In a desperate attempt to go someplace–any place–this past weekend, I insisted we take a fabulous outing to Dawn and Central Garage. Both towns (hamlets?) are mentioned in the two Iva books. Because I use real places in my novels, but move them around and rearrange county lines, etc. I want to see the real places and photograph them for my website. That way when the books come out people will know I haven't just stabbed my finger on the Virginia atlas.
Memorial Weekend in Virginia is either blazing hot or pouring rain and chilly. We got blazing hot this year in the weather lottery. We planned to eat lunch at the Hanover Cafe in Hanover Court House so my husband could get his chicken rice soup (even on sweltering days he eats soup) and I would have their brownie sundae. It was early when we drove past so we went on down the road to my favorite antique shop and I didn't think twice about the fact there wasn't nary a car in front of the cafe.
I went in Whiting's Papers, an ephemera shop with tottering stacks of old newspapers and postcards. Mr. Whiting's vintage magazines were used in the movie "The Beautiful Mind." I came out with a dime savings folder (anybody remember those?), a blank scrapbook, a half-filled scrapbook, and a 1952 appointment book (I buy anything dated the year I was born) with a single childish printed entry:
8:30 Go to school
8:45 Bell ring
Apparently the record-keeper was overcome with ennui and couldn't go on.
Then we motored back to the Hanover Cafe only to realize it was closed for the holiday. Since we were starving and more than ten miles from the next watering hole, we had to eat in the historic tavern next door, known for its over-priced mediocre food and frequented by people who wear sweaters tied by the sleeves over their shoulders, madras Bermuda shorts, and boat shoes. The type of people who order a glass of white wine which fails to loosen their tongues to say anything worth writing in my notebook. I was so disappointed I didn't even order dessert. Maybe we would stumble on a Dairy Queen in Dawn.
Iva Honeysuckle lives in Uncertain. She claims she has only been to the next two towns, Dawn and Central Garage which isn't even a town but a garage. We turned off onto Route 30. Both Dawn and Central Garage were on the road sign. We would soon discover, however, that the places had no signs.
I had high hopes for Dawn because of its pretty name. Was it high on a hill that caught the first glimpses of dawn? No, it wasn't. Dawn, not even a grease spot in the road, consisted of exactly one building that combined the school, the library, and the police station (two squad cars, like the law enforcement in Mayberry). Zoom. We were through it.
Route 30 stretched for fifteen miles to Central Garage. We passed a field of corn ankle-high, another field of corn knee-high. A pasture with Arabian horses. A dog restlessly dragging his chain. I didn't expect Central Garage to have a teeming population or any "big concerns," as my mother used to say, but I expected to see something to indicate we were there. We saw a Food Lion, a Subway, new housing developments. But no central garage.
Finally I screeched, "There's a sign!" and my husband stood on the brakes and swerved the truck into a patch of grass next to what used to be an old general store. Central Garage Antiques! What a find! But the rusty bars on the windows indicated the shop hadn't been open in years and apparently no one in Central Garage could be trusted as far as you could throw them.
We went home, one of us ice cream-less and dissatisfied. At least I had an old scrapbook to entertain me for a while. Vintage scrapbooks "tell" me the most interesting stories.
Not this one. The scrapbooker had diligently pasted in 1938 newspaper clippings of horse-faced brides, dead cardinals (not the bird), and foxhunts. I finally pieced together that the scrapbooker had been a bridesmaid at about ten weddings and she rode to the hounds. Her hobby and the fact she was literally always the bridesmaid told me she probably wasn't much to look at either. With I sigh I pulled out the wedding invitation cards for my ephemera collection and ditched the rest.
9:45 Read and have a Nutty Buddy.
This was one of those days I shoulda stood in bed. Or at least stayed home.
Work and Winchester–that's why I've been away from here. Work: putting together my class for Hollins (leave June 18–gack!!!), working on a tribute for my friend who passed away last summer during the term, critiquing manuscripts (yes, I have a critique service), and, when I had a few "spare" minutes, writing my own novel.
Winchester: took a turn for the worse a few weeks ago. His breathing was so bad, he sounded like Darth Vader. He had sneezing fits, some so violent, he broke capillaries in his nose. Not a few drops of blood but a crime scene. Walls, floors, doors, windows, furniture . . . you get the idea.
I took him to the vet for tests (a nasal tumor was our worst fear) and to have bad teeth pulled in case they were causing the nasal problems. The results? No tumor and his teeth weren't bad enough to pull. He had his teeth cleaned and came home with a raft of medicines–two antibiotics, something to put in his drinking water, and–lord help us all–prednisone.
