We Threw a Party: The Day After (Part 2)

When I got up at 6:30 on Sunday morning, there were two candles still burning. Now, that, my friends, is a good candle!

Here’s one of them. 6am.

Here’s one of them. 6am.

It was a beautiful day. We drank a cup of tea leisurely … and then we started to clear off the tables, fold up the (rented) tablecloths, and break down the chairs and tables. We rearranged the deck to its everyday configuration. Everything else was in good shape. Just about the time we finished this task, the guys from Murfreesboro Tent and Table showed up, and in half an hour the tent was down, the tables and chairs were loaded, and the backyard was clear. (The night before we’d put up the little bit of food that was left. And Jenny had been keeping a very sharp eye on trash and anything else that needed to be straightened up, so the yard was remarkably clear.)

You would have never known there’d been a party here. (Aside from that line of jars in the flower bed. They were there for about a week. Ha.)

Lifelong Friends

I grew up in California, graduated from high school there—and I have a group of friends from that time. We were all in the same class from fifth grade on (I came later, when we moved to town, and due to family relocation we even gained another new member of the group in high school). Lots of people form lifelong bonds in college, but I gotta tell ya, the friends of my youth are very, very special to me. I would say, in fact, that one of the rewards of growing older is having these friends, and having had them my entire life. (More than fifty years.)

When I see these women—and I do, every five years or so, since I moved “out east” when I was twenty—I see beautiful young girls. They will forever be about seventeen in my eyes. And I know that when they see me, that’s the Jamie they see too.

Four of the group (there’s nine of us, I think) came out for the party.

My besties.

My besties.

I virtually ignored them on the night—because we’d already planned to spend Sunday together, hanging out on the deck. And there were so many people to greet. (But late in the evening we did manage to get behind the picture frame together.)

The 5 of us.

The 5 of us.

The Day After

So the yard was clear, we’d had tea, and the day was fine. And now my friends were going to come hang out on the deck. With spouses and partners. This was going to be a wonderful moment.

We made sure to take a photograph, first. Because I was tired and not thinking all that clearly. (Indeed, the better part of the day got away from me undocumented.)

Two of our group had sent a handmade quilt, which I’d used as a throw across the hot tub the previous night. Husbands held it and we posed.

Two of our group (not actually at the party) had sent a handmade quilt, which I’d used as a throw across the hot tub the previous night. Husbands held it and we posed.

And we just sat around and chatted. Heaven! There’s not a one of us who hasn’t had some heartbreak, who hasn’t seen some hard times. But we are happy people; we find a way to be happy every day.

One of the husbands (Tom?) engaged my son in conversation, and asked him to play for us. (Jesse’s a professional tubist and music educator.) Was that asking too much? Maybe he didn’t have his music with him, Tom said. Maybe he didn’t have his tuba. No—as it turns out, Jesse is preparing for a competition. He had the tuba, and he played.

Jesse.

Jesse.

Thus the day slipped by. I’d worried that it would rain all day, but it was grand.

My dear friends. (Teri and Maggie.)

My dear friends. (Teri and Maggie.)

At some point Maggie and Tom ran out and got a couple pizzas, we threw together a salad, and gathered in the dining room. Which was just the right size. Gerry and I have many times been glad we have this dining room, and never more than on this night. 🙂

Tom, Maggie, Kent, Charmaine, Gerry, Mike, Kathy, Teri, Dan.

Tom, Maggie, Kent, Charmaine, Gerry, Mike, Kathy, Teri, Dan.

The night wore on, and when I was afraid that I was going to do a face plant at the table (I was so, so tired), I told them I was going to have to kick them out. They laughed, and left. 🙂

The Day After the Day After: Gifts

Monday. Still exhausted. Still gradually picking things up and putting them back where they were supposed to be. Still cleaning the kitchen, trying to get back to normal. Slicing up the remaining strawberries for the freezer. Jesse and Katie had gone back across the Cumberland Plateau on Sunday afternoon, and the rest of our crew were heading off to Memphis for a couple days.

We were back in the middle of blackberry winter, so it was too chilly to sit outside. While we lingered over a cup of tea, Tom and Maggie called to thank us for a lovely time. They were on their way to Kentucky to see some of Tom’s family. “You were right to kick us out,” Maggie laughed. “Otherwise we might still be there!”

Over the second cup of tea, one by one, slowly, we opened all those beautiful, thoughtful gifts. (They’d been sitting in the dining room. More than one person in the house had looked at us, cocked an eyebrow, and said, “Aren’t you going to open those?” Yes, we were—but when we had time to savor it, to experience it. We were too busy enjoying our friends on Sunday.) So … we opened. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we cried. These were such personal things. So many people took the time to write special notes in blank cards. They decorated the envelopes. They decorated the boxes and bags. We were touched and … humbled … by how well our friends know us, know who we are. It is good to be *known* like this.

Ephemera.

Ephemera.

Later that afternoon, my sister and her husband came by to say good-bye. They were loaded up, ready to drive back across the country to the West Coast. (No, they don’t mind flying; but they enjoy seeing what they see along the way.) We managed a quick photo, and they were off.

Gerry, Jill, Barry, me.

Gerry, Jill, Barry, me.

Yes, yes, I did forget to post my professional blog on Saturday. Um, and Monday. (I post on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.) They were loaded and ready to go but … party. I was so exhausted.

A nice exhaustion.

Postmortem for a Backyard Party

There were things we did right, and things we might have done better. This is the biggest party I’ve ever thrown, and with the most moving parts. Here are some thoughts:

