A Belated Halloween Tribute

The following story was intended to be posted this past Halloween. Sometimes matters of the heart cannot be rushed.

I have loved Halloween ever since I was a little girl. It might have been about the candy. It could have been because it was the one day of the year my mother allowed us to have doughnuts in addition to the pounds of sugary treats we had collected from our neighborhood. It might have been about getting to stay up past my bed time on a school night. It could have been because I was of a generation of children who actually got to trick or treat in the traditional, customary manner most kids nowadays will, sadly, never experience. It might have been about the creative costumes my mom handmade for us each year.

A slightly chubby me at 3 1/2 years as Little Red Riding Hood!

A slightly chubby me at 4 years as Little Red Riding Hood!

It could have been because my family’s famous graveyard decorations in our yard with clever sayings such as Here Lies Polly the Great Mathematician – Now She’s “Polygon” were featured on the front page of the local newspaper every Halloween. It might have been about my parents entertaining us with Halloween stories, always with a theatrical flare, so that they were fun & never scary. It could have been because my dad could do a spot-on, spooky “Phantom of the Opera laugh” that made my siblings & me squeal with spine-tingling delight. It might have been about the friends I have had from childhood into adulthood with birthdays near Halloween that, more or less, guaranteed a costume party celebration each year. It was all these terrifically entertaining things for certain, & yet at the same time, I was keenly aware of something else that cast a cloud of a heavier nature over our typical Halloween festivities. There was something I connected with that time of year as the days became longer, darker, & gloomier.  Perhaps it was the ambience created by Halloween preparations that heightened the moody, haunting atmosphere with which I seemed to identify. Or maybe it was because I was a very quiet, sensitive child who was incredibly observant of the world. Perhaps it was because of my strong, Catholic upbringing. No matter the reason, I knew at a very young age there were elements of life that could be rather obscure & mysteriously unsettling. Halloween represented them somehow, & without actually having learned the ancient Celtic & Christian traditions & beliefs associated with the holiday just yet to make sense of it all, I found myself contemplating it nonetheless, especially when Halloween rolled around each year; a practice that simply became a part of me & carried over into my adulthood. This year, more than any of the others, is highly significant in that respect. This year, fall is just a bit darker & Halloween is tinged with a sadness & ambiguity that I always knew was there as a child but couldn’t fully understand. This year, the heavy cloud looming over Halloween has come full circle into my consciousness. This year, I have lost a close & dear friend, without whom, the world will never be the same. Never was there a person who better embodied both the magical light & dark mysteries of Halloween that I have spent a lifetime contemplating. Never was there a more beautiful spirit & sweeter soul than my friend, Colleen.

Twenty-five years ago, a community theater group in the small town where I taught advertised auditions for their upcoming play, Blythe Spirit, a 1950’s farce by Noel Coward about a writer who wants to publish a piece on psychics, so he hosts a séance & accidentally conjures up the ghost of his deceased, first wife! I had been very active in theater my entire childhood, & had been particularly successful at it in college as well. When I graduated from the latter, my beloved mentor & professor, Hal (you can read about him in my post from last Halloween – A Message from Lizzie), encouraged me to participate in community & local theater groups, so I jumped at the chance to hopefully partake once again in this very enjoyable past time. In doing so, that is how I met Colleen. I had seen her briefly at one of the December audition sessions, but after that I honestly didn’t know who had been cast in all the roles, other than my own, until we all met for the first rehearsal & reading of the script. That would take place at the school’s auditorium in the New Year, after the holiday break. The night of the initial cast gathering, I simply remained at school working, had a light dinner in the teacher’s room, then headed to the library to hunt for some  appropriate reading for a  student of mine until it was time for rehearsal. I was deep into the children’s stacks when I saw a glimmer of blonde hair out of the corner of my eye. Thinking I had been alone save for the janitor, I stood up & there was Colleen who I recognized from auditions. She walked right over & I pretty much expected her to introduce herself, but instead she looked right at me & said, “How many lines do you have?” I took a step back & leaned on the book shelf, uncertain of how to respond to one of the oddest questions I’d ever been asked by a fellow thespian. “Uhhh….I have absolutely no idea,” I finally answered, with a hint of a chuckle. “Oh,” she replied, “well, I have ___,” & rattled off some random number. “You honestly counted all your lines?” I asked. “Of course!” she exclaimed. “That’s the goofiest thing I’ve ever heard of,” I said & then we both started laughing.  At that point, we finally introduced ourselves to each other & I learned she would be playing Ruth, the second wife. I told her I had been cast as Elvira (pronounced “Ell-veer-ahh”), the first wife, & was very excited to be playing a ghost. After some brief chit chat in the library, we decided to head over to the auditorium for the rehearsal. En route, I couldn’t resist asking her, “Seriously, why would you count all your lines?” to which she responded with a shrug of her shoulders, “I don’t know, I was just curious.” With twenty-five years of  hindsight, I now know what I was witnessing in those moments was “classic Colleen.” Colleen was beyond curious about everything & also very direct, always asking & saying what was on her mind with an uncanny ability to overlook what anyone else thought of it. She had a thirst for knowledge & that craved curiosity lead her down an array of fascinating paths her entire life; a number of which I was fortunate enough to be privy to, I might add. The story of how we met & became friends we often retold & joked about throughout the years of our friendship & no matter how strange it had seemed at the time, I wouldn’t change a second of it for the world.

For the next three winter months, Colleen & I spent many a night together in the chilly school auditorium rehearsing for our play & getting to know one another quite well given the scenario. It’s not every day you have the unique perspective of regularly observing someone interacting with you face to face, while also doing so from the vantage point of a stage where everything is significantly accentuated. Voice qualities, physical attributes, personality, emotions, thought processes; all these details & more are so intrinsic to your location & circumstances that they become blurred between reality & something more esoteric, as if viewing a stunning Monet painting in a museum. In that respect, Colleen was, to me, a “work of art” – brilliant with complicated & intricate details behind a beautiful presentation. She was a tiny, wisp of a young woman; very thin with creamy white skin, blue eyes & long, blonde hair. Incredibly soft & pretty. Her gentle voice always seemed to have a question in it, reflective of her inquisitive nature. While she came across as a very serious & deep person, she had a hearty laugh & impish, playfulness about her. There was an air of elegant “light” in her manner, yet also something mysterious that drew you in, wanting to know more.  Her slight stature seemed almost fragile in a way, but at the same time she carried herself with great strength. She was a wonder! In our free moments when not on stage, we talked constantly in hushed tones in the back of the auditorium, sharing bits & pieces about our personal lives, sometimes joking & giggling, running lines from various scenes, having in depth conversations about our characters’ motivation & actions, all the while learning about each other & subsequently developing a close friendship. One unusually cold night, I noticed that Colleen was very pale & her lips appeared almost blue. Concerned, I asked her if she was alright & offered her my coat to put around her shoulders. She assured me she was fine but I questioned her again, telling her that her lips were, indeed, turning blue. That is when she told me about her condition. Colleen had been born with a rare, congenital heart defect. Doctors had told her parents she, more than likely, would not survive past the age of four. When she was four, however, she had extensive surgery & doctors then estimated she would live to about eighteen years, yet here she was in her twenties, continuing to live a full life. She had had numerous heart surgeries since, & would probably need more down the road. All this Colleen told to me in a such a matter-of-fact way, but I was floored! I had no idea, although now her thin & pale features seemed to make more sense. Again she assured me she was okay, that her lips often turned blue, & teased that when it came time for her character, Ruth, to become a ghost, she would need little make-up. I smiled faintly, amazed my friend could make light of her serious situation. While I was troubled & worried learning of her condition, I realized that this must be how Colleen managed to cope with such an imposing & grave disease. This must be the fortitude I had noticed behind her delicate & tenuous disposition. How could anyone not admire her for such courage & determination? I certainly did, that was for sure!

As the saying goes, “the play went on.” Colleen & I both enjoyed the final weeks leading up to our performances, being fitted for costumes, working out the kinks in our haunting stage antics, & having the make-up crew try different techniques on our faces to achieve the perfect, ghostly appearance under the glare of the theater’s hot lights. While we both had tried out merely for the thrill & “high” of being in a play again, I don’t think either of us anticipated having such fun or finding friendship along the way. In all honestly, I have to say it wasn’t the best play either of us had been in, but for me, it will always be memorable because it was how I came to meet Colleen.

Two ghosts....two friends!

Two ghosts….two friends!

The run of performances were met with good reviews, mostly because a community play was about the biggest event this small town’s residents had to look forward to each winter. I told Colleen at the time, “Well, we were a hit on off, off, off, off, off Broadway!” & that made us laugh. We had a blast at the cast party, following our final performance, & we vowed to each other that we would stay in touch & continue our friendship now that the show was over. That we did.

Coincidentally, I just so happened to have an apartment in the same town where  Colleen grew up, & later on in my single years, I actually lived right around the corner from her childhood home. Colleen often stopped in a few times a week to visit her parents, so if she was in the area, she sometimes would pay me a surprise visit as well & that is how our friendship initially continued. After that, we started getting together to watch movies at night, we’d play endlessly with my adorable, new kitten she had helped me to find at the Humane Society, or we would have lunch & dinner get-togethers with plenty of conversation.

One of Colleen's early visits with me & my new kitty.

One of Colleen’s early visits with me & my new kitty.

Colleen worked as a paralegal but was fascinated by my job with Deaf children &, for a brief time, contemplated studying sign language. She picked my brain about my work many a time. Sometimes we would spend hours talking or stay up to all hours analyzing the films we watched, rewinding the VCR to see specific scenes over & over again. Being big theater buffs, we discussed film & acting almost every chance we had. When the weather was nice, I often walked over to the church in town on Sunday mornings for mass. I had stopped going to church regularly a while ago, but I particularly liked this church’s choir & found it a peaceful experience to sit in a back pew & take in the spiritual atmosphere I felt there. One Sunday as I entered the church & was headed to my favorite spot to sit, an arm suddenly came out of a pew & pulled me in! It was Colleen, there with her dad who sometimes served as a church usher. I discovered Colleen often drove down to attend church with him, so that Sunday & many afterwards, we would sit together quietly during mass & do what I would call our “soul searching.” I think we were both looking for something meaningful in that hour each Sunday & that search kept us coming back. It was nice to have her companionship not only in that specific experience, but in the journey we seemed to share towards understanding ourselves & the bigger picture. Besides church, we chatted on the phone frequently & she had me up to her house often where I got to spend time with her horses & dogs in the countryside. I was astonished Colleen had the physical stamina to take care of horses but I soon learned that if she had an interest in or desire for something, she was determined to see it through to fruition. She had loved horses & animals since she was a child  so when she grew up, she adamantly found a way to have them in her life. Colleen had two adorable Shelties, a striking Morgan stallion, & an Appaloosa mare. I had great admiration for horses, but always been a little afraid of them, having been thrown from one as a child. Colleen insisted they were gentle & as intelligent as dogs. She often devised ways to get me to interact with her stallion, Neb, mostly because she knew I was terrified of him. For example, once we were outside & she asked me to move a fence line out of her way, knowing I’d have to come face to face with this amazing creature who was standing exactly where she wanted me to move it. “Just tell him to move & he will,” she hollered from a distance. I glanced hesitantly up, up, & up into the large eyes of the massive beast starring back at me & gently whispered, “Go over there,” but he only continued to stare at me with an intensity that made my hair stand on end. “Tell him to get out of the way, like he’s a dog!” she urged me.  I swear my knees knocked & my voice shook as I tried to follow her instruction time & time again. Eventually he snorted & moved very slowly away, his eyes still locked on me, & I’m certain that if he could have, he would have rolled those eyes & exclaimed, “What a dumb human!” Colleen patted me on the back & said, “See? That wasn’t so bad!”

Colleen's Neb.

Colleen’s Neb.

My favorite memory of Colleen’s horses was when her mare gave birth to a foal. She had excitedly called me at the most ridiculous hour of the morning, telling me to hurry up & get to her house because the foal was being born. I hopped in my car & drove right over, literally by the dawn’s early light. I had missed the actual birthing part (maybe that was a good thing?), but arrived just in time to see her leading the most precious little foal into a small, fenced-in area of the yard. He was gorgeous!! His fur was the color of mink except for a tiny spot of white, & his wobbly legs took him around & around the pen exploring his new world for the very first time. It was breathtaking to watch! He came over to me a few times & smelled my hands & hair with sweet innocence. Colleen was thrilled beyond compare & she beamed with pride. I had never seen a newborn horse before & was quite taken with this little beauty. We both stood there & watched him silently for a very long time, simply captivated by arrival of this magnificent animal. I will always remember that morning like it was yesterday.

During our continued friendship, Colleen rarely mentioned her heart condition; she simply just lived her life very fully & didn’t let it deter her from anything she might want to do. On very rare occasions, she would sometimes mention that she had been to the hospital during the night. She would tell me these things in the same, matter-of fact manner as she did when I first met her & she had told me about her heart defect, only this time, I would freak out. “I am ten minutes from the hospital, why didn’t you call me? I would have come & stayed with you!” I would implore. “Oh, it was nothing,” she’d reply, “I’m fine now,” she’d placate. That was just how she was about it. Only once did she ever tell me something negative…..she told me that she hated when she needed to have defibrillation. I could see the fear in her eyes & hear it in her voice as she described it for me & I wished I could heal her permanently with a magic wand. Colleen never, ever complained about her illness. She didn’t feel sorry for herself & she clearly did not want special treatment. If ever there was someone who personified the motto, “live each day as if it is your last,” it was Colleen. She had no choice in the matter, yet she appeared to do it effortlessly. If only everyone could be that brave.