There are two things you can do to a cat once in his life (and yours): One, give him a bath. Two, give him a prednisone tablet, the nastiest, most bitter pill in the world. I got ONE pill down Winchester the first day, but it was Katie-Bar-the-Door after that. I threw the pill down his gullet and he pretended to swallow it. Later, I'd find chalky, mushy tablets where he'd spit them out. Because I know cats, I asked the vet to write a prescription for prednisone compounded into a chicken-flavored syrup.
Luckily for us, Fredericksburg has one of the few remaining compounding pharmacies in the area. Goolrick's is an institution downtown. It opened as a pharmacy in 1869 (not the oldest drug store in F'burg–Hugh Mercer's apothecary was there before the Revolutionary War). The soda fountain was installed in 1912, supposedly the oldest in the nation.
If I had known Winchester's medicine would cost $70, as opposed to the $5 tablets, I would have had something stronger than a cherry Coke.
It's been a few weeks since then. None of the medications or treatments have had any effect. Winchester will live with this chronic condition. He snuffles and sneezes a lot. Which means my floors are never spot-free. If he sits on a piece of $2 scrapbook paper or leans over a plate of cookies and sneezes, I have to throw it away. At dinner, he sits on the rug by the table wheezing through his nose. We feel like we're dining in a T.B. sanitarium.
I tried to put up this post two weeks ago, and then twice again last week. I had trouble with LJ–once the entire post disappeared, the second time it ate half my post. I found myself "shut out" many times when I tried to read my friends' blogs or log in to my own.
So I will be moving "Under the Honeysuckle Vine" to WordPress when I come back from Hollins. I'll continue to cross-post here, because I don't want to lose my LJ friends (if I have any left) and to check in with my LJ family. Until then, I'll post here as usual.
Unexpected gifts are like a summer day in January or having a beautiful daughter who can also divine water. They are just so special. Early last week I received a box from a dear friend. The same dear friend who made the 1930s quilt for me.
The box contained this book which she had read, loved, and passed along to me because that's what friends do, they share books. I have dipped into the photograph section of this book already. I knew Kay Thompson starred in Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire and she wrote the Eloise books, but she did so much more! This woman was a true broad! I can't wait to read it.
Under that book was a second book, all wrapped up. Oh! My vintage-loving heart did a backflip! This woman knows my fascination–no, obsession, with the 1920s. The minute somebody has a time machine for public use, I'll be the first customer and I'll turn the dial to 1920! Vintage Notions. The kind of book you want to lap up with an antique sterling caviar spoon. The title says it all, delicious tidbits and articles from the twenties on cooking, housekeeping, sewing, and–my favorite sections–a woman's character. Remember grace? Remember being gracious? Those were traits women made an effort to cultivate.
I've spent every evening with this beautifully-designed book. It's my guide to Meeting Summer Halfway.
Tucked beneath the books was a cheerful striped pillowcase, bound with a strip of quilted fabric, a hint as to what was inside. A quilt. A different, unexpected quilt. Not the 1930s quilt that was made from a kit but this luscious thing. Dark and rich as Belgian chocolate with liquid raspberry centers. When my husband and I unfolded the quilt–for it is mainly for his room–we couldn't speak.
I've spent some time with this quilt, studying its artistry. As someone who scrapbooks, I know a bit about pattern selection and colors. But I am clueless about the values that go into making a quilt–the various hues, light fabrics sitting against dark, pulling off the surprise of a bright green or that raspberry pink among the reds and browns.
Some of the fabric I recognize with delight–my friend bought the material when we were in the quilt shop last summer. That swirly red, a snippet from Basic Gray's Fruitcake series (a scrapbook paper company that now dabbles in fabric). The backing is so gorgeous I'm tempted to display the quilt from that side.
Right now the quilt is on the back of the rocking chair in the den where we can enjoy it. Come fall, it will move into my husband's room.
But for now, summer is coming and I'm ready. My porch is filled with pink flowers. I sit out there every day, reading, watching the mockingbirds who have unwisely nested in the very-low-to-the-ground Japanese maple as they fuss at Persnickety (and me), and thinking about friends who have the grace to send unexpected gifts.
Blame it on the Smithsonian, Gilmore Girls, and one cat's "delicate" stomach. The breakfast room re-do was a case of calamity colliding with nostalgia. Sprucing up the eating nook required the least new things, but the most angst.
I'd like to say it started with a new game Winchester invented, find-the-hidden-throw-up, but it really began with the kitchen that has haunted my imaginary houses since I was eleven.
