By Becky Krystal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010; F06
What if the beautiful swan had never been an ugly duckling? Would it have been as pretentious as all the other little birds?
Not the Grey Swan Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Blackstone, Va., constructed as a family home in 1902 by a prominent tobacco seller. Architectural flourishes such as a big front porch and high ceilings hint at ambition that could have gotten out of control in less modest hands. Instead, cozy rocking chairs adorn the porch, a plump sofa sits in the living room, and paraphernalia representing the inn's namesake animal pop up everywhere, from a fireplace to glass cabinets.
Christine Hasbrouck, who bought the inn with her husband, Jim, as a retirement project in 2007, jovially greeted me when I arrived. She took me to my adorable cubby of a room and left me to settle in. I'd chosen these particular quarters for the large bathroom, but as I admired the deep tub, I heard a buzzing overhead. Those high ceilings? They'd become a rather convenient retreat for a few wasps that appeared to have emerged along with the lovely spring weather.
Not even bothering to throw on my shoes, I hustled downstairs to inform Christine. We scurried back up armed with fly swatters, which would have been useful only if they'd been about six feet longer. Plan B: Change rooms. This was no problem, as I was the only guest for the night. I found the situation more amusing than anything, and I had to give Christine credit for handling it with good humor.
What my new room lacked in bathroom space, it made up for in other ways: It was larger, and several windows flooded it with afternoon sun. I thought that the comforter on the bed could have used some freshening up in the washing machine, but then again, the Hasbroucks hadn't expected to put anyone in that room.
Lunch at a popular local spot had left me surprisingly not hungry for dinner, so instead of waiting too late to go to a restaurant, I picked up a salad and stowed it in the convenient guest refrigerator, which was also stocked with drinks. While I was out, Jim had popped into my room to drop off the one thing I'd said I needed, an adapter for my laptop power cord, which wouldn't fit into the room's two-prong sockets.
I ensconced myself on the front porch for the evening. I read the newspaper and a book, chatted on my cellphone and hypnotically rocked back and forth, just watching the cars go by. It got chillier as the sun went down, but I was reluctant to go inside and break the spell I seemed to be under. Until, that is, Jim asked whether I wanted a cup of tea. Yes, please.
Breakfast the next morning reaffirmed my preference for B&Bs. A lover of spartan continental breakfasts I am not. The Grey Swan's feast included a yogurt banana split, frittata and biscuits that were the closest to Popeye's I've ever gotten outside the fast-food restaurant (in my house, this is a huge compliment). In addition to pleasant conversation with the Hasbroucks, I enjoyed the company of the house cat, who, Jim informed me, likes watching people eat. I thought maybe he was just jealous. I envied him, too, because he didn't have to leave that afternoon.