Eventually I started introducing Colleen to some friends from my teaching world & also a few college pals. I would invite her along on some of our outings & she fit right in as if she had known them all along. That was just Colleen’s personality. She was a real people person & so friendly; she could always find something to talk about with just about anyone! Colleen had made me aware she was going through a difficult transition in her personal life at that time, so it became important to me to include her in many of my activities because I worried about her & didn’t want her to be alone. We had talked about her situation numerous times & I told her I would support her no matter what the outcome. Although Colleen had her family & other friends, she really leaned on me during this particular time in her life but that was okay with me & she told me often how much she appreciated my friendship. I think I can say I am the one friend of Colleen’s who was in the rare position of being with her & witnessing the trifecta of changes she went through during that decade. If you are truly someone’s friend, you don’t really think about those things when they are happening. It is only now, some twenty-five years later as I ponder & write about these memories with a heavy heart, that I realize how significant they were & always will be. Sometimes events take place in our lives in which the stars align so perfectly, yet you have no idea at the time that they, one day, will collectively serve a bigger & better purpose.

In due time, Colleen made a fresh start for herself. It was a good, healthy choice for her & she really blossomed during that time. At first it was as if she just dipped in a toe & hesitantly got her feet wet, but eventually she jumped right in with a splash & enjoyed the new found waters! While she explored a variety of different lines of work during that time, she always returned to her greatest interest – acting. It was a theme that would later have a tremendous impact on one of her biggest endeavors & accomplishments in her final years. We both remained very active in various community theater projects & always supported one another’s activities & performances. We continued to dine out regularly with my group of college & work friends, took “spur of the moment” day trips to places like Parc Safari, celebrated Halloween by visiting the nearby jack ‘o lantern lightings each year, hosted small dinner parties & coffee gatherings, & I think it’s safe to say we did our share of dancing & enjoying the single life in the nearby college town where we lived. It was good to see Colleen reveling & thriving in her newly chosen path. I was particularly pleased that some of my friends soon considered her to be among their friends as well, & as a result, I will always believe a bit of magic resulted from that having been the case.

When I was in college, I shared a dorm suite with a girl named Ann for a number of years. For some time, Ann had been dating a young man who had already graduated & was working in our college town where he had grown up.  In much the same way Colleen became friends with my friends in my adult life, I had become friends with Ann’s boyfriend & his childhood friends during college. We all hung out often during the remainder of our college years as well as those early, single years when we were just starting out & trying to make a life for ourselves. Ann’s boyfriend had a best friend who did everything with him, so he was always around, too, if Ann & I were doing something together. Little did I know all those years ago, that he, this best friend, would play a pivotal role in the life of a girlfriend I had yet to meet. It is often said that “everything happens for a reason,” & I’d like to think that I was supposed to meet him in my early life & then meet Colleen in my later life, so that I could be the bridge that would eventually connect them & lead them to one another. That is pretty much how it worked out, anyway. Some might call it destiny. Others would call it a fairy tale. Some might say it was the stars aligning.  I would say it was all those things, with a little old-fashioned romance & magic mixed in!

Ann, as you may have guessed, was one of my friends who had taken a liking to Colleen. She & I always did the nuttiest things together. One weekend she came over with surgical gloves from her nursing job, & we gloved up & tried removing some major clumps from my long haired, Angora cat who had gotten herself into a furry mess. While attempting this ridiculous feat, we got to talking about Colleen & how nice it would be if she could meet the perfect guy. We pondered for a bit who we knew that would fit the description of a Prince Charming, & then suddenly, at the same time, we both exclaimed, “Donnie!” Donnie was the above-mentioned best friend. He was very sweet, somewhat shy, boyishly handsome, & an all round good person. And he was single! We couldn’t think of anyone more ideal for Colleen. Ann & I had never set anyone up on a blind date before, so we decided that I would broach the topic with Colleen to see how she felt about it & she would ask Donnie if he were interested. Before we knew it, both had given us a resounding “yes” & instantly we were in the precarious position of playing match makers! Colleen drove me crazy in the days leading up to the blind date, not in a bad way, mind you, but in the way someone very excited & curious would behave on the eve of a monumental event. She asked me millions & millions of questions about Donnie, wanting to know as much as possible about him, every detail & minuscule thing I could think to tell her. It was so funny & cute, I could not help chuckling at her incessant questions, but at the same time I was pleased she was so enthusiastic & worriedly hoped she would not be disappointed in the set up.  I did my best to answer her inquiries & appease her until the big day approached. When it finally did, Colleen promised she would call me immediately after the date was over & tell me all about it. I waited & waited all that night but Colleen never called. I even called Ann at one point to see if she had heard anything but she had not. I was frantic, thinking it was such a disaster that she was furious & did not want to tell me. It wasn’t until later the next morning that the phone rang at long last & it was Colleen. “Where have you been? Why didn’t you call? How the heck was it??? I’ve been a complete wreck!” I practically yelled into the phone. Colleen couldn’t have been cooler than a cucumber for those first few seconds, a stark cry from her hyper state just the day before. “Well…” she began quietly. “Oh God!” I exclaimed, “Nothing good ever starts out with “well!” I blurted out. “No,” she continued, “it was okay,” she said. “That’s it?? Just okay?” I asked, trying not to sound deflated. Then it was as if the flood gates opened & the Colleen I knew & loved began to gush, “Oh, it was so wonderful. HE is so wonderful. We had the best time!” & she went on & on with every detail (too many details, in fact!) that she had promised to tell me. Needless to say, Ann & I had hit it out of the park. Shooting stars! Fireworks! The whole nine yards! I couldn’t have been happier for my friend….both of my friends, actually. I can’t speak for Ann but that was the first & last time I ever set anyone up on a blind date. I mean, really, how could I ever top hooking up Colleen & Donnie?

Finding Donnie was the culmination of many life changing events for Colleen during those first few years we had known each other. The two love birds were inseparable after their infamous blind date. Literally. Each had clearly found their soul mate in one another. When I think back on it now, I am so grateful that Colleen had the opportunity to experience true love, to be loved so beautifully & kindly in a way she very much deserved, to be tenderly cared for & supported, & to spend the rest of her life alongside such a wonderful, “gentle soul,” as she often called Donnie. That comforts me, all these years later, when I pause to think back on those early days when we first knew one another….& the milestones of Colleen’s life that unfolded in which I was honored to have played a small part.

The two of us remained close following our first years of friendship, even despite both of us finding new love & having our lives move forward in very positive but different ways. Colleen, as it turns out, was one of those friends of mine who happened to have a birthday near Halloween. After she & Donnie began dating, they eventually started having annual Halloween costume parties to celebrate her birthday, so there always was cause for us to see each other on one of our favorite holidays of the year. Every celebration was bigger & better than the previous year’s & I tried to attend as many as possible. What fun it was to dress up & enjoy each other’s company.

One of Colleen's first Halloween parties. Disney had released "Pocahontas" that year & it inspired my handmade costume.

One of Colleen’s first Halloween parties. Disney had released “Pocahontas” that year & it inspired my handmade costume.

Colleen always chose a costume to reflect the more meaningful side of Halloween. Never a clown, a hobo or a pumpkin costume for my lovely friend with the deepest, spiritual essence for all things celestial & mysterious! For this is the path all our soul searching that we once shared had taken her…into the magical depths of the universe & all of its inextricable secrets….into the peaceful & beautiful realm of Wicca. Celebrating Halloween was certainly a part of it! Colleen peaked like a tiny bloom into a magnificent flower under the guidance & principles of her new-found faith. She simply radiated with a calmness, harmonious happiness & inner strength with which she lived out her remaining years.

In due time, Colleen & I both got married & I had been the first. There are two things I recall about my wedding day when I think of Colleen. For one, her   reception table had been the liveliest, no question about that! And two, Colleen & I had been able to have 30 minutes of quality friend time….in the bathroom, of all places….just she & I….laughing, putting on make-up, & sharing a few special moments together like the old days. Very good memories.

Colleen & I (both sporting shorter hair) goofing around at my bridal shower. Give 2 actors any stage & they will perform!

Colleen & I (both sporting shorter hair) goofing around at my bridal shower. Give 2 actors any stage & they will perform!

I had, of course, the traditional, Christian wedding. In contrast, however, Colleen & Donnie were married by a Wiccan High Priest. I was very excited to attend their ceremony, not only because it had been a long time in coming, but also because I did not know what expect. Wicca can be very misunderstood & often is grossly misrepresented, but I can attest that her wedding was one of the sweetest, most beautiful & loving I have ever attended. And you could have substituted the High Priest with a Justice of the Peace or minister & nothing really would have been that much different from my own wedding. It was a lovely ceremony. Colleen was gorgeous, stunning, & so unbelievably happy.

Soul mates.....

Soul mates…..

It had been the perfect wedding day! Colleen made certain to get a photo of Ann & me with she & Donnie, for the “record books” she had said that day. Today, more than ever, I’m so glad she did.

Ann is to Colleen's left in the original photo but has been cropped out with respect for privacy.

Ann is to Colleen’s left in the original photo but has been cropped out with respect for privacy.

Colleen, always the theater buff, ultimately was bitten by the film bug after two major movie stars came to town to film a box office hit shortly before my wedding. Colleen made it into the film as an extra! She had also been taking acting classes at the time that further peaked her interest in the film industry. Not long after that, Colleen became deeply ensconced in the world of independent film-making. That was Colleen’s way. If she had an interest, she simply became passionately involved in it, so much so, that it became a part of her. She learned as she went & forged her way into every local film venue to hone her newly developing knowledge & skills. Her journey into the film industry became her biggest & most incredible endeavor in the following two decades & I will always be amazed & proud of what she accomplished. “Can’t” was never a part of Colleen’s beliefs or vocabulary, & this final achievement of hers clearly proved what anyone who loved her already knew. With her husband by her side (& sometimes in front of or behind the camera!), Colleen soon founded her own independent film company known as Blonde Witch Productions. She started with film shorts & gradually made her way into full feature films. Each one she wrote, directed & produced herself. Each one became better than the one before it. Her story lines were often of a dark nature, exploring the complicated boundaries of love & relationships & life.

My talented friend: the actor, screenwriter, film maker, director, & producer at work.

My talented friend: the actor, screenwriter, film maker, director, & producer at work.

Knowing her as long & as closely as I did, I could identify the thin parallels to her own life & her own experiences in the themes she took on as film projects. She could talk at length with so much enthusiasm & passion about her film work, you somehow felt like you were involved in it, too. Colleen was recently in the midst of a number of projects – editing her second full length film, The Confession Room, & planning a “webisode” series based on an earlier film of hers – when, unexpectedly, complications from her lifelong heart defect arose one again. Tragically, she could not overcome them this time as she had so many times before. Subsequently, & with great courage, strength, dignity, love & peacefulness, my beloved friend passed away this summer.

It is very hard to write those words.  It is very hard to comprehend such a beautiful spirit no longer on this earth. My shock & enormous grief at Colleen’s death were infinitely compounded by the fact that I did not get to say goodbye to my friend. I did not get to hold her hand & offer her comfort & friendship at her greatest hour of need. I don’t know that any one recovers from such overwhelming remorse. It will haunt me all my days.

What I have learned about myself in my own life time is that when I suffer a loss & am dealing with great, personal sorrow, I sink to the deepest depths of despair. It seems I have to fall to the most profound, darkest corner of rock bottom before I can find a way to move forward  & attempt to come to terms with my loss. Once I hit that place of agonizing & desolate mourning, it’s like a button gets pushed inside of me & suddenly I find myself trying to claw my way back up….& always in the same manner. Just like I dealt with the death of Beatrix in OWL Always Love You, I reach a point where I tend to channel all my grief into something positive, creative….something that will bring good to others. That is the only way I can heal. And it all seems to happen more or less subconsciously until, later, I reflect back on events & realize that is what occurred. Again. This is exactly what happened when I lost Colleen.

Not quite a year ago, I opened a second shop on Etsy called Pretty Agnes that features charming, hand stamped, vintage silverware & gifts:

Click on the photo to view my whole shop!

Click on the photo to view my whole shop!

A companion shop, if you will, to my existing vintage business, Antique Shop Girl. In Antique Shop Girl, without really realizing it right off, I had already been gravitating towards antique items to sell that reminded me of Colleen, like this gorgeous, cast iron cook pot. Another means of healing, I suppose.

With Colleen on my mind, I marketed this as a black cauldron for Samhain (Halloween). It sold very quickly to a lovely girl who planned to use it for making her Wiccan candles & herbal lotions. I definitely have Colleen to thank for this sale! I can’t help but think she would be so pleased it found the perfect home. Click on the photo to visit my whole vintage shop & see more.

With Colleen on my mind, I marketed this as a black cauldron for Samhain (Halloween). It sold very quickly to a lovely girl who planned to use it for making her Wiccan candles & herbal lotions. I definitely have Colleen to thank for this sale! I can’t help but think she would be so pleased it found the perfect home. Click on the photo to visit my whole vintage shop & see more.