  • Hire a caterer. I love to cook, and I enjoy putting a nice table together. But that was out of the question here.
  • Keep the menu simple—and make sure the caterer is a good cook. No institutional food. A month later, people would still be telling me how good the food was.
  • Buy less booze. We had plenty and people just didn’t drink it. Many stuck to water and sodas, even people who would normally have an adult beverage. We were surprised.
  • Have a rain plan. The tent was brilliant. Money well-spent. And the rain kept everybody under the tent long enough for strangers to become friends.
  • Use social media to keep people interested in the party—so they show up. Otherwise, a little bit of rain scares ’em off. We had a great turnout—and I posted on the Facebook event every day.
  • Some people want to come but just can’t. A dear, dear friend of mine sent me a long note about all the crazy logistics they were trying to pull together to come from two states away. And it ended with, “I finally just said, what if we don’t go? And I chewed on it for a while. Now I think this is best and I am so sad. But this summer, we will come down for more than a day, and we will invite ourselves over and have you all to ourselves.” I know this was the right thing for them, and I look forward to seeing them later.
  • Hire someone to take photos. You won’t be able to take all the photos yourself, and it will take up a lot of your party time if you do try to do it yourself.
  • Live music is really nice. It’s a festive touch. People are still talking about it. This was a splurge for us, but it really made the night.
  • Good friends and a good network make a good party. There was no odd-man/woman-out, because everyone who came knew someone … or had interacted on Facebook, so they knew names. I’m at that age, I think, that I know really great people, the sort of folks who can walk into a party knowing no one and still have a good time talking with anyone and everyone.
  • Don’t clean the house before—clean it after. However, a sparkling bathroom is a nice welcome and makes a good impression. 🙂
  • Plan something graceful to say when you want someone to stop doing what he is doing. We invited our neighbors, and one of them relives his glory days by telling everyone he plays piano (and leaping to the keyboard if anyone so much as says “Oh, that’s nice”). At one point I noticed our back door was wide open and this fellow was in there pounding away on my piano … while the musicians we’d paid to play were doing so about fifty feet away. I was mortified and angry, and I wish I’d asked him, quietly, to stop immediately. Instead I glared and slammed the door shut. It (eventually) had the desired effect, but I’m still steamed. How rude!
  • Eat before the guests arrive. Otherwise you’ll be furtively sneaking food and talking with your mouth full.
Early in the evening.

Early in the evening.

 

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We Threw a Big Party, and It Was Fun (Part 1)

Well. Finally.

Back in the spring of 2014 our immigration attorney laughed at us when we told her how we wanted to manage our wedding and reception, and that’s how we ended up getting married at the courthouse on a Thursday afternoon that fall.

We’d already reserved the hotel for a reception dinner in Dublin (for October 2015—fully a year after we married!). But most of our American friends didn’t go to Dublin. So we set yet another date to have a party in our backyard—which was our original plan. Only now it would be just a party, not a wedding, and I would be just a hostess, not a bride.

Planning Is Everything

We’d had plenty of time to think about it. And we started out with a few firm ideas. Like, we knew we would hire Luis—my ex-husband, don’t laugh—to cater, because he makes the best fried chicken in the world. No, really.

So there were ideas, and there were more ideas. And they were all swirling around in my head in a long, never-ending to-do list.

In January 2016, I finally sat down with all my scribbbled notes and made a big list. I discussed it with my good friend Jenny, who knows more than a thing or two about planning a party. (She also volunteered to be our “party day manager.” We hastily took her up on it before she could change her mind.) Then I revised the list, and created a week-by-week—and day-by-day—schedule. Anything that could be done in advance was spread out over the weeks leading up to the party, because I don’t like to rush anything, and I especially dislike running around like a crazy person on the day of a big event.

And this worked. Which is to say, everything got done in a way that we could enjoy and be satisfied with the doing of it. During the last few days, folks would call or come by to see if we needed help and say things like, “I know you must be terribly busy” or “Are you freaking out yet?” but, no, we weren’t and we didn’t. Because we’d planned and prepared.

Day before the party, just hanging around on the deck with the fam.

Day before the party, just hanging around on the deck with the fam.

It wasn’t that hard, y’all. I’m naturally organized, a natural list-maker, so it’s easier for me to “think” in a list. I made the list, ran it past Gerry, revised it … I checked it daily. I spent time thinking about it and revising it on the fly. That thinking time was important. 🙂

Hanging the picture frame. It’s a little low, y’all!

Hanging the picture frame. It’s a little low, y’all!

Some of the Best Plans We Made

  • Lighting

This was a springtime backyard party, and it would be fully dark by 8pm. How to keep folks from tripping over the roots of the maple tree? Well, we have a significant number of strands of white “Christmas lights” running across the pergola that covers one end of the deck. They’re pretty bright. But I didn’t want anyone in my flower beds either, so I planned to line the beds with candles in glass jars. Over the course of 2 years (yep!) I gathered more than 350 glass jars and removed the labels. (I asked my Facebook friends for help and they responded—without even knowing what I planned to do with them.) We used these jars on the tables too. We also bought some inexpensive LED lanterns and light strings and Gerry spent days lining the fence and wrapping trees. We had trial runs and laughed out loud with delight. It looked spectacular on the night—and folks gasped when Gerry turned on the pergola lights.

This was taken toward the very end of the night.

This was taken toward the very end of the night. We had plenty of light!

  • Chocolates

Yes, you heard me. Some years ago I discovered, on a trip to Ireland, Áine Chocolates—an artisan chocolate that I just love. We’d placed little boxes of them at each place setting at our dinner party in Dublin. So we got to thinking … and Gerry placed a bulk order in early March (so it would ship while it was still cold everywhere along the route from Dublin to Murfreesboro). Our guests loved them.

  • Parking

Parking in a neighborhood gets tricky when there are so many guests expected. There’s an office building just outside our neighborhood with sixty parking spaces (yes, I counted) and no one’s there on Saturdays, so we could park people there … but it’s .4 mile from the house. Would people want to walk in their dressy shoes? I wouldn’t. So we hired a couple young men to circulate in our car and another borrowed car. No one would have to wait more than five minutes to be ferried to the house. And it worked!

  • Live music

We’d heard a singer, Jeff Blaney, playing with a string bass player at a wedding two years before, and thought they were very good. When I investigated, I learned they were also affordable. I lined them up in December. As it turns out, Jeff plays at a little country restaurant not far from our house most Friday nights, so we went out to see him earlier in the month to introduce ourselves. He’s fabulous.

  • Photography

We knew our friends would take photos, but it’s always hard to collect them later, so we paid a friend’s son to take lots and lots of photos. Also, we hung a large picture frame from the pergola. It wasn’t a “photo booth”—it wasn’t enclosed, and we offered no props, no backdrop, nothing. And yet … people were lined up to have their photo made in this spot. Great decision!

About to celebrate their first anniversary!

About to celebrate their first anniversary!

  • Tent

We both watched the weather obsessively for weeks before the party, but in Tennessee you just can’t tell, really, until the moment. So when we ordered tables and chairs, we also ordered a big tent. I didn’t want to use it—thought it would spoil the “look”—but on Saturday morning the weather was iffy so we had them install the thing, and we ended up being glad we did, because it rained steadily from 6pm until 7pm. Lesson: have a rain plan. (Thanks, Jenny!)

