This past Thursday night, I had the honor of staying in the home of my friend Lanier. She invited Lauren and I to come and spend the night with her and then attend her book club. I knew as soon as the invitation was offered that there was a treat in store…I just could not have imagined how great a treat it would be.
Lauren has said that turning into Lanier and Philip’s driveway is like stepping into another time. One moment you’re driving through Atlanta suburbia and the next you’re winding down a gravel drive towards a white, wooden farmhouse, framed with green shudders, that is old enough to have been used as a hospital during the War of Northern Aggression :). Thursday was a cold and dreary day, filled with gray mist that hung too heavily to even form a decent rain. Lanier welcomed us into her den, where a warm fire blazed in an oversized cast iron stove, and antique books peered out at us from their love worn covers. I fed a sleepy Mary Aplin as Lauren and Lanier prepared a tea tray: crisp blue and white china, a plate of sweet red apple slices and sharp cheddar cheese, a tea pot steeping the loose leaves of white tea from her favorite tea-room. What a contrast our toasty little tea party was to the cold, damp elements nature had served.
After tea, I retired to my room to put Mary Aplin down for a nap. As I stepped inside, I gasped at how beautiful it was. The creamy blue walls stretched twelve feet and offered a beautiful contrast to the clover honey hue of the hardwood floors. To my left, a staunch armoire rose close to the ceiling and its top held whimsical hat boxes and ostrich feathers. Next, nestled between two 6-foot windows with wavy glass panes, stood the antique wooden bed. The bed was shrouded by white tulle cascading down from the ceiling and adorned with white, embroidered pillows and a faintly colored quilt. The marble top of the bedside table held a small vase filled with a cluster of fresh peach roses. A vanity was pushed against the wall beside the bed, and on its surface the silver combs and brushes begged me to sit down and take my time dressing for dinner. The wall opposite the bed had a large fireplace–on the mantle was the bust of a Victorian woman and two tall silver vases that also held peach roses. On the same wall, there was a closet, and the closed door had an antique white lace dress hanging loosely from a silk hanger. It looked as though its owner had just plucked it from the closet as her choice for the day. Finally, a beautiful iron, antique cradle stood in the center of the room, swaddled in white eyelet and a canopy of its own. Beside it sat an oversized antique rocker whose plush, rose-colored velvet seat was pushed close enough to the fireplace to offer Mama and baby warmth during their late-night moments together. I felt like I was in a beautiful dream.
Dinner was refreshingly simple and tasty. Lanier poured her smooth potato soup into bowls with a toasted baguette slice and garnished each bowl with a healthy sprinkling of Gruyere cheese. A green salad with a tangy homemade dressing offered a nice contrast to the soup. Lanier, her husband Philip, Lauren, and I lingered a long time over our cozy table. We were surrounded by flickering candles, scattered amongst handmade Valentines that were displayed on the large roughly-cut wooden mantle of the kitchen fireplace. The soup was warm and delicious and offered a happy reprieve from our still-cheerless weather. We talked about fascinating topics–such as educating girls, Philip’s family business, the joys of entertaining, and the prospect of raising sheep on their land.
After dinner, Lanier steeped some soothing chamomile tea and brought each of us a slice of her homemade apple pie with ice cream. We ate and talked some more by the fire in the den. Once our bellies could not hold another bite, we each (except for Philip :)) picked up our respective hand-work and were able to be productive as we laughed our way into the night.
As we talked, I pondered what it is about Lanier that makes her so intriguing. She is the first person I have ever met that had the foresight, as a 17-year old girl, to say that she felt God calling her to be a homemaker. Because of that calling, she spent the four years that most of us spend going to college, cultivating her skills as a wife. She apprenticed herself under ladies who were skilled in areas such as cooking/baking, gardening, and sewing. She continued her voracious reading and honed her skills in piano and ballet. In essence, she had the discipline to self-train herself in the areas that she still uses every day of her life. Obviously, all women are not called to homemaking and she is the first to cry out for the value of college education for young women. However, I think it is worth pondering the direction we steer our little girls. I am thankful for my chemical engineering degree, and I am sure that the benefits run deeper than I can see on a surface level. It does sadden me though, to think how little I knew about how to take care of my husband or children when I got married… Can we have both? While this may make Lanier interesting, I think what is most intriguing about her personality is her uncanny knack for making life beautiful. Its as though she has spent her life observing things that would seem to most of us like romantic idealism, and she has been willing to put forth the effort to make those ideals reality. For example, she throws a Christmas party every year, where all of the guests come in period attire. Each room in their home has a roaring fire and it is all lit by candlelight. Other examples would be the chickens she raises for their fresh eggs, the garden she keeps to provide vegetables and herbs for her table, or the fact that Wednesdays are baking days–where she makes fresh bread, rolls and pizza crusts. It has to exhaust her, but it creates this ideallic home setting that challenges me to strive for beauty in my own home.
It was nearing midnight when Lauren, Lanier, and I put down our handwork, stopped talking about all the books we’d recently read, and forced ourselves to bed. As I walked back into my beautiful bedroom, I discovered that Philip had prepared a fire in my fireplace. I was so excited about this luxury that I could hardly go to sleep for grinning. I brought Mary Aplin into the bed with me for her midnight snack, and I was thankful for the excuse to lie there and watch the warm, orange glow dancing across the walls. The sheets had hidden scents of lavender and chamomille, the bed sunk deeply and hemmed me in, while the extra quilts I pilled on top of the duvet completed my cocoon. I finally drifted to sleep, and dreamed about the book club meeting I’d been anticipating, and those fresh eggs with homemade toast that I knew would be waiting on me the next morning.