They warn you about running a business with your spouse. When Bruce and I decided to become innkeepers, we worried that it would be hard on our marriage. The previous transitions in our life together had seemed large before we made them – getting married, building a house, having kids, having one parent home with kids – but those seemed to be right in flow and made sense. Each phase, we prepared to have our world rocked, but it never really rocked too much. We were leery of getting married for good reasons. At the time, Bruce’s father was on his third marriage. Two of my brothers had been married and divorced by the time I turned nine. We approached marriage with open minds and ready to work at it. Innkeeping together, however, seemed like a much bigger leap.
We had the good fortune of watching my parents run Pierce’s Inn for thirty-one years with humor, courage and the ability to directly address their differences. Conflicts spanned the spectrum: from when the food should go into the oven all the way to decisions over money. They were a unique couple with one of the healthiest marriages I have witnessed in my life. We didn’t think we could compare ourselves to them. Our proactive approach included a lot of consultations with people we respected about all aspects of life, work and marriage. We also got some counseling to explore our different approaches. We wanted it to work.
For the most part, Pierce’s Inn involves hosting weekend groups with 4-5 days in between to remake beds, clean and prepare for the next group. We were entering this life rhythm with three children, ages eight months old to four years old. We were in the eye of the parenting storm. In retrospect, our complete state of swirly nuttiness served us well when innkeeping notched the madness up five or six levels. We were too busy getting to the next thing to have time to reflect on how the heck we were pulling this off.
My innkeeping vision was to get the place fully dialed in on Monday so that we could have leisure and be ready for unexpected setbacks for the rest of the week. Bruce’s idea was to enjoy the time off and start preparing Thursday with the bulk of the work being done Friday before the guests arrived at around 4 PM. Bruce was unwilling to participate in my neurotic Monday slam jam. If I wanted the work done on Monday, it was all up to me. If I waited until Friday with him, I would have probably have been removed on a stretcher.
Aside from our timing differences, we were both particular about certain things. I could not get over his lack of attention to detail on the bed skirts leaving them all askew like untucked shirts. He was appalled that I would not get down on my knees and embrace a toilet face to face for the most thorough cleaning job. We have all seen what kinds of minutiae become important to only the people doing specific jobs. It is as if we were conquering a country and performing brain surgery on a weekly basis. We divided the housekeeping tasks up to pace our disagreements. I took on beds and laundry. Bruce took on toilets and vacuuming. Housekeeping began after the kids were in bed and usually took us until close to midnight. If I decided to crank my tasks out on Tuesday, sometimes Bruce would reluctantly saddle up to his cleaning supply bucket and gloves to clean the bathrooms. We would chat about some important things and also bicker about our differences in cleaning techniques. This is important stuff after all!
If I had slayed all my dragons early in the week, he would tease me about my smugness for being so chop-chop. He noted that when I got amped up and launched into the next week of work, I wouldn’t have any down time, leisure or relaxation, and yet I would still be scampering about in a state right through Friday. He would putter on Thursday then kick in high gear Friday morning with the clock chasing his ass down driven by the intense pressure. After a few unexpected disasters on Friday afternoons during his prime time, he was open to a new plan. Frozen pipes, a broken furnace and a flooded dining room backed him against the wall enough times that even he felt it was too much for his emotional well being. Wednesday became our day.
It became clear that he needed a little more stimulation breathing down his neck when he would divert from the punch list and start something unnecessary. At first it freaked me out that he was emptying the paint cans from the crawl space that had been there for sixty years when there was food to be cooked, fires to build and a bar to set up. I grew to accept that he needed a little pressure; unlike me who liked to have some closure and time to breathe before the people arrived.
Our servers started to notice his little side job tendencies. One day we were hosting a dinner for sixty-five people. An unfortunate factor was that the Patriots game would be showing on our only TV in the guest living room out of reach of the kitchen. At about 4 PM, Bruce decided to pull a little old TV from the barn and connect it to the living room TV. This required a complicated path of sixty plus feet of cable and a couple rolls of duct tape. While this timing was a bit tight for my taste, I knew we would not deter him, so I surrendered and put my energy to moving faster to get everything done on the list. Even SCal, our main server of the time AND a crazed Pats fan was aghast and made some attempts to get me to rally him back to the immediate needs. I knew better and chose to burn a few more brain cells and bring my blood pressure up to get the stuff done. It wasn’t pretty, but we got the meal prepared and enjoyed watching the game while we worked.
The most memorable example of Bruce’s sidewinder moves was when another large group was coming in for dinner. We were down a server and another was running late, so we put on the zing to go double speed. Two servers, Bruce and I were at full throttle to get the food prepared. And then we noticed that he had disappeared.
Our Ping-Pong table in the dining room had a broken support board under it that had sat untouched and unnoticed for four years. The broken support board was number 10,472 on the shit that needs doing at Pierce’s Inn list. I found him under the Ping-Pong table with a collection of tools and supplies from the barn, cutting and installing a new board. With my sense of humor in tact, I said, “Bruché, we are a bit behind with the meal prep, table setting and dessert making. Any chance you could help us in the kitchen rather than tackling this unnecessary project right now?” Without missing a beat, he responded, “Pinzy, if I didn’t do all the shit I do when I am supposed to be doing something else, nothing would every get done around here.” And that, people, is how we find balance and humor in the most stressful times at Pierce’s Inn.