Ready and waiting.

Ready and waiting, Saturday afternoon.

  • Signs

I bought some chalk markers, painted chalkboard paint on some cabinet doors, and started writing up signs (“Powder Room” and “We’re in the backyard” and “Grab a cold one here”) about three weeks before the party. I like to think our guests noticed them … but in retrospect I’m not so sure. 🙂

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

  • Facebook

Back in January I set up a Facebook event page to remind people about the party. (We’d mailed invitations—to both parties—back in June 2015 and told them we’d remind them about the Tennessee party.) This page ended up being great fun. I got to remind people about the dress. I told them who was catering and that we’d have live music. I showed photos of the signs I was lettering. Using an event page also allowed me to post articles I’d written for this blog about things to do in Tennessee. And people got to see who was coming, make connections, and talk online together.

  • Eating early

I asked the caterer to come early so that we and our family, houseguests, and friends who were helping could eat before everyone started arriving. I also invited our young valet and the musicians to come by and eat. This was absolutely the smartest decision we made. Because once people started arriving promptly at 6pm, there was no time to eat. I was on my feet, talking, until nearly midnight.

  • Prezzies

At the last minute, it occurred to me that people might bring gifts, and they would need to go somewhere. So I threw a tablecloth on the dining room table, moved the chairs up against the wall, and called it good. It turns out it was a splendid idea.

IMG_2912

Don’t forget—all photos can be enlarged when you click on them.

Complications

But wait—it wasn’t all just, you know, fun and games. 🙂 When Gerry and I returned from Ireland in late October, we had a list of projects we’d long been planning to do when Gerry retired and moved to Tennessee. Things like paint the inside of the house (it needed it; we’d moved in in 2007); install a hot tub (for health reasons); replace the ugly (truly ugly) tile in the foyer; and have the carpets cleaned, among other things.

Now here he was.

And so were the holidays. We didn’t get started until the first of the year. And you know, when you paint a house with all your stuff in it, all that stuff has to be moved. (Which is why my office didn’t get painted. I had a lot of work and multiple deadlines, and would have—no joke—had a meltdown. It was not happening.) So we moved our stuff for painting, and moved it again for carpet cleaning. We built a new wing on the deck, dealt with planning inspections and electricians and OMG it was pretty crazy around here in February and March and April.

During this time we also bought a new car (long planned) … and adopted a dog. Suzy. (She’s a gem.)

IMG_2678

Suzy. And the new tile.

The Out-of-Towners

We’d long known Gerry’s nephew, Eoin, and Eoin’s wife, Tracy, would be staying with us (they flew in from Dublin and arrived Thursday). And we knew my niece, Alli, and her husband, Sabas, wanted to stay here too (because they and Eoin and Tracy are good friends); they flew in on Friday. No problem—we have two guest rooms. Alli’s mom—my sister, Jill—and dad, Barry, were driving out from California on a two-week vacation, pulling their small Airstream. They also arrived Thursday. My son and his girlfriend drove in Thursday, too, and stayed the weekend (they’re in grad school at a university about ninety miles away). We had room for them too.

My friends Gwen and Greg had offered to take any houseguest overflow, if we had it, and I ended up having my friends from Ohio, Cindy and Tom, stay with them. The four of them hit it off, which made me happy. I have seen photos of Tom—an accomplished cook—whipping up breakfast in the Wattses’ kitchen. 🙂

But we had guests well before the party! My best friend from high school (yes, I keep them that long) and her husband flew out from Oregon the week before—so that we’d have time to visit before the madness. We spent a day and a half with Mike and Kathy before they went off to tour Memphis for a few days.

Breakfast on the square.

Breakfast on the square at the historic City Cafe.

A couple days later, my friends Cyndi and Gregg were driving to south Georgia (our party was to be at the end of their vacation getaway) and realized they’d drive right by Murfreesboro. She texted: would we have dinner with them? I texted: Yes, and where are you planning to stay? Well, they ended up staying here (I insisted), and we sent them off the next morning after a good breakfast.

They're such lovely people.

They’re such lovely people.

These little flying visits—as well as the hair appointment and pedicure and strawberry-picking and various other errands—made the days leading up to the party very festive indeed. And because I’d finished all my work-work, met all my deadlines early, I was able to enjoy them stress free.

The Big Day

There were certain things that couldn’t be done until the day, but they were few. The kids got up and out, sightseeing. My son had a gig in Nashville. So it was just Gerry and me.

We ran over to the grocery store that morning for fresh flowers, and I got some marked-down roses. “Good for a day,” they say about these past-their-sell-date flowers. I purchased some fresh hydrangeas and baby’s breath to fill in. (Late the next Wednesday the hydrangeas were long gone but the roses were still fabulous. Go figure.) So I spent some time making two pretty arrangements to freshen the house a little. I also made a couple herb bouquets cut from the garden.

The tables and chairs and tent arrived mid-morning. Shortly thereafter, Jill and Barry showed up with more self-picked strawberries and took the arrangement of tables in hand. Later the kids all showed up and suddenly the jars and candles got put out.

I did not go to a lot of effort on the tables. Candles and some potted herbs. That’s it.

I did not go to a lot of effort on the tables. Candles and some potted herbs. That’s it.

Everybody helped out at just the right moment, and no one had to do too much to pull it all together. This was all part of my plan: a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Easy does it. We all sat on the deck, relaxing and enjoying the fine weather for a while before everyone went off for naps. (I, of course, posted photos on Facebook rather than napping. Ha!)

Aside from making sure the bathrooms were clean, I did not clean the house. There’d be a hundred people in and out of it—better to clean after!

About an hour out from P-Time, I was working with Jenny to get the desserts set up, while the caterer was setting up outside on the driveway under the tent. The only little hitch we had during that time was the young man I’d been talking with about driving to pick up people from the parking lot was supposed to bring a second driver—but he showed up alone. Kerry quickly jumped in, however, to drive the other car, and all was well. We all sat down and ate. The first guests arrived.

And Then It Rained

It started to rain promptly at 6pm. I must admit, it took an act of faith for folks to leave their homes in the rain and come to a backyard party! But I’d told people on the Facebook event page that we had a rain plan—and we did. The tent was just big enough to cover most of the back driveway. And we’d purchased rolls of plastic dropcloth to roll out on the latticework atop the pergola, just in case it rained all night.

