My reaction to the recent news story of the girl who was suspended for saying, "Bless you."
Well, finally, I’ll get to the point of this whole trip down memory lane. You can’t say I didn’t warn you. I told you at the get-go that it would be a long story long, and I did not disappoint, did I? It has been a loooong story! So, if you are still with me and haven’t lost interest in Chalet Suzanne yet, bravo to you! (By the way, it might be time to find a hobby…)
During my last two articles, I told you about our many experiences at Chalet Suzanne, a sweet little inn in Lake Wales, Florida. It’s a magical little place, and sadly, it is closing. In fact, I think, as of today, it is closed. *Sigh.* No more Swedish pancakes. Now, what do I have to live for?
The infatuation of this inn started for me when I was 17 years old, which was like, a million years ago (or at least 100), according to my kids. The love for the inn never died, and that includes this last trip we took.
When Mr. Everything and I found out Chalet Suzanne would be closing, we knew we had to make one last visit before it was eternally too late. (Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but it’s my story…) I made the reservation, and we counted the days until we could return. We had not been in at least 5 years, and it had been at least 10 years, if not more, since we had eaten dinner there. We decided to go for the whole sha-bang. I mean, why not? It was our last chance for all eternity. (I’m on an eternal kick today, can you tell?)
Last weekend, we finally got to go to the inn. As we drove down the driveway, I knew things had changed a little. The grass was overgrown. This was something that would never have happened back in the day. Also, there was a lawn mower broken down by the main drive. That would explain the overgrown grass, I suppose.
We checked in, and the staff members were not nearly as warm and welcoming as we remembered. I mean, they weren’t unfriendly, but we were not called by name or anything.
We got to our room, and while it was clean and comfortable, we realized one reason the inn must be closing. The low ceilings, while charming, were also claustrophobic. The bathroom, while cute with the pink and green tiles, was so outdated, it wasn’t even funny. Okay, it was funny. Mr. E and I joked that it was a good thing neither of us has thick hair (or much hair for that matter). It would have taken days to rinse the shampoo out with the drip, drip, dripping speed of the shower head. The towels were worn out. The tiles in the bathtub were starting to fall off the walls. Yep, the time had come for the inn to admit defeat.
Don’t get me wrong. We still completely enjoyed our stay. We could just see the wear and tear in the groaning little building where we stayed. I’m sure the owners of the inn were faced with a multi-million dollar overhaul or allowing the inn to give up the ghost. I’m pretty sure they made a wise choice. CPR on this place would have been very difficult.
As we walked around the property, we noticed the rotting wood on several buildings. We found our tile with the “cow-pig” in the autograph garden, and it had mold on it from the weather and overgrown plants nearby. The mold did not detract from the quality of my artwork. It was hideous to start with.
When we went to dinner, we were surprised to not find Kenny Rogers, the maître d’ who had been there during each visit we had made to the dining room. You’d think we would have learned the man’s real name over all those years, but “Kenny” worked for me. Instead of Kenny, we found the owner’s wife acting as the hostess. Apparently, Kenny had not informed her of the rules, because she was just letting anyone in. In the past, we had seen men turned away for not wearing jackets and ties and women given shawls if they wore sundresses with straps. But, like so many parts of Chalet Suzanne, those rules had withered away. We saw people in jeans and in shorts. One lady had a bandana on her head! It was a travesty, and we knew Kenny would never stand for it. We decided that was why he was gone. He had probably quit because they told him he couldn’t enforce the rules anymore. They were just happy to have business coming in, but Kenny wanted decency and order. The poor man was probably alone and heart broken, wearing his suit and tie, sipping his coffee from his China cup. It was a sad picture to envision.
Our meal was slow. I mean, really slow. I kept reminding Mr. E that it just meant we had longer to enjoy the ambiance of the dining room. Before it was over, we’d had plenty of time. Believe me. It took us twenty minutes just to be able to order our food. We were pretty sure we would be living there for a while. I was okay with that idea as I was surrounded by miscellanea at its finest. I don’t think the Mr. was in agreement. He likes for his plate and bowl to match, thank you very much.
