Color Him Father

Over 30 years ago I became acquainted with a song that has remained in my mind through the years. This song, reminds me of Cecil Miller. Cecil was MY grandfather. Period. And I called him PawPaw. He married my grandmother, Sadie Mae, when my Dad was a young boy. He raised Daddy and provided everything for him that a biological father would; a home, security, clothing, food, his first car…and love. I have never known the identity of Daddy’s biological father and more importantly, I’ve never needed to.

From the time I can remember him, PawPaw was my hero. He drove a station wagon and we would pile up in that car – me, Grandma, sometimes my sister Cindy and sometimes my cousin Angie Gaye, and head for weekend adventures. Most times it was to area back roads with creeks, streams and ponds for skimming stones to watch the water ripple. Or to country stores along our way, one being White’s Wayside that has recently reopened here in rural Virginia. We would stop for a loaf of freshly made hot bread and a hunk of longhorn cheese. The cheese was warm and the flavor at it’s peak because I vividly remember it sitting out on the counter under a huge glass dome. We also got a little brown paper bag of treats…those pink, wintergreen flavored candies – I loved those things! Sometimes we would go to Lakeside in Roanoke, a little amusement park that drew its’ audience from area south west Virginia cities and towns. He loved riding through the beautiful mountains of West Virginia and of course stopping at roadside vegetable stands for homegrown tomatoes. In the summer he loved to go to Shenandoah Acres for the day which was a fun lake not too far from home. The beach house had wooded floors that we were always cautioned to be careful of and not get a splinter in our foot. There were changing rooms with baskets to hold your clothes and inside showers to wash the days sand away. There was a juke box inside and it played the hits of the day. I can smell sand, baby oil and grills with sizzling hot dogs hovering over our beach towels. We never went far and we never stayed long, but those little rides are secured deeply in my heart.

PawPaw knew that I didn’t like riding the bus to school, so he picked me up and took me to school each morning on his way to work. One morning, when I was 15 he didn’t show up. I was so upset and just did catch the bus in time to make it to school. When I got home that afternoon, my Dad broke the sad, sad news to me that PawPaw had passed away suddenly during the night. We were both heartbroken. My Dad always called him Sam. To this day I don’t know why. He never had children of his own and my Dad was his only stepson. I have had people say to me before that he was not my “real” grandfather and I quickly correct them and remind them that Cecil Miller – PawPaw – WAS my grandfather and that’s all I ever needed to know. He was a kind and loving gentleman and he fills my mind with beautiful thoughts. I just heard this song last evening and I felt the void I’ve had for so many years. I’ve got to color this man love!

Katie’s Mommy

Twenty five years ago, I was blessed with this sweet princess and given the honor to be called Mommy. I have loved every year and each stage of her growing up and I am thankful I get to celebrate Mother’s Day Weekend with Katie Kingrey! And she sends the best flowers…always unique and full of thoughtful blooms. This one is overflowing with Virginia’s state flower – the dogwood, along with allium, cabbage roses, peonies, ranunculus, eucalyptus and a couple of gorgeous, ruffled surprises that I don’t know. Thank you, Katie & Taylor! If you want something informally elegant and often organically, garden grown, call our friend Kaci Lee at her shoppe, Damsel Floral.

 

The Underhorse

A week or so before the Kentucky Derby I have always read reviews and researched the horses to see who I would be cheering for. Yesterday, as I was scrolling through Facebook, one of my favorite pages popped up, Albemarle Magazine. Here was this story of a Derby contender named Patch. His odds are 40-1 and he’s the underdog – or underhorse I guess fits better. He has only one eye due to an infection last year. Since I’ve had no vision in my left eye for over 25 years now, I can relate to not letting those obstacles stand in his way. This year, my decision is an easy one. Who else could I cheer for this Saturday? Beautiful Patch is my choice!

Hoping Patch will make a “Soulful Strut.”

