Working to Give

Proudly showing off her black fleece sweater with the embroidered Pfister logo, I may have just met the Pfister’s biggest fan tonight. She and her husband were certainly fans of Jeff. Like any good bartender, he took to the attention like a moth to a flame and kept them entertained in the bustling Lobby Lounge where they were perfectly content taking in all the action.

Patty had neatly bobbed blonde hair, her rosy cheeks held up a pair of oval specs, and her meek smile was warm and inviting. Burt was in a collared shirt that peeked out loosely over the top of his sweater and had tousled mad-scientist hair.

They visited the Pfister every couple of months, whenever they had time.  They live in the southern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a mere three-hour drive to Milwaukee. This time they came to town to tour the Pabst Mansion, which they would recommend to anyone who has an interest in history.

“I know who you are, we did our research on this place before we came,” Patty told me as I took the seat next to her and egged on Jeff to continue with his antics.

“Oh no wait, are you going to write about me?” her eyes widened as she asked.

“Only with your permission,” I replied. This was the first time I had met someone so nervous to talk to me.

“So what do you do for a living?” I inquired, trying to break the ice and set Patty at ease.

She kept silent and Burt said he was a computer programmer. Without saying anything, Patty slid a business card across the bar, without even making eye contact. I examined it closely: “I trade stocks for a ‘giving’” it read.

“You make money and give it away for a living? That’s so cool, I have to write about you now!” I blurted out.

“For a giving,” she corrected me.

A devotee of CNBC’s Jim Cramer and his teachings on “Mad Money,” Patty took it upon herself to learn the ins and outs of investing to generate some cash for charity. Not just a noble pursuit, but creative and enriching too. I was really in awe, so I begged to share her story.

She looked at me incredulously, consulted Burt and finally resigned, “Ok you can write about me.” I thought I was pushing my luck by asking her to take a picture, but I roped Jeff into the shot and she happily complied.

Jeff and Patty
Jeff and Patty

Patty follows Cramer’s advice as a guideline, and then makes her own decisions, “Although he’s not always right, I learned the hard way,” she admitted.

Patty does most of her giving in her hometown of Menominee, providing scholarships, donations to the animal shelters, local park and law enforcement, as well as many anonymous donations. She  has also provided significant funding to the Friends of St. Mary’s Hospital Green Bay owns the naming rights to an athletic field in Menominee.

“I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now,  and I  have given away over $50,000 in that time,” she said.

As the Lobby Lounge continued to fill up with party-goers and diners looking for a night cap, I gave up my seat and the bar and said goodbye to Patty and Burt. They were looking forward to a relaxing courtesy of their “Bed and Breakfast” package, and I couldn’t be happier that the Pfister was pampering two such lovely, generous people.

Things That Make You Go “Mmmm!”

I’m standing with one of the bellmen at the main entrance when a hotel events coordinator approaches to let the young man know about an important arrival: 30 boxes of cookies that will need to go immediately into a refrigerator, so she needs to be notified as soon as they are here.  The thought of 30 boxes of cookies arriving by mini-van on a Friday in the middle of the afternoon might be noteworthy if we were someplace else, but we’re at the Pfister, where anything can (and does) happen, so neither of us flinches except to wonder aloud what kind of cookies they might be.

A short while later, I spot a group of folks standing around a cluster of framed photos, set out on one of the marble tables in the lobby, and ask if there’s a family reunion or something else going on this weekend?  The woman who is putting the photos away in her bag tells me they’re for the cookie table.  The “cookie table?”  Yes, they’re here from Pennsylvania for a wedding and in Western Pennsylvania there is a wedding tradition where everyone makes cookies for the reception.  Nearly 100 guests have made 30 cookies each, for a grand total of 3,000 cookies of all kinds!  The ones that aren’t eaten will go home with the guests in cute little gift bags.

Of course, you don’t have to bake cookies and have them delivered in order to enjoy something sweet at the Pfister.  The wonderful thing about the kitchen here is the presence of highly trained pastry chefs who are always turning out delicious treats.  A devoted fan of their mathematically-perfect Fresh Fruit Tart, I also enjoy the Pain au Chocolat.  They follow the true Parisian style of flaky croissant, with dried chocolate directly in the center (not too much, not creamy) and dusted with powdered sugar.