During the meal, we couldn’t help but notice the decline in service. Not that we were complaining. It was still a really nice meal, and we had a great time. However, little things, like a spoon to stir my coffee, were overlooked. In the days of old, that would have never happened. Back then, someone would have been there, with spoon in hand, calling me by name and offering to stir the coffee for me. Now, they had gone all modern on us…the new motto was, “Do it yourself.” At one point, I considered getting up and pouring myself more iced tea, but I was afraid Kenny’s ghost would come back and smite me. (Oh wait, I don’t think he’s dead – at least I hope not! So, maybe he’d have an out-of-body experience to come and smite me.)
We determined quickly that we were seated in the “uncool” dining room. The beautiful, tall, skinny, fashionable people were all led to the other dining room. That was the “cool” room. Apparently, they didn’t think we fit in there. If Kenny had been there, things would have been different. (He probably would have made us eat in the kitchen after that whole “V Day” incident…) Our dining room had the short, the fat, the old, the ugly, the man blowing his nose on his linen napkin. (Seriously, people. If you do that, please stop. The rest of us can hear you. And if your husband is the one doing that, make him stop! You boss him around on everything else. Why are you allowing that?)
In the cool room, the fashion was higher, the high heels were taller, and the hair was sleeker. They were well adorned with jewels and baubles. There was one table in our line of vision who we named, “The Happy Table.” The party of six polished off three bottles of wine, by our count. There were also a few bar drinks to add to the mix. They were really, really happy. They kept toasting everything. “A toast…” “Let’s toast….” “Toast, everyone….” It got to the point of funny to us. We were greatly amused just by watching them. I’d bet they weren’t nearly as amused or amusing the next morning. Come to think of it, I did not see a single one of them at breakfast the next day….
We weren’t sure how we ended up in the uncool room, but we had no doubt how the couple seated next to us got there. They were so completely annoying. They kept talking to Coke Bottles, the piano player. (We’ll get to him in a minute.) They also kept dropping names. Every time the server would come near them, the man would say something about “Eric.” Apparently, Eric was the owner of Chalet Suzanne, and somehow, this guy knew him. All I knew was, he didn’t know Eric well, because this man was, after all, seated in the uncool room. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone drop names more than this guy did. At one point, I was pretending to bend over and pick up the names as he dropped them. At least Mr. E found it amusing.
Then, Mr. Everything decided he was going to start shooting spit balls at this guy every time he said something stupid. Thankfully, these were just pretend spit balls, but it was funny anyway. Every time the guy said anything, Mr. E would take his straw and blow through it like he was shooting something at the man. It was hilarious, and don’t worry, the guy was too busy talking about Eric to notice us making fun of him.
So, on to Coke Bottles. When we arrived, we were the only ones in the uncool room, other than the piano player. He greeted us from across the room, and we said our friendly hellos back. Then, we assumed we were finished talking to him, but we were wrong. He came to our table to expound on how his evening was going. He had glasses so thick, they were (you finish the sentence) like Coke Bottles, thus the name. He wore a nametag that said his first name, which I can’t remember, and it said, “I play for tips. I sell CDs.” Nothing like a little tactful hint.
Coke Bottles tried to make conversation with us. I’m pretty sure he wanted a tip. Little did he know, we’d left our millions in our other pants. We were polite enough but did not engage. This is a trick we learned a long time ago when dealing with the mariachi band at the Mexican restaurant. Don’t make eye contact, and don’t engage. You’ll regret it if you do.
Coke Bottles circulated the dining room five times during our meal. Each time, he attempted to chat with us. Each time, he got a polite, “Uh-huh,” and nothing more from us. We are skilled at this game. So, we got out without having to have a real conversation with Coke Bottles, and we did not buy one of his CDs. We really did not want one of his CDs. Really.