Downtown Staunton Architecture

When I have some time alone, I love to come to Downtown Staunton and stroll through memory lane in this picturesque college town. The building where Shenandoah Pizza is, was an adorable little boutique – Chez Marie. Pretty, white fixtures and thick, plush, hot pink carpeting is what greeted you inside. I was lucky enough to work there for a couple of years back in the day. I learned so much, from New York and Charlotte NC buying trips to creating exciting window displays. Lots of classic sportswear of the time – tartan plaid wrap & kilt skirts, cable cardigan sweaters, monogrammed blouses, turtlenecks, fair isle sweaters, navy blazers, espadrilles, khaki jumpers…actually, khaki everything and shell belt buckles galore! A preppy girl’s Heaven on Earth. But the architecture of this building is captivating, regardless of the business. I’ve always loved the stone florets that adorn the front. If you live here or come home for a visit, check out this lovely building.  And treat yourself to the best pizza in town!

 

Photo Credit: Dana Kingrey – Downtown Staunton – Saturday Evening, October 8, 2016

The Warmth of a House

Let’s go back. Back to a spring afternoon in late April, 20 years ago. The temperature in Michigan is cooler than I was used to in Virginia, but I was trying to be optimistic. After all, this was our new home, although I came kicking and screaming. Now we were looking for houses. The last couple of weeks we had seen our share – good, bad, too small, old, newer, in need of repair, poorly renovated, dirty, clean – you name it, we saw them. Trying to find the perfect house, within our budget, in a new city was challenging. Last week we had found a house we liked in a convenient neighborhood, well-aged, nicely upgraded, and within our mortgage amount. This is it we thought…so we made an offer. Our offer was turned down immediately when three others outbid us! Why would you offer thousands more than the asking price?

On a late Wednesday evening, our realtor, Anne, called. “My apologies for calling so late, but there is a house you need to see. Let me explain something. It’s only being shown tomorrow in an open house setting and there is no “FOR SALE” sign in the yard. Interested?” Timing couldn’t have been worse. Daryl was ready to open one of the first Circuit City Stores in West Michigan, and many of the corporate dignitaries were coming tomorrow from our beloved home of Richmond, Virginia for the festivities. I told Anne that it would be me and our four year old daughter, Katie.

Anne picked us up and on the drive over explained that the owner had lived there for almost 30 years. She raised six children in the home and wasn’t looking forward to selling. She and her husband had retired and were moving to Nevada to live close to their daughter in a warmer setting. We pulled onto the street and I recalled that this was such a beautiful section of town. One thing we had quickly learned. In Grand Rapids there wasn’t a good side of town and a not so good side of town. It was more mixed together with pockets of special neighborhoods all over the city. This was one of those areas. As we pulled up, true as Anne’s word, there was no “FOR SALE” sign in the yard. There were several other cars parked along the street for those attending the event.

Getting out of the car I glanced at a few daffodils that were struggling out of the mulched soil along with purple crocus’ just beginning to peak around. The yard was tidy, although the grass was not green and the hard effects of a Michigan winter were still visible. The wood-sided home was painted white with green shutters, very typical looking of houses built in the 1920’s. Several maturely grown shrubberies were hugged tightly to the house. We stood on the porch waiting to be greeted by the other realtor. “Hello, welcome to 325 Aurora Street,” she said. “I’m Barb.” It was like stepping back in time. EVERYTHING was grandmother green…you know, that ugly light green. It was a color that looked as if a drop of green food coloring had been mixed into antique white paint. The walls, the trim, and oh my goodness, even the ceilings! What wasn’t painted had layers of patterned wallpaper – birds, feathers, ferns, flowers – awful. But there was an instinctively charming warmth that I felt right away. The rooms were large and there were windows galore, 43 exactly, as I would later learn.

