The Working Waterfront

The ‘mostly’ universal allure of water

The inherent goodness of people does waver

Phil Crossman
Posted 2019-08-22
Last Modified 2019-08-22

By Phil Crossman

My mother was possessed of a resolute conviction that people were good.  Certainly, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary, she felt my three younger brothers and I were clear examples, obedient youngsters whose first concern was to behave ourselves and do nothing that would meet with her disapproval.

In spite of our best efforts, her faith in us was unshakable and, after we had grown and left home and by the time she and my father had built and opened the Tidewater Motel, her confidence in the universal goodness of us and of all mankind was undiminished and she brought that brimming optimism to her new role as innkeeper.

And so it was that when an older man and his ravishing young companion, having tucked themselves away in a nice waterfront room for several nights, left behind a tiny scrap of silk which, upon close inspection, revealed itself to be a negligee, my mother wrapped it up, explained the circumstances in a nice personal note and sent it to his home address.

We have a lot of repeat business. This fellow, however, has not been among them.

My folks ran the Tidewater for 20 years or so. My mother never failed to wade into such circumstances carrying her naiveté like a shield and her belief in the essential goodness of everyone remained unwavering. In fact, I’ve come to discover, she was right and nearly everyone who has stayed with us during the 20 years Elaine and I have owned it has been a delight. The exceptions are few even though we tempt many.

My good fortune is multiplied by the unwavering devotion of my cleaning crew, one of whom is a stalwart, unflappable woman with whom I grew up on the island and in whose laundry workspace is posted the following inviting quote that a guest once found posted in the lobby of a Yugoslavian hotel: ‘The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid. Turn to her straightaway.”

Elaine and I claim that the Tidewater Motel is closer to the water than any other in the world and so far, no one’s disputed that. The appeal of such proximity is nearly universal but not quite.   

The Zieglers, the last of our expected guests late last year, arrived on the mid-day ferry. They were a family of three couples. Virtually everyone who comes here wants a room on the water. Some months earlier we’d decided to re-model one of our non-waterfront units, a project we were now in the midst of.

The Zieglers had chosen two waterfront and a non-waterfront, the one we were now re-modelling. Usually that kind of selection is made to save money since the non-waterfront rooms are not as costly. I graciously changed their non-waterfront selection to our best waterfront kitchen unit at the same rate.  That will be a nice surprise for them, I thought to myself, and it will allow us to do the needed work. The Zieglers were not as appreciative as I expected them to be. The chain-smoking matriarch of the clan told me in no uncertain terms that if she’d wanted a room on the water she’d have asked for it.

“I need constant rest,” she said, “and how do you think I am going to get it with all that water gurgling back and forth under my bed? I didn’t come all the way up here to have you decide which room I’d most enjoy. Now give us the room we want, give us hot water, leave us alone, and Merry Christmas.”

Phil Crossman lives and writes on Vinalhaven.