Then there are the seasonal pastries – those decadent items that can be here for days, weeks, or months, but need to be tasted before they disappear:

At present, the seasonal cupcake is a beautiful, white frosted thing sporting what appears to be a carnation-pink sugar-crystal coated cornflake.  It turns out to be, not a cornflake, some color-enhanced frosted flake, but a candied rose petal.  The sugar crystals are also sprinkled over the top.  When I unwrap the cupcake, it actually topples over on its side from all the frosting.  Yet, when I taste it, it is remarkably light in density, like a vanilla-flavored air puff.  The candied rose petal, however, is the real treat.  The first bite tastes how a rose smells.  The experience is reminiscent of the Rose Drop Martini in Blu that tastes, truly, exactly – like a rose.

The current seasonal tart is Lemon Meringue and is the gastronomical complement to a summer’s day.  A bright, sunny yellow filling is nestled in a sandy crust, bordered on one side with sails of whipped cream that are burnished bronze along their trimming.  The taste is just as refreshing as a dip in a lake after an hour laid out on a towel at the water’s edge, trying to catch a tan.

Meanwhile, a Sendik’s delivery boy pops through the lobby, adorned with signature apron, and delivers two gift baskets to the Concierge desk – for passage on to guests.  Each one is several meals in and of their plastic wrapped basket selves: various cheeses, crackers, fruits, spreads and even sparkling pink lemonade.

A See’s Candies bag dangles from a brass luggage cart, alone and unguarded.  I can’t help but wonder if there are Scotch Kisses inside it, perhaps alongside the See’s signature chocolate and toffee pops.  A gooey, gritty caramel temptation with marshmallow at its center, Scotch Kisses were an in-store-only childhood favorite of mine.  My mind (and tastebuds) wander off to the land of foodie nostalgia and I consider stalking the See’s bag, perhaps charming its owner into sharing the contents.  Alas, the next time I look up – the bag is gone.

Little Things

From the brass knocker that indicates a guest’s room number to the matching brass plate on the electronics charging box inside; from the intricate patterns of the stair railings to the wallpaper stripes; from the ever-changing flowers in the front hall to the roses on the carpet – the tiniest of details come together to create the Pfister experience.  Most people come inside and are so mesmerized by how it all comes together in its final tableau, nurse the details are easily overlooked.

For example, the grand elegance of the lobby with its varieties of Italian marble, pink and gold coloring, wide-open space ringed by impressive pillars, and lofty ceilings that rise over two stories above to a colorful mural, store may be one fabulous picture.  However, stop to take a closer peek: See how the carpet at the main entrance is blue and gold, but there’s a rug over it that has veins of aquamarine, cranberry and mauve outlining the dueling blues – all populated with verdant patterns of decorative botanic designs that mimic those ringing the pillars and wrought into the railings along the staircases.  See how the gold is then subtly trimming the edges and knobs on the two black wood tables that proudly display petals and blooms of all kinds and colors.

Certainly the Victorian art that adorns the public spaces is noticeable, discount but it’s good to stop and examine them more closely, catching the way a painter labored over the softness on the chiffon sleeves that cloud the arms of the angelic model in Adolphe Piot’s The Rose.  Or, catch how much a cherub looks like one of the Pfister employees*.

When walking the halls where the rooms are located, simply look up.  While you may take note of the lighting’s luminescence, have you considered the luminaries themselves?  These brass fixtures with white shades also mirror the rounded, petaled designs strewn throughout the entire hotel’s décor.  However subtle and simple, their classic appearance hearkens to that lamp you remember from your grandmother or great-grandmother’s parlor room, the electrical wires woven through golden chain links.

Each guest room door (even they vary in style—look for some with oval, some with rectangular cutouts, some with trim and some without) features a golden knocker with the room number etched into the brass in a deep, contrasting black.

Take the elevator to Blu.  Notice the numbers?  What’s missing?  Ah, yes, the superstitious “thirteen.”  I, of course, always think that just makes floor 14 really 13, and so on up to the top until the 23rd floor really becomes only the 22nd.  But, I do love it when a building skips the thirteenth floor when numbering their levels.  It creates a bit of a literary history note, some flair that creates a connection to the time when the building was erected.