Then one day it simply hit me out of the blue….why don’t I create a stamped piece to sell in my Pretty Agnes shop in honor of Colleen? When she passed, her family had asked for donations in Colleen’s name to the Adult Congenital Heart Association  (ACHA). This would be a way to honor their request & generate donations from any sales towards necessary research for congenital heart defects, & to also aide in helping those who live with these life-threatening conditions to have better & longer lives. This would be a way to help others in Colleen’s memory. This would be a way for me to heal. More importantly, Colleen would have loved it. Immediately my creative juices began flowing & I thought that whatever piece I developed should include the name, “Blonde Witch” to honor her film making accomplishments, but what should that piece be? A fork? No. A butter knife? Not really. It should be a spoon. Why? It most reminded me of Colleen & her ways. Colleen was a “lingerer” & the very thought of it still puts a smile on my face. When everyone else had left, she would stay. When you were ready to hit the hay, she would sit down & announce, “I think I’ll have a cup of tea.” So, it had to be a spoon. With a Colleen-appropriate image on it. I thought of a few quickly. Something Halloween oriented, perhaps. A witch, a pumpkin, maybe a spider. A moon. A Triple Moon Goddess. Yes! Colleen had completely identified with that & it was synonymous with her beliefs & way of life. That would be the perfect choice, but why not still offer a variety of images & flatware just to appeal to the masses, from a business perspective? I set to work on my project idea & already had begun to feel a glimmer of hope & comfort inside me. Familiar & much needed.

Of course I instantly made myself nuts in attempting to create a Blonde Witch spoon, but it was a good & necessary distraction from my ongoing sadness. I was determined I would do this for my dear Colleen & nothing, not even getting stressed-out-crazy in the process, would stop me. For example, I was promptly re-evaluating why I had picked a spoon. I mean I knew why, but in all honestly, spoons are my least favorite to stamp because they are the most challenging of silverware to work with, being curved & not flat. And where in the world was I going to find a Triple Moon Goddess stamp? I had located a number of Halloween stamps that I could use to provide a variety of design choices, but I searched & searched for a Triple Moon Goddess to no avail. When at long last I finally found one, the price tag made my knees buckle. $190!!! That was preposterous! I would have to find a way to create my own. That task only further added to my growing insanity, but I plowed onward, with Colleen-inspired tenacity. After acquiring the necessary tools & much experimentation on my part making a Triple Moon Goddess image, I managed to create one to my liking. Then I started working on a variety of prototype spoons I could photograph for a potential listing in my online shop. The next step was to work up a listing description. I am one to labor endlessly over each & every word I write, be it here on my blog or elsewhere, so generating a listing took many hours & many days of relentless, exhausting word choice until I was satisfied I had adequately described not only my heartfelt endeavor, but my beautiful friend, as well. Finally I felt I was ready to present the Blonde Witch spoon to the world, but there was one more, very important thing I had left to do. I needed to get Donnie’s approval. I felt strongly I could not & should not do this project without it. So I lit a candle & talked to Colleen as if she were right in the room with me, sharing a warm beverage, snacks & pleasant conversation like we had so many times before. I told her what I was doing & why, & asked her to help me relay it to Donnie in the best possible way. I asked her to please have him give me his blessing. Then I wrote him a long email explaining everything from my heart & attached my draft listing for him to read. Then I waited.

I don’t remember if it was for a few hours or a few days, but I tried to keep myself occupied & not think about what, if anything, Donnie would have to say in response to my email. I do recall, however, that I was in the middle of doing some mundane house chore when suddenly I was overcome with a sensation I had never experienced before. I felt a warmth, not on the inside, but just outside of me, encircling the area around my heart. It was incredibly specific & intentional. Right away I felt a rush of goodness, happiness, comfort, tingling warmth & light all around me. It was most definitely magical! And I knew, without a single doubt, it was Colleen. I will never, ever, forget that experience. I know it was a one-time-only, final gift of love & friendship from her that transcended life & death & whatever blur lies between our limited knowledge of both. Still under the spell of this beautiful phenomenon, I ran straight to my computer & checked my email. There in my inbox was a message from Donnie, sent only seconds before. Colleen, I am certain, had been letting me know it arrived. I paused, anxious, then opened it up. It was a lengthy note which I had not expected. I read it once, then re-read it again. And then I put my head down & sobbed for some time, simply overcome by so many emotions all at once. Donnie had given me his blessing. His exact words were, “I think this is a cool idea and I’m sure Colleen would approve…if all you need is my go ahead, I say go for it!” Thus began the run of my Blonde Witch spoon fundraiser.

Some examples of my Blonde Witch spoons.

Some examples of my Blonde Witch spoons.

The project ran for 6 months. With the help of Donnie, we promoted the fundraiser among friends, family & colleagues with great success. I contacted the ACHA & they accepted my project as an official, voluntary fundraiser for their organization. They, too, gave it some publicity on their website & in newsletters, & sales poured in every day by the numbers. Needless to say, I was so, so busy, but so, so pleased at the same time. Many of the customers who purchased spoons from me also indicated they would be sending separate donations to the ACHA in Colleen’s name on top of purchasing spoons. About midway through the project, Donnie made me aware he had received a letter from ACAH stating they had accumulated over $1000 in donations in Colleen’s memory so far. That was amazing, especially considering the fundraiser was still going!  Throughout the duration of the fundraiser, I received so many heart felt messages from customers, some from strangers, some from friends or acquaintances, but all with supportive comments & loving memories or thoughts of Colleen. It was so uplifting! I shared as many of those as I could with Donnie & Colleen’s family because I felt they needed to hear those comforting words, too. I even received a few photos of how various folks were using their spoons. It was fabulous! The project had exceeded my expectations in so many ways! What was initially a random idea to help ease my own pain had become a successful fundraiser that helped to heal the hearts of so many others & raise critical funds for a wonderful cause. And all in Colleen’s name. Such a fitting tribute to an incredible person & friend.

The Blonde Witch fundraiser ended on January 30, 2015. I am still awaiting a final tally of donations generated to the ACHA in Colleen’s memory, although I am already certain of its financial success. I am grateful for the support of Donnie, Colleen’s siblings & her countless friends in helping a small idea come to fulfillment in such a big way. They will always have my deepest gratitude & sincerest, shared sympathies. Even though the project is over, the best part of it continues on….Colleen’s spirit!  So many people out there now are proud owners of Blonde Witch spoons, & every time one gets used in whichever “potion” they drink, they are stirring a little bit of the magic & light that was the essence of my beautiful friend, Colleen, back into the world! That gives me the greatest comfort of all.

It is still hard to believe Colleen is gone. She had defied the odds for so long & had such admirable strength & an indeterminate will to live that it didn’t seem possible her constant, bright spirit could ever be dimmed. I find myself expecting to see her around every corner or to get one of her regular “it’s been too long” emails; & I can hear her voice inside my head saying my name as clearly as if she is standing beside me. Nobody said my name the way she did. Picture that final scene in It’s A Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart is watching an extraordinary amount of friends come to his rescue on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t say anything as, one after the other, they each bring money & relay to him what a special friend he has been to them. His face is overcome with joy, a bit of relief, & complete, utter awe. If you could capture those combined expressions & emotions & give them a voice, it would have been what it sounded like when Colleen said my name….as if she couldn’t quite believe it was me but was simultaneously pleased that it was. It always sounded like that, no matter what. I don’t know why I never told her this in all the years I knew her, but I like that reminder of her & it makes me feel like she is still here with me. Perhaps she still is & that is why I can’t truly accept that she isn’t. I have seen her in my dreams many times since she passed & have had numerous occasions where a particular experience feels overwhelmingly like a message that could only be from her. Maybe my initial instincts are correct, maybe it is impossible for a spirit as bedazzling as Colleen’s to truly be gone from this world & it remains with us, in a spiritual form, continuing to light our way if we let it. That would be just like her, really, & appropriate given her faith & philosophies. She was always one to hang around & be the last to leave, after all. So that is what I’m choosing to believe; what I believe I know to be true. It’s kind of like having faith in the moon. Some nights, it is brilliantly glowing in all it’s glory amidst the shining stars & you have no doubt in its existence. Other nights, it is somberly shrouded behind the sky’s dark shadows & nebulous clouds but we still know it is there. It is only a matter of time until it’s magnificent light, once again, illuminates our journey onward.

Dedicated to Colleen….until we meet again, my friend!

* For more information on congenital heart defects, or to make a donation to the ACHA in Colleen’s memory, please visit their website at www.achaheart.org 

 

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Show and Tell

The end of September ushered in the last of summer-like weather. On the final Friday of the month I noted that, oddly, the leaves had not yet begun to change color on the trees. While not completely out of the ordinary, this certainly is not typical for the last weekend in September in New England. When I awoke on Saturday, however, I was greeted by near-80 degree temperatures & a glorious array of gold, red & orange colored leaves as far as the eye could see.  For me, that includes not only my immediate rural surroundings, but also the tops of the looming, gorgeous mountain ranges, beneath which, I humbly live. There is nothing like the splendor of autumn in New England, even if it comes with a slight delay & makes its entrance with a bang! Yet again we say farewell to one season while we welcome another & all that comes with it – like crisp temperatures, colorful falling leaves, apples & pumpkins, comfort foods, Halloween decorations &, of course, heading back to school. School has been back in session almost a month now, so it seemed appropriate for Antique Shop Girl to have a little “show and tell” for her readers, just like my teachers allowed us to do when I was a child returning to school from vacation. In that same spirit of recapping highlights from my summer, I am excited to feature the following narratives about three different customers who, over the summer, shared how they each made use of their recent purchases from me.

Since we’re talking about school, I thought I’d start with Kassie, the lovely Special Educator who spends her summers caring for her young son & refinishing bargain-priced vintage furniture  as a hobby in her free time. Early in the summer she purchased this charming set of drawer pulls that I had recently listed in my Etsy shop.

click on the photo to learn more

click on the photo to learn more

I was drawn to their beautiful, greenish-blue color right away. They had such great vintage appeal! I had to have them….. & so did she! I’m a curious being, so I usually ask customers what they plan to do with the items they buy from me if I don’t already know. She happily told me she thought they’d be perfect for a little chest she was refinishing & said she’d send me some photos when it was done. I was thrilled when, just a few days later, she did so! Even better, she had sent both before AND after photos. chest beforeNeedless to say, I was blown away by the transformation! chest - afterI would sell that chest in my brick & mortar shop in an instant! I think it is safe to say that if this young teacher ever decides on a career change, she would do very well selling her DIY furniture projects to people like me!  Hats off to Kassie for such an amazing job! My deepest gratitude for your business, our fun back & forth emails, & for sharing your incredible talent with my readers & me.

Next up is Wendy, the sweet girl from California with a green thumb for succulents! She spotted this squatty, old oil can just days after I listed it as a watering can.

click on the photo to learn more

click on the photo to learn more

I confess I have a slight addiction for tiny oil cans with funky spouts or unique shapes. I always have a few on hand, especially over the summer because they make great watering cans or garden display pieces, even rustic center pieces for weddings. This one melted my heart when I saw it. My motto is to only buy & sell what I love, so this one came home with me & went right up for sale….but not for long! Check out its new home. water can1I must say, it appears to be fitting in quite comfortably! water can2Many thanks, Wendy, for sharing these idyllic photos & for doing business with Antique Shop Girl. Happy gardening!

Lastly is a story that actually took two summers to come to fruition! In the town where I live there is a generations-old dairy farm that recently had moved its dairy store from the farm on the outskirts of town, to a perfect main street location. Previously if you wanted fresh, local milk you had to travel down a steep & curvy road to get to their small farm store.

Down this hill & around the sharp curve at the bottom....

Down this hill & around the sharp curve at the bottom….

....then all the way down this road to the farm. Phew!

….then all the way down this road to the farm. Phew!

Now the new dairy store is prominently and conveniently situated right in the heart of town. What’s even better, the store is much larger with ample parking & a lovely sitting area to accommodate the attached ice cream scoop shop featuring their new line of homemade ice cream & soft serves, made with all local ingredients, including their wholesome, farm-fresh milk! DSC05032Since they opened, the shop has been hopping with customers enjoying not only “wicked good” ice cream, but the gorgeous views of the spectacular mountain range which graces this town’s landscape.DSC04452

When the shop was first under construction two summers ago, one of the owner’s was tasked with decorating the new store, so she stopped into my antique shop to ask if I could help her find a vintage ice cream cone sign. This is not the first time a local business has approached me to assist in locating vintage décor pieces. Not only is it an honor to be asked to participate in such an endeavor, it is a fun challenge to search out & find what they have in mind to create the right atmosphere & ambience for their respective businesses. The treasure hunt assigned to me by the dairy would be a challenge. Not only did I have a strict budget, but the owner wanted simply a plain, large ice cream cone, double sided & with no text on it whatsoever. This would be tricky for a number of reasons. First, vintage advertising has become extremely expensive & in high demand over the past two decades. Finding a great piece just might cost you a mortgage payment & then some! And secondly, while ice cream signage is still in plentitude, finding a piece with no brand name or wording on it, however, is quite rare. Well, this tough Antique Shop Girl was not to be daunted by such facts, so I ardently began my search, truly expecting it to take quite some time to locate just the right sign.

I started out at one of my favorite picking haunts, simply because there I always seemed to find the unexpected at terrific prices. I headed right to the special niche I always checked first at this secret spot of mine. Slowly I walked around this area numerous times, scanning every nook & cranny for anything ice cream. When I am on the hunt for a particular item, I repeat this pattern of scrutinizing my surroundings over & over again because the eyes simply can’t take in everything all at once & it’s easy to miss something, even if it is staring you right in the face! Sure enough, on my third circle around I was facing the area to my left when I stopped in my tracks because I had a hunch something was behind me. When I turned around, there it was, casually leaning up against the wall behind a table, so faded it almost had blended in with the back drop, a cut-out, wooden ice cream cone sign nearly as tall as me! Upon finding it, I could literally hear all the angels singing that one note symphony when something great has happened…. “ahhhhhhhh!!”  Perhaps the “picking gods” & the angels really were watching over me that day because I could not believe my uncanny luck. The price was within budget, so minutes later I was loading it into my car. Trust me, picking is rarely ever this easy. It was just one of those magical days that you want to write about. Funny how that has worked out, too!

