The Innkeeper’s Daughter

Melissa Levis, the innkeeper's daughter.

Melissa Levis, the innkeeper's daughter.

My parents bought the Wilburton Inn 27 years ago, in October of 1987. I was a 17-year-old sleep away camp counselor in Connecticut and my brother Oliver, the now local celebrity Vermont baker and organic gardener, was a 10 year old camper with scraped knees when our dad first told us with great enthusiasm that he wanted to buy the inn. I asked bewilderedly why a full-time psychiatrist in New Haven, Connecticut would want to take on a 25-room country inn in Manchester, Vermont, but dad brimmed with so much excitement, he simply brushed my bewilderment aside. Three months later, the financing was arranged. I returned home from my first months as a freshman at Brown University to celebrate the beginning of our family inn.

My mother came from a family of New York City leaders, but they all took the time to trek to our quaint Vermont village to toast my parent’s new venture. My uncle, the great financier Bruce Wasserstein, lifted his glass and said, “There are not many people with the courage to follow their dreams. Congratulations on your courage and ability to buy this place.” Then as he sat down, he muttered, “Good luck keeping it.”

My parents had many sleepless nights when they worried over mortgage payments, frozen pipes, and Fawlty Towers like situations that makes you want to cry or laugh or just take to your bed and watch escapist old movies. Yet despite the stress, the inn has been so much more than the fifth Levis child; the inn has been our hub. The inn has been the reason my parents made so many friends in town and around the world. My parents hosted countless local birthday parties, corporate events, temple kol nidre dinners, charity parties for community schools and theatres and causes. My mom was on the board of the chamber of commerce for 20 years. My father was the famous host who went table to table to pour the wine and give guests an innkeepers personal welcome.

The inn is where we celebrated my mother’s 50th birthday, my brother’s Max’s bar-mitzvah, my sister’s, my brother’s and my own big fat Greek/Jewish weddings, my mother’s 60th and my father’s 70th birthday. My mother talked of the magic table in the dining room, because it kept magically getting larger as we grew and married and came back to the inn with our children and spouses.

And suddenly 27 years have gone in an instant, in a scrapbook of smiles and weddings, and parties and memories. Our mom died very unexpectedly this winter. We had just hosted a fantastic murder mystery weekend, and the next week she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. The inn is where we celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, and then the biggest celebration of all – her heartbreaking funeral.

And now my siblings and I have joined our father as the innkeepers. I am the same age now that my mother was when she first became the innkeeper. I have inherited her friends, her guests, her wardrobe of long plaid Christmasy skirts. I mourn my mother as I give new vitality to the inn.  I stand beside my father and sister and brothers and together we embrace the wonderful world of innkeeping and hospitality in a small town.

Thank you for being a part of our extended family and sharing this journey with us.