Punkin slowly opened his eyes, twitched his orange triangle ears, and stretched out full length on the wedding ring quilt. The squeak of the screen door and the sound of voices and laughter rising from the lobby below let him know that the Labor Day week-end guests had begun to arrive. The slant of the afternoon sunlight through the pocket windows of room 228 indicated it was after 3PM. More guests would be arriving soon, and the Inn would be full for the holiday week-end. Naptime was over and Punkin, resident cat, innkeeper and greeter at the Fryemont Inn, jumped down from the bed and padded out of the room and down the carpeted hall. Time to get to work.
Although most guests enjoy being greeted by Punkin and see nothing at all unusual about a cat being an innkeeper, there is the occasional person who claims to be allergic to cats and does not want Punkin to inspect the room or test the firmness of the mattress. Since Punkin has never met a cat that is allergic to humans, and since, as everyone knows, cats are meticulously clean animals, he has a hard time believing a "cat allergy" to be real. Nevertheless, he has learned to keep a low profile around those patrons who prefer to be attended to by the Browns, the human innkeepers of the establishment.
Some of the younger guests also need to be handled with the tact of an experienced Southern innkeeper. The fur on Punkin's back still stands on end every time he remembers the freckled faced young lad with hair the color of Punkin's fur who insisted on chasing Punkin through the chestnut paneled halls and using his tail as a pull-toy. Punkin quickly learned to duck beneath a chair in the lobby or behind the ice machine at the sound of the young guest's voice.
Punkin will also never forget the distinguished couple from the Northeast who came down to Bryson City to spend a quiet week in the Smokies. If you had heard the way the lady shrieked when she found a cat testing her bed for quality control, you would have thought she had encountered a black bear cub or at least a skunk in her room. Surely she must have seen a cat in Manhattan before!
As innkeeper, it is also Punkin's job to do a daily inspection of the front porch and grounds. He is careful to keep his tail raised high as he checks the condition of things on the large front porch which overlooks the city to the mountains beyond. Once he let his guard (and his tail) down when he became distracted by a honeybee that landed on his nose, and a somnolent guest inadvertently rocked on the tip of Punkin's tail.
An innkeeper's job does not end at 5PM. After a long day of making sure the rooms, lobby and grounds are in order and of greeting and entertaining guests, it is time to prepare for the evening meal in the Fryemont's large dining room. Again, Punkin is called upon for quality control. Although he leaves the testing of the vegetable side dishes and salads to his human counterparts, Punkin is adamant that the mountain trout be fresh and tests it personally every day. Although he still can't understand why anyone would want to ruin a perfectly good piece of fish by putting almonds or mushrooms on it, he allows the Trout Lillian and Trout Hugo to remain on the menu since they seem to be so popular with the guests.
By 10 PM, most of the guests have settled down for another peaceful night at the Fryemont. Many have retired to their rooms. Some read or doze in the soft chairs in front of the lobby's huge fireplace, while others sit at the large mission style table and play checkers or fit together the remaining pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Groups of friends and families that have come from around the country for an annual visit gather on the porch to talk quietly and catch up on the news of each other's lives. It's been another wonderful day at the Fryemont, and it's time for Punkin, resident cat and innkeeper, to head back up the mountain to his home with the Browns. Sunrise comes early, and he will be needed back down at the Inn tomorrow, beginning with the breakfast shift. After all, someone does need to make sure the cream is fresh for the guests' morning coffee!
Kathy Schrenk and her family, residents of New Orleans, have been frequent guests of the Fryemont Inn for many years.