But it didn’t! It rained, gently, for an hour and quit. Just long enough for everyone to have to arrive in the rain. Just long enough to flatten my hair-do. (Of course!) Yet when we talked about it later, we decided the rain was a good thing. It forced everyone under the tent at once. It was a bonding moment. Strangers talked to each other.

Possibly about us.

Possibly about us.

Guests started arriving … and because of the tent guy-wires we had this bottleneck of people, and they were all carrying gifts and OMG. So we had a little receiving line, and it was great, and we took photos and I got to talk to (almost) everyone as they came in. I wasn’t happy about the way my hair looked—or the way it was going to look—in the photos, but what can you do?

Friends came with umbrellas. I’d been walking around with … wet hair.

Friends came with umbrellas. I’d been walking around with … wet hair.

So it all worked.

The musicians—the Jeff Blaney duo—were supposed to start at 7pm, and just before that, Jeff and I walked around the yard, which was a little damp. The rain had stopped. We had a rain plan, I told him: we could open the garage door and put them in there. They’d be dry. But I’d wanted them to play up on the deck. It would be prettier. We went back and forth about it, but Jeff said, “If it starts to rain again, we’ll have to move, and we won’t be playing for part of the time you’ve paid for. If it were me, I’d put us in the garage.” So I did. Discretion being the better part of valor, and all that.

And they were fabulous, y’all. Really good. Such good sports too! But I look at this photo and am just mortified (because the garage had become this catch-all hiding place for the party prep, and also because it smelled like cat pee). At the end of the night, I told them (Jeff and Geoff) I was mortified, and they both just laughed. “Oh, we’ve played worse venues than this,” they each said. Then Geoff got out his phone calendar: “I can tell you for a fact that the place I’m playing next Tuesday is much worse than your garage.”

So there they are, sandwiched between the recyclables bin and the litter box. (sigh)

So there they are, sandwiched between the recyclables bin and the litter box. (sigh) It looks like they’re playing in somebody’s basement.

There Were Lots of Great Moments

I don’t even know where to start with this. It was a wonderful party. People showed up. They made connections all on their own. (Facebook, though I know some folks don’t like it, is a wonderful tool for this. People from across the country who’d seen each other’s names on my Facebook page found each other in our backyard. Whoa.) Folks ran into each other who didn’t know they were each friends of mine. And folks showed up with the most interesting plus-ones! There were book people and old-high-school-friends people and people from a job I had twenty years ago. There were current friends and family friends and neighborhood friends. It was way, way cool.

It was such a cool party—and I’m not just saying this because it was our party—that people sent us thank-you notes! (That’s never happened to me before—although I suspect I’m revealing that I’m really uncouth, and that it’s a Miss Manners thing and these people were more sophisticated—and nicer—than I am.) Just today I had lunch with a friend who told me how wonderful it was that in your fifties you finally started getting invited to the sort of parties you wished to be invited to when you were in your twenties. That’s how she’d described our little soiree to someone the next day. It made me happy to hear this.

Yes: it was a grown-up party. And, my friend and I decided over lunch, part of that may have had to do with the dress. On the invitation, we suggested people dress up—and they did. I loved, loved, loved seeing everyone all dressed up! There was more than one husband who seemed to feel a little awkward … and others who seemed right at home.

Our friends Josh and Emilie. And my wet hair. :)

Our friends Josh and Emilie, and my wet hair. 🙂

Also, I think everyone had a vested interest in making it a great party. People came such distances! Friends came from all over Middle Tennessee, and also from California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas. And of course we had guests from Ireland. But the party was more international than that—there were several folks who were not born American but who live here now, friends from Australia, Belize, Chile, England, Finland, France, Nicaragua, and South Africa. Wow. In fact, several people mentioned that they’d discovered it was a very international party. My friend Cindy told me later, “Gerry’s nephew told us the state of Oregon is named for an Irishman. You know, O’Regon. Cracks me up!” Oh, those Irish. 🙂

There were, of course, plenty of book people there. Many of them knew of each other from conferences, but it was a little different to run into them at a party in someone’s backyard. “We met your friends Cyndi and Greg,” someone emailed me later, “and I heard how he accidentally published her first book. Too cute!” My friend Tricia, a college professor with a book of her own about to release with a big university press, said she’d never seen so many published authors in one place. Ah, I love the book biz.

I was relieved that—in spite of the fact that I wasn’t able to get around and introduce and orchestrate (the thing I’m usually doing at parties)—people did it themselves. So I asked—in the moment, on Facebook, and privately—“Do you have a story? Did you have a moment?”

Yes, they did:

  • Eoin enjoyed speaking with my friends Gabe and Tanya. “They were lovely.”
  • Tracy was thrilled to catch up with Rebecca, who’d been seated at their table at the dinner party in Dublin. (You know ’Becca from this post.)
’Becca, Eoin, Tracy.

’Becca, Eoin, Tracy.

  • Christy told me a story about sitting down at one of the tables on the lawn and discovering “mystery booze” in a little square bottle. I knew immediately that she was talking about my son’s homemade limoncello. She and our friend Annie decided to sample it without knowing what it was, and both pronounced it excellent.
  • I loved getting to talk to people I haven’t set eyes on since the last wedding or funeral, like my friend Brad. And later seeing photos from our party on Facebook pages, sometimes from people I never expected to post party photos. In fact, seeing photos taken in that silly photo frame used as Facebook profile photos—there was a lot of that.
Biron and Brad … and my hair was drying out. :)

Biron and Brad … and my hair was drying out. 🙂

  • Lots of people enjoyed the Irish chocolates. 🙂
  • Several people mentioned the vintage photos in the downstairs bathroom: “Wondered to myself who the people in the photographs in your half bath were.” That post is coming. And yes, the people in those photos are all family.
  • My former sisters-in-law were in town (from Nevada) to visit, and they came too. Later they sent me this photo. I’m so proud to still have this family in my life.

    Mireya, me, Eva.

    Mireya, me, Eva.

  • Lots and lots of people told me how good it was to finally meet Gerry. And then to hear his stock response to every query: “Everything’s perfect aside from the marriage.”
Probably the only moment we were standing together the whole night! Thank goodness Alex suggested this!