All in all, the evening was a great time. I can’t say the service lived up to our expectations, but the food was fabulous. You haven’t lived until you’ve had lingonberries on chicken. It really did not matter that the service was lacking. It just gave us more time to have fun and enjoy our little restaurant for one last hoo-rah. I’m so glad we went, and I wish we could go back, just one more time…. -Al
You can tell, since this is a continuation of yesterday’s story, that Chalet Suzanne was definitely a part of our history. Mr. E and I loved that place and visited whenever we could afford to (which, sadly, was not often). Today, we’ll continue our trip down memory lane. I told you it was a long trip!
On one anniversary, it might have been the 10th or 11th, we managed to go to the inn for one night. We even splurged and had dinner there, as well. For most years, we had not opted for the dinner as it was just more than we could pay for. On this particular trip, we were rushed in packing and getting out the door. My parents were keeping the Beetle and the Goose, so we took the kids to their house. As we were getting close to Lake Wales, where the inn was located, we got a call saying the kids had forgotten to get their pillows out of the trunk of our car. So, we turned around and drove back. My parents met us halfway, bless them, and got the kids’ belongings. We patted their little heads (the kids’, not the parents’) and left them for a second time. This time, the Goose decided she really, really wanted to go with us. She begged. She pleaded. She cried. We said goodbye. I felt guilty for about 1.2 seconds, but I knew she was fine. My sister and I have always referred to my parents’ house as “Disney World” for the grandkids. It’s a much more magical place than it was when we lived with them, that’s for sure. Anyway, I knew she would be fine, and if not, I’d see her in less than 24 hours. That which doesn’t kills us makes us stronger, right?
We were so happy when we finally got to Chalet Suzanne. Even the drive down the long driveway was magical as we knew we would soon see the enchanting pinkness of the inn….. and there it was! I really did love that place!
We got checked in and settled into our room. I took my dress out of the suitcase and hung it up so it would not get wrinkled. Mr. E decided he’d better do the same with his suit. I placed my shoes out by my dress, and he went to do the same. Except, his shoes weren’t there. He’d forgotten his dress shoes. Ugh! The only shoes he had were white Reebok tennis shoes.
So, here’s the thing about Chalet Suzanne’s dining room. It had a dress code – a serious dress code – and Kenny Rogers, the maître d’, meant business! I had seen that man require guests to put on borrowed coats and ties, and I knew he wasn’t letting Reebok tennis shoes into his dining room at dinner time. So, we went shopping.
This was in the days before the mall was built in Lake Wales, so there was not much to choose from in the sleepy little town. Mr. Everything finally settled on a pair of black dress shoes from Payless. They squeaked when he walked and left black marks on the floor everywhere, but they were black, and they met the requirements.
Since that trip, I have never let Mr. E forget his shoes again. In fact, I’ve also never let him live it down. On our recent trip, he almost walked out without his suit. Luckily, we remembered. We joked that Kenny would have banished him for life. Little did we know how much things had changed. We’ll talk about that next time.
Our overnight stays quickly became trips to the inn for breakfast. The breakfast was at least 25% of the magic of the place, so I was okay with that. The Beetle, the Goose and Mr. Everything took me there several times for Mother’s Day. It was so much fun, and I loved getting to visit. Then, the kids got older and began trying to kill each other any time we were in the car for more than five minutes. At that point, I decided it just wasn’t worth it, and even the breakfast trips ended. We considered just going without the kids, but somehow, a Mother’s Day celebration without my children just didn’t feel right.
The breakfast at Chalet Suzanne was amazing. Everything about it was magical. Just thinking about it takes me to my happy place. (Excuse me while I pause….I’m envisioning pancakes.)