As soon as I returned home I gave the dairy owner a call & she came right over. I knew ahead of time she had planned to customize whatever it was I found, so I was hopeful the faded paint on the sign would not disappoint her. It could easily be repainted & brought back to its former glory. Even on the off chance she didn’t want it,  I knew I could sell it in my physical shop, so either way it had been a good purchase for me. Thankfully, however, she liked it & thought it would work for what she had imagined for the dairy store. So off she went with it, telling me on her way out that, more than likely, it would not be ready until the following summer. Everything had happened so quickly, I never had an opportunity to photograph it in its as-found state. Flash forward to this summer when I stopped in for my annual soft serve indulgence & I spied the ice cream cone proudly standing at the edge of the sitting area. Cue the angel sound again!! How exciting it was to see it looking absolutely wonderful, as if it had always been there! Oh how I wish I had a “before photo” at that moment. You will just have to take my word that when I found it, it truly looked very similar to this, except for the colors being quite faded: DSC04458Here is the text that was added to the back side. Simple yet perfectly fitting for this business. A job well done!DSC04457

I like the feeling of leaving my mark in this tiny, friendly town. Whether it’s renovating an historic, old home or helping out a local business in a roundabout way, it’s a good feeling to know that years from now, somebody will still remember my contribution, no matter how meagre.  So when I drive by the dairy stand & see folks like these enjoying ice cream & the pretty views….DSC05031…..or like the elderly woman I saw just the other day sitting in their lovely lounge swings next to the vintage sign I found, pumping her legs & licking her cone with child-like innocence…..DSC05029 ….well, nothing makes my heart happier to know that I played a very small part in somehow making that joy possible. My sincerest thanks to everyone at Hatchland’s!

OWL Always Love You

It happened without an obvious warning sign & was somehow undetected by my “Muma” radar which is so unlike me. Now it is my burden to bear for the rest of my days. One minute she was fine & the next, terribly not. It’s every pet owner’s nightmare – a beloved companion who stops eating. You rush her to the vet telling yourself it’s going to be alright. You rationalize every possible good outcome – a bad tooth that can be pulled, some kind of worm that can be easily remedied with a pill, a fluky dog condition that can be surgically fixed. You say yes to all the tests, pay up the wazoo for anything that will give you a logical explanation & immediate cure. You dread learning the truth because you fear with every ounce of your being that the worst case scenario is more likely the reality. And when you finally hear it, the words get frozen in your brain & it feels like a cannon ball has been plunged into your chest. The world around you suddenly sounds warped like a record on the wrong speed.  You can’t breathe.  You are going through the motions but, at the same time, are somehow outside of your body watching yourself do so. Liver cancer. Prognosis: a month at best. 

Originally, she wasn’t supposed to be mine.  Someone else had claimed her, much to my disappointment, so I had moved on. Then one day I arrived home to see the blinking light on my answering machine that would change my life forever. A stranger who decided that two pups were too much &  gave one back resulted in me being blessed with one of the greatest joys of my lifetime. The timing of this event was uncanny, having recently learned I was unable to have children. I had wanted a baby girl so badly & here was God offering me a different option. Maybe this had been the master plan all along? It did not go unnoticed by me that it was actually Mother’s Day when I went to pick her up & take her home….it has oft been said that coincidence is God’s means of anonymity. And if it is biologically possible for a being to be borne of your own flesh & blood, then I truly believe it is equally possible for a being to be borne unto your heart. This is what happened the moment I set eyes on her….I experienced something I never had before….a radiant happiness within my heart unlike that which I had ever known.  And I knew in that instance I had been given a great gift. I was meant to be a mother to Beatrix.

Beatrix was such a tiny, happy girl. Precious, really. She charmed everyone with her sweet, adorable ways &  interminable good nature – even those who were the worst possible examples of being non-pet people were not immune to her delightful & heart warming charisma. You simply could not not smile & feel joyful while in her company. The day I brought her home, just a wee bundle cuddled to my chest, she instantly bewitched the retired cop living next door to me who was somewhat of a surly, sullen, & over-sized, gruff person. When he spotted me on the driveway with her, he was reduced to a fit of belly-shaking giggles that were more befitting of a little girl than a grown man. “Hee, hee, hee, hee……is that a Beagle?” he had asked as his face lit up into a grin. Similarly, a friend of mine back then who unfathomably had zero emotion when it came to animals once told me Beatrix was “just about the cutest thing she had ever seen” after Beatrix greeted her at the door  & presented her with her prized iguana toy. This was the highest of compliments coming from my apathetic friend. That’s just how it was. Beatrix moved everyone. She simply was that contagious ray of bright light shining in a dim room….she melted all the darkness away into happiness.

Beatrix as a puppy.

Beatrix as a puppy.

With Beatrix, it wasn’t like there was any one thing that was captivating about her, it was the whole package! It is difficult to adequately describe all her attributes & the effect they had over me & others because they come to me in flickers & fragments of the past…. through cherished recollections, glimmers of memories, pieces & shadows of her that stay with me, haunt me, every moment of every day. Like her irresistible, velvet-soft ears you just had to feel to believe. How when she slept soundly, she smelled like warm cocoa butter. How she would wait for you each morning, patiently stretched out at the top of the stairs, & display nothing but sheer happiness when she saw your face every, single day. How she could track anything from clothing, to treats, to human foot prints, to injured deer with her amazing hound dog nose. How when she wagged her tail, her whole body wiggled like a big smile. How she had the most lovely markings, including the white zigzag down her back, a matching one on her back shank, & wonderful brown spots on her front legs that reminded me of a baby giraffe. How she never lost her innocent, puppy-like ways that made her so adorable & dear. How she learned & responded so brilliantly to sign language. How when you came home, she was always at the door to greet you with a soft toy in her mouth, sometimes with 2 or 3 if she felt the occasion called for it. How incredibly fast she could run, often outrunning the biggest of dogs. How she adored her big brother & tried to do everything he did, even attempting to howl like a Husky. How she would graze outside on the lawn in the sunshine with no mind to the deer behind her doing the same. How she could smell animal tracks in the woods so deeply I thought her sniffer would break. How she loved to eat & was my “official taste tester” for mashed potatoes.  How she would run gleefully through the tall grass in the spring time, as it whipped in her face, chasing frogs. How she knew & could retrieve by name each of her toys without error. How she loved to cuddle & nap with you, especially if it included pillows & blankets which somehow managed to become hers & not yours.  How she went berserk if you asked her if she wanted chicken nuggets, because this is what I called her dog food. How she stood guard by my bed for 2 weeks when I was very ill & growled if anyone came too close to me, even though she had never growled at anyone before or after in her life. How she would squeeze her head through the cat door in the basement just to be part of the action. How when she was a puppy, she would climb into my lap & crawl right under my shirt & fall asleep in a little ball.  How she had the most hilarious look on her face when you put any kind of a coat on her. How she’d stand on her hind legs & gently tap you with her paw as if to earnestly say, “Don’t you think it’s a good time for a rawhide chip right now?” How she loyally stayed by her feline sister’s side as she was slowly dying & kept a protective vigil over her; then later, after her death, would rest her head upon what had been her favorite chair & glance at me with sad, mournful eyes that were agonizing to behold yet told me I was not the only one who missed her. How her pretty, loving face was always full of joy & kisses. How her sweetest ways & gentle friendliness stayed with her to the end. How she made my life better simply by being in it. These images are like brushstrokes from my heart & memory that slowly fill a blank canvas. Over time, a beautiful portrait emerges, because together they paint the masterpiece who was my Beatrix.

Beatrix ~ the whole, captivating package!

The ever ~ captivating Beatrix!

After her diagnosis, Beatrix declined rapidly. I could not bring myself to focus on the impending future because it was too painful, instead I merely concentrated  on making each day I still had with her the best it could be. A great portion of my energy was devoted to helping her try to eat & maintain her strength. It broke my heart that she no longer had the desire for the one thing she had most loved to do. I gave her every choice available to me, trying to hit on all the favorites she had once enjoyed – scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, peeled carrots, peanut butter, cheese, saltine crackers, wet dog food, all sorts of meats. I even went so far as to cook venison & duck, which had been somewhat revolting to me, but more importantly, a small success for Beatrix on those days. Most of the time when presented with food she would wag her tail & sniff politely but usually turn away. My heart sank as I watched her grow weaker, slowly slipping away from me. She slept a lot & I would lay with her, gently petting her or just watching her breathe. Every now & again she would surprise me & want to play a little with a toy or rawhide chip. Those glimmers gave my heart hope, & in those moments I refused to listen to the reality inside my head. It was a bitter stretch of winter during her illness but at times she still wanted to go outside to tromp around & I certainly was not about to deny her the chance to feel glorious sunshine on her sweet face. So, out we would go into the cold temperatures & wind chills to walk slowly on the driveway & take in the scents, sounds, snowy scenery & fresh air which she continued to enjoy. On one of those occasions, we just happened to see a large hawk owl suddenly fly off of a barren maple tree nearby, then cross low in front of us as it swooped to the top of a tall pine across the field. It caught both of us off guard & Beatrix pulled instinctively on the leash as if to track it, but in her weakness chose to remain by my side where we both stayed fixated on this stunning predator perching majestically in the tree top. “Wow, Trix,” I spoke softly, “It’s an owl! Isn’t it pretty? See how high up it is?” I had asked. She wagged her tail & we stood watching it in awe for a very long time. I knew in her heart she wished she could follow it, & I knew in mine that soon enough she’d have all the time she wanted to follow & even soar the skies with owls. So we stood there on the precipice of what was really an awful juxtaposition between life & death & it became a single, defining moment for us as, together, we watched the owl. That shared experience would turn out to be not only the most memorable event in my final days with Beatrix,  but long afterwards, perhaps the most healing & significant. It stays with me always.

Watching the owl. My cell phone had been in my pocket that day & I'm so glad I snapped this photo.

Watching the owl. My cell phone had been in my pocket that day & I’m so glad I snapped this photo.

In Beatrix’s last hours, she mostly slept & I stayed by her side. With my arms around her, I tenderly told her stories of how she came to be mine, how she had been borne in my heart & she would stay there forever.  I recalled for her the many joyous highlights from her lifetime & spoke of her siblings who had gone before her & the many, funny memories she shared with them. I softly kissed her & gently stroked her head. I reminded her of us having seen the owl & how wonderful it had been. Out of the blue, I had uttered the words, “OWL always love you, Trix,” & upon hearing them she lifted her frail head with much effort & looked deeply at me. I smiled into her lovely, brown eyes & repeated, “OWL always love you, Sweet Pea. OWL always love you.” Peacefully, she lay her head back down to rest & I repeated that phrase over & over & over again….as the beautiful light within my precious Beatrix continued to grow increasingly dim.

The thing about loving living, breathing creatures, whether they have four legs or two, is that they come with a time line. We don’t talk about it with anyone & we never acknowledge it to ourselves; instead we live our lives under the pretense that this inevitable outcome is simply not the case & they will be with us forever. But deep down inside we know the gut-wrenching truth is that, at some point, we have to give them back. We don’t know when that will happen, we are never prepared, & it is always too soon.

Beatrix died in my arms with me whispering to her what a good girl she was, how much I loved her, how much I would OWLways  love her, that I would see her again, not to be afraid because her brother & sisters were waiting for her on the rainbow bridge & she would not be alone, that I would forever be her “Muma,” asking her not to forget me, asking her to watch over me from Heaven. In the moment I felt the last bit of life leave her little body, I was consumed by immense sorrow, swept away to a place I had never been before. I felt void of everything. Immediately I convulsed into painful wails & sobs known only to a mother at the loss of a child.  This went on uncontrollably & endlessly while I clung to my sweet baby. After much time had passed with me in this state, Beatrix had to physically be removed from my arms because I could not let her go. I did not want her to leave me.  I did not know how I could live without her. She had come into my life so unexpectedly & she had just left it in the same manner. It was such cruel irony…. & I had never known such grief.

In the days, weeks & months after Beatrix had passed away, I was inconsolable. There was nothing anyone could do or say that could ease my pain & I fell into a dark despair.  I was able to function, but I felt empty & hollow inside. All that I was & everything that had defined me seemed gone. I was a mere outline of my former self. The one thing that could have brought me back from these depths of grief was the same thing that was no longer there. While I continued to mourn the devastating absence of Beatrix from my life, I felt more grief-stricken that her life had been unfairly cut short, having been so young when she succumbed to her illness. The fact that she wasn’t given the same opportunity as her siblings to experience a happy longevity weighed heavily on my already shattered heart. My sorrow was all-consuming, & while I knew it could never truly go away, I also felt like it would never, at least, subside.  I longed for a ray of light, some sunshine, a sign that my Beatrix was with me…..something…….anything……to brighten my heart & days.