I held Katie’s hand and we strolled through the rooms. As we walked upstairs, music met us on the stairway. All the bedrooms had radios on the bedside tables playing soft jazz with familiar tunes from Frank, Ella, Louie and Dean. I’m a sucker for the old standards and instantly fell in love. The rooms were lit with soft lamp light as if just waiting to soothe the tensions of the day. The carpeting had years of footsteps and wear. Some of it sculptured, some shag, but ALL green. The curtains hung from the windows like they were dared to move. Each room draped in a different fabric, Dotted Swiss, crocheted lace, calico print, and sheer chiffon with probably the first plastic mini blinds that were ever made. The four bedrooms were good-sized, with tiny but unique closets. When you opened the doors, the clothes rack pulled out of the wall with a very well made and detailed apparatus that was heavy and brass. And there was a cute little drawer at the bottom of each closet. I walked away wondering what those drawers were used for, stockings, gloves maybe, or scarves? The smallest of the bedrooms was at the back of the house and labeled on the original house plans as the “sleeping porch.” It overlooked the yard and the park behind the house. There was a tiny porch off of this room, just one charming detail after another and I was soaking it all in and imagining the home filled with life.

We walked downstairs and moved to the backyard. I loved the patio and could envision our weathered furniture sitting here. As I headed back in, I noticed that Katie was no longer by my side. Walking through the living room, the homeowner’s realtor stopped me. The very stylish woman had the sleeves rolled up on her rich camel colored shirt dress. “Would anyone like a hotdog?” she asked. Before she could get the next words out of her mouth I thought this was the most bizarre question I’d ever been asked at an open house! “The little girl said she was hungry,” smiling widely as she walked back to the kitchen. Of course that little girl was Katie! “Oh honey,” I said. “You can wait until we get home to eat.” Oh how I wish that cell phone cameras were used in 1996. I can still picture sweet Katie sitting at the kitchen table. A big bow in her blonde curls, swinging her red Keds-covered tootsies, with arms crossed on the table, waiting patiently to be served.

“So what do you think?” “I really like it. It needs lots of updating, but I do like it.” “Should we call Daryl?” Anne asked. Oh boy, I had dreaded that thought. I knew he was crazy busy and had been up to his ear lobes in executive ridicule. “Hey sweetie, how was the visit?” I asked. “It went well. As a matter of fact, they just left for the airport,” he replied. “Well I’m at this open house and I would really like you to see this place – could Anne come pick you up?” “Dana, are you kidding me, I really don’t have time for this today…can we see it tomorrow?” “Well, it’s kind of strange, but the owner is only showing it today.” I replied. Frustrated, he said, “Okay, have her come get me, but I can’t be there long.” Anne left to fetch Daryl while Katie had her feast and I continued taking it all in.

When Daryl got there others were asking questions of both the realtor and Antonia, who was the homeowner. Antonia. She was a tall, whimsical woman with blonde, cotton-textured hair, late 60’s probably, very chatty and an easy smile. Daryl did a walkthrough and I could tell he had reservations about how much work it would require of him. Suddenly, there was music. Not from the bedroom radios, but LIVE music. From an accordion, no less. We looked at each other with puzzled faces. As we reached the downstairs hallway, we could see that Antonia was the musician and Katie was clapping and dancing around in the living room, entertaining whoever would stop and applaud! What an evening, I thought!

We decided to make an offer and so did two other couples. Anne told us that Antonia and her realtor were going to make a decision quickly. We were feeling a myriad of emotions. “Don’t you just love all of the built-ins,” I asked. “Our crystal would be right at home in those dining room cabinets. And you could put your CD player and speakers in the living room bookcase.” Within 30 minutes they called us in and told us that our offer had been accepted with a little negotiating on both ends. As we were signing the necessary documents, Antonia told us that she knew we were the family who should now live in her home. She told us that when we walked in her crucifixes that were hanging in every room, along with her rosary beads had turned gold. “I knew it was a sign,” she went on to explain. “Your family is who should live here.” This has got to be one of the most unique house buying experiences – ever – we thought. Twenty years later and that experience is still as vivid as it was that night. I will never forget it.