Of course, the carpet outside of Blu is…well, BLUE!  An exquisite navy blue is primary, overlaid by more contemporary floral patterns of the palest shades, bordering on cream or white.  Braided throughout are curlicues – as if an artist patiently drew their finger in linking circular patterns while the carpet was being dyed, and this solo-digit trail was all that was left behind.

Speaking of the elevators, have you seen the star-shaped compass design that is inlaid into the marble outside the 7th floor doors?  With forest green, pale mauve, and white points set on a cookies-n-cream ice cream floor, it stands out while being stood upon.

And, standing out is precisely the purpose of every one of these minute details.  Each tiny component of aesthete sets out to complement its neighbor in a way that renders each nearly invisible.  Take the time to stop, look closer, and you might be even more astounded by what you find.

*Which painting and which employee isn’t a secret, but you’ll have to come visit and ask around to find out!

It Really Is a Small World After All

The lobby is packed with people. It’s prom season and dozens of couples have appeared to pose for photos together, even though the dance is being held elsewhere. Their dresses are brightly colored: sunny yellows, crisp greens, rich pinks and deep purples – embellished with crystalline drops or lacy embroidery. The bubbly nature of youth is contagious, and all are smiling. Suddenly, appearing at the entrance to grand applause, is a woman in the grandest gown of all: a bodice of pure white, encrusted with pearls, and billowing skirt clutched in one hand while her other hand grips a bouquet of white and purple irises. Rightfully so, a bride has stolen the show.

To my left, at one of the lobby tables just outside the lounge area, an elegantly beautiful woman in a black dress and pearls sits captivated by the parade of dresses. I catch her eye and we start conversing about the various styles, about the young men whose arms sport garters a la 1920s gangsters, and about our own reminiscences of proms 30 held years apart. We discover that we share a common love for ballroom dance, but before we can talk much more, a handsome gentleman appears and whisks her away for dinner elsewhere.

I move on, making my way through the crowd.

As I’m about to pass the bride, she reaches out and grabs my arm – “Hey! You’re Stacie, right?” She points towards the sign that bears my name and a photo, “You’re the narrator person?” Still a little thrown by this new approach to the position, I respond, “Yes” but don’t get any further than that before the bride says, “You know Lauren *****!?” The name sounds vaguely familiar, but it doesn’t register. My face is blank, so she repeats, “Lauren *****! She says she knows you – you guys worked at a camp or something?” and it clicks – ah, yes! I do know this person! Four years ago we worked at an all-girls summer camp together. I then become quite excited. The bride tugs me over to a group of young women in matching purple dresses and – sure enough – there she is, this wonderful person with whom I’d lost touch several years ago. We embrace. It turns out that she’s up from Indiana to be a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding and recognized my picture. We catch up briefly before she takes off for the reception – promises are made to keep in touch.

Not more than a few minutes have gone by when I run into someone I recognize from my other job working for a local bookstore. Eyes get bright, and the question “What are you doing here?” is answered by both parties. She’s here with her sisters for a belated Christmas gift from one sister to the others: a weekend at the Pfister complete with massages at WellSpa (“Incredible! It was so relaxing I almost fell asleep, but I didn’t because I wanted to enjoy it.”), dinner at Mason Street Grill, and drinks at Blu. We chat for a few minutes, connecting on a more personal level than we previously had in our other world of knowing one another.

Both of these re-connections then remind me of earlier in the week when, in Racine for a sporting team practice, I discovered one of my teammates had been the person who won the Pfister diamond necklace, given away by the hotel, earlier in the year. Throw in the fact that an artist friend I had lunch with this same day happens to know Shelby Keefe well – and it was as if the fates were simply waiting around the Pfister, intent on placing people directly into my path.

Rainy Milwaukee Night
Rainy Wisconsin Ave

A little later into the evening, while eying up the miserable November-like weather outside, I practically run right into the couple I met earlier while watching the crowd of prom-goers. We pick up talking as though we’d all three gone to dinner together, then make our way up to Blu for a cocktail or two. Anybody watching would have thought we’d known each other for years. As it happens, the Pfister “Pfates” aren’t simply trying to re-connect me, they’re trying to simply connect me. After making new friends this evening, I can’t wait to see who gets put in my path next.

