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Sentry of the Sweets

My cousin Kathleen is getting married at the Boston Harbor Hotel. My family has never been to Boston. Mom starts looking for inexpensive places for us to stay on the outskirts of the city when her brother calls to say he will put us up in a suite. Right there IN the same hotel where the wedding will take place.

I live in Los Angeles. I am twenty-four and a plane ticket costs half a month’s rent, but I am desperate to see my family and excited about reconnecting with my cousins.

There are six of them, the youngest being my age, and cousin Kathleen is the fourth to get married. I have only seen my cousins at the other three weddings and just once when we were young and our families met up in New York. We all went to the Bronx Zoo with my grandparents. There is a photo of me holding the bag of lollypops that grandpa bought at the bodega around the corner from their Brooklyn apartment. I was in charge of doling them out. My older cousins towered above me as I guarded the Dum-Dums like they were gold and I was the five year-old power broker, the queen of the candy, the sentry of the sweets.

I arrive at Logan International and Uncle Tom is standing by the luggage carousel holding a sign with my name on it. I’d only seen such a thing in movies. I feel like a celebrity. When we pull up to the hotel on the edge of the Harbor, I can’t believe I am staying there, right in the center of the action. The ornate flower arrangements in the lobby tower over me and my boots echo on the marble floor as we walk through the grand glass atrium with its gargantuan chandelier. My Uncle checks me in and hands me the key on its leather fob with the room number emblazoned in gold and I head up the elevator with the enthusiasm of Eloise at the Plaza.

My family is driving up from Raleigh in their tan Honda and won’t be in Boston until later that afternoon. I’m alone in a two-bedroom suite. Uncle Tom says I can feel free to order room service. I have only had room service once before, when I was twenty-three and dated a worldly thirty-four year-old man. We went on a romantic getaway to San Francisco. Flew there. Business class. It was the third trip I’d taken on an airplane and the only time I had a hand to hold. He rented a convertible and we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and stayed at a Hilton in Union Square around the corner from a Macy’s with half a dozen floors. We ordered breakfast in bed and I thought, “This is the life!” I imagined I would marry a man with whom I’d travel to many places like that. But I was too young and my life’s map had numerous detours before I was destined to commit to a co-pilot. When he turned thirty-five and admitted he’d had a vasectomy several years before, that relationship door closed, but my eyes were opened to room service. It became an important bar for future jobs and relationships.

Uncle Tom speaks my dream-of-luxury language.

Simply knowing I CAN order a $20 Lobster Roll and eat it on a king-sized bed while watching boats in the harbor is thrilling, but I have a city to see and a couple hours of freedom. I get a map from the concierge and wander mostly along the harbor, breathing in the salty air as gulls caw and waves lap against the docks. My map-reading skills aren’t good and, while I crave adventure, I also don’t want to get lost. I have only enough money for a bowl of clam chowder, not a taxi.

As I walk back through the atrium, I hear the distinct Southern accent of my father, “The reservation is under Tom McGrath,” he practically shouts, his voice reverberating across the airy lobby. Daddy is more accustomed to check-in offices the size of phone booths with counters behind plexiglass and peg-boards with plastic key rings on the wall. Like at the Islander Motel, where we’d unpack the car trunk three feet from our door and lug in a cooler with milk for the cereal we’d eat from paper bowls with plastic spoons in the morning and the jam we’d spread on Wonder Bread for our PB&J lunches.

I walk up behind him a give him a big bear hug, and tell the clerk the reservation is now in my name and I’m already checked in. Dad smiles, relieved. We’re heading toward our car when I see the valet coming our way with a gold-guilded cart, filled with all my family’s “luggage.” Piggly Wiggly bags spill over with shoes, a plastic Hudson Belk bag covers four hangers with mom’s floral print dress peeking out the bottom, a pink-checkered pillow case is full of my sisters’ toys. My grandfather’s old grey and blue suitcase looks more tattered than I remember it when mom refused to toss a “perfectly good travel bag” as we cleaned out the nursing home room after his death a decade earlier.

My sisters bound out from behind a row of ficus trees, and jump into my arms as my mother walks briskly toward my father looking concerned, “Bill, they took the keys and gave me this!” She hands him a yellow valet card. “They wouldn’t take no-thank-you for an answer. I can’t imagine what this is going to COST!”

“Mom,” I whispered, “I think Uncle Tom is paying for all the room charges.” I am a confident woman of the world. Afterall, I have had room service in San Francisco. I live in Los Angeles. I have personally experienced valet parking.

We follow the gold cart to our suite and my sisters squeal with glee as they run from room to room and look down at the harbor view below. My brother, dragged along on a college break, locks himself in the Carrara marble–filled bathroom. Mom unpacks shoes from the grocery bags and hangs up clothes from the suitcase. Dad looks at the mini-bar menu and shakes his head at what some people will pay for a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels and some mixed nuts.

Later, after the rehearsal dinner, we return to our suite and my father opens the door and immediately opens his arms like wings, protectively holding us back from entering the room. He suspiciously takes a couple steps into the room and exclaims with genuine alarm, “Someone has been in here while we were gone! Check your things. I can’t imagine what they hoped to find.”

Especially if they’d seen our luggage, I think.

And yet again, I am the voice of experience.

That’s what they call turn-down service daddy.” And my sisters, freed from the shielding arms of my father, dive on the beds to claim the chocolates. I resume my role as Sentry of the Sweets and pass around the breakfast menu, encouraging the family to make their selections. That night, we all rest our heads on downy pillows and dream of the Fresh Berries with Chantilly cream, Cinnamon French Toast and Belgium Waffles that we requested on the breakfast card now hanging atop the Do Not Disturb sign on the golden doorknob. Tomorrow morning my family will revel in the luxury of fine dining in our very own sweet suite.

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