The coffee was the best I had ever tasted. The fact that it was served from silver kettles into eclectic China cups didn’t hurt either. Then, there was the food. Oh my goodness, the food. The eggs were scrambled with chives. While that sounds disgusting, with a little Chalet Suzanne magic, it’s actually quite tasty. The bacon and sausage were good, as well. However, anyone who knows me knows I was never there for the protein. Oh, no. It’s all about the carbs, my friends, and the carbs were AH-mazing! First we received these tiny little cinnamon rolls that were thick, chewy (in a good way) and delicious. We also got a stack of probably 10 to 12 pancakes. Before you think that’s a lot, realize these pancakes were small and paper thin. A stack of 10 to 12 was probably an inch tall and 2 ½ inches in diameter. The taste was wonderful, and the texture of these tiny pancakes was almost crepe-like. The pancakes were served with lingonberries. Yeah, I didn’t know what they were either. They are almost like cranberries, but sweeter, and they go surprisingly well with pancakes! Of course, I’m a traditional girl and just want syrup and butter, but Mr. E loves him some lingonberries. The best part of the whole breakfast was we could get more! The servers would walk around with a plate of pancakes and serve as many more as we wanted. I discovered several trips into it that I could get more cinnamon rolls too, if I just asked.
On the trips with the kids, the staff members were so sweet to them. I was a little nervous about taking my little beasties into a dining room with all that old China and the antique furniture. Though I knew they could be well behaved, I also knew it could really, really wrong really quickly. The ladies there just loved them, though, and made them feel welcomed. They even gave them bags of old potato rolls so they could feed the turtles in the pond. While I did love turtles, I also really loved those potato rolls and considered snatching them from my children and eating them myself. Old or not, those suckers were amazing. However, my love for the turtles and my kids won, and I sacrificed the day-old bread for them.
When we would go feed the turtles, they would see us coming. As we walked toward the pond, hundreds of turtle heads would pop up from the water and start moving toward the shore. By the time we got there, the whole city of turtles was waiting for us, as though we were the royal family and they were looking up at us to pay their respects. Either that, or they just wanted the bread. The kids had a ball feeding them. It was the kids, of course, who loved it, because I’m much too mature and grown up to get my kicks from turtles. Really.
On those days when the kids would take me there, we would walk around the inn and look at the antiques and alcoves. We would sit in the gazebo on the air strip and watch planes land or take off. We would also walk around and peek inside the planes that were parked there. Those are some great memories.
The Beetle had gone to Chalet Suzanne with us a few times before the Goose was born. Her first trip to the inn did not turn out quite as well. It was the day that forever changed what I remembered when reminiscing about taking my kids to Chalet Suzanne. We’ll call it “V Day.” “V” would be for Vomit. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you this story before, but it’s worth repeating, much to the Beetle’s chagrin.
On this trip, we took my mother-in-law with us. It must have been a combined Christmas gift for her and birthday gift for me. I know it was Christmas time, because there’s a Christmas tree in the picture. We enjoyed our breakfast, and the Beetle was enjoying more chocolate milk. Even the chocolate milk was refillable at this place. He loved that, because I usually limited him to one glass, if we were paying for it. The Goose was demanding more pancakes. (Like mother, like daughter.) We were enjoying feeding her and relaxing in the dining room. All at once, the Beetle grew pale and said, “I don’t feel good.” These were not words I wanted to hear from this kid. His other nickname was, “The Puker,” because he had barfed in public more times than I care to think about. When she got older, if the Goose had said she didn’t feel good, I would have told her to sit back and rest for a minute. She would have been fine. However, this wasn’t the Goose. As soon as the Beetle said it, I grabbed his hand and started for the bathroom. We only made it two feet from the table before he started vomiting. I grabbed a napkin – a cloth napkin – and told him to hold it over his mouth. He tried, bless his heart, but it was just too much vomit. We ended up leaving a trail of vomit from the table all the way to the bathroom, which was, of course, at the front of the entire building. This wasn’t just any vomit, either. This was chocolate milk vomit. If you are a mother, you know that smell. If you aren’t, consider yourself blessed.
