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Columnist for a Day:

“It’s cocktail hour!”

“I’ll be right over!”

And so our summers went.

I met Gail Barham about 27 years ago when she retired from teaching and bought Nightingale's Inn in Ashland. I was staying next door at the Queen Anne, owned by Elaine Martens. Elaine and I had become fast friends, and soon Gail, who passed away in July, joined in that friendship.

When Elaine sold the Queen Anne and moved to Austin, the three of us managed to continue our friendship. My mother and I would rent a cottage or flat, and friends and family would come and go throughout the summers. At some point we began staying at Gail’s, taking up all three rooms for most of the summer, returning for the opening of the OSF season in February, stealing a week in April, and coming up for the closing of the outdoor theater in October.

My granddaughter, Madeline, had her second and third birthday parties in Gail’s garden. When my grandson came along, my mother rocked him to sleep in Gail’s big rocking chair.

After coming home from a play, we would sit on the front porch drinking bourbon while discussing our passion for the theater. Gail loved her bourbon! It was a treat she gave herself in the evenings after grading papers in her teaching years, and the ritual continued after a long day of making breakfast and greeting guests at the inn.

Gail’s extravagance was a weekly delivery of flowers from the lovely Louann at Flower Thyme! Big bouquets brightened the B&B, lifting spirits with their fragrant scents.

On the first night of my arrival in Ashland for the summer, Gail would meet me for dinner, usually at Alex’s. On my last night before returning home to the Bay Area, Gail and I would close the summer by having dinner together, often at Pasta Piatti.

One summer as I was leaving town, I left an old pair of running shoes and asked Gail to throw them out. When I returned on my next trip, Gail handed me my washed and scrubbed running shoes.

Thursday nights Gail would ask me to go down to the cellar for wine to take to Concert in the Park. I knew she hated to go down there, but she didn’t know that I hated it, too. It was creepy! We would gather up our chairs, blankets, picnic, shortbread, magazines and games, and head down to the park. Mom, Elaine, Gail and I would get real close together and take pictures of our bare feet adorned by our latest pedicure!

In August of 2014 I purchased Nightingales! Gail was so proud and happy to turn it over to me to carry on her traditions! She made sure I had all her recipes and her much outdated guest list. She would call me out of the blue and tell me who to contact for this and that.

She moved to Brookdale, where I would visit her and regale her with the latest antics at the B&B. As I left her for the day, I would give her a huge hug and say, “I love you, Girlfriend.” She would hug me back real, real tight!

Gail loved her inn. She loved being an innkeeper. Her guests became her friends. In February of 2015, we celebrated Gail’s 80th birthday by throwing a surprise party at Nightingales. I see her in every room and in everything I do. I pick the irises in the garden that Gail and I planted in memory of our friend Iris and where Gail put the rock that has written on it, “Grow, Damn it!”

I sit in my rocker on the front porch and view the magnificent trees, the brick path and the old-fashioned path light, letting my mind wander with the memories of summers gone, the delight of the summer now, and the joy of summers to come!

— Pamela Dehnke is the owner of Nightingales in Ashland.