There’s a great old house in the neighborhood, a massive, old money affair. Red brick and turrets, servant’s stairwells, hundreds of acres of prime lakefront, coach barns, farm barns, a carriage house, trails, gardens and wildlife sanctuaries, porches and stone beaches, greenhouses and a railroad not far, a private line that ran to the city.
Turn the clock back 40 years, give or take, and I was among those—intruders, though surely someone had permission, anyone? anyone?—who roamed the corridors of what was then a derelict house, the satin sofas white sheeted for the winter, the beds made up, the portraits hung undusted, the library untouched, the fireplaces swept and long cold. Like Goldilocks, we went from room to room, trying out the furniture. Look at this! Oh my God: come look! And when we reached the upstairs bedroom tiled with the blue-and-white Delft, someone struck a match and some inhaled.
Ten years passed, and there I was again. Invited.
This time the old place was going through a renovation and a friend was hired to revamp the inn. I heard lots about fabrics and pound cake, menus and organic cheeses, linens and wallpaper. And in time, the place sparkling, the doors were opened to the paying guests. It was way too pricey for my crowd, but I did change clothes in a bedroom once when I served as a bridesmaid to that friend who had picked the paint colors and the accent pillows.
Twenty more years later, my friend lost her cushy job, and the marriage was over as well, but the inn continued to flourish.
And last week, with the formal dining room now turned into a restaurant, I was there again for the first time in ages, eating brunch on a sunny terrace.
It was a fine time, a fine meal, and it’d be churlish to suggest otherwise, but it held a hollow note. For this writer, this intruder of yore, this voyeur of the middle years, something was missing.
Gone was the process—the firecracker time of transformation, flashlights in the dark, stubbing toes, possibilities unfolding, stunning discoveries, everything still fluid, nothing completely decided, daring still possible, dreams still nascent, still on the ascent, so much that could still happen.
Looking for your beating heart? Seek discovery. Seek process. Seek the doing. The eggs were good, sure, but it’s the getting here that mattered. It’s the finding out, and not what you find.
Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits by Armando Torrealba.