years to another entrepreneur, who filled the shelves to capacity with mass-produced tourist novelties.  We're delighted to once again represent the abundant artistic talent of the Atlantic Provinces.  The Bookshop has been vastly improved from its humble beginnings as a wood shed, and now holds an eclectic collection of new and lightly used books of every kind.  The B&B continues to host families from all over the world as we open our home and our part of the world -- the wonder of Fundy.

So, this short blog entry is really to pay homage to the hard work, heroic efforts, long hours, great expense, and exacting attention to quality and detail that my folks expended over the years together, allowing us to comfortably step into their shoes and continue in their tradition.  As I find my days filled with work that I enjoy, I invariably feel Mum or Dad sitting on one or the other shoulder, keeping an eye and judging my efforts and standards.

Stephen has quickly brought Cleveland Place into the modern world of technology.  The three businesses are completely represented on spreadsheets of daily activity, income, expenses, and so forth.

At one point in time, Cleveland Place was the telephone junction between the neighboring counties, and the switchboard was in Judson’s office.  Hearing the telltale buzz, he would go into his office, put on his headset, and pull out the wire to connect the calls.

But these days, of course, we've got the internet.  Stephen created an extensive website that tells visitors what Cleveland Place is all about, including the neighboring Fundy tourist destinations.  He's installed Wi-Fi for the use of our guests, and established a QR code on our signage for passers-by.  And, although his carpentry skills aren't yet at the level he’d like, he's been keen and competent to fix or improve the inevitable problems that arise with a house and property of this age.

So, following Mum and Dad's example, we find we're working hard, enjoying what we do, feeling satisfaction at the end of the day, and sleeping well after a full day's effort.  Yet, somehow, I feel I'll never live up the standards they set, or ever be worthy of the luxury their efforts have afforded me.  I sometimes think that I appear entitled, and sometimes feel like I have to convince people that I actually do work hard (sometimes) too! 

Early in the season this year —high tourist season in this area is from June to late August – a local business announced the date for National Lobster Day, and living just down the lane from one of the three village lobster shops, we were eager to participate.

We spent the first part of National Lobster Day in a morning-long business meeting so we didn't open the Artisan's Shop or the Book Shop.  After the meeting adjourned, we made our way home and decided to get two good-sized lobsters and take photos for the latest update on the Cleveland Place website.  While Stephen went to the lobster shop, I set the table for a photographic opportunity, featuring the finest seafood supper that Fundy and Cleveland Place have to offer. 

I unfurled a freshly ironed white linen tablecloth, and set out cloth napkins surrounded by the sterling silver flatware we use for our B&B guests.  Wine was poured into tall crystal goblets, and lemon slices floated in steaming water finger bowls.  The proper tools, lobster crackers, picks, and cloth bibs were set aside a small dish of complementary black and red caviar, near chilled glasses of iced sparkling water.  The scene was set and ready for two large red lobsters on platters with the liquid gold of melted dipping butter, in individual candle-heated stands. 

Since we'd left for our early morning meeting, we still hadn't lifted the window shades, and decided to leave them drawn for the lighting for the photos.  After we'd taken several satisfactory shots of the fully set table with the sharp contrasts of white linen, red and black caviar, bright yellow lemon, and red-hot lobster, we sat down to enjoy our National Lobster Day lobster.  Our first of the season.

We quickly cracked shells and devoured the flesh, enjoying the wine and sopping up the hot butter and caviar, eager to open up the shops for more business; it's a short season and every operating hour counts.  As we often do when we have the rare occasion to indulge, we did a haughty laughter imitation of Thurston Howell III, and pondered out loud, "I wonder what the poor people are doing, today?" with a full mouth of fresh-from-the-bay lobster meat and butter dripping down our chins.

And then, suddenly, they appeared again on my shoulder.  Dad on one side, Mum on the other, and my laughter changed to a shriek!

I choked, laughed, and said to Stephen, "Watch Dad and Anna pull into the driveway, right now.  Curtains pulled in the middle of a busy work day in high season, and here we sit, glistening with butter, mouths full, gulping wine, surrounded by the luxuries of expensive fine dining.  They'll NEVER believe why we’re doing this!"

You can see it all at

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