YOUR TURN: What connections or re-connections have you made at the Pfister?

The Walls Did Talk

People watching is a skill. If you’re good at it (and I really want to believe I am) you can master blending in, even if you’re taking notes and keeping your eyes up, about and above your coffee. People often sit, trying to go unnoticed, and to do so, they revert to the childhood understanding that if “I can’t see you, you can’t see me” and bury themselves in their work, their food, their drink, their smart phone or even clean out the contents of their purse with such dedication you might wonder if they’d even notice a fire alarm.

Not me.

I keep eyes up. I don’t face front, I face all directions and turn frequently. I suspect people are wondering about me the same things I’m wondering (and writing down) about them, but after awhile, much like the cameras on Big Brother or any other mess of a reality program, they forget I’m there.

As your Narrator, I’ve had the great pleasure of being forgotten frequently. That’s when the magic happens. Once I’ve disappeared right next to someone, I’ve heard all versions of amazing, hilarious, sad and complimentary kinds of conversation.

The wisdom I’ve gained from this is important to us all. If you’ve ever wondered if you’re doing it right—life, that is—I’m here to say, odds are you are. Old, young, professional, career newbie, women, men, couples, singles, families—all of them engage in very similar conversations. People ask about others, share their concerns. People talk about common events. People discuss frustrations at work (and about co-workers). People express genuine thanks or appreciation to one another. Doesn’t matter who you are, I was an equal-opportunity eavesdropper.

But it was for your own good. What I overheard is evidence that we’re moving through this world, this cocktail hour, this hotel, this dinner, this town in very similar ways. We’re in it together, we’re getting it right.

So, below, I’m including for you as one of my last treatises to the ways the Pfister filled me up these past six months, a Mad-Lib of sorts of the random, detached comments I absorbed as an invisible observer in the hotel. They’re flying solo, detached from their owners and conversations, but you may recognize their themes and guess at which stories they fit.

What I hope you recognize is yourself.

I hope you see them as a story starter and that they inspire wonder and you create in your own mind the speaker and the connective narrative that surrounded these singular ideas. I know what they’re linked to. I know who said them. Those are my secrets, but I leave them for you to write your own story.

“Either you’re a Pfister person or you’re not”

“We become celebrity immune”

“Our Chicago friends don’t get it”

 “That’s the New York you’re hearing, honey.”

 “Is it too early for a cocktail?”

“The masseuse needs wine to see my body!”

 “I like your new look, it’s great!”

 “He wanted a martini, not a bloody Mary, a mimosa, something ‘morning’”

 “I like ‘em here.”

 “No, I’m waiting for someone”

 “You gotta kiss a lot of frogs, honey”

 “You hope the young people come, but…”

“I don’t get the Clooney thing”

“Frumpamuffin” (referencing Harrison Ford)

“If your dad and I ever hook up we could conquer the world!”

 “He used to ride.”

“Now, I’m not a marketing major…”

“You get the golden star!”

She’s a narrator, eh?” “There are a lot of other words for it…”

“Huh, Facebook.”

“Hmm, photographers… or really bad spies.”

 “It’s a made-up holiday—a Hallmark holiday…Now that’s marketing”

 “To get their favorite fix.”

“I have to have a wicked burrito from Taco John’s”

 “Mmm…it’s roastier.”

“We need another prohibition to get rid of this bad music.”

 “I can get that done for you.”

 “Ha! At two in the morning!”

“Well, we can wait at Blu!”

“Ha! The kids would never look for us there!”

“What’s your cholesterol?

“150.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“I wasn’t getting any action just on the mixer alone.”

“I’ll make you famous

I’m already famous; I was on three episodes of Dallas.

You shot JR?

No, but I met him.”

“Are you somebody?

No, I’m just the singer.” 

“She’s on the edge; she just needs to be pushed.”

 “I don’t know, will you write it?”

Yes. I loved writing it.

I’ll keep writing it. I promise.

