Saturday, October 19, 2013


Life, as I know it, has been rocketing by like a Japanese bullet train.  Much of it centers around the hotel and spa that is my place of business and as such the images whizzing by me may be fleeting, but lively, colorful and delicious as well.  Non-stop change and challenges abound but it's certainly never boring. However, amid the rapid-fire chaos of daily work life has been a nagging sensation that as exciting as it may be, life was passing me by too fast.  I have many blessings in life and while acknowledging this is easy, taking the time to count and truly appreciate these blessings seemed to be an occurrence that was equally fleeting.  How many times must I learn this persistent lesson; this painful lifelong perspective study of what the consequences could be when failing to stay in touch with the people that you cherish?  One more time, at least, it seems.

Flashes of the ever-changing hotel scene sailed by at a whiz-bang pace during the past few months.  The client event in the Regent Ballroom was a palette of fall mums, sunlit marble slabs showcasing beautiful nibbles like stuffed mushroom caps with smoked potato and Gruyere and avocado and peach salsa filled phyllo cups as well as tobacco guru Corey Frisbee rolling his signature Weston Tobacco cigars.
Then there was the five-course beer dinner highlighting local brews like Schafly's bottle-conditioned Biere de Garde, O'Fallon's Hemp Hop Ale and Boulevard's luscious Saison Brett.
 The annual Tables by Design event supporting the Good Samaritan Center saw the Grand Ballroom alive with charming decor including the emerald-hued tabletop from the Buckmans adorned with lanterns and limes.

Finally, our annual employee picnic turned the Elms grounds intoa giant playground of inflatable slides, badminton courts, crackling firepits with hovering s'mores, soft pretzels with homemade dipping sauces and our spa director's ever-entertaining Pyrosapiens troupe whipping fire whips and wielding flaming fans.

As it all progressed, summer had given way to fall, leaves were floating to the earth and the perfect fall weather was getting crisper by the day.  Then one day, Keith had gotten word of something we hadn't expected: our friend Torben Klarland had passed away.  Torben and Jytte Klarland were, along with the Nelsons, one of the earliest pioneers of the downtown Excelsior Springs renaissance.  I remember very clearly their lovingly appointed yet warm and inviting Scandinavian Country shop with its little upstairs bistro.  At Christmas, it was positively magical; strung with twinkle lights and adorned with whimsical touches from their native country.  Equally enchanting was their country home where we would visit every Christmas for their Toys for Tots party.  I've detailed these parties on this blog; when friends and family would pour in all day long bearing Toys for Tots gifts, graze from the long tables of homemade desserts (like the ever-present Black Forest cake) and stroll the grounds, watching the ever-entertaining llamas.  Now, years later, many of the familiar faces at those parties were gathered at the Klarland's home again, this time at their Lawrence, Kansas home and this time in a far more somber state.  They had moved to this home to be closer to their daughter and granddaughter Beargitta and of course, despite Lawrence only being an hour's drive away, it was enough distance to help create an inexcusably long several months since we had seen them.  So here we were now, moving about another gorgeously appointed home, circling another long table leaden with beautiful desserts while Jytte and her son-in-law (and our former hotel chef) Andy busily set up platters of sandwiches and pulled pork and cucumber salad.  The scene was so familiar and yet jarringly different due to the missing presence of Torben himself. After all, as lovely as their homes and shop may have been, they were only a reflection of the boundless charm that was Torben and Jytte themselves.  We joined our good friend John (another former Elms cohort) outside and made small talk while we quietly ate our meals in the beautiful backyard with its lush gardens. I met the gentle pastor who so perfectly eulogized Torben during the memorial service with his recounting of Torben's joy in sharing a good meal with cherished loved ones and his devotion for his family.  I would also find out this same pastor made the amazing cherry, pear and apple pie we enjoyed; made from fruits he raised himself.   How fitting this seemed...the pastor's recounting of that joy Torben had for sharing meals with loved ones reminded me of my father's love of the same and oh, how Dad would have loved this pie. 
I looked at so many of the familiar faces out in the back yard and remembered more carefree times... there was Kate and Karen by the tranquil pond and my mind was alive with memories of the lively wine and scotch tastings John would host and Andy would prepare hearty fare for at the hotel...there were the Nelsons and I'm picturing us with the Klarlands in their cozy home sipping wine and telling tales...I see the Gerdes and the Mooks and I think back to all of us at the Klarland's home at that Toys for Tots party.
 These memories start to fade as Jytte joins us to touchingly recount Torben's final days with us.  Still though, the memory of Torben is persistent, that gentle joyous bear of a man who hugged us all and started many a conversation with, " I want to tell you a story...".

This day was another perfect fall day; truly stunning in its crisp beauty.  This day was also sad and telling by its emptiness; the emptiness created by that missing presence.  Torben will be missed and he left a true legacy for all of us and that's how to devour life even when it seems unimaginably challenging.  Lessons like this as well as like the one that says to not let your loved ones fade from your life are persistently present. The question remains as to whether we choose to learn from them.


Kate (Cathy Johnson) said...

A beautiful, beautiful tribute, dear friend.

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