Spring was coming, so I attempted to take a step out of the blackness that had become my life & forced myself to begin working on getting my physical shop open & ready for the new season. For hours at a time, I worked quietly in my shop. Ordinarily I would have had the music playing & the doors wide open, but instead I chose to work in the atmosphere which had become familiar to me as of late. Silence. Darkness. Solitude. Busy hands kept my mind occupied as I organized & arranged the shop space so that it was fresh, new & aesthetically pleasing yet again. As always, I made new my inventory & furniture the focal point, & that year, I pondered whether to create a clearance section in the back or have a $5 bin for older pieces that had been hanging around too long. I decided to sort through them all & see what I had before making a decision. After realizing there were only smalls except for one item, I quickly put together a fun & inviting bin for them & was left holding the remaining large article that didn’t fit. It was an old, antique quilt I had purchased for $12 at a flea market some time ago. I shook it out a bit, refolded it in a flattering way & tried placing it in numerous spots around the shop but nothing pleased me. Finally I unfolded it & simply folded it in half, then hung it over the open door of a jelly cupboard. That worked perfectly because I could instantly see the colors better & appreciate its time-worn beauty. The dominant color was brown, & while that might seem dark & ugly, the splash of red, pink, yellow & hints of blue in surrounding fabrics made the brown shine in its own stunning way. I stared at it for a while because the manner in which the colors came together reminded me of something & I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then it hit me & my heart fluttered ever so slightly. Could it possibly be? Yes. Yes, I could see it now. Yes, that’s what it was for certain. An owl. The colors in the quilt reminded me of an owl! My heart fluttered again & suddenly glowed with a warmth & love I remembered but had not felt in so long…..Beatrix. Since her death I had been crying on the inside for a comfort I desperately needed yet seemed I would never find…..a sign that she was still with me.

Quickly I removed the quilt from the door & took it inside the house with me where I wrapped myself in it….in Beatrix. I closed my eyes & my only thoughts were of her. Until her last breath, Beatrix had such a contagious happiness & delight about her & after so much time, here I was feeling it again, its warmth emanating off this old quilt like a bright light slowly illuminating my once darkened heart & soul. I knew right then that despite my gravest sorrow, I somehow needed to emulate the light & the brand of happy that was Beatrix….as a way to honor her…..as a way to keep her light not only with me but also in this world. I needed to move forward, it was time, but I realized I could take her with me as I did so. She would want that for me….to move on yet also remember & continue to feel  the pure joy, love, smiles & laughter she provided me & countless others throughout her whole life. I let the quilt slip  from my shoulders into my hands as I studied it & the power it seemed to hold over me. Surely if I had envisioned an owl within its hues, couldn’t I then also create one from the same fabrics which contained them? I felt certain that I could. As certain as my love for Beatrix. So, I headed upstairs to my office & set about the task of designing & crafting an owl at my sewing table.

Drawing & cutting repeatedly on paper until I had the desired template with the look of a three-dimensional, primitive ornament, I then tentatively took the quilt & said a prayer to Beatrix over it before I made my first cut. To my delight, I found I  could easily work with the blocks that made it up, for they were exactly sized to fit my paper template. Paying close attention to every detail, right down to a simulated ruffled feather around the edges, I managed to create my very first owl! I tweaked it a bit, embellishing it with vintage buttons, a jute rope hanger, even a little bronze heart, & then I added the perfect, finishing touch….a little card I could attach that said, “OWL Always Love You.” I couldn’t have been more pleased & for the first time since I could remember, my heart felt light, happy & hopeful.

Some of my first owls

Some of my first owls. Click on the photo to learn more.

Next, I shared my newly created prototype with a loved one who declared it “thoughtful.” Then I created a second, fancier version to send to my sister, a known owl lover, who wrote to me right away stating in all capital letters, “I–ABSOLUTELY–LOVE–IT!!!!” It had been such a long time, but I could feel Beatrix’s light growing inside me again, giving me increasing strength & confidence….& I felt determined to share the owl she had helped inspire with others….to spread that sweet goodness as far into the world as I could. So, I took photos of the owls, wrote a basic description with no mention whatsoever of the source of my inspiration, & listed it one afternoon in my Etsy shop. I also posted it to all my Etsy team discussion boards where you can promote & favorite everyone’s new listings. Within minutes of that, I received an email from a teammate who had seen the owl ornament & not only wanted one for herself, but further, wanted it because it reminded her of a pet she had recently lost! I was so moved….& so bewildered at the same time. What were the chances that her emotional story so unbelievably paralleled my own? What were the chances that, through my own loss & search for comfort, I could also ease another’s? The answers were clearer than ever & chance really had nothing to do with it. It was all about Beatrix & how she’d found a way to let me know she was still with me & was helping to guide me onward; telling me in a symbolic way that only I would understand, “OWL always love you, too, Muma!”

The average person might look at my creations & only see some fabric & notions fashioned together to resemble an owl, but to me, my ornaments embody everything. Life. Death. Joy. Sorrow. Love. Loss. The whole mysterious circle. The coming to terms with what feels like insurmountable grief. The struggle to come out of the darkness & into the light. It represents the hope everyone needs to begin a new day in the face of difficult circumstances. It symbolizes every second I shared with Beatrix & all the gifts she has left with me.  It is Beatrix & me….my journey with her….& now my journey without.

The fact is, there are a million owls for sale on Etsy, but mine…..well mine is different. Mine, like my Beatrix, is one in a million.

My favorite picture of Beatrix.

My favorite picture of Beatrix.

A Heaven ♥ Sent Valentine

I have a massive closet in my upstairs spare bedroom that I pretty much use like an attic. On top of the lifetime collection of paraphernalia I have accumulated in my forty-something years, I often store in there numerous empty boxes & materials I can use for packing & shipping in my Etsy shop. Needless to say, the closet can get jam-packed over time & often starts to resemble the aftermath of a cyclone. This makes me crazy, so I have to periodically haul it all out, go through things & straighten it up for my own peace of mind.  Every time I do this, I almost always find some old artifact that I can put up for sale in both of my shops. This morning I found myself, yet again, doing this dreadful but necessary task, & sure enough, I did unearth a long-lost gem. This treasure, however, will never be something that is sold…..at least not in my lifetime.

While moving heavy totes & cartons out of my limited pathway to get to the back of the closet, the lid fell off of a cardboard box full of old photo albums & scrapbooks from my youth. I couldn’t resist the urge to pull some of them out & have a look after all these years. In the process of doing so, that’s where I found it…..laying quite unpretentiously amidst a stack of single pictures & greeting cards. It was an old autograph album. Do you remember those? When I was a young girl, it was very popular to have these little books, as it had been for centuries, in which you could invite others to write their sentiments or signatures.  My album was a plain, green one & holding it there in my hands, I honestly couldn’t recall how or when I came to own it.  When I opened the cover, I recognized my dad’s handwriting where he had written my name & address. He had even written the first entry that just happened to be on Christmas Day. It must have been a present for me under the tree that year! I slowly turned each page, reading with much amusement the thoughts & comments of people I haven’t thought about in ages….former teachers, classmates, my first boyfriend, a few autographs of famous hockey players at the time & a local girl trying to make the Olympic gymnastics team (in case she was the next Nadia, perhaps?), along with notes from various family members. The page that gave me greatest pause, however, was the one my grandfather had signed.  I was so moved at the sweetness of what he had written, I uttered a sound with which I was unfamiliar yet gave every indication of the warmth & happiness I felt deep in my heart at that very moment.  I am certain I was not old enough that long-ago Christmas to comprehend the double entendre he had included in his last phrase, but reading it now after so many years, it definitely melted my heart because it was so much so something he would have said. It was so “him” – a clever & charmingly old fashioned gentleman.

My grandfather has been gone some thirty-one years now but in the short time he had been in my life, he was a constant & significant part. It wasn’t until much later after he passed away that I realized what an important man he had been in the city where I was raised. He had already retired before I was born so it wasn’t in my conscious awareness  as a child of him ever having worked at a job. There were, however, plenty of hints to what he had once been & done all around  his home such as the array of official photos on the fireplace mantel, the uniforms, coats & hats hanging in closets & his workshop in the basement, the phone calls & visits from lifelong friends & acquaintances from his professional days with whom he kept in regular contact, & perhaps the most blatant reminder….his scanner. It had been top of the line for that day & age & it was quite a curiosity to me. It sat proudly behind his big chair in the living room where he read the paper every day & it was always on….making crackling, fuzzy sounds & announcements that meant nothing to me as a little child.  Given all these things, they were only glimmers for my small ears & eyes to understand. Even as a teenager when he died somewhat unexpectedly & our family had to wake him for four straight days because people were lined up for blocks to pay their respects, I still didn’t grasp the enormity of who & what he had been, the countless lives he had saved, the respect he had earned from so many, how in the true spirit of the American dream he had forged his way from nothing to something substantial & honorable with great humility….that all was still incomprehensible back then. To me, he was just my grandfather who had bounced me on his knee singing “Pop Goes the Weasel,” who enjoyed carpentry & made toys for my siblings & me in his workshop, who loved to take ridiculous amounts of photographs & slides, who made the best homemade waffles on the weekend, who always had “one of each” when offered an assortment of holiday desserts, who grew raspberries, pansies & gorgeous hydrangeas in his garden, who always said, “Congratulations!” to you & shook your hand when it was your birthday, who strung beautiful, huge, blue lights in the Douglas Fir tree on his front lawn every Christmas, & who fiercely spoiled, loved & protected all his family, particularly his grandchildren. I did not know him in any other capacity. But if I knew then what I know now, I would have asked more questions, listened more closely to his stories, would have better cherished the brief time I had in his presence. And like anyone else who has lost a loved one, I only wish I had had more time with him.

With the passing of someone special in our lives, we all tend to find ways to keep that person with us, to fill the empty void & lessen the sadness by surrounding ourselves with mementos & keepsakes that have personal significance. We begin to connect with physical objects because they provide us with inklings & shadows of the person we remember & the memories we shared with him or her.  If you have read one of my previous posts, The Victorian Tea Party, you know that I developed an affinity for tea cups & silverplate because those particular things reminded me of my grandmother & aunt, & having those items around me subsequently made me feel close to them once again. The same was true of Flora & her identifying with the sleigh bells hanging in my shop in my second post, Flora’s Gift.  Further, it would not be a normal day if a customer didn’t come into my shop, pick something up & have it generate a happy recollection that they relay to me through a story. Vintage & antique pieces can almost be considered double the treasure because they always invoke pleasant memories of people from our past….& that helps to keep them with us. Even as a seller, I tend to gravitate to items that remind me of my loved ones & I like to sell them in my shop. It’s comforting. Take, for example, this old tooth powder tin.

Click on photo to learn more.

Click on photo to learn more.

It inspires a favorite memory of my grandfather. There was always a tin like this one in his cabinet above the bathroom sink because that’s all he ever used his whole life. No paste. How I loved to spend the night at his house because, when he wasn’t looking, my aunt would sprinkle some on my toothbrush & let me try it! More importantly, my grandfather never brushed his teeth; he washed them…..that’s what he called it. Only he didn’t pronounce the word quite that way. When he said it, it sounded more like “warsh.” My siblings & I would burst into a fit of giggles if he ever announced he was going to “warsh his teeth.”  He’d ask, “What’s wrong with all of you, don’t you ever warsh your teeth?” & then call us all a bunch of silly willies. That would make us squeal even harder with laughter & he would just shake his head, chuckling, then head to the bathroom. This wonderful, funny remembrance of my grandfather comes from a simple, aged tin that anyone else would just take for granted. That is the power an old object can hold if we make a personal connection with it.

And such is the case with the little verse my grandfather left for me in my autograph album. Little did I know when he wrote it so many years ago that it would be so comforting & significant to me today. Particularly on this specific day & date….that is no coincidence. It’s discovery had impeccable timing & I know without a doubt it is my grandfather’s doing. Not only has he planted a seed of creative inspiration in my head with this lovely, old saying I found again, but I feel strongly it is him sending me a hug from heaven on this very special day. How do I know this with the utmost of certainty? Because my grandfather’s birthday was on Valentine’s Day.

Created in honor of my grandfather.
Click on photo to learn more.

Every Kinda People

Remember that song from the seventies, “Every Kinda People,” that Robert Palmer* sang? It popped into my head this week & now I can’t get it out. “It takes every kinda people, to make what life’s about, yeah….” It was a catchy tune, even back then, but now it’s stuck in my brain! Usually when that happens to me, besides being incredibly annoying, I’ve come to learn in my adult life that it is the universe’s way of sending me a message. And usually I attempt to not let it bother me, and instead, make an effort to figure out what the world is trying to tell me. After much contemplation this past week, I realized it was a reminder very similar to the nudges I’ve been receiving from friends, colleagues  & family for years now to write about the humorous encounters I’ve had with a  kaleidoscope of folks from my antique adventures. I’d always promised to so but hadn’t written a thing to date. What a better way to start the new year than to finally do something I’ve been meaning to do for some while. And what an even better way to start the new year than with a smile on my face! Gosh, when I got to thinking about all the interesting people & exchanges I’ve had over the years, I started to lose count. So I narrowed my list down to the top 5 people who, for now (I smell a sequel in my future), I definitely feel “make the world go ’round,” in a Robert Palmer kinda way! Here they are:

1.  During the winter months I do most of the buying for my physical antique shop, stockpiling inventory so when I open my doors in the spring, there is plenty of new merchandise for those who have caught the antiquing bug after many cold New England months. I love, love, love re-arranging my shop, decorating it in new & unique ways so it is inviting & fresh for customers. This means a lot of heavy lifting, moving furniture, & making room for other antiques & vintage items. If I decide that some big piece has been kicking around for too long in my shop, I tend to throw it on Craigslist over the winter to sell it so I can fill my shop with new items or have a big, open space to fiddle with and arrange my wares.  I’ve had really good luck with that, so it’s more or less become a habit now.