On a rare outing, my uncle Benny took me and my cousin Eugene to the Smithsonian where I found myself transfixed in front of a "typical" 1930s kitchen display. The mother cooked at the green enameled range. The boy lay on the black and white linoleum and listened to the radio. The father read the newspaper (grim news, no doubt) at a rectangular table covered with a red-and-white check oilcloth. Jadeite salt and pepper shakers sat by his plate. I stared at the rounded shoulders of the icebox with the motor on top like a little spaceship. If I could have walked through the glass, I would have entered that kitchen and never left.
Fast-forward to the present. On every junkin' trip, I'm subconsciously hunting for that kitchen, which boils down to specifics like the jadeite salt and peppers (at a reasonable price) and, most of all, that table. I bought an enameled table sweetly decorated with decals for $50 and crammed it in one of the dormer alcoves of my office. If I give up cake for three days, I can squeeze myself behind the table to work on art projects. While the table is fine for my office, it's too big to fit in our breakfast room. A round table works best in there.
I had just about gotten over the table-thing when I started watching Gilmore Girls. I love the show, especially the scenes in Luke's Diner. While everyone else is looking at Luke's handsome stubbly face, or even the juicy hamburgers served to customers, I'm ga-ga over the decor. Luke's Diner is a haphazard collection of old formica kitchen tables and mismatched chairs. Lorelai and Rory often sit at a drop-leaf enameled table edged in red. I'm crazy about that table. It takes me back to the Smithsonian display where home life is preserved behind glass and the "bad stuff" is safely contained in the father's newspaper. Yeah, I know. It's a lot to read in a kitchen table!
A month ago, I found a red-and-white drop-leaf enameled kitchen table. I had already loaded the antique store counter with two typewriters, a lunchbox, an electric fan, and some old thermoses. My junkin' cup runneth over, so to speak. I patted the table wistfully and left.
Then I gave an all-day school talk in Richmond. When I came home, my husband had fixed supper. I noticed the instant I walked in the door that Winchester had thrown-up on the den rug, as obvious as an elephant in the bathtub, but my husband never saw it. When a cat throws up, there's always a second little pile. I located it on the mat in the breakfast room by the door that leads into the garage. I cleaned up the rugs and it was time to eat.
My husband got up to fetch the coarse-grind pepper and slipped on the floor. "I cleaned up Winchester's mess," I told him. He went outside to scrape his shoe, came back, sat down, and got up to get the hot sauce and slipped again. "I cleaned my shoe!" he said, going out to clean the other shoe. The third time he slipped, flinging butter across the room, I knew something was rotten in Winchester Land.
Under our table is a Target "oriental" rug with dark brown flowers. On his throwing-up spree, Winchester had managed to leave a pile in each of the brown flowers. We threw out the rug and I spent the evening on my hands and knees cleaning floors and one wall where the butter had been lobbed.
No more rug in the eating area, I decided. But the bare floor made the room too clattery. We needed something claw-and-mess-proof. I decided to buy a sheet of black-and-white linoleum and have it cut to rug size. I went to Lowe's the next morning and found exactly what I wanted in vinyl. I would have to buy a 12 by 6 sheet but they would cut it for me. But when the guy punched numbers in the computer he found they don't carry that flooring any more.
Next I went to a carpet and rug place. I'd have to pay more but I knew I'd find what I wanted. I did. I ordered a 12 by 6 sheet and asked them to cut it to 6 by 9. A few days later, we picked up the rug. Back home, I realized it didn't fit. Worse, the cut marks went through the middle of the squares. My husband figured that the squares are 9 inches instead of 12 and that we'd have to have the rug re-cut to those measurements. Back went the vinyl. This time when we picked it up, it fit perfectly and the people at the carpet place stopped giving me strange looks.
The wooden table looked out of place on the vinyl rug. I thought longingly of the red-enameled table at the antique mall. But I also realized I would need new (different) chairs. We had no place to store our nice oak table and chairs. Not the attic, which doesn't really exist, and we can't squeeze a tiddly-wink in the garage. I couldn't have the table but I could have the oilcloth tablecloth. Scouring the Internet, I found Nanalulu's Linens and ordered three hard-to-find round genuine oilcloth tablecloths in retro prints.
The rest of the breakfast nook required only small touches. I repainted the half-table that holds my drop-side toaster and zinc egg crate (similar to the old milk crates) where I store my cookbooks, from sage green to red. Now it blends in better with the old Costco step-stool. I bought a new McCoy swan vase in yellow and that sweet little snack set in red and yellow. I filled my old yellow McCoy vase with 60 percent off red tulips from Michaels.
My Fiestaware is new (the older dishes are dangerous). The food/nutrition cards in the plates were once used in home economics classes in the late fifties. I keep them on my refrigerator, held with magnets.