The Pfister Crossroads

I come from a very small town. Pick just about any country music ditty and the lyrics describe something I grew up with. What’s inevitable about a small town is the odds of bumping into someone you know anywhere you go. My luck was always just after I’d thrown on grubby, see weekend clothes, I’d run into people in the grocery store.

When I first moved to Milwaukee, however, I longed for these moments of happenstance—it’s a sign you’ve lived and circulated somewhere long enough to actually have people to bump into.

The Pfister Hotel is its own small town. On a weekend, seek walk in through the parking garage and see the mounted windows advertising all that you can buy or eat at the hotel. Walk past the artist-in-residence’s studio and see Katie there with an art tour and passersby just popping in, viagra interested in why the group is gathered. Walking past the curious lunch crowd, you can absorb the Gilmore Girls’  Stars Hollow or even imagine one of the Ingalls’ girls about to come running up with saved pennies for candy at the mercantile.

Stop into the café and sit down to eat, and there it is, your happenstance. Someone from somewhere else in your life is having brunch with their family—you’ve “bumped into.” Of course you’d run into them here, who isn’t at the Pfister?

But it’s no longer a small town mercantile when you’re in the café. While you chat with your colleague from weekday work, you’ll notice the table of international businessmen next to you and the young athlete being recruited to our city at the tables in the window. The Pfister has mastered the small town pedestrian mall feel within its hallways, and then once your nostalgia and comfort kicks in, you realize you’re in a worldly place, as big and far-reaching as you can imagine.

Stroll out from lunch to the lobby to see what the weekend hustle and bustle brings. Convention goers, with their nametags and lanyards tangling in their winter coats, are zooming through the hotel, absorbing its wares and there it is—the ultimate “I really live here” moment. You’ve heard all along one of your work colleagues is a cherished and frequent guest of the hotel. She comes in often to enjoy its amenities and the staff. They all know her by name, by her class, grace and polite sophistication. And as you breathe in this world within a world, a weekend marketplace, a city unto itself, you bump right into the honored lady enjoying her brunch in the lobby bar. Here is your old acquaintance chatting with your new one (Valerie). Sit down, have a toddy to celebrate the winter thaw and work out whether this nexus of characters means you now really live in Milwaukee or at the Pfister.

Picture Perfect

When I travel somewhere, site I take endless photographs, but that typical scenic shot—the Grand Canyon, Big Ben, anything in Yellowstone—I don’t even try to capture. I know someone before me has put a lot of time and energy into crystallizing the feeling of the place in perfect lighting, at just the right moment, with all the pieces falling in line with the close of the aperture. I buy their postcard.

The Pfister Hotel at the lunch hour is just such a postcard. I’ve tried to understand the place at all hours of the day, and have to confess, lunch seems to be the time where the convergence of staff prowess, culinary smells and the right pace in the traffic of guests helps crystallize the hotel.

All the businessmen lunch in the café in the window seats. Rather than the near naked morning meetings where they’re baring only shirtsleeves, jackets slung over chairs, they are fully suited and highly engaged in the goings on of their world. The beauty is in the buffer the blinds seem to provide between the business and the street. Freezing, bundled passersby hurry into the frame, but seem a world away.

In the lobby, society women confidently move through and into the hotel—all with the perfect hat (oh, how I love the hats!), many with shopping bags and even laptop cases. The bellmen converge on their station, impeccable in their uniforms, but smiling and chattering to one another awaiting a client in the lull of noon hour check-ins.

There’s a buzz, a motion, but not a hectic quality. It’s a well-oiled machine. The uniforms, the business of it all, the shoppers and those just passing through remind you of its formality and history. But the oversized, over-inflated mylar balloon boldly wishing a long gone celebrant a “Happy Birthday” that bounces against the cherub in the high ceilings of the lobby helps bring the present to mind.

If this wasn’t postcard enough, this glimpse into the routines and grace of the Pfister, married with the whimsy of the lost balloon, the next guest I encountered sealed the image for me. A woman confidently entered the scene with a Boston Store dress bag slung over her shoulder, her hair whooshing as she moved past. Her new dress, purchased for an evening event, instantly makes me smile and suggest she seems like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

And then it’s all fit for a frame: my postcard is an image of the Hollywood glitz of the Regent Beverly Wilshire and Julia Roberts’ broad grin when she conquers the hotel guests with her charm. Peter, the concierge, is my Barney (Hector Elizondo) as he spots a mother and her daughters—someone he may have helped the night before—and he surveys their liking of the place thus far, their review of his recommendations.

