I’ve spent so many years at the hilltop house hotel that the days bleed together like a watercolor painting left in the rain. I’ve seen people come and go, faces pass in a blur. I have made so many friends and acquaintances that I can’t recall all of their names. Of course I’ve made friendships from the old place that have lasted. My dearest friend John, who has been mentioned in several stories, and I still talk almost daily. So many faces and names run through my head when trying to recall them all. Some stand out more than others. Some…sadly…are ghosts and wisps of shadow in my mind.
Even now, although the place is closed and decaying, I have made friends here. The lovely young couple who walk their boxers, Sherlock And Watson who I’ve met there are great people and their dogs are energetic and spunky. When I met them, their dogs were wagging excitedly as I introduced myself. The dogs jumped all over me in their excitement. And after I assured them that I didn’t mind we became friends. It’s Funny how many people I have met through their dogs.
But this isn’t about them…
When I returned to West Virginia, my friend John had a little job he needed help with. We were removing the hardwood flooring from the upper floors of the Hilltop house. It was dirty, rough, tiring work in the dead of a hot summer. The hotel had been closed for almost a decade at this point and was in a serious state of disrepair. I was in need of a job, and an income so I accepted it readily. The job took about 3 weeks to complete. The new owner didn’t want to dispose of the antique flooring. Quite the contrary, he wanted to SAVE it. To repurpose it, to bring it back to life. This immediately told me of the integrity and purposefulness (if that is indeed a word) of the man in charge. I liked him without having met him.
Through those three weeks in June I met Al. He is an easy spirit, tough and fair. Al and I got along fine. We met, and had several conversations concerning the old place. He learned my personal history with the hotel and my deep connection to the town itself. Al has an easy laugh a warm and friendly smile and a clear no-nonsense head for what he does and I respect that. The owner has a clear vision and Al knows what he wants and how to make it happen. And I am proud to be able to call Al my friend, as well as my boss. He says “jump” and I say “how high?” Al would say “2 feet up” and id say “I’m a very large man Al, will you take 12, 4 inch jumps?” Yes, it’s that kind of working relationship.
One day, while the late summer sun burned the clouds from the sky with a brilliant heat, I sat on the tiny john deere mower I use to keep the grounds trimmed. He had come to inspect the recent reconstruction of the armory houses that line Washington Street and I was there by myself that day. John was off on some beach adventure with his family.
“James, how are you doing?” Al asked as I slowed the mower to a halt and turned it off. (one of my pet peeves is trying to talk over machinery) I wiped sweat from my brow and smiled.
“I’m hot Al. But other than that, I’m doing fine thanks”
He smiled and stood next to the mower while I took a long pull from my water bottle. “where’s everyone at?” he asked looking over the houses.
“Lunch I reckon, sir.”
He nodded. Al’s eyes studied the work that was done. I could tell he was measuring and cataloging and making notes of what needed, didn’t need and would not get done. the practiced eye of a man who knows his stuff. I’m certain lists were made in his mind, perhaps listed by priority, perhaps (like myself) a jumbled list of things that would get sorted in due time. “Everything good?’ This was Al’s standard question. It meant a lot of things, really. “Do you need anything?” or “Anything to report?” or “How’s your life, buddy?”
“Everything’s good, sir” I answered.
“This late august grass is getting thick.” he said off-hand.
I nodded. “I know, this time last year, this hill was covered in bamboo, scrubs and all kinds of overgrowth.” John and I had spent the previous late summer and fall leading a crew that cleared the overgrowth and successfully regained a large amount of acreage from the wild.
The remark may seem inconsequential. But it stuck with me for days. “Late August Grass” like a splinter in my mind it dug into me. I thought I had heard it somewhere before. Like a sonnet, or a poem, or something like that. I searched but couldn’t find what I was looking for. The closest I could find was a poem by Walt Whitman. But it wasn’t the one.
Those words…inspired me…for lack of a better word. And the poem came forth like a thing born. It left my mind, raced down my arm to my hand and the words came spilling out.
I am NO POET, by any means. The lyrical mysteries escape me completely. BUT I tried. I wasn’t satisfied with it….what artist is satisfied with their work? So I did it again. And again and again. Several versions were written and thrown away promptly. until I wrote a version that was satisfactory….to me anyway.
You never know where inspiration will come from. The wind, the sky, or in this case, from a friend I would have never met had it not been for my beloved Hilltop House Hotel. The old girl is still bringing friends together, even though the doors have long ago been closed.