Fellow blogger, Betty Chambers who writes Chambers On the Road, commented on my post, We Need a Little Christmas, that one of her favorite activities to put her in the Christmas spirit is “…walking at night and viewing the holiday lights.” Mr. Smith and I walk a lot, but we are usually dutifully getting our steps in during daylight and not fully appreciating our surroundings. I was inspired by Betty’s comment and decided I wanted to spend one mild December evening strolling our neighborhood with no agenda other than soaking in the spirit.
We don’t live in a subdivision or residential neighborhood decked out with festive lights or other holiday garb. No Christmas inflatables, no animated guitar playing Santa. We live in the River Street Historic District. Decorations here are few and far between. Wilkes Barre was founded in 1769, reaching the height of its prosperity in in the 19th century when massive coal reserves were discovered nearby. Factories and railroads sprang up around the booming coal companies and those coal barons needed places to live. For many years, River Street Historic District was primarily a district of wealthy industrialists’ mansions and upwardly mobile merchants’ homes.
But then the decline of coal impacted the economy of Wilkes Barre badly. There were no more titans of industry to maintain the magnificent mansions. Those beautiful homes up and down South Franklin Street are no longer private residences. One is a lovely bed and breakfast. Some have ground floor offices with apartments on the upper floors. Fortunately, several have been purchased and repurposed by Wilkes University. So while you may spot an elegant wreath here or there, it’s pretty slim pickings as far as Christmas decorations go. That is, until you reach The Westmoreland Club. Established in 1873, The Westmoreland is a private social club. They purchased the beautiful, Georgian mansion on South Franklin in 1922 and still occupy the building today.
As it is a private club, I have only been inside on one occasion. Several years ago, I was a member of a women’s club that was having their end of the year dinner there. I had been recruited as the event chairperson’s able assistant. I arrived at the club at the appointed time, got the lay of the land, and gave a couple of easy instructions to helpers. It was at this point I started obsessively checking my watch as the chairperson had not arrived. Half an hour later she was still nowhere to be found, wasn’t answering her cellphone and guests were starting to arrive. It was her responsibility to bring the centerpieces and other items needed to complete the setup. The Club’s manager kept checking in with me and apparently caught on to my frustration. Predinner happy hour was well underway when he kindly brought me a glass of wine, told me they had some “stock” centerpieces for just this type of occasion and offered to complete the tables with those. With the chairperson AWOL, I thanked him profusely and helped distribute the centerpieces. As we were finishing the tables, the event chairperson made her entrance complete with the BALLOONS she intended to use as centerpieces. Of course, the balloons had yet to be inflated but she was just sure The Westmoreland must have a helium tank somewhere. They did not. I didn’t scream at her, she didn’t acknowledge her lateness and dinner was served. That manager has most likely long moved on but should I ever run into him again, I will happily share a glass of wine and a memory or two with him.
Today The Westmoreland Club is doing what it did that day their manager helped me out. They are doing whatever is needed to accommodate their customers. The current crazy times call for ingenuity, so they have installed outdoor private dining rooms, a beautiful outdoor space worthy of their reputation. Now if they could just serve me a glass of sparkling wine while I admire their fabulous set up, my winter walk would be complete.
C’est la vie.