One of the things I love most about the Holiday Season is the memories it brings with it. Standing with my sister on the steps of St. Paul’s cathedral, listening to the church bells ring out all over London to celebrate England’s first Christmas of peace after six long years of war. The first Christmas I spent here in the U.S., aching with home-sickness for the family and friends I’d left behind, unaware of the many happy holidays that would follow with new friends and family. My son’s first Christmas, his eyes wide with wonder at the lights on the Christmas tree. The first Christmas I spent with my husband in snowy Philadelphia. So many memories, and some of them stand out more than others.
When my mother decided to open a seaside hotel, she uprooted the family from London to the southeast coast. We opened for business the following spring. The previous owners, knowing they were selling the place, hadn’t bothered to take any bookings for the summer season, so our first year wasn’t a roaring success. Just a handful of regulars were booked in, which was just as well, since none of us knew much about running a hotel. My sister and I cleaned rooms, waited on tables, supplied room service, and booked visitors in and out of the hotel, while my mother cooked and my father washed dishes. We learned a lot that first year, with the help of some very patient and understanding guests who eventually became lifelong friends.
When it became obvious we would barely break even, my mother decided to open for Christmas. Only one family responded to our ad – a couple from London with two teenage sons. Since my sister and I were also in our teens, we became a lot more enthusiastic about the prospect of working over Christmas. We cheerfully decorated the entire five floors, and made sure to hang mistletoe on every available doorway.
The family arrived amid much excitement and speculation, until we got a good look at the sons. My sister and I exchanged one dismayed glance, and spent the next half hour hastily taking down all those bunches of mistletoe.
We had planned a sumptuous and eventful Christmas for our guests with all the usual trimmings and fanfare, including entertainment from yours truly on the piano. It wasn’t until we were halfway through the first evening of Christmas carols and songs, that we learned our guest family was actually Jewish, didn’t celebrate Christmas and had left London for the holidays to escape the whole shebang.
After a very long, awkward moment of silence, one of the sons giggled, endearing us immediately. More laughter followed and everyone joined in. The ice was broken. From then on we had a fabulous time. We learned Jewish songs and customs, and shared some of ours. The family thoroughly enjoyed the traditional Christmas dinner and by the time they left we were all fast friends.
It was the only time we opened for Christmas. We treated everyone who stayed with us like family, and word of mouth spread like wildfire. The following summer we were booked solid, and every year after that had to turn people away.
The Pennyfoot Hotel is based on that little seaside hotel, and some of the eccentric characters in the Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries are composites of people I met while working for my mother.
THE CLUE IS IN THE PUDDING, on the shelves now, is the eighth Christmas at the Pennyfoot, and the twentieth book in the series. Try it. I think you’ll like it. And, just in case you’re dying to know how the whole thing started, the first three books in the series are available at Amazon for the Kindle. You can learn more about the books at Happy Holidays!
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