When I eat lunch, I almost feel I'm one of those people in the 1930s Smithsonian kitchen (don't go looking for it–it's been replaced by Julia Child's kitchen). Winchester does not like the new vinyl rug. When we first put it down, he sat in a white square, then in a black square. Now he doesn't go near it. However when he feels the urge, he has plenty of other rugs to leave "presents" for me.
Mother's Day is Sunday. It's not my favorite holiday and not because I don't have children. When my mother died, I hated Mother's Day. Hated going out to eat on that day, seeing the mothers wearing their corsages, laughing with their children and grandchildren. Hated the cards and special Mother's Day presents.
I'd buy a white carnation in memory of my mother and that would be it.
Last night my husband brought in the mail while I was fixing supper. Among the ads for Mother's Day gifts was a small flat package. It was from my Aunt Jo, my mother's youngest sister, the only Dellinger still alive. I only get Christmas cards from Aunt Jo, who lives in Florida, and couldn't imagine what she had sent.
It was a Mother's Day card, to me, from her, and something wrapped in pink tissue. In her note Aunt Jo told me she had come across something of my mother's that my mother had sent her years ago and Aunt Jo wanted me to have it. I unfolded the tissue carefully.
Inside was an envelope and a felt watermelon slice with magnets glued to the back. A refrigerator decoration. Back in the 1970s, Workbasket magazine was packed with patterns for felt crafts and my mother made dozens of sets of refrigerator magnets. She was still making them a few months before she died.
The card was an Easter card, sent to my aunt Jo, with the refrigerator magnet inside as a little present. Mama had written a note to Jo. The envelope was dated March 22, 1989. Three months later, almost to the day, my mother would be gone.
For the longest time I've been craving something of my mother's that I hadn't seen before. I'd paw through the cedar chest or rearrange the dishes in the china cabinet, hunting for something I may have overlooked these last twenty years. Of course I couldn't find anything–I've combed through her things a hundred times.
My sister e-mailed me. Aunt Jo had sent her one of Mama's refrigerator decorations, too, for Mother's Day. We could not believe it.
I read my mother's note hungrily and touched the simple felt watermelon slice–bright as the day she crafted it–with wonder. My first Mother's Day present. From my mother. Twenty-two years after her death.
Suddenly she wasn't so far away.
Happy Mother's Day to us all.
Wait! you say. Where’s Spring Spruce-up, Part I? I cheated. It’s here, back when I had a conniption fit with the slipcover and wound up creating a Moment in Time wall.
I often decorate around a single object. Years ago, when my husband bought me a ceramic Fitz and Floyd soup tureen of hen sitting on a nest, I did our entire dining room around it.
Our bedroom has been sadly neglected lately. I’ve been wanting to paint it in the worst way, and replace the carpet. But new carpet isn’t in the budget and we can’t decide on a paint color, or rather my husband won’t let me paint the bedroom Savannah Clay, which is a fancy way of saying pink. I’ve switched to a pale peach, which will satisfy us both, but painting our bedroom is a huge ordeal, mainly because we have another entire household under our bed.
But without painting and ripping up carpet, you can still freshen a room for almost nothing. Begin with a single object, something you love. In my case it’s a quilt a dear friend made for me.
Last summer we went to a quilt store and I spotted a simple patchwork quilt done up in reproduced 1930s fabrics. I admired that quilt with heavy sighs, stroked and petted it, prostrated myself before it, and practically wrapped myself in it like Cleopatra in the rug before my quilting friend said she would make it for me. I bought the kit, the backing and the binding and kissed the ground my friend walked on.
When the quilt arrived, I was amazied at how pretty it was! My friend did a beautiful job. The quilt would take the place of honor at the foot of our bed but the rest of the room needed to be brought up to snuff. That quilt deserved better.
Last week I left the house at eight in the morning, after taking two Advils. I had a mission and shingles would not slow me down. I went to Target and looked at bedspreads. Found one in that dusky turquoise you see everywhere. Maybe. But I moved on to Kohl’s and hit their half-off-everything-in-the-store sale. I snagged a king-sized quilt in daffodil–normally $129 but on sale for $34! I grabbed matching pillow shams, new pillowcases, and a small blue chenille scatter rug. With the money I saved, I bought capris, a top, and necklace and earrings set. Gotta love Kohl’s!