Probably the only moment we were standing together the whole night! Thank goodness Alex suggested this!

  • My friend Teri printed off my blog post on Murfreesboro and she and her husband worked down the list. They showed up and Oaklands Mansion, asked for Connor—my friend who works there—and he gave them a great tour. And then they ran into him at the party, of course. 🙂
  • My moment: Everyone kept trying to adjust my necklace—thinking the magnetic clasp was turned around. But really it was a necklace with two pieces, and the connecting clasps were meant to show. Ha. Trick necklace!
  • Many of our friends had seen photos of our rescued dog on Facebook, and wanted to see her. We heard later that several people went upstairs to visit her crate. Much later (after 10pm, after the musicians and caterer left and the gate was closed), we brought her down to the yard, where she happily mingled with our lingering friends. Around midnight I was sitting on the deck with Alison, who was observing Suzy with friends. “Oh, she’s a leaner.” As Labs are. Yes, she leans up against us, and it’s very endearing.

Some moments I didn’t know about myself until I got a look at the photos that were taken. Whole families got together behind the picture frame.

The Chavez family.

The Chavez family.

They were playful.

Jenny and Kerry.

Jenny and Kerry.

Groups of friends.

My high school friends. Love them so much!

My high school friends. Love them so much!

The cousins: my brother’s son, sister’s daughter, and my son.

Cameron, Alli, Jesse.

Cameron, Alli, Jesse.

And, in fact, my brother, sister, and I had a photo made behind the picture frame too.

L–R: youngest to oldest.

L–R: youngest to oldest.

Toward the end of the night, action at the picture frame picked up again. Last call!

Michelle and Robert.

Michelle and Robert.

Good Night and Joy Be With You All

My favorite moment, though, came about like this. There’s a song sung in Ireland at wakes and funerals … and also at the end of the night, at closing time, or at the end of a party. It’s called “The Parting Glass” (you can see an article I’ve written about it here). Because Gerry is Irish, because this was the last of our wedding “year” of celebration, and just because I love the song, I’d asked Jeff Blaney to perform it at the end of the night. (He’s of Irish heritage, has even recorded a set of Irish songs. “The Parting Glass” was not unknown to our Jeff.)

Things had quieted down by this point, and folks gathered round. And it got the attention of my Irish husband and family. Their reaction was a boisterous one, and Jeff seemed to be energized by that—he went right into “The Fields of Athenry,” another Irish folk song that everyone in Ireland knows the words to. So we had a little singalong in the backyard. (I made sure we got this on video, too, and you can see it here.)

Low lie the fields of Athenry …

Low lie the fields of Athenry …

This post has gotten very long, so I’ll stop here and finish it in part 2.

(This is an account of our wedding, which began here—in this series of seven posts—and contined in Dublin.)

Leap Year

When I saw this article in the New York Times, I was reminded of that utterly ridiculous movie, Leap Year, which has a a young woman flying to Dublin to propose to her boyfriend, being diverted to Wales, and taking a boat to—wait for it—Cork, which is then diverted to Dingle (what?). This alone makes no sense, as planes coming from the States fly over Shannon (in the west) first; a storm big enough to close Dublin Airport would have all of Ireland socked in; a look at a map will explain some of my disdain.

 

When I was in Dingle with my sis some years ago, she wanted to find the pub where the movie was filmed, which was when I had to break it to her that no part of the movie was actually filmed in Dingle. (Not that that would have helped, as much as I love Amy Adams.)

Supposedly this leap year legend is a tradition that goes way back. According to the Huffington Post,

Legend has it that St. Brigid of Kildare, a fifth-century Irish nun, asked St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, to grant permission for women to propose marriage after hearing complaints from single women whose suitors were too shy to propose. Initially, he granted women permission to propose only once every seven years, but at Brigid’s insistence, he acquiesced and allowed proposals every leap day. The folk tale suggests that Brigid then dropped to a knee and proposed to Patrick that instant, but he refused, kissing her on the cheek and offering a silk gown to soften the blow. The Irish tradition therefore dictates that any man refusing a woman’s leap-day proposal must give her a silk gown.

But really? There’s no definitive proof of any of it. I personally can’t imagine either of these saints having this sort of conversation.

Moreover, I don’t think we ladies need permission from society to do the asking. It’s the twenty-first century, kids! This article in the Irish Times has several stories about women doing the proposing. It doesn’t surprise me, since, as the writer points out:

The notion of marriage has changed in Ireland. It’s only a generation ago that it was unacceptable to live with a partner without being married to them. Though we have some distance to go on many issues, it’s undeniable that we have become a much more tolerant and equal society, even in the past 20 years. As a nation, the majority voted for marriage equality last May. That must mean we’re ready to take the proposals of women seriously, even outside a leap year, right?

True. It’s a lovely article, and I recommend it to you. And should it encourage you to pop the question to the one you love, let me be the first congratulate you!

Wedding Past, Present, Future

My dear friend ’Becca (I’ve mentioned her before) brought her plus-one to our dinner party in Dublin. She’d emailed me about him. “I’m bringing Mike. He’s great—you’ll love him. Everybody does.”

She was right. He’s fun to talk to—and a good sport (he flew in that morning!) too.

And he’s an even better sport than I knew: While they were in Dublin, Mike and ’Becca went shopping at Powerscourt Centre, where they looked at antiques. Mike bought ’Becca an old, beautiful ring. A special one for a special reason.

It was a process.

It was a process.

This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing; they’d been talking about it. They’d been looking around for the right thing. But as ’Becca told me later, “It’s all because of you and Gerry! Ireland has the best selection of antique rings!”

But this was the one.

But this was the one.

Oh yeah. It’s gorgeous.

The ring is a pretty basketweave design.

The ring is a pretty basketweave design.

What a great travel story! I am delighted by the synchronicity: they were in Dublin to celebrate my wedding to Gerry, and now we’ll have an excuse to travel to Texas, later, to celebrate theirs.

’Becca wore the ring home on the plane (for safekeeping, of course!), but when they got to Texas, Mike took it back; he wanted to talk to to her father. First things first. So life went on, everybody got back to work after a fabulous vacation in Ireland. The holidays arrived. And the day after Christmas, Mike—having spoken with ’Becca’s dad—asked my friend to marry him.

The day after that, ’Becca emailed me with the news. I don’t mind admitting I shed a little tear. Or three.