By the time we got to the bathroom, the Beetle was finished puking. He was wearing overalls, and the vomit had run down between the bib of the overalls and his shirt. His shirt was covered, and he was holding a pukey napkin. He asked me what he should do with it, and I considered the possibilities. I could take it and hand it to Kenny Rogers, the dress code Nazi, or we could just toss it. So, in the trash it went. I felt a little bad, but I was pretty sure they didn’t want it back. The Beetle asked me what to do about his shirt. I told him to take it off so I could wash it out. However, as I looked at it, it went in the trash too. (You may not realize this, but I have a weak stomach…like, the weakest of weak. I gagged while changing my own children’s poopy diapers, and I have never, I repeat NEVER, dealt with puke. That’s the Mr.’s job. So, the fact that I was trapped in this bathroom with chocolate milk vomit was pushing me to the brink of sanity. It was the shirt or me.)
The Beetle could not just walk around topless at Chalet Suzanne. Luckily, I was wearing a tank top under another shirt. Though I was not fully comfortable going without the tank top, I figured it was better than him going without a shirt at all. Since the Beetle felt better (he always felt better after he puked), we went ahead and walked around the inn. It was still a good day, but my breakfast memories were forever marred by The Incident.
The next time we visited Chalet Suzanne was another breakfast trip. This was at least 3 years later. We walked in at breakfast, and Kenny Rogers said, “Oh, I remember you…” That really wasn’t what I wanted to be remembered for.
Next time, I will tell you about the visit that sparked this whole voyage down memory lane. -Al
I’m just going to warn you now, in case the title of this story wasn’t enough for you, we’re about to take a trip down memory lane. If you don’t want to go, get out while you can. Consider yourself warned. This is a long story long. (Instead of a long story short.)
Recently, we found out the inn where we spent our wedding night would be closing its doors for good, after 83 years in business. We decided we had to go there one last time, because this place is just such a part of our history. Mr. Everything says we have the restaurant at this inn to thank for causing me to want to visit so many fine dining restaurants for my job. He might just have a point there.
The first time I ever heard about Chalet Suzanne was when I turned seventeen. Some sweet older people at our church told Mr. E about it. They would fly their plane there sometimes to have lunch. (Just a normal, average day in the life…) They told Mr. E he should take me there for lunch or for dinner, and he decided to do just that.
For my seventeenth birthday, Mr. Everything told me he had a surprise for me. He said he was taking me to a very nice dinner, and he wanted me to dress up. In fact, he bought me a dress for the occasion. (No, it wasn’t controlling…I promise. It really was a sweet gesture, though it sounds a little creepy and controlling in text. Trust me on this. It was sweet.)
Anywho, for my seventeenth birthday, 3 days before Christmas, Mr. Everything took me to Chalet Suzanne for dinner. We got there, and it was, by far, the cutest place I had ever seen. It was pink! And the buildings made it look like a Swiss village! And when it got dark, there were Christmas lights! It was magical, and I knew right away that I loved it, regardless of how the food was.
We entered the building that houses the 5 dining rooms, and the floor creaked underneath us. I felt like a giant as my head was only about 6 inches from the ceiling. This was an old building. We could just feel the age in the way the floor sounded and the way the walls and ceiling looked. It was old Florida at its best. The whole building slanted downward toward the back, so we walked that way. What we found was a dim, eclectic mixture of dining rooms like nothing I had ever imagined. It was awesome! The tables were set with plates and glasses that did not match each other. Everything was hodge-podge, and I loved it! We were seated in a room that had a grapevine with Christmas lights above us! It was spectacular! (I know I’m using a lot of exclamation points here, but you have to understand how amazing this place was!!!) (!!!) The host, we’ll call him Kenny Rogers, handed us menus and told us to enjoy our evening. (He really, really looked like Kenny Rogers. Really…Really.)
As we began to look at the menu, I pondered what the listings meant. There were words on there I did not even know how to pronounce, and under each menu item, there were numbers spelled out. For example, the menu said, “Chicken Suzanne. Our wonderful, succulent chicken breast cooked in blah, blah, blah. Fifty three.” I had no idea what “Fifty three” could mean, and I sat there trying to figure it out. Then, all at once, I realized what it meant. Oh. My. Gosh. That was the price!