This gorgeous sink I sold to a lady who was remodeling her kitchen!

This gorgeous sink I sold to a lady who was remodeling her kitchen!

One year, I had few items listed there and a number of emails came in from interested buyers asking for particulars which I gladly answered. As is always the case with Craigslist, you also get a few spam emails as well, but they are easy to identify and I usually mark them as such and then delete.  Well, one day, an email came in that I wasn’t sure exactly how to classify. All it said was, “YOU ARE A DEALER!!!!” Just like that. In capital letters, with all the exclamation points. I got the biggest kick out of that because there I was on Craigslist, in the dealer antique section, posting some things for sale like I always do. Open & shut case. I don’t know if this guy took offense at my choice of livelihood, or merely wanted to point out what was already quite obvious. Either way, he must have had some extra time on his hands & he clearly made use of it in order to share his expertise with me. The least I could do was send a response. So I sent him a message back that said, “Why, yes I am. Thank you so much for your interest!” Funny, I never heard from him again.

2.  There is a couple in town, a husband and wife team who have been walking the roads & neighborhoods as long as I can remember. I actually noticed them the very first time I drove up to my house when I first moved here! As is the friendly, New England way, they wave & smile to me but always continue treading onward. They are most likely walking for their health & taking in the beautiful scenery where we are, both of which I highly applaud. After I opened my antique shop I was frequently in and out of the house working in my shop, so I would see them diligently walking even more than ever.  I’d raise my hand in the customary wave, and they’d wave back but always keep on going. You can imagine my surprise one afternoon when, instead of taking a left up the hill from my house, they instead turned onto my driveway and walked right into my shop! We exchanged pleasant introductions & I told them how happy I was that they had stopped in & we were finally able to meet. They shared where they lived &  a little about themselves, but then they were full of stories & compliments about the shop & house. After all, they had been walking by it for so long, they had seen everything transformed literally before their eyes!  “Mrs. Walker,” as I call her, was especially interested. She wanted to know all about the shop, how I had gotten into antiques & accumulated so many lovely things, how the business was going, what I liked & disliked about it, etc.  She browsed all around the shop asking questions & examining a variety of old items. For about 20 minutes we had such an enjoyable conversation, so I was completely bewildered when she paused for a significantly long minute and then asked sincerely, “So……what do you do for a living?” At first I thought she was joking but then quickly realized she was serious. I was more than flabbergasted, to say the least. I didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or scratch my head and I had absolutely no idea of how to reply.  So I just spread my arms wide open and responded, “Uhhmm…this!” as I gestured to the entire shop around me.  She looked at me and blinked for a number of seconds and then quite unmistakably, I saw the light go on in her eyes! “Ahhh!!! Of course,” she said. “Of course….” she said again quietly, almost to herself. It was an awkward moment through which we both smiled uncomfortably. I’ll always remember how cute it was, in a gawky sort of way, and that’s what makes it so memorable.

3.  I came home one afternoon from running errands to find a signed, blank check stuck in my front door.  Now THAT doesn’t happen very often!  It was either my incredibly luck day or something strange was afoot. When I got into the house, I was certain it was the latter because my cat Ellery zoomed to my feet with her familiar, concerned expression & pacing behavior she exhibits when something has occurred to rock her peaceful existence. Being the window watcher that she is, she must have witnessed something outside that simply was not ok, in her feline opinion, and she was there at my feet letting me know. At quick glance, nothing seemed grossly out of place or curious on the premises, so I turned to the check for further examination. It bared a name I did not recognize and there was no phone number on it. Even the address, although it was from a remote area close by to here,  meant nothing to me. It was quite puzzling. As I was about to pick up my phone to call a friend for her opinion, it actually began to ring in my hand with an unknown caller, so I answered it! A gentleman’s voice on the other end of the line said, “Yes, hello……I’d like to report stealing something from your shop….” This was turning out to be the strangest day on record!  “Who is calling, please?” I asked and the mystery man replied with the same name that was on the blank check! “Well I’m holding your check in my hand at this moment and I have to admit, I’m quite confused,” I said. He chuckled and explained, “I’m really not a thief, I left you a signed check you can just fill in with what I owe you.” I was so baffled at that point and replied, “But I don’t even know what you took!” “Oh….” he said, “it was the large, antique crock you had sitting outside of your shop.”  I walked to the back door and looked out the window and sure enough, the crock was gone! I hadn’t noticed it was missing when I drove up to the house. That explains Ellery, I thought! She must have been in her favorite sunny spot in one of her baskets & spied this man taking the crock, which would have been no easy feat, I might add. It was a 30 gallon crock and the thing weighed over 100 pounds! It was so heavy, I’d  left it outside my shop door rather than move it in and out with the other items I would set out as ‘eye candy’ for drivers-by when the shop was open. I never imagined anyone would steal it because it weighed so much.  “I can see that now,” I told him, “and I have no idea how you managed to do so,” I said matter-of-factly. I was surprisingly calm given this bizarre situation, but I had learned long ago in this line of business that antiques somehow had a way of making the most interesting people crawl out of the woodwork! The thief/buyer chuckled again, “It was a bit of a work out trying to maneuver it into my car, I must admit! I just happened to be in the area and saw it as I was driving by. I knocked on your door but no one was home. I don’t come this way often so, on a fluke, I thought this arrangement might work if I left you a check. How much do you want for it?” he asked. “One million dollars!” I responded, without missing a beat. We both laughed heartily and then somewhat nervously he asked again, “No really, what is the price?” If this guy was going to steal my crock & scare my cat, I decided to have a little fun at his expense, no pun intended! “You do know I am holding a blank check with your signature on it. I can tell you any amount & always fill in another,” I jested with a feigned seriousness that I thought was pretty convincing. There was a long pause on the other end of the line.  “Well, yes….I realize I was taking a chance in doing what I did….,” he eventually stammered, uncertain what to say next.  It was just too painful to continue this charade, so I exclaimed, “I’m only kidding, sir!!”  I told him the actual amount for the crock and assured him that was the only dollar figure I would fill in on the check. He instantly relaxed and with another chuckle, told me more about himself and his plans for the crock.  I learned he owned a popular restaurant in the trendy college town not far from me and wanted the crock for umbrellas and such in the restaurant’s entryway. What a great idea, I thought! He also indicated some other items he was looking for and asked if they were anything I might have in my shop. Perhaps it WAS my lucky day, because I actually did! So we brokered a deal on the phone & I offered to deliver them in person to his restaurant the following week…..and I did.  How I managed to get an additional sale from this unlikely event was beyond me, but I was pleased, nonetheless. It truly had been one of the oddest  transactions I’ve had to date, but as they say, “business is business!”

4.  A few summers ago I received a call from a woman who was driving up my way for lunch with some friends & wanted directions to my shop so they could all do some antiquing together afterwards. When she arrived later that afternoon with friends in tow, she seemed a bit “put out” that my shop wasn’t as large as the photo had appeared in my online site & subsequently had it in her head that I couldn’t possibly have anything she wanted because it was “so small.” Okay, so she was a big city gal used to trendy streets lined with chic, bigger, fancy shops, I’ll give her that. Not everyone is accustomed to small town antiquing. Personally, I think my shop is lovely & not really that tiny. It is a small barn after all & packs in quite a bit of fabulous inventory given its less-than-large stature. Her friends, thankfully, seemed to feel the same way & they bopped happily about the shop & were already setting things to be purchased on the counter while she still was standing at the doorway huffing about my sweet, little shop. “Well….. but….it’s just so…..hmmpfff….the picture made it seem so big….really it’s very unexpected……” I’m not sure why, but I suddenly thought of my mother in that moment. I could hear her saying as she always did when I was young, “You don’t know unless you ask.”  Maybe all this woman needed was a gentle push in the direction of asking for what she perceived wasn’t in my shop!  So I interrupted her rambling & asked as kindly as I could, “What is it that you are looking for exactly? Perhaps I can help you find it.” There was silence as she looked at me blankly for a few seconds. I had obviously taken her by surprise & I had to press my lips together to hide my slight bemusement. “Well….” she began again with another breathy huff, “I don’t see any tea cups. Do you have tea cups?” I smiled & said, “Actually, I do. Let me show you.” So I lead her to three cups I had displayed & told her I had many more that were not currently out in the shop but I’d be happy to share them with her if she was interested. She viewed the cups & was pleasantly surprised to see an antique Limoge among them.  Ding! Hurray for Antique Shop Girl! “Well, you don’t have any old thimbles do you? My sister collects them but you really don’t have them, do you?” she asked. I could honestly tell this customer was going to take a lot of convincing, so I hiked up my petticoats (figuratively, of course!) & I brought her to an old cornbread tin where I had many thimbles piled high in each slot. “I try to be creative where I place things in the shop, as you can see. Take your time & browse around.” I told her. She picked out one of my favorite painted glass thimbles & said, “Hmmpff, isn’t this a pretty one? I’ll take it.” Ding, ding!! Pat on the back for Antique Shop Girl! This back & forth game continued for a while, each time with the assumption that I didn’t have a particular item, & each time with me miraculously producing it. It was getting to be quite fun! The clincher was when she stated with much certainty that I couldn’t possibly have anything related to airplanes. Airplanes!!!! Goodness, I think she thought she finally had me in a corner & she almost did, however…. Somehow by the grace of God a family member had recently been to an auction & had come over to show me the parts to a 1940’s Cessna that he had scored there. He insisted on giving them to me thinking I could sell them in the shop. At the time I thought he was ridiculous. Airplane parts, seriously? “What in the world am I ever going to do with these??” I had asked myself afterwards, annoyed that I had not been more assertive & declined his offer. Today though, I had my answer!! I proudly showed them to this lady who, I must say, was absolutely floored! I kind of was, too, but it was wonderful!! And…..if that weren’t enough, I also showed her an old oil can I’d had kicking around for forever that was specifically for airplane engines…. & she bought it for her son!  I really did smile very widely at that moment, I must admit. I just couldn’t help myself! Then, being who I am, I felt terrible so I threw in the Limoge tea cup for free! Although I had found this shopper to be rather challenging in a comical way, simply by being encouraged to ask questions, she had discovered a multitude of things in which she was interested. And in doing so, I also made a customer for life! She still calls me periodically to see if I have items in the shop that she & her son collect, or merely to ask for general antique information. Proof that mom was right. You just never know what an Antique Shop Girl has tucked away in the nooks & crannies of her shop & old home….unless you ask!

5.  If you have ever sold anything online, then you must know the importance of having quality photographs accompany your item description. Shopping online is so very different than shopping in person where you have the ability to hold an object in your hands, turn it around, examine it closely, ask questions. Online shoppers have only your words and your pictures to rely upon before deciding to make a purchase. If you have done your job writing an accurate description of what you are selling in a manner that a shopper can relate to, then the icing on the cake is the photos you include to back up your written testimony about the item. The more pictures you can include, the better. In doing so, you have the opportunity to show your item in many ways – visually appealing shots with props suggesting how the item might be used or displayed, close-up angles to highlight the best parts of your piece, photos to indicate any flaws or damage it might have that you previously mentioned, taking pictures not only of the front but also the back and sides, and even presenting how it looks vertically as well as horizontally – to name just a few pointers.  Not every selling venue offers the same amount of available photos to post per listing which sometimes is frustrating to the seller. Whatever the number, however, it’s important to make use of all the photos at your discretion to help encourage a sale. That being said, I can now share with you the final, and in my opinion,  funniest interaction with a person I’ve had to date in this line of business: I love vintage advertising, old signage in particular. I always have signs for sale in my physical shop. They are usually prominatly displayed on my open doors where they provide impulse advertising for my shop to passers-by on the road. If they are also listed online, I strictly follow the above-mentioned rules, and always make sure to include whether the sign is double sided or single sided – very critical information for avid sign collectors. A while back, I had a sweet, porcelain enameled, hanging Sealtest ice cream sign on it’s original cast iron bracket for sale in my physical shop. I actually hung this one inside my shop so as not to damage my outer doors or have it blow in the wind.  Given it’s bracket style, it of course was double sided so it could have been seen by customers from either direction outside a soda fountain shop back in the day. It had great patina and was so charming, I truly wish I could have kept it for myself. I also posted it on online that summer, as signage tends to draw interested folks out & into my shop! I was disappointed that I could only include 4 pictures in the listing, but hoped the ones I had chosen to post were good enough to generate a response. Sure enough, I received a few prompt emails mostly asking where & how it could be viewed. It was one of the last emails I opened, though, that stopped me in my tracks and made me laugh until tears rolled down my cheeks. It still garners the same reaction from me, even after all this time! The sender had merely asked one question, “If the sign only has two sides….why are there four pictures?”  You simply cannot make this stuff up!

And that, my dear readers, is what makes life so fascinating and enjoyable……charismatic characters like these five individuals….the ‘every kinda people’ that truly make what life’s about!

* “Every Kinda People” performed by Robert Palmer from the album Double Fun, words & music by Andy Fraser, produced by Island Records in 1978.

A Message From Lizzie

Last summer some dear friends of mine gave me a bunch of items they found when cleaning out a relative’s house that they thought I could sell in my shop, one of which was an old, copper dust pan. How excited I was to recently sell it to a BBC prop house in Canada for filming in one of their current television shows, a series aptly called COPPER. The BBC Channel does not come with my basic cable subscription, so after I made the sale, I rented the first season of this show on DVD to see what it was all about & l got hooked! The show is set in the gritty Five Corners District of New York City post Civil War and focuses primarily on a police officer (referred to back then as “Coppers” – hence the title of the show) working that tough, impoverished & underprivileged precinct.

My hopefully famous dust pan!

The hopefully famous dust pan!

I’m on pins & needles waiting for the second season to come out so I can continue following the great story line, and also to hopefully catch a glimpse of my dust pan that is supposed to make an appearance in one of the new episodes! When I last caught up with my friends, I was filling them in on all that had transpired with the unassuming, little dust pan and it got me to thinking about props, shows, and subsequently, remembering a rather creepy  incident that occurred many moons ago in college with me and a stage prop.

I went to a small New England college with a wonderful theatre department and an even more wonderful theatre director named Hal.  (He, like many of the professors at my college preferred to be on a first-name basis with their students). This beloved mentor of mine was brilliant, talented and had such vision, he could make you discover things within yourself while on stage that you never knew existed. He was in a league all of his own and, in my opinion, would have made quite a name for himself in Hollywood or on Broadway had he chosen to take that route. Hal had gone to college in New York City back in the day & studied with the Tony award-winning actress-turned-acting teacher, Uta Hagen, who had voice-coached Judy Garland and taught countless other movie star elite such as Al Pacino & Jack Lemmon. Prior to that, Hal had attended a private prep school in the north-east where he had become close and life-long friends with three gentlemen who each went on to become incredibly successful in the Hollywood scene afterwards. He never exploited these relationships to better his own career, nor did he boast or brag about knowing any of them, that’s just the kind of person he was – so I do not feel the need to mention them by name out of respect for Hal. I will say, however, that I had the great honor of meeting two of them at a party once and was very star struck! But to Hal, they were just the people he had been friends with for forever. So although he rubbed elbows with the best of them, he still chose to teach at this small college where, I can only assume, his work & teachings were more personally rewarding. Over the years though, Hal carved out a creative niche in that artsy town and eventually became famous in his own right!

Hal took his craft very seriously and was an absolute stickler for details. For him, it was all about being believable and every, single thing mattered in creating consecutive, believable moments on stage in all of the plays he directed. No detail was ever overlooked by him. There were the obvious technical specifics like staging and lighting, ambience enhancers like appropriate music and clever stage sets, period-correct costumes and makeup, and of course, props…..oh gosh, the props!! Hal once drove to every existing general store in the state searching for a simple, old paper bag. After a few hundred miles and probably 25 store clerks who thought he was nuts, he finally found the right one.  I witnessed Hal’s obsessive attention to detail countless times with the most mundane of items like an apple, a handkerchief, a Sno-Ball snack cake (remember those?), gauze bandages, and once, even a bucket. I just might be getting ahead of myself here, but the point is, Hal settled for nothing less than what he envisioned and never made do with a substandard prop. And he kept all his notes, research, directions, cues, lighting, ideas, prop lists, to-do lists, etc., (basically everything related to the play he was currently working on), in a three-ring binder  that he always referred to as his “notebook.” One night on the way home from a play rehearsal that had gone quite late, Hal hit a deer that had darted out onto the dark road and flipped his truck into a ditch. When rescue crews showed up they asked a slightly dazed Hal, “Are you alright, sir?” Hal responded with, “My notebook!! Where is my notebook??”  So you see…. this was a man truly dedicated to not only his props, but the dramatic arts in general!

My junior year of college Hal cast me in a play called BLOOD RELATIONS by Canadian playwright, Sharon Pollack.  If you think that title sounds a bit eerie, well you’re right, because I was given the lead role of none other than Lizzie Borden in this play. Yes, that Lizzie Borden. I’m sure you’ve heard the tale (or at least the nursery rhyme) about the alleged murderess, Lizzie Borden, who was accused & later acquitted of hacking to death her father & stepmother in their Fall River, Massachusetts home in 1892. It is so gruesome to imagine such a crime, even 121 years later!

Lizzie A. Borden

Lizzie Borden

I still feel uneasy, in a haunting kind of way, mentioning that I was ever in this play, let alone admitting I had played Lizzie herself! It was just as unsettling when I was first cast, and that feeling continued throughout the preparation and run of the play. Hal, as I’ve indicated, was a very intense director and treated every play he produced and character he cast as an opportunity for learning and “being in the moment.” To be cast in a play of his was really quite an honor, however it entailed doing quite a bit of work, so it was almost like taking another course along with the requisite five already  on my plate that semester….but it was well worth it. Before rehearsals were to begin for BLOOD RELATIONS, each actor and crew member was required to read a volume of material supplied by Hal on the subject of the Borden murders…..newspaper articles from that time, old photographs, autopsy reports (eek!), trial transcripts, excerpts from the many books on the Borden murders, historical documents, etc. We were to study all of it and come to the first rehearsal undeniably certain of who we believed to be the actual, not alleged, murderer.

The Borden home & site of the murders in Fall River.

The Borden home & site of the murders in Fall River.

Hal did his research….and therefore, so did we. At the end of the final show, he  wanted the cast and crew to share with one another who they believed was responsible for this heinous crime…..and we did! It was interesting hearing why and how all of us, individually, had reached a different conclusion. There had been numerous suspects and wild theories that still exist in the 21st century, but in the end, I did come to a determination of my own that I firmly believe to this day. Talk about preparing for a role! Talk about leaving a lasting impression! That was only one of the many ways in which Hal worked his directorial magic……and it was both fascinating and marvelous!

To comprehend the rest of my story, you must understand that the role of Lizzie in BLOOD RELATIONS was written in such a manner, that she would sometimes  slip temporarily into the character of the Borden’s Irish live-in maid, Bridget Sullivan. Bridget’s testimony in the actual trial of Lizzie Borden, many feel, had been pivotal in determining her guilt or innocence. That was because Bridget had been the last person to see Abby Borden, Lizzie’s stepmother, alive…..and because the often heartless Abby had demanded Bridget wash the exterior widows of their Fall River home on that fateful and dreadfully hot August day.

Bridget Sullivan

Bridget Sullivan

It was thought that perhaps Bridget, having been outside for so long, may have seen someone enter the Borden home who potentially could have committed the murders. Therefore, Bridget the person, and Bridget the character, were equally crucial to both the real and staged stories.  So while playing Lizzie, I occasionally would don an apron and maid’s cap, and grab the essential window-washing bucket, then transform myself into Bridget. Consequently, it should come as no surprise to realize that the bucket was a very critical prop in this play and for Hal, no ordinary bucket would suffice. He had in his mind’s eye a distinct, galvanized bucket he wanted to use, certainly nothing that could be obtained from Ace or Aubuchon Hardware stores. So while he went on one of his notorious and compelling “must-find-the-perfect-prop” hunts, we practiced with a plastic bucket in rehearsals until my oh-so-particular director found the exact one. When Hal finally did find his bucket, it was nothing short of chilling.

It happened on a dreary fall evening. After catching a quick dinner with my roommates, I headed out to my rehearsal at the college auditorium on campus. Hal preferred his actors be prompt and I never disappointed him.  As it was already starting to become dark, I hurried along the back path that led from the dorms to the school buildings with deliberately quick steps. The path was well-lit, and I knew Tim, the friendly security guard, was more than likely patrolling the area close by, but I still felt nervous walking alone….especially with thoughts of the play’s morbid subject matter at the forefront of my mind. Had it been a clear and star-lit night, the sky would have been a bit brighter, but tonight the it was overcast and the moon barely peeked out from behind the heavy clouds. As I neared the end of the path, I approached the dreaded blackout spot on my route in a hollow of crooked maple trees in front of the nuns’ convent. The leaves rustled hauntingly in the trees and somewhere an owl hooted, so instinctively I picked up my pace. All of a sudden I heard an abrupt Crack! and that’s when I ran the rest of the way to the steps of Matthew Hall and almost knocked over the President herself as she was coming out the door. “What’s your hurry Miss Willoughby?? The building isn’t going anywhere!” she quipped as she stepped aside to let me in. “I’m so sorry, Sister Jacqueline, just here for rehearsal,” I explained. “Very well, then. Make it a good one,” she said and off she went towards the convent.

Once inside the warm and beautiful hall, I immediately caught my breath and went up one flight of stairs to rehearsal. As I pulled the enormous doors of the auditorium open, they creaked so loudly it echoed, almost with an air of foreboding, throughout the entire hallway. If that weren’t enough, when I  stepped inside the darkened room, Bang! went the door behind me giving me a start! The ceiling lights were not yet on, only the side wall sconces were lit, casting an esoteric, orange glow on the mauve colored walls. It appeared I was the first one to have arrived so I called out, “Hellooo??” just to be sure, but only heard the faint reply of my own voice bouncing off the walls of this great room. Suddenly a head popped up in front of the stage and I nearly jumped out of my skin!! It was Hal. Of course, it was Hal!! He’d probably been here for hours already, crouched down and pouring over his notebook and plans for rehearsal tonight as was his custom. “Lizzie, I’m so glad you’re here! Come quickly, you must see this!” he requested without the traditional greetings. (It was Hal’s practice to call all the actors by their character’s name throughout the duration of rehearsals and the show). I hurried to the front seats as Hal anxiously paced with some important news to share. Before I made it to the first row, Hal could no longer contain his excitement and blurted out, “I found the bucket!!! I found the bucket!!”

The prop bucket very much resembled this one here ~ for sale in NanNasThings on Etsy. (Click on the photo to learn more).

The prop bucket very much resembled this one for sale in NanNasThings on Etsy. (Click on the photo to learn more).

Instantly he had it in his hands, spinning it all around for me to see and adding, “It’s exactly what I was looking for!” He went on to eagerly describe its various attributes to me, all the while turning it this way, then that, until inadvertently he had tipped it so that the bottom of the pail was facing me. And that’s when I saw it. A shiver ran down my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up! I felt the blood drain from my face and my mouth dropped open at what I was seeing, or rather, couldn’t believe I was seeing. Hal immediately took note of my unexpected reaction and implored, “What is it?? What happened? What’s wrong??” I lifted a trembling finger and pointed to the bottom of the bucket, for there it stated with permanently embossed black paint, MADE IN FALL RIVER, MASSACHUSETTS!!!!! Hal did a double-take when he glanced at the bucket’s bottom end. I couldn’t possibly imagine how that uncanny detail had escaped his notice, but it had. “Well, my word, would you look at that???? What are the odds?” he asked. “How ever did I miss that?” he asked again, looking at me intently. At that point, I was so shaken that I had to sit down. I was scared enough so that I could not even say a word. “Now, now….” Hal patted my leg in a fatherly fashion. “This isn’t anything to be afraid of…..this is actually quite incredible and a very good omen for our show! I’m sure it’s just Lizzie’s way of giving us her blessing. My, how truly wonderful!” he added, marveling again at my spooky find on the bucket. I don’t know that I would call that experience wonderful, but it was nothing short of timely and it had truly frightened me. Although I hadn’t actually seen a ghost, I felt like Lizzie had seriously made her presence known that eventful night!

The story of that Fall River bucket was retold countless times throughout the run of the play, the remainder of my academic years, and Hal’s tenure at the college. It really was remarkable when you think about it, and I’ll always remember, like it was yesterday, the terror I felt when I first discovered that manufacturer’s stamp on the bottom of the bucket! Over time, the events of that night really became almost as infamous as the Borden murders themselves, at least in our small college town, and I will never forget them. Incidentally, as a parting gift from BLOOD RELATIONS, Hal gave me another prop from the show to keep as a souvenir…..the ax we had used to simulate the handle-less hatchet found in the cellar of the Borden home, presumed, but never proven, to have been the murder weapon all those years ago.

The alleged murder weapon.

The alleged murder weapon.

Friends and family thought it was creepy, but I was proud of it and had kept the ax in my possession for some time until, somehow, it mysteriously disappeared and was never found again. I have often wondered what became of that ax, as the circumstances under which it went missing were indeed odd, and further pondered if Lizzie herself might have had anything to do with it! Perhaps therein lies one more spooky tale to tell some day. And maybe, just maybe, it will be another opportunity for Lizzie to make her presence known to me yet again!

Happy haunting……

"Best witches!! ♥  Antique Shop Girl

“Best witches!! ♥
Antique Shop Girl

Dedicated to HC. I am finally “sharing my voice.” It may not be in the manner you had intended, but I hope it makes you proud. I think of you often & miss you, friend. ♥

Credits:

1.The photos related to the Borden murders posted in this story are from the book, FORTY WHACKS: NEW EVIDENCE IN THE LIFE & LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN by David Kent. Copyright 1992. Yankee Books. Distribution by St. Martin’s Press. Those photos appear in Mr. Kent’s book courtesy of the Fall River Historical Society and are of public record.

2. Thank you to my teammate, AnnMarie, at NanNa’sThings for the use of her lovely (and perfect!) bucket. Check out her fabulous shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/NanNasThings

3. Many thanks to Louise McGee at my local library for her speedy & very friendly help. Despite the endless information you can find on the internet these days, public libraries still ROCK! If you haven’t visited your local library recently, what are you waiting for? Much obliged to you, Louise!