Maybe I watch too much TV, or far too many movies, but when I had a Pretty Woman moment right there in the Pfister, and that woman understood it with me, that’s when I captured the perfect snapshot (and hit the elevator to see if I could catch Richard Gere in the equivalent of the penthouse suite…).

The Morse Twins on Proper Pfister Behavior

The Pfister is always in motion. One evening this week, order the lobby was punctuated by business travelers all in their black wool coats, deftly rolling their carry on luggage behind them like disobedient children as they purposefully walked to the desk to check in. Crossing past the late arrivals were those already nestled into the hotel returning to the lobby with laptops and papers in hand to sit among those clicking furiously on smart phones, seemingly conducting essential business transactions.

Amid all this dutiful work going on and the rhythm of arrival, check in, work in lobby; arrival, check in, work in lobby; arrival, check in, work in lobby two little girls darted around oblivious to the mechanisms of work and travel, and even the grandeur of the hotel.

The Morse twins measured the space and their reason for being there quite differently and I think the lessons we learned watching them deserve repeating. What follows is what I’ve derived as the appropriate code of conduct for the Pfister Hotel on a weeknight in winter, as demonstrated by the beautiful young Morse twins.

 1)      The Pfister is a fancy hotel, so you should wear your best flip flops. The pink sparkly ones will do.

2)      Perhaps slightly more formal attire is also required; a tutu isn’t a must (if you have one, of course, wear it), but whatever dress or skirt you’ve donned should be pink.

3)      Skipping is required, otherwise why would the lobby arrange such a broad expanse of soft carpet with little furniture in the way?

4)      Skipping also allows for a healthy rise in competitive spirit and given that the lines in the carpet can serve as natural starting gates and finish lines, you should challenge your sister to a skip-off.

5)      When you recognize you’re losing the skip-off, just dance. Twirls are best, but running and wiggling also suffice.

6)      All competitions, dancing and skipping must be performed at full throttle and as if you’re the best in the world. Smiling with glee helps convince on-lookers that this is true.

7)      Don’t worry about falling or taking a tumble. First of all, the carpet is very soft; second, there are Barbie Band Aids available (the youngest twin finds them most fashionable when you earn one for each knee—they’re pink, they’ll match).

8)      Talk to strangers, especially when they ask you who the oldest of you twins are.  Be humble, it’s ok to say you’re the oldest, but lovely for you to mention your sister arrived second, but more quickly than you. It’s an excellent way to teach us all teamwork.

9)      Do not stop dancing or twirling just because someone is speaking to you; in fact, twirl harder so they can see your moves close up and express their approval.

10)   When in the pool, laugh and giggle loudly so you can hear your voice echo on the 23rd floor.

The finest way to recapture the joy you’re feeling and sharing with those around you is do your best to let it bounce off the walls.

Where Grandmas Get Noticed…

What I like the most about public places—the kind that allow for you to slow down and engage, health not the shop-till-you-drop big box stores or the endlessly-in-motion malls—is who you see gathering together there.

I was one of the few (well, that’s a lie, there were many, as I’m sure retailers had hoped) who shopped a bit on Christmas Eve. People were friendly, pills in the spirit, but the lines were long and tedious. People moved through with their carts and packages without noticing one another—I saw three near accidents involving pedestrians and reversing autos.

That’s not the way I prefer to encounter people, ambulance however. I smile at every clerk, I wave through merging traffic and I point out my parking spot to sharking vehicles full of shoppers waiting to disembark. But it’s no way to know someone.

We move so fast, sometimes, we forget to notice one another. As I chat with staff at the Pfister and watch families and office groups gather to celebrate the season, I’ve noticed something very important.

There’s significance to multi-generational gatherings and frankly, there are more of them. Now, I’ve been a part of a multi-generational family, I wouldn’t argue it’s unheard of.  Yet, when I watch groups at the Pfister, I notice that grandparents are younger, more engaged and often—are great-grandparents.