I began to hyperventilate. (Okay, not really, but I felt like I was going to.) I thought I was going to fall out of my chair. I stammered, “We have to go.” Mr. E asked me why, and he was obviously taking great delight in this moment. “Because, those are the prices!” He told me not to worry about, and I said I was worried. I really thought he should be worried too. He insisted he knew the prices. I had tears in my eyes. He told me happy birthday, and he said to just relax and enjoy it. I told him it was too much money, and he assured me he had a discount card that would make it cost less. I accepted that answer, because I really wanted to stay in this cute little dining room all night. Later, I found out, the discount card only took off $25. I could have killed him, but I was really glad he made me stay.
The dinner was amazing! I had never experienced anything like it, and even now, with all the places I’ve been blessed to visit, I have never been anywhere else that could compare. First off, the service was impeccable. As soon as we would put our forks down after finishing the last bite of something, the server would appear, almost magically, and offer the next course. Also, the cool thing about this place was all the courses were included in the price. We had a broiled grapefruit (amazing…trust me on this), Moon Soup (What’s an adjective for amazing?), salad, an orange crepe to clear the palate, dinner (chicken for me, filet for the Mr.), lemon sorbet and finally, dessert. Oh. My. Goodness. Dessert. Mine was called Gateau Christina. It was layers of chocolate ganache and meringue. Even the iced tea was included. It was amazing. They brought me sugar water to sweeten the tea to my taste. I felt so fancy. They took our picture for our special occasion, and they brought us a can of Moon Soup. It was wrapped all pretty and had a candle on top.
That night, I knew where we would spend our wedding night. I was only 17, but I had known since I was 16 that I was marrying this man. I just had to wait until I was old enough so my parents would not freak out. After dinner, as we walked around and saw the village-like inn, I knew where I wanted to be.
Three years later, I got my wish. As crazy as it was, we drove from our wedding reception in our town to Chalet Suzanne, which was an hour east of us. We spent the night there, and then we got up and drove past our home town and then almost an hour west to catch our flight to our honeymoon destination. So, staying at Chalet Suzanne on our wedding night was not the most practical idea, but it was what I wanted, and Mr. E made sure I got it.
Our wedding night was so nice. We were both so tired from the festivities of the wedding. I had already cried for an hour straight on the way to the inn. (I explained that in this tale: CLICK HERE) We went to dinner at the cute little restaurant, and it was just as amazing as I had remembered. I ordered the exact same thing I had the first time. Why mess with perfection?
Our room was equally amazing. We stayed in the Tower. It was a room that had its own staircase with a little balcony area. The room had a Jacuzzi tub and a king sized bed. It was decorated with antiques and was so cute. I can still picture it. They provided Neutrogena toiletries. To this day, that smell takes me back to that room. We could not have picked a more magical setting for our wedding night.
We returned to Chalet Suzanne a few more times over the years for anniversaries. It was our original intent to return for every anniversary, but life, kids and finances made sure that did not happen. But, it was fun while it lasted.
On our first anniversary, we painted a tile at the pottery shop at the inn. This was to go in the “Autograph Garden,” a magical place where celebrities and visitors could leave their marks. We decided to decorate a tile to commemorate the fact that we survived the first year. It was kind of a big deal. And of course, because our last name is a part of a pig, we had to draw a pig. Unfortunately, I had not learned to draw yet (not that I’m much better now, but I’m a little better…), and the pig turned out looking more like a cow. Now, every time I visit that Autograph Garden, I’m horrified to see how bad my drawing really was. Mr. Everything calls it the cow-pig. He’s so encouraging. I wonder why I could not have drawn a heart or a wedding ring or something else average and normal. (Oh that’s right….because I’m not.)
It was during that trip that I discovered the pottery studio and the antique chapel. There were just more and more things to love about the inn. The antique chapel was a little church (thus, the “chapel”) filled with antiques (thus, the “antique”). It was an eclectic collection of old stuff that could keep me enchanted for days. We loved to just stroll through the property and see all the antiques and alcoves. I just loved it there.
Next time, I’ll tell you about the breakfast visits to Chalet Suzanne. There are turtles involved. -Al