Nobody remembers when the desk first came to the Waybury Inn. The East Middlebury, Vermont, landmark has been in continuous operation since 1820, so it’s a good bet that the desk, with its fold-out writing surface and dozens of small drawers and crannies, has been there for decades.
For many years the desk sat quietly in the inn’s Room 9, the honeymoon suite. No doubt most newlyweds paid little attention to it, their energy focused on other things. But one couple took the time to explore the quirky antique, and their curiosity was rewarded with the discovery of a slender secret drawer, in plain view though cunningly disguised as a bit of fretwork. To commemorate the moment, the bride dashed off a note and inserted it into the secret compartment:
June 27,1987. On this day Julie M. Hughes married Michael Southwick in Middlebury, Vt. We spent our wedding night here. We hope you enjoyed your stay here and leave a note, as we have, for others to find in this secret drawer of the grand ol’ desk.
Thus began the romantic and very quiet tradition of the secret drawer in Room 9. Only those lucky enough to stay in this particular room – and clever enough to discover the secret drawer — have been aware of the custom. In time, over 200 eloquent and sometimes deeply personal messages would be left in the room. They now reside in a shoe box stashed in a low drawer, waiting to be savored by a new generation of guests. The writing is by turns passionate, philosophical, comic, and profound.
As recently as eight weeks ago neither of us knew the other existed… We both have decided we wait to spend the rest of our lives together. Some things you know right away, and this is one of them. Maureen, l love you, I always will.
And this: In just one evening in this most peaceful place we have dedicated our lives to each other and charted our future together. We promise to return and update you on all our future exploits.
Only a minority of the notes are from newlyweds, but all of them explore the magic of romance.
We discovered the secret box and spent 30 minutes smiling and laughing together. We are not newlyweds. Our trip has been one of renewed love and friendship. After 16 years, we find we can still find things to talk about besides “the kids.” I love you, Ed. Thanks for a week to remember.
Many of the letters are surprisingly candid, with references to broken relationships, personal hardship, illness, and death. A husband has surprised his wife with a Vermont vacation because… in February we found out that our eldest daughter has diabetes. She was almost at coma level. Then just a week ago I found out I’m going to have surgery.
One particular letter is remarkable for its unblinking clarity: I remember the night I met him. Before I went out, I told God that I had had enough — no more physical abuse and no more mental abuse. No more. What was the sign that it was right? He asked to kiss me goodnite. (No one ever asked, just assumed the role and went for it.) You know what I said? No. He wasn’t offended, and yes, I saw him again… Just remember: Fight for what is yours and ask God to bring you through it. You can’t do it alone. We have been sober 12 years and have a beautiful five-year-old and are in this for the long hauI.
One gets the feeling that many of these writers are articulating things they’ve long felt but never expressed. One muses on the therapeutic quality of the letters.
Upon reading these letters, I was surprised how quickly moved I was, am, by their sincerety and strength. Perhaps writing here is like talking while lying on a psychiatrist’s couch, free to think, to feel, to remember — trusting the listener as I do now you, the reader.
Another writer picks up the thread: … It is your quiet voices, your secret voices that have moved me. You prove that we all have much to share with each other. Thanks to this wonderful place and those hearts who have been willing to share space within you.
The letters also tell of young love: Not bad accommodations for a couple of college kids! We cannot afford to be staying here, but we are young and in love and funding such a wonderful night is a detail we will work out later.
P.S. Mom and Dad, if you ever stay here and read this, Paul slept on the couch.
And of the tricks of the trade in surviving the longer-lasting variety: Just celebrated our 25th anniversary. The man spoils me rotten and I know it. Sweet man, but tonight l will be up till the COWS come home. He snores like a 747 coming in for a landing. The trick is to go to bed before him and get a running start.
The advice in one note is especially poignant and persuasive, given its source. Four traveling widows, having a lovely time in beautiful Vermont. We travel around for two weeks together each year since losing our beloved husbands. Much happiness to each and every one who stops here. Sometimes life is short with your partner. Live each day with laughter, love, and kindness to each other.
In the 1980s the Waybury Inn served as the exterior for television’s Bob Newhart Show. (Passersby might not make the connection today. During taping, the inn was painted white, but now it’s a more historically appropriate shade of green.) That very funny show is long gone, but the comic muse is alive and well in Room 9.
We picked this place to help celebrate a milestone in our lives … but now he is sick and in the bathroom while I am out here alone reading all these romantic letters of good times and fun in this room. Sorry we missed it!
In two different entries on a single sheet, an irrepressible young man tells a story with a happy ending: 2.19.95.I just spent the most perfect weekend with the most beautiful woman in the world. All I want is for her to be happy. I know that I am up to the task because she is so easy to be around. I look forward to spending the rest of my life with her because someday I will marry her. You can count on it!
10.15.95: I told you to count on it! Suzanne and I made our long-awaited return to the Waybury Inn – as an engaged couple! We stayed in Room 10 but snuck into the honeymoon suite so we could add to this letter.
A recurring theme in these letters is how guests often can’t believe their dumb luck; had they missed the flight or skipped the party, they never would have found the love of their lives. But one letter stands out as a reminder that not everyone has been so fortunate. A 45-year-old woman writes: l’m staying in this room, but I’m not a newlywed-as a matter of fact, I’m single and here by myself. My friends laughed at me when I told them I was staying in the honeymoon suite. But I don’t care. This is my third trip to the Waybury Inn, and I love it. This is my time — it’s what I do for myself. Maybe someday I’II bring that special man with me, and together we’ll spend a night in this romantic and cozy room.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Room 9 writers is that they don’t romanticize romance. If anything, they take great pains to point out just how difficult life with another person can be. Relationships are hard. People go through bad times. But something pulls them through, and that something is intimacy and understanding. Romance endures. It also has some nice fringe benefits. From a couple who’ve been coming to the Waybury Inn since 1958: For those of you who enjoy reading these letters for lascivious reasons, the answer is Yes! It is still great after 38 years-especially in Room 9.
Essentials: The Waybury Inn, East Middlebury, Vermont; 800.348.1810; Web site: www.wayburyinn.com.
Classic Article: “The Secret in Room Number 9,” Yankee Magazine, February 2000