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Winter in New England

November 01, 1987|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

LUDLOW, Vt. — When I arrived, Charlie Marble was stoking the fire in the old Victorian inn he shares with his wife, Deedy. Outside, snow was banked against the steps, so that the warmth of the wood fire in the parlor soothed the soul in this house that smelled of good things cooking.

Already, kerosene lamps were lit in two small dining rooms. The traveler could choose no better inn in all of Vermont for dinner.

Arriving at the Governor's Inn, which is on the green in the little hamlet of Ludlow, is like coming home to grandma's for the holidays, and this is exactly what a fortunate few guests will be doing during the coming weeks. Throughout New England, hundreds of inns are preparing for Thanksgiving and old-fashioned Christmas celebrations, with horse-drawn sleigh rides and cross-country skiing.

Although open year-round, the Governor's Inn lights up magically during the holidays. The tree that graying Charlie Marble, a Bostonian of immense warmth, puts up reaches all the way to the ceiling and is showered with antique ornaments placed on its branches by Deedy.

"Our Christmases are wonderful," says Deedy, an artist-turned-gourmet chef whose reputation for marvelous meals has spread throughout New England.

The Governor's Inn is the sort of place one searches out to share holidays with others who have come to shed their loneliness in its warmth. With Charlie and Deedy in charge, the old Victorian Inn explodes with good cheer.

On Christmas Eve, guests gather beside the tree for what the Marbles call a "Santa's Watch," which is when good things to eat are put out for Old Whiskers and which are snitched instead by theguests, along with bowls of cranberry champagne.

On Christmas morning, lanky Charlie shows up in his Santa's outfit to prepare one of the breakfasts he is famous for, particularly his rum raisin French toast and his peach waffles, or a breakfast puff that features an apple pie filling in a batter sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with Vermont maple syrup.

Or there's Charlie's Cuckoo Nest, which is to say a ramekin resting on a bed of French bread smothered with eggs, Cheddar cheese and bacon.

Later, a gift is found under the tree for each guest. Carolers stop to entertain during dinner and a harpist renders melodies of the season. As the day comes to an end, a certain melancholy sets in as guests seem to secretly wish that the warmth of the moment could crystallize forever.

Inn for All Seasons

This is an inn for all seasons, but especially so during the holidays, when guests search for warm memories of Christmases past, or dream of a holiday that somehow never materialized and has remained a haunting, wished-for Christmas unfulfilled.

How could such a season be anything but merry under the spell of Charlie and Deedy Marble in an old home that glows with the contentment of its proprietors?

A winding staircase leads to eight guest rooms upstairs, one with a century-old, brass four-poster and bay windows that offer glimpses of the green. Another features twin beds from a French chateau, and next door there's a snug room with a rocker and an antique iron bed like those that were in vogue in the early '20s.

Although the rates for all rooms are alike, I chose the inn's smallest, which is at the rear of the house with a splendid bed and a window that looks down on a snow-covered garden.

The inn was built in the 1890s by then-Gov. William Wallace Stickney of Vermont as a wedding gift for his wife, who lived in the mansion until the 1930s. It passed through a number of hands until Charlie and Deedy Marble showed up on its doorstep in 1982. The Marbles were inveterate travelers and it was during one of these journeys that they were smitten with the idea of opening an inn of their own.

He Gives Her Top Billing

Charlie had grown weary of the corporate world and he told Deedy he was willing to give her top billing at the inn, which is precisely what he did. While Charlie plays the role of raconteur, Deedy stars with her candlelight dinners. Precisely at 7 p.m. each evening, a couple of dozen guests are seated at tables scattered among the two small dining rooms.

It is a ritual that begins with Deedy introducing members of the staff, who in turn describe each of the six courses they are serving.

Waitresses in pinafores and mobcaps set the stage for guests to relax and relive an era when the world moved at a slower pace.

In barely five years the Governor's Inn has been singled out for epicurean delights that have won Deedy Marble a fistful of awards.

Guests gather for cocktails in the inn's snug bar before being seated for dinner. Occasionally, someone will drive 100 miles or more to join the select 24 diners each evening. In the high season, Charlie and Deedy turn away up to 70 would-be diners a night.

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