Perfect timing. Congratulations, you two. I’m so happy for you!

Mike and ’Becca. Taken outside the Portmarnock Hotel on 3 October 2015.

Mike and ’Becca. Taken outside the Portmarnock Hotel on 3 October 2015.

 

Rover, Unincorporated

Gerry and I have been taking long country drives so he can practice up for his driver’s test. (He lived his whole life in a city with great public transportation—he’s never needed to drive before now.)

One morning we set out to find the location of a church in Eagleville, Tennessee, where we’ll be attending a wedding next month. And that is how we came to find Rover … driving down Highway 231 to Fosterville, turning right on the Midland-Fosterville Road, which cuts west over to Highway 41A (becoming Kingdom Road in the process). Where Kingdom Road meets 41A—that’s Rover. Turn right and Eagleville’s three or four miles up the road; turn left and Unionville (such as it is) is a couple miles down it in the other direction.

IMG_0186

But there were lots of interesting things to see along the way, and I spent some time looking for histories of these communities. Any history of Middle Tennessee is closely tied to the history of Nashville, which, with its location on the Cumberland River, was an important trade post stockade built in 1779–80 by James Robertson and John Donelson. The town that was soon to be named Murfreesboro had been established as the Rutherford County seat in 1811, some forty years later. Shelbyville was laid out around the same time and incorporated—and got a United States post office—in 1819. These three points on the map form the backdrop for what little there is to be gleaned about Fosterville, Unionville, and Eagleville. Only the latter is still a real town, but the other names live on as … communities.

Fosterville, for example. Named after John Foster, listed in the 1820 census for this district and who established a home and trading post on what is now 231, halfway between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville. Highway 231 was actually the first turnpike (for stagecoaches) in Rutherford County—the Nashville / Murfreesboro / Shelbyville Pike; the road was completed and gates erected by 1842. But they were already working on the railroad—when it was completed in 1851 Fosterville was a stop on the Nashville-Chattanooga-St. Louis Railway and the community shifted east about 3,000 feet to the rail line.

In March 1890 a tornado blew through the heart of the village—stores, post office, train depot, church, mill—and it never fully recovered. A tiny post office is still across the street from the train tracks, but I’m not sure if it still operates. There’s a volunteer fire department, a few houses … a church and a few houses along 231. And then two miles on the other side of 231, along the Midland-Fosterville Road, this:

The Lebanon Campground Church of Fosterville, TN.

The Lebanon Campground Church of Fosterville, TN.

I can’t tell you much about the church. There are dozens of “campground churches” of various denominations* across the South, but this one boasts no affiliation. It has no web presence. It may not even have a congregation—it was Sunday morning when we took these photos. But it is an election polling place.

* I believe they sprang up from “camp meetings,” which were a phenomenon of American frontier Christianity, which had neither enough preachers nor enough church buildings. So campgrounds sprang up, to which people would travel on occasion to camp, listen to itinerant preachers, sing hymns, and otherwise fellowship. This was a component of the Second Great Awakening (1790–1860), an evangelical movement promoted primarily by the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians.

And yet … the church has been decorated for Christmas.

And yet … the church has been decorated for Christmas.

The side yard of the Lebanon Campground Church—looking back along Midland-Fosterville Road.

The side yard of the Lebanon Campground Church—looking back along Midland-Fosterville Road.

Across the road from the Lebanon Campground Church is an old cemetery:

Wood & Tucker Cemetery. This sounds more like a pair of families; I doubt that it was ever associated with the church.

Wood & Tucker Cemetery. This sounds more like a pair of families; I doubt that it was ever associated with the church.

The only access to the cemetery was to walk up through the field—and the ground was very soggy, as it had been raining for days—or this private drive. We were not brave enough to drive up; you just never know what kind of greeting you’ll get.

The only access to the cemetery was to walk up through the field—and the ground was very soggy, as it had been raining for days—or this private drive. We were not brave enough to drive up; you just never know what kind of greeting you’ll get.

Right where the road changes from Midland-Fosterville to Kingdom, there’s a beautiful, clean farm. I was fascinated by it because all of the buildings were grey.

I call it the silver farm.

I think of it as the silver farm.

There’s another unused church along this road …

The Kingdom Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Unionville, Tennessee.

The Kingdom Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Unionville, Tennessee.

The address of this church is Unionville, although it’s about three miles away (as the crow flies) from the current village of Unionville. I can find no online history for the church or the town, though one guesses it has something to do with the Civil War. Wouldn’t you think? The church to which we were headed was originally called Union Ridge Baptist Church (according to the history on its website). As the crow flies, again, Unionville is about twelve miles from Wartrace, where Union soldiers kept a large prisoner-of-war camp of Southern boys; perhaps the main Northern encampment was a little further away. In what came to be known as Unionville. Along this ridge. That’s the only connection I can draw.

But this church. There’s a sanctuary and beside it a larger building, probably for Sunday school classes and a kitchen and so on. The sign next to the sanctuary door reads, “Kingdom Church, established 1852. Cumberland Presbyterian Historical Heritage Site.” Next to the two buildings, a pavilion.

A pavilion with picnic tables. It’s called the Pastor Milton & Mrs. Bobbie Statum Pavilion, the sign says, and it was dedicated at Easter 2000.

A pavilion with picnic tables. It’s the Pastor Milton & Mrs. Bobbie Statum Pavilion, the sign says, and it was dedicated at Easter 2000.

It’s kept up, but was deserted in the late Sunday morning when we stopped to take photographs. So in fifteen years, this congregation died out. (Perhaps literally.)

Belied by the sign outside.

Belied by the sign outside.

Look closer, though.

Look closer, though.

So we drove another mile, headed toward the future wedding church (with a Unionville address), which is just off Highway 41A. And that’s when we rode smack-dab into Rover. This is pretty much all that’s left:

Carlton’s General Store—“We Sell Most Anything”—of Rover, Tennessee.

Carlton’s General Store—“We Sell Most Anything”—of Rover, Tennessee.

Behind the shuttered store, an old house, still occupied, and a barn and outbuildings.

It is well-kept, and has a simple beauty, I think.

It is well-kept, and has a simple beauty, I think.

There are a few houses close by—neighbors. No doubt they know each other well. There’s been a published history of Rover, interestingly, but that was more than ten years ago and no trace of it exists online. Apparently there were two schools in Rover at one time; I’ve gleaned that much.