I watched a group of women sit down and enjoy a Christmas cocktail together and of the six of them, it was clear three generations were represented, but it was hard to tell which was a great aunt, which was a mother and which was grandma. The family resemblance in the women was uncanny and together, in their holiday reds and sequins, toasting their champagne cocktails, they were striking—a beautiful representation of women at all stages in life.

Another group of women included a grandmother— made clear as I spoke to them because the mother of the young ones referred to her as “mom.” Never did I hear “grandma” uttered, however. Rather “Gigi” was the term of endearment. Gigi could have been this fantastically stylish woman’s name, but the girls referred to her as a noun “well, OUR Gigi would like that…” It was clear that not only are generations sharing their knowledge and time with one another in slow, thoughtful, celebratory ways at the Pfister, but they’re young at heart, more engaged and less likely to be spotted as “Grandma.”

I mentioned that I often notice multiple generations coming together in the spaces at the Pfister and staff members have agreed with me. There’s some comfort in that perhaps we’re harkening back to a depression-era when families relied on each other and often lived together. And why wouldn’t we? Tough economic times have spurred what researchers call “boomerang kids” who leave the nest, only to return shortly thereafter. Whatever the technical term for enveloping our families in one space, sharing a common set of practices and closeness, it’s clear that there’s no better way to do that than at this historic space built around families and gatherings.

Wedded Wisdom

Today’s network news ran a feature story about how Middle Americans have been losing faith in marriage. I had to laugh out loud as I thought of John and Kathy, treat an amazing couple who recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary at the Pfister. First of all, I think all wedding anniversaries are to be congratulated. Life is stressful enough, but to combine your energies with a partner and navigate tough financial terrain and cultural circumstances (in an age where another news story says we’ve increased our whining and complaining) can be as taxing as it is rewarding so, whenever I meet a couple with significant years of marriage under their belt, I pay close attention. There are lessons to be learned there.

I sat with the pair, who also surprised me by mentioning they’re from the Chicago suburbs. Before I could even finish “Why are you vacationing in Milwaukee…” Kathy said, “Yeah, our friends all think we’re nuts for coming up here instead of going to the city. This is so much better though. We keep bringing them up here too, to show them.”

I had to smile. Just two years ago I had the same argument with a friend who was excited to plan a family vacation in Chicago and I worked hard to convince her Milwaukee was the better choice. When I asked, “What’s so special about Chicago?” she replied knowingly, “Uh, the pizza, the Field Museum, Lake Michigan?” I said, “Yup, in Milwaukee we have pizza, Discovery World, Miller Park and the same lake…”

Kathy and John know this. But it’s not their savvy in weekend getaways that drew me to them. The chemistry from this couple who knows each other so well was magnetic. That’s why I sat near them. They were talking pleasantly when I came upon them and neither asked a thing about me when I approached, they simply motioned for me to sit down and join them. I learned of their work life travels (together, the relocated for John’s work eight times in his career), I learned of their retirement adventures (visiting friends across the country and watching their daughter successfully navigate a now 18-year marriage—clearly wedded longevity runs in the family) and I learned that you never get to know how the story ends.

See, Kathy and John, it was revealed to me late in our conversation, knew each other back in elementary school on Long Island, NY. She was in first grade, he in fourth. But they weren’t sweethearts or dated until after high school when they married. Now, 45 years later, they still talk with old classmates, remember the same school buildings and recognize names of families by whichever siblings were in their class. This couple has been all around the country, but little did they know, their marriage started in the same school on Long Island.

On this night, they were treating themselves to a drink at the Pfister to kick off their anniversary. John asked, “So what is a Narrator?” and as I told him, I asked him more questions about his work…which Kathy gladly answered. John threw his hands up in mock exasperation—a dance the pair has clearly perfected over their many years together. I leaned in and teased John, “Wow, she’s really the narrator, isn’t she?” He smiled, nodded and said “Well, that’s one word for it…”

This rhythm and banter was so natural between them, when they left, I thanked them for setting the example. I told Kathy, I like seeing it, I like seeing couples showing us how it’s done. She nodded, patted me on the knee and said “Oh, honey, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs, but it’s well worth it!”