With my loot stowed in my trunk, I drove to Old Town Fredericksburg. This mission wouldn’t be as easy. For the last 20 years or so, we’ve had a Frank Benson (my favorite Impressionist) print hanging over our bed in lieu of a headboard. While I love the rendering of Benson’s daughter, “Eleanor,” the print has faded and we have stopped “seeing” it. To enhance the vintage feel of my new quilt, I was on the look-out for framed vintage flower prints. I tramped in and out of several antique malls. Looking up so much made me dizzy, but I scored several old prints. I also wanted a McCoy-type vase for my husband’s dresser. I found a Royal Copley daffodil vase that wasn’t too cheap but not outrageous. My last stop on my way home was Michael’s where I fussed over just the right flowers to go in the vase and bought some new picture frames.
At home, I stripped the bed. While the sheets were in the washer, I went shopping in my house. I found my husband’s Sunday school promotion certificate that I popped into a frame. I hung the vintage floral prints over the bed. Then I made the bed with the new finery, adding rabbit pillows made from old quilts (languishing in the linen closet).
I reframed the photos on the sofa table in the nook and brought together my collection of vintage clocks.
Here’s the Royal Copley vase on my husband’s armoire. I moved that old Jessie Wilcox Smith picture from the bathroom to continue the floral theme.
And here it is!
A sunny yellow bedroom with small vintage touches that give the feel of the 1930s. We’ll paint the walls this fall, maybe. I’ve been looking at carpets, still not sure what to replace that tired beige plush with.
Winchester has been threatened with no bedtime-snack-kibble if he so much as puts a paw on this quilt. You can see how happy he is, forced to lie on the floor like a common alley cat. Don’t worry. He got back at me. In fact, he was the reason I had to re-do our breakfast room. Stayed tuned for Spring Spruce-up, Part III on Friday.
Virginia has a nifty trick: it shifts from spring to summer in a single day. I don’t mean the temperatures. I’m talking about the landscape. I start looking for signs of spring at the end of January. One or two birds will sing during the day. That’s a sign. In February the robins and grackles come back. In March the tight-fisted buds of the pear trees relax and bloom. By April we can’t keep up with the show.
What I love most about April is the yellow-green mist of new leaves opening in the woods, like an Impressionist painting. Redbud adds glorious pink strokes, joined by the pure white of dogwood and a drizzle of purple wisteria. Virginia’s woods are quietly pretty while our yards are louder, bursting with tulips and irises and grape hyacinths and the parade of double-cherry, pink dogwood, and lilacs.
Then someone flips a switch on April 30. On May first we wake up to fully-leafed out trees, thick vines, and virulent weeds. It may be 60 degrees, but it looks like summer. Everything is on stage.
The first weekend in May our farmer’s market opens, too. My husband and I arrived early, eager for local produce. Most of the vendors were selling plants–potted annuals, hanging baskets, hothouse tomato and pepper plants ready to set out. But the big truck gardens also sold the first offerings of the season, strawberries, leaf lettuce, rhubarb, radishes, and spring onions.
It was a gorgeous day to work in the yard. My husband mowed and weed-whacked and edged. I had determined that the bird nesting in the wreath on our front door has abandoned the nest and eggs. I took the wreath down, tipped out the discolored eggs, but saved the nest with its sweet lacing of powder blue yarn and what looked like quilt batting. I wished the sparrow had stayed. We did everything we could to keep people off the porch short of shooting them.
I hosed green rivers of pollen off the porch and washed down the furniture. My husband planted five pink Knockout rose bushes in the empty raised flower bed. They’re a little shell-shocked now but in a few weeks, they’ll fill the box with pink blossoms. The azaleas are blooming–I can’t tell you how much I hate these azaleas. When I bought them 15 years ago, they weren’t in bloom and I was told they were salmon pink, the only color I like. As you can see they are coral–orange! Every year I threaten to dig them out.
We labored until we could barely stand. Did I mention that spring in Virginia is hard work? Persnickety, the nation’s most difficult cat to photograph, trailed after us, stopping now and then to pounce on the skink that skittered down the rain gutter. I staggered in the house to make us a supper of stuffed hotdogs (one of my mother’s desperate-dinner recipes) and refried beans and tortilla chips and homemade shortcake for those strawberries. Earlier that day we had checked out “The King’s Speech” from a Red Box, the first time we’d used one. We felt like we were knocking over a candy store–it was so easy to get a cheap movie!
We ate in my husband’s sitting room because that’s where the big TV is now, holding plates in our laps. The last two people in the free world to see “The King’s Speech,” we loved the movie, even with my annoying stream of comments about the House of Windsor, one of the many topics I’m an expert on. I don’t know why I wasn’t invited to the Royal Wedding.
It felt decadent, watching a movie and eating homemade strawberry shortcake with berries grown locally and not ripened in a truck from California. Outside, shadows lengthened over our neatly groomed lawn. One pink rose in the flower bed down front opened its petals and few sly weeds sprouted, chuckling.