The Hubs and I spent the weekend on a scenic tour of western New York. On one side, the graceful Finger Lakes, long and slender, sheltering wineries. On the other, rich farmland rising and falling, a patchwork of pasturing cattle and horses, freshly tilled soil awaiting spring plantings throughout the Genesee Valley. We drove hundreds of miles through some beautiful country, well worth a road trip anytime. But we were celebrating the arrival, still pending, of wee Henry James. He made our journey all the more worthwhile.
We stayed at Sweet Briar Inn, an historic mansion converted to grand wedding venue near Geneseo. We had the place to ourselves, for the most part. Our visit started with my facial at the spa. It was exquisite; the perfect way to unwind. I’m not sure what the Hubs found to do but he didn’t complain about the solitude. We had plans that evening with the family. It would be almost nonstop thereafter.
Throughout the weekend we were the only overnight guests at the Sweet Briar. We were tucked into the Wisteria Suite. “You have the best room,” our host, Barry, told us. Good to know. He greeted us with obvious relief. We were earlier than expected on Friday afternoon. He’d had a long day of groundskeeping and was ready to go home. We were the only thing in his way. But he lingered for some time after anyway. It’s hard to tear away before sunset.
The Sweet Briar is a stately white columned structure on expansive grounds and gardens with a stunning Genesee Valley view. There are 57 rooms on three floors, two of which are publicly accessible. Unbeknownst to us, except for wedding parties, they seldom host overnight guests. There are no staff on the premises after the spa closes for the day. We returned after dark Friday night, entered through the kitchen as instructed and found our way upstairs, locking every door behind us. Secretly, I was praying there’d be no otherworldly visitors. Funny, how imagination runs wild in an old house!
Saturday was full to the brim. Barry served a simple but delicious breakfast of plump, fresh berries and fruit, a variety of yogurt, croissants, and such. He arrived early to accommodate our plans. Though he offered the dining room, we preferred to eat in the kitchen. We are no muss, no fuss, kind of folk. We were seated at a cozy farmhouse table with brightly painted chairs, bumping up against an antique black iron, wood-fired cooktop and oven in fine working order.
But we were in a hurry to be off. We had plans to meet my sister at the Rochester Public Market, followed by a stroll through Highland Park and other such loveliness. Time was short; we must return by noon! A single cuppa’ coffee and we were on our way. It was an easy 40-minute drive up route 390, then 490, to the Inner Loop.
It was a delightful morning, if a bit rushed. The market is a wanderer’s paradise. I purchased gorgeous calla lilies and a few other plants, including artfully potted succulents. The Hubs poked through the meat barn, bypassed the stinky fish, and found his way through the honeys and syrups to a rainbow array of fresh produce. He could withstand only so much of my plant purchasing deliberations. We skirted live chickens and goats but slowed for musicians playing here and there. Cafés serving an ethnic smorgasbord lining the perimeter tempted us. We browsed the flea market in amusement and munched kettle corn as we departed, too soon. Places to go! Things to do!
Parking notwithstanding, Highland Park was even better than expected. We inhaled deeply as we walked and talked, magnolias and azaleas in full bloom and early lilacs opening. Pathways between the trees were littered with blossoms, still ripe with scent. Extravagance such as only God ordains.
But again, all too soon, it was time to move on. We bid my sister adieu and headed south for the first of Henry’s events. We had just enough time, once back at the Sweet Briar, to change clothes and get to our next destination. And so the weekend went, from one event or gathering to the next. Good food. Good folk. New friends, too. And everyone loving on our wee grandbabe-to-be, Henry James!
On Saturday, Barry had advised, the Sweet Briar would host a celebration of life for his good friend and companion Deadhead. Recently deceased, Pete had for many recorded fan video of the band. Kinship developed over all things Grateful Dead; Pete and Barry had attended more than 200 band events together (and Barry, another 350!). “But everything changed when Jerry died,” Barry sighed. Now this branch of the Deadhead family were gathering to bid Pete adieu. “We don’t do funerals here,” Barry said, “We celebrate life. Then we spread the ashes in the garden. Join us! There will be plenty of food and drink.”
When we returned to the Sweet Briar Saturday, it was to a sea of tie-died guests clustered in small groups, recollections flowing as live music floated from the patio on the spring evening breeze. Even non-funeral crashing was outside our comfort zone; we quietly found our way downhill to the poolside patio. There we enjoyed a long, lingering sunset in the company of mourning doves, their lonesome coos carrying across the grounds. Apropos.
Departing early on Sunday morning, we made a startling discovery. Someone (no real doubt, ‘t’was me) must have inadvertently hit the remote control button to open the rear hatch of our vehicle. All night long the entire contents — many hundreds of dollars of baby gear from the first shower — were exposed! We approached with trepidation, minds racing, imagining a long day of shopping to replace the contents. And …. whew! Each and every item remained in place! Thank you, Deadheads. You did Barry, Pete, and good ol’ Jerry proud.
Then we were off for the second shower and lovely brunch. It’s all a bit blurry but it was great fun. Two baby showers, two family dinners, a serene boat ride on Conesus Lake, plus the Rochester rendezvous, a bit of shopping and finally, an oh-so-sweet reunion with a dear high school friend, reacquainting with her chids and catching up once again on our return trip, passing through the ‘Cuse. And please, let us not forget the exciting moose sighting in the wild on Friday. He was a fine specimen, plodding knee deep in a swampy field. I don’t recall if that was just before or after we hit the turkey, or rather, she flew into us, leaving a small dent and greasy residue. No wonder we returned home exhausted!
Yet somehow, in the midst of all of that, the Hubs and I enjoyed time as a two-some. There was the quiet sunset with broad valley views. Deeper conversations, as several hundred miles together tends to allow. When we finally crashed on Sunday night, unwinding from the whirlwind, it was with satisfaction of time well spent. Me with him. Him with me. Us with some of you. Merci beaucoup!
~ René Morley