One of them was right across the street:

A self-proclaimed historic site.

A self-proclaimed historic site.

It would have been a small-ish school, but is now a very neatly kept home.

It would have been a small-ish school, but is now a very neatly kept home.

But we were headed to the future wedding church (whose address is Unionville, interestingly, but simply because there is no post office in Rover anymore). We could see it from where we stood at the old general store.

Rover Baptist Church in the distance.

Rover Baptist Church in the distance.

As previously noted, had we turned right, we’d have ended up in Eagleville. It’s still a thriving community. Originally called Manchester when it was founded in 1832, the name was changed when they applied for a post office and discovered there was another Manchester twenty or so miles south. When the post office opened in 1836, the community became known as Eagleville. Local lore has it that the name was inspired by an unusually large eagle killed in the vicinity. Niiiice.

But … we were on a quest, and we turned left, away from Eagleville, heading south on 41A. Rover Baptist Church is on—conveniently—Baptist Church Road, about a thousand feet from the abandoned Rover General Store. I’d looked all this up on Google Maps, and noticed something just beyond the church, something … green.

It’s a cemetery, y’all. And you know how I feel about those. We could see it as soon as we turned onto Baptist Church Road.

See there on the right, up on the hill? A cemetery.

See there on the right, up on the hill? A cemetery.

We did drive into the parking lot and had a look at the church. But … meh. We didn’t tarry. I wanted to get to that cemetery.

It’s the Simpson Cemetery. It’s beautiful.

It’s the Simpson Cemetery. It’s beautiful.

There’s a chair near the entrance, under a tree, near the posted rules and regulations, for contemplation.

Gerry, contemplative, sort of.

Gerry, contemplative, sort of.

So I walked up the hill with my camera. There are lots of the same names here, family groups.

It was a beautiful day.

It was a beautiful day.

Another Crick.

Another Crick.

How different this is from an Irish cemetery, where the graves are cheek by jowl.

How different this is from an Irish cemetery, where the graves are cheek by jowl.

The sign says the cemetery was established in 1868, but there are a few older graves here.

These pillars drew my eye because they are an older style.

These pillars drew my eye because they are an older style.

Mostly I was just interested in the art and the words …

This woman, a Simpson by marriage, didn’t even get her name on her grave stone—just her initials, although her husband in mentioned by name. But she must have been pious.

This woman, a Simpson by marriage, didn’t even get her name on her grave stone—just her initials, although her husband in mentioned by name. But she must have been pious.

Here’s here husband. He was a Mason, apparently. His wife, M. W., lived 20 years without him.

Here’s her husband. He was a Mason, apparently. His wife, M. W., lived 20 years without him.

This woman, also a Simpson by marriage, was born in 1786. That may have been the oldest birth year I found.

This woman, also a Simpson by marriage, was born in 1786. That may have been the oldest birth year I found.

Isn’t this wording interesting? “Thomas H., consort of Lettetia Spence” … And what kind of tree is that?

Isn’t this wording interesting? “Thomas H., consort of Lettetia Spence” … And what kind of tree is that?

This one says “Come Ye Blessed” and those must be the pearly gates … but it looks more like a picket fence to me.

This one says “Come Ye Blessed” and those must be the pearly gates … but it looks more like a picket fence to me.

There was some humor here.

Big John. I must go back to find out if he was a Simpson.

Big John. I must go back to find out if he was a Simpson.

Gone fishing.

Gone fishing.

It’s the children’s graves that break my heart, though.

Willie Hammond, who lived for 6 years, 7 months, and 2 days. As a mother myself, I can understand this need to count the loss.

Willie Hammond, who lived for 6 years, 7 months, and 2 days. As a mother myself, I can understand this need to precisely count the loss.

I can’t even imagine this. I wonder how John and Mattie picked themselves up. Did they try again? Was it something genetic that fated their babies to this? The tests for such things didn’t exist back then, so they might never have known.

I can’t even imagine this. I wonder how John and Mattie picked themselves up. Did they try again? Was it something genetic that fated their babies to this? The tests for such things didn’t exist back then, so they might never have known.

“Our boys,” they said. They were 15 and 17 when they died 6 weeks apart, perhaps of some illness. The photograph is just heart-stopping.

“Our boys,” they said. They were 15 and 17 when they died 6 weeks apart, perhaps of some illness. The photograph is just heart-stopping. (Don’t forget you can zoom in on these photos.)

“Are you ready?” Gerry asked me. Yes. There are so many stories—not just in this cemetery but on the road between it and our house. We also saw a goat farm, several walking horse stables and farms, and one farm that advertised spotted ponies for sale. We were quiet on the drive home, listening to the radio—to Ottorino Respighi’s The Birds.

Long Weekend

Oh, the things you can get done on a long weekend (after the kitchen is cleaned). We went through all the congrats cards we brought back from the party in Ireland and made a list for thank-you notes. Started writing thank-you notes. Then I did my usual thing of displaying the cards for a while on the bookshelf. Many a birthday card, thank-you card, wedding announcements, and more have been displayed on this shelf. It prolongs the delight. 🙂

Wedding cards.

Wedding cards.

And those little bells? They were repurposed from my friend Amy’s wedding (more than a decade ago) and used by a group of friends to ring us “in” when we arrived at the Nashville Airport on 20 October.

This is the weekend for counting our blessings, and we really are blessed when it comes to friends.

The Adventure’s Not Over Yet, Though

10 October 2015, Saturday
Today we got up, had a wonderful breakfast—including a delightful chat with the gentleman who makes the omelets—and then got on the N56 and headed west. We junctioned with the R263 and drove along the Atlantic coast in sight of the sea.

Twelve years ago we stopped at this very lay-by on the R263 just on the other side of Killybegs in midafternoon on a Saturday.

On the R263 about a mile outside Killybegs, at a curve in the road, this little lay-by.

On the R263 about a mile outside Killybegs, at a curve in the road, this little lay-by.

It overlooks Fintra Bay.

That’s Fintra Beach there.

That’s Fintra Beach there.

That day it was a little sunnier (you can see it if you scroll down in this post) but a lot windier. I called my son in Cookeville, Tennessee, and woke him up; he was a senior in college and had just taken the test to CLEP out of biology, which would enable him to graduate the next spring—in four years. He’d passed. We had a moment on the phone. 🙂

The view here is magnificent.

