What I discovered at Hotel Pattee

lessons learned from a fire

A few years ago, my family all decided to gather in a central location for Thanksgiving, and that place happened to be southwestern Iowa. My wife and I and four little kiddos decided to leave a few days before the scheduled convergence date, to explore the surrounding areas a bit. In looking for places to stay on the way down, we happened upon a fascinating hotel in Perry, Iowa — population 7702. Hotel Pattee is an elegant throwback to an older time. It’s also unique in that every room has a unique theme, from the Southeast Asian room, to the Needlepoint room, to the Louis Armstrong suite. Oh, and they even have a small, two lane, bowling alley in the basement. With our curiosity piqued, we reserved a room that would fit our family (the George & Agnes Soumas Suite) and layed in a course for Perry, Iowa.

After driving several hours via smaller, scenic roads, we pulled into Perry and Hotel Pattee. We were immediately struck by the charm of the hotel lobby with its combination of old-school regality and a small-town, welcoming feel. Our room had an older TV perched atop a wheeled cart complete with a VCR player, which paired perfectly with the old Columbo VHS tapes in their library. We were quite pleased with the hotel and our suite. But we didn’t discover the best part of our room until later that evening.

The George & Agnes Soumas suite has a wood-burning fireplace, which the staff graciously lit for us. After the fire was burning well, we turned off all of the lights in the room and, as a family, sat around the fireplace, in silence, listening to the fire crackle and the wind gusts outside the rattling windows. Sitting quietly as a family felt so refreshing — no TV, no computer, no board games, no music. It was a soul nourishing experience, like water for a parched desert nomad. I thought, “This is nice — to be together as a family, enjoying this fire and each other’s presence, without distraction.” I asked myself, “Why don’t we do this more often?” …a good question indeed.

Upon returning home, I pondered how we could bring the Hotel Pattee experience into our daily life. We don’t have a fireplace — so that was out. After some consideration, I decided that we could subsitute candle light for the fireplace — that a tiny fire paired with quietness might be a suitable stand-in, which it turned out to be. We regularly turn off electric lights a couple hours after dinner, light some candles, and sit on the couches in silence. After a few minutes of stillness, we have “question time”, where anyone in the family can ask anyone else any question — kid to parent, parent to kid, kid to kid, or parent to parent. This has been a wonderful way for us to excuse ourselves from the crazy pace of modern life, to breath, and to reconnect with each other. Our family still needs to incorporate this kind of peaceful retreat more fully into our bonkers life. But we’ve had a taste, and we know we need it.

This is what we discovered at Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa.