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.
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.
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. A few of my teapots insisted on staying in hiding…..the perils of having things in storage while renovating an old house! Eventually they were all uncovered & like before, I’d send sample photos to the girls to peruse & await their feedback. 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. Once 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. 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! The piece de resistance was the Victorian “office” they had created for their invitees to sign the guest book. Exceptionally clever!! Kari’s artistic talents were more than impressive, for remarkably she had painstakingly hand painted the office walls to resemble Victorian wall paper! 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!