Guest Viewpoint

Everyone loves a good Christmas story.

While this one begins tragically in August, the conclusion reads like a dusting of snow on Christmas Eve, full of promise and a new year of prosperity.

Maple Tree Inn owners Katie and Erich Wennberg were asleep in their beds, weary from work, yet content in their efforts and results, just like all the other work nights.

Abruptly, their lives unraveled, devastated by a fire that took perishables, but not lives, on Aug. 24.

The Maple Tree Inn building was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.

In December of 1843, Charles Dickens, in an impoverished state himself, endeavored “to raise the Ghost of an Idea” somewhat like—but not exactly like—the Inn Keepers we’ve come to know at The Maple Tree, especially now, based on their grand plans devised in September of 2018.

Borrowing from “A Christmas Carol,” the heartwarming story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s discovery of kindness, compassion and redemption, the Maple Tree Inn’s tale seems to step off immediately following the brief arrival and quick departure of the Ghost of Christmas Future.

With the building still smoldering, the odd shapes of smoke emanating from the rubble and ash pile on that August weekend created vision—or was it hallucination? At the least, it was a dream or even “Great Expectations.”

Unlike Scrooge’s reflection of his former partner, Jacob Marley, these Maple Tree Inn Keepers would never be doomed to walk the earth aimlessly to pay for sins of greed and selfishness.

The couple skipped that chapter in their own lives, revered by loyal employees who had come to be like family.

For that reason, the Inn Keepers’ future was rapidly thrust into the lives of others.

Dickens’ tall, dark and scary spirit arrived speechless. In its many phantom variations, the “Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come” does not exactly interact as much as it shows.

Our Inn Keepers saw that.

After losing so many of their personal items, they could have turned to self-loathing or even closed up shop and booked an island retreat. Who would have blamed them? If not Scrooge, certainly Marley would have chosen Tahiti or Aruba and ordered a drink with a little umbrella.

Instead, the Inn Keepers chose to bury the nightmare and create new memories, knowing full well they would integrate the extended family they’d grown with over years of toiling at the destination brick building in Blue Island.

Dan Burnham “made no small plans,” and neither did these Inn Keepers.

Without reservation, the Inn Keepers folded in plans for the talented employees who expressly prepared every place setting, made the business hum and remained central to their own respective circles and families away from Olde Western Avenue.

First at hand was strategizing to make sure the talented culinary and mixing artists were going to enjoy an imminent Christmas with jobs, incomes and the comfort of their families, as well as visions of a future with their kin at Maple Tree Inn. Teamwork, loyalty and dedication to getting it right will never come in a bottle, but we do our best to contain, or even cork, it when we recognize those traits.

Fatefully for our Inn Keepers, “a friendship” led to a discussion, and the two parties realized common ground regarding Maple Tree Inn’s plight and an opportunity for a one-year transition and Maple Tree Inn Bistro, currently the spirit of “Christmas Present” with a decor and unique charm that is all its own just blocks north of Maple Tree Inn—past and future.

With great expectations for a one-year occupancy, Katie and Erich introduced Maple Tree Inn Bistro in November of 2018 at 13000 S. Western Ave., in Blue Island.

Editor’s note: Bill Figel is a Beverly resident and the owner of Chicago-based Figel Public Relations.