The Victorian Tea Party

I have said often that the thing I love most about being an antiques dealer is the wonderful people I meet. It behooves me to remember all of them because, not only do such memories make me feel good, but that kind of exceptional, human decency in individuals is highly contagious & moves me to share the same with others. If you read “Flora’s Gift,” then you are aware of at least one of the many, special individuals I’ve been honored to have come through my antique shop door. This past weekend marked the last day of the season for my shop & with sun shining & colorful leaves glistening, I was reminded of just how plentiful these remarkable folks are, especially in a world that, these days, seems increasingly unkind. Take, for example,  the lovely, out-of-state couple who vacation every summer at the nearby lake that befriended me back when I first opened my doors. They have been seasonal regulars who always pop in to shop when they just happen to be driving by. Even in the winter months they thoughtfully email me simply to stay in touch, which I really enjoy. My shop hours this summer were a bit shorter than they usually are due to some pre-arranged travel plans, & they noted this on more than one occasion when they tried to stop in & found me closed. So they dropped by on Saturday to make sure I was alright & were pleased to find me well & busy, but not before confiding to me they had been so worried about me that they had been praying for me! That’s honestly how nice they are!  The same type of admirable connections with people is equally true of my Etsy shop. Although not a face to face experience, online interactions can be just as powerful if you are fortunate enough to have a most extraordinary person land on your site page & do business with you. In fact, that is exactly how I came to know one of my most delightful Etsy customers to date – a woman I affectionately refer to as “Teacup Joannie.”

Joannie was an unexpected customer one summer who found a few treasures in my Etsy shop on a late-night whim! I woke up to not only a sale that noteworthy day, but also the sweetest message from her followed by a very pleasant exchange that, in hindsight, felt more like a conversation with an old friend rather than a business transaction. When I asked if there was anything else I could help her find, I learned that she & her teenage daughter were planning a Victorian tea party for the following spring. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I was thrilled at the notion of such an enchanting gathering & I hoped I could help accommodate her with my meager shop offerings. To be honest though, there also seemed to be some kind of a kindred association between the two of us when we talked that drew me in. Joannie herself had alluded to it when she made her initial purchase, revealing to me that she had been searching a long time for a particular item & then, out of the blue, this piece along with my Etsy shop appeared to have “found her” instead of the other way around. Joannie had called that “cosmic symmetry” at the time & it felt not only true, but fascinating that we each had perceived something bigger than ourselves at play. Whatever it was exactly, along with her genuine interest in what I might have in the way of Victorian wares, nudged us both into a slow & continuous online communication that summer to discuss her specific needs as she & her daughter’s plans for the most wonderful tea party began to take shape.  At the time, I don’t think either of us had any idea where things were headed as we ventured into this ongoing correspondence, but somehow destiny had a pleasant surprise in store for us.

As I had told Joannie back when we first began chatting, I had addictively been collecting tea cups & silverplate for some time. My grandmother had a beautiful tea cup collection when I was growing up, & often when I was treasure hunting I’d come across a pretty cup that reminded me of Grammy & the cups I admired on display in her kitchen….so I had to have it. Similarly, my aunt (her daughter), with whom I was very close, had an affinity for silverplate which she passed onto me. “You should always have a few lovely serving pieces for dinner parties, my Dear, ” she often told me. I never had the heart to tell her I didn’t plan many grand parties, but I certainly could see the appeal of an elegant tray or dish to use during the holidays. Together at estate sales we had found a few terrific ones which I still own, & over the years as silverplate lost its popularity, I’d come across wonderful pieces that had been neglected or discarded & felt I had to save them from despair!  I brought them home, cleaned & polished them as Grammy had taught me (she paid me a penny for each piece in her sterling silver cabinet that I cleaned for her), then carefully packed them away if they didn’t wind up in my dining room cupboard or for sale in my shop. Deep down all that time, I truly felt there would be a need or purpose some day for these items I had lovingly rescued in their memory. Low & behold, ‘some day’ had arrived thanks to Joannnie!

With the greatest of ease, the more Joannie & I chatted, the more bits of “us” unknowingly became entwined in all our conversations. It was familiar & comfortable, so we grew to know more about one another as time passed & our communication continued. Like Joannie’s daughter Kari, for instance, who  Joannie characterized to me at one point as an “old soul disguised as a teenager.” Talented, creative & beautiful, Kari had an eye for the refinement of past centuries. She enjoyed antique books, dance, art, music history (the proud owner of an old Victrola!) & for some time she had yearned to host a Victorian tea party. So with amiable encouragement from her mother, Kari’s wish was coming to fruition! Her comments & thoughts about what she envisioned for the party were always part of the discussions Joannie & I had, so I felt like I was coming to know Kari also, which was an equal delight! As we continued to talk color schemes & party numbers, Victorian recipes & decor, I noticed & loved Joannie’s creative ideas & quick wit that always nestled their way into the mix. It was clear that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in this family & I secretly wished I could somehow be a guest at their party simply so I could enjoy their charming company!

Behind the scenes, I was busy unpacking my stored treasures with the greatest of care so I could show them to Joannie & Kari for their consideration.  Joannie & I had decided to start with the tea cups first, so I arranged those by the color schemes they had in mind & photographed them in sets.

The rose & gold trim cup on the right was my favorite!

The rose & gold trim cup on the right was my favorite!

 Touching the tea cups again after such a long while, I marveled at their beauty, especially seeing them in these colorful groupings. I could feel the warmth of my grandmother all around me & I knew they must be special enough for someone else to love.

The pale pink (back right) had a pheasant on it!

 I hoped so anyway, as I sent them off to Joannie & Kari to decide.  I don’t know what prompted me to do so, but on an impulse as I sent those first email attachments, I typed, “Dear Teacup Joannie…..that is my new name for you!” Not the most professional move on my part, I will confess, but I couldn’t hit “undo” on that one. So I waited in excited anticipation of their first thoughts on the tea cups, along with a little anxiety over having created a nickname for a customer on a fluke! But when Joannie’s reply came back, happily it said, “We LOVE all of them – I can’t wait to see what else you have. Oddly, it seems like the universe led me straight to you!” At the end there was a P.S. adding, “I like my new nickname, thank you!” Phew, that was a relief! And so, that is how Teacup Joannie got her nickname & it has stuck ever since!

As the months passed, so did terrible hurricanes on the east coast, so we made sure to check on each other’s safety from afar. When Autumn rolled around, we were confiding our joint love of Halloween along with the unique festivals we attended to honor the occasion. When I came across a vintage, lace tablecloth while digging out more silverplate from storage, I instantly thought of the tea party & emailed a photo of it to Joannie. She quickly sent back a photo nearly identical to the one I had sent her showing the tablecloth she had just made on a smaller scale – uncanny! Before we knew it, the holidays were approaching & again we shared with each other our special plans to celebrate, including yummy recipes & even the gift projects on which we were working. Imagine our surprise when we discovered we both were making a type of handcrafted monkey to give to friends & relatives!  Over the winter we talked of our parents, spouses, children, pets, our health, our hobbies, our houses, the blustery weather, the trips we both had planned for the spring, & of course, the tea party. Every email between Joannie & I effortlessly revealed we had many more things in common than merely tea cups & silverplate…. & we could only attribute that to some magical, universal vibe.

During those cold months I also began to send Joannie & Kari the tea cups. Mailing the first box had been so emotional I had told Joannie afterwards.  Having had the cups around me & talking about them with her for so long, I felt a bit choked up watching those first ones go. And I literally watched them go because the afternoon pick up truck was already at the post office when I arrived that day so the Post Master scanned my box & put it directly on the truck. When I was walking back to my car, I saw the postal truck head out down the road & I stood for a poignant moment to watch, feeling proud & happy that the first of the tea cups were finally on their way to the best possible home. A comforting warmth enveloped me in those quiet minutes, & although I wasn’t sure, I wanted to believe that feeling was my grandmother & aunt standing there alongside me….seeing the cups off to the place for which they had always been destined. But it was Joannie’s perfectly worded comments upon receiving that very box afterwards which gave me pause ….”Like opening a little box of Heaven…..” she had written…. & all I could do was sigh. “Heaven??” I was now more than certain Grammy & Aunt Lorrie really had been there with me like I had thought!

The subsequent weeks flew by & in that time all the tea cups, 25 in total, had finally been sent & Joannie & I were now  discussing & sharing thoughts on silverplate. It was fun to move onto the sparkle & try to imagine how each piece might be used at the tea party. silverplate 1A few of my teapots insisted on staying in hiding…..the perils of having things in storage while renovating an old house! silverplate 3Eventually they were all uncovered & like before, I’d send sample photos to the girls to peruse & await their feedback. teapots With each piece they chose also came their dreamy ideas & plans on how they might utilize it for the party – perhaps to hold a lovely Victorian sponge, or some delicate petit-fours. tray3Once again I found myself wishing to be a fly on the wall at their tea party, if only to soak in the decadence of such a romantic, past era they were going to elegantly recreate for their party. I have always felt like I was born in the wrong century….maybe Joannie & Kari felt that way, too, & that was the explanation for our special connection. I could only wonder, anyway. Before we knew it spring had sprung & we each were off on the big trips we had excitedly emailed each other about over the winter, with plans in place to send the 15 pieces of silverplate they had selected afterwards….for the tea party wasn’t far off once we both returned. After so much time spent communicating back & forth, it was hard to believe it was all coming together & I was very happy for my far-away friends.

When I arrived home from my own spring trip, there was a postcard waiting for me from Joannie & Kari’s even bigger travel adventures.  How incredibly thoughtful & a first for Antique Shop Girl!! A mere postcard which most people tend to take for granted spoke volumes to me about Joannie’s graciousness & the acquaintanceship we had forged over the months. It was heart warming, to say the least, & her touching gesture helped fuel my whirlwind packing of silverplate that soon followed. I took great care to make sure Joannie would not only have everything in time for the tea party, but it would be safe, clean & pretty in its presentation, & even the last of the extra thank you gifts I had been adding to her packages all along would reflect my most heartfelt of gratitude. As I shipped the last box off to Joannie, it was clearly bittersweet. We had chatted so much with each other in the final weeks, sharing stories & laughs about our respective trips, making final party plans, all with growing anticipation of the long-awaited Victorian Tea Party! Being the always-emotional person that I am, when I sat down to type some final notes to Joannie after the last box was mailed, I was overcome with so many thoughts & feelings, I was unsure how to conclude my message. It felt like the end of a lovely journey, yet somehow I knew it just might be a new beginning as well. After thinking for what seemed an inordinate amount of time, this is what I finally wrote:

“It has been such an honor & pleasure to work with you, chat so wonderfully over these past months,  & share my treasures for such an extravagant purpose as a Victorian tea party. Thank you so much, Joannie!! It is a little sad because I know we are parting ways in many respects now. I’m sure all of our “connections” were not for nought, though, and some day our paths will cross again. The last line of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS comes to mind that seems appropriate at this juncture. It reads, “If we should bump into each other….recognize me.”  Wishing you all  health, happiness, and the most spectacular tea party ever!!!”

Joannie responded sweetly with, “You have no idea how much fun this has been for us, and how lucky we feel to have “met” you. That needed to be said, but I don’t want this to sound like a good-bye letter!” & she promised to be in touch afterwards to share all the details of the tea party with me. A number of weeks passed during which time I would sometimes stop to wonder how Joannie & all her “tea cups” were doing, how the party turned out, & occasionally miss our regular, lively conversations. When I least expected it, however, & true to her word, one day late in spring there was an email from Joannie…..with photos of the Victorian tea party!! I was thrilled, to say the least!

Kari & Joannie did not disappoint! They had pulled out all the stops for the party, & the attached photos were evidence of their immense creativity & charm at work in staging the loveliest of Victorian garden tea parties! Joannie had declared it a success, despite misty skies that had threatened rain, & I poured over all her photos, amazed at not only how pretty everything had been, but also at the incredible imagination of both mother & daughter.party 1party 2 The tables had been elegantly arranged with beautiful linens & flowers, while the most decadent of pastries & beverages sat amongst gleaming silverplate & china that was almost unrecognizable. It was breath-taking & beautiful all at once! guest book stationThe piece de resistance was the Victorian “office” they had created for their invitees to sign the guest book. Exceptionally clever!! guest book station2Kari’s artistic talents were more than impressive, for remarkably she had painstakingly hand painted the office walls to resemble Victorian wall paper!painting wallpaper Although I had not attended this splendid party as I secretly wished, seeing these captivating photos drew me right in, like Alice to Wonderland, & made me feel like I really had been there….I could truly envision myself sitting in their garden sipping tea with the most enchanting of company, just like I had imagined from the beginning. The party had been such a long time coming….I couldn’t have been more pleased for my friends. My heart couldn’t have felt happier at their job so well done & to have played a small part! It was the perfect conclusion to this wonderful journey.

If you have ever been in a performance of some sort, seen a terrific movie, or just read a great book you couldn’t put down, then you know the feeling when it’s all over……you simply want it to continue on because you were so caught up in whatever it was that moved you, touched you, inspired you & was so enjoyable. This is how I felt about the Victorian tea party. I didn’t want the wonderful journey to be over. Louis L’Amour once said, “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” How true those words are, at least to me.  The tea party I was honored to have helped with may be finished, but from that experience something new was born…..friendship….& that journey which is just beginning will be equally as special, I am sure. I don’t just hope one day I’ll meet my pen pal customers, Joannie & Kari……I believe without a doubt that I will……it’s just a matter of time & a certain amount of “cosmic symmetry!” Extraordinary people are walking in our midst all the time. How lucky for any of us to have the occasion to bump into one of them…..& even more fortunate to actually be recognized!

My favorite tea cup Joannie purchased.

My favorite tea cup Joannie purchased.

The clever thank you card handmade by Joannie & Kari, sent to me after the Victorian tea party! WOW!!!!! ♥

The clever thank you card handmade by Joannie & Kari, sent to me after the Victorian tea party! WOW!!!!! ♥