Fintra Bay, on the coast of County Donegal.

Fintra Bay, on the coast of County Donegal.

Looking out to sea from the little parking/picnic area.

Looking out to sea from the little parking/picnic area.

That particular day we were on our way to see Slieve League—some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe—but missed the turn-off. Now, of course, we have the Wild Atlantic Way marketing campaign, and the route is a little better signposted. 🙂 We were determined to get there. Slieve League was calling us.

Two determined old people. Slieve League or bust!

Two determined old people. Slieve League or bust!

I’d done a lot of research. I’d printed off maps. I knew we had to go to Teelin. And so we did. Here’s a map:

Again, Google Maps is failing me. This is a screen grab. You can see an interactive map here.

Again, Google Maps is failing me. This is a screen grab. You can see an interactive map here.

It was definitely worth the journey—but the drive was a little harrowing. We stopped a few times to catch our breath.

Here we have passed Teelin and are still headed up. Can you see the rock wall on the far hill (right-hand side)? That wall runs along the road.

Here we have passed Teelin and are still headed up. Can you see the rock wall on the far hill (right-hand side)? That wall runs along the road.

The road got narrower and narrower; there were curves and switchbacks. We kept climbing.

This car is pulled over (see the wide spot it’s on?), waiting for me to pass. Yep.

This car is pulled over (see the wide spot it’s on?), waiting for me to pass. Yep.

Then … it seemed like we were at the top. We got out. Took more photos.

Yes. Someone has walked/climbed out to that spot. We did not.

Yes. Someone has walked/climbed out to that spot. We did not. Remember you can click any photo to zoom in.

But people kept driving by us (some people hiked by us), so we went on. You come to a car park and a gate; the road beyond the gate—which you have to open yourself, reading the warning sign as you do so—is little more than a track. I was already worn out and failed to take a photo.

We drove on. You do know when you’ve arrived. Because OMG.

Slieve League, October 2015. It’s magnificent.

Slieve League, October 2015. It’s magnificent.

You’ll definitely try to take a photograph. :)

You’ll definitely try to take a photograph. 🙂

You can’t drive any farther than this. But people do continue on foot—you can walk those peaks, and people were doing it on this day. It was chilly and windy, even where we were.

Yeah, that’s a little beach way down there. I’ve read that there are boat tours that take you up close, so you can look straight up. From here, we’re far enough away from the edge that it’s hard to get a sense of how high they are.

Yeah, that’s a little beach way down there. I’ve read that there are boat tours that take you up close, so you can look straight up. From here, we’re far enough away from the edge that it’s hard to get a sense of how high they are.

Pretty stinkin’ high. 🙂

But what a view!

But what a view!

Yes, that’s another little Martello tower out there.

Yes, that’s another little Martello tower out there.

We lingered for a good while, taking pictures and just taking it in. There were sheep everywhere.

Some were close enough to touch. They’ve seen our kind before. :)

Some were close enough to touch. They’ve seen our kind before. 🙂

And then we made our way back down the mountain. Slowly and carefully.

Gerry had seen a sign for a sweater shop in Teelin. “Shall we have a look?” he asked when we got back to civilization (i.e., Teelin). When you look at it on the map—sixteen minutes by car, it says—it doesn’t look like such a big deal.

But we drove … and drove … and drove … through bleak countryside. Where was this place?

There seemed to be nothing out there.

There seemed to be nothing out there.

There were signs, though. Every time we thought Have we gone too far? Did we miss a turn? there was another sign, leading us on. And then (truly, out in the middle of nowhere), there it was. The Glencolmcille Woollen Mill.

You can’t miss it. :)

You can’t miss it. 🙂

The Donegal region is well known for the wool products made here (from the local sheep, of course, which you see everywhere)—weaving and knitting. We’d already seen some beautiful handmade (not machine-woven!) fabric on Inishowen, and you can really see the difference. We wanted to see more.

So we drove and drove and found the place. Rossan Knitwear. Family business. This truly was the factory outlet, because once I saw the label, I recognized it. I’d seen these sweaters in other shops (and at slightly higher prices). We wandered around. It was the end of the season, so inventory wasn’t what it might have been, but after much consideration, we each picked out a sweater. It was a difficult choice because, oh! the colors.

They are beautiful, hand-loomed by the lady you see in the photo below. I asked to take her photo, and she removed her glasses. I was wearing a machine-knit (I’m pretty sure) sweater I bought in Killarney twelve years ago. Still, she remarked on it, and was impressed at its age and condition. (The red one. You know the one; I wear it all the time. I dress it up and dress it down. It goes everywhere.) So I guess the lesson here is a sweater bought in Ireland is a worthwhile investment.

She made my sweater!

She made my sweater!

We started making our way back.

On the little road leading back to the R263. Sheep, this one rounded the corner and ran up into the farmer’s yard.

On the little road leading back to the R263. Sheep! This one rounded the corner and ran up into the farmer’s yard.

When we got back to Carrick, there was a Saturday market in full swing, complete with livestock and crafts. It was hard not to stop, but we pushed on. We had treasures in our boot. 🙂

A farmers market in Carrick, Co. Donegal.

A farmers market in Carrick, Co. Donegal.

Back in Donegal Town, we stopped for an early supper of comfort food at the Blueberry Tea Room on Castle Street. It had been recommended to us by a shopkeeper the day before, and was also written up in the Wild Atlantic Way book we’d purchased back in Moville. The place was packed, and the ambience was fantastic.

When we returned to the hotel, we noticed there was a wedding reception just getting started. (First we noticed it in the parking lot. We had to drive out to the back nine, so to speak, to park.) There was a vintage Rolls Royce parked in front of the entrance, as if the wedding couple were the only people who might be using the door.

Interestingly, there had been a wedding reception here at the hotel Friday night, and we barely knew they were here, though we’d seen them and their guests coming in. But starting with the Rolls outside, this was a very upscale event. Or at least you would have thought that, based on the accoutrements. Yet by 3am—because, yes, we were still awake—they were behaving like what people in my neck of the woods would call trash, these fancy people, both men and women. One couple had an argument in the courtyard right outside our bedroom window, using their outside voices. Groups of people shouting (shouting!) and carrying on in the halls as if they were the only people staying in the hotel. It was shameful. Money doesn’t buy class, obviously.