Owning an old house is not for the squeamish I quickly learned.  As you’re moving in, reality sets in. We had no idea how to do anything that we envisioned. The first slap in the face was that it was not move-in ready. Although we had purchased it in April and closed in May, part of the agreement stated that the owners would rent from us until July 31 when they moved. We could move in on August 1.

I recall sitting in the floor, cleaning the oven and boohooing. I was surrounded by green walls and crunchy, disgusting carpeting. And this house has 43 windows, I reminded myself! Now with all the nostalgic curtains gone, we found ourselves with bare windows in most rooms and only the mauve plastic mini blinds in others. As we were asking questions that mystical April evening, we learned that the house had no air conditioning. “This is Michigan, you really don’t need it,” was our reply from everyone. “With all these wonderful windows, you’ll get lots of fresh breezes!” The house has such a cottage feeling, it would be refreshing. The week after moving in Daryl left for a week of meetings in Richmond. As luck would have it, the late summer of 1996 in Michigan was one of the hottest and most humid on record. I opened the windows, but there was no air – just still, humid muck. The bigger problem was, this charming old house was smack dab in the city, and while I liked that, I didn’t feel safe enough to open ground-level windows when I was alone with a four year old, especially overnight. It was so hot that I went to the car to cool off since I was unable to sleep in the heat. Plus, we didn’t know anyone to go to for reprieve. I had saved $5K to do a couple of small renovation projects. After two days in the 100 degree heat I decided if I was staying, I needed central air. I called after hearing an ad from a local company. The rep came up from the basement and said, “Ma’am, your furnace is old too, and inefficient. While we’re installing air conditioning you really should get both. We have a special price, its $5K.” My decorating budget!  Within hours after installation, I was able to feel the humidity fade. I’ve never regretted that decision; however, we enjoyed the green carpeting and brown bird wallpaper for several more years.

Over time, the projects have been many. Hours of researching magazine pages, paint swatches, fabric samples, and Katie always says that her most memorable spring break was a week spent in Home Depot. Eventually, the green was replaced with colonial yellow, periwinkle blues, pinks and navy, all with picket fence white trim and ceilings. Room by room Daryl removed all of the 1960’s shag and crunchy carpeting and to our delight, oak and maple wood flooring was what lay beneath. Ceiling fans and updated lighting were added to most rooms. A downstairs closet was sacrificed and a small half bath became Katie’s new bathroom. Missing the Florida Room from our Richmond house, a screened porch was expanded and beautifully transformed into a sun room, affectionately known as the Virginia Room. Finally, the kitchen was upgraded with counter tops, sink, cabinet additions and wallpaper. Did I say, wallpaper? Yes, but no birds, ferns, feathers, foiled, or fuzzy. And, all those windows eventually became covered with two inch plantation blinds and cotton, scalloped-bottomed shades.

By the eighth year, the exterior was painted Shenandoah Taupe with Kettle Black shutters and a Talbots’ Red door. The study windows bow and I had wooden window boxes built. I plant the boxes seasonally and always have to remember they only get shade due to the sycamore and maple trees standing so closely by. The front cement porch, walkway, and foundation of the Virginia Room were all replaced with brick that looks worn and well used.

The study, is where a great deal of my time is spent since I work from home. It’s a cozy room with the perfect street view. As the window boxes blossom it only adds to the pleasure of creativity. The previous owner, accordion-playing, devout Catholic, Antonia, was a hand writing analyst and this space was her office too. For years we received packages of samples from attorneys, courts and government agencies all over the country that we would forward to her.

Through the years we’ve found and learned surprises. In the basement are barres, like those that would be used in a dance studio. When we tore out a first floor closet to convert the half bath to a full one, there was aqua, ballerina wallpaper which clearly had the 1920’s written all over it. I saved a square of it.  When Katie was trying to make her decision about changing her major to English and writing, appearing from nowhere and obviously tucked deeply under a drawer in one of the built-ins, was an old Writer’s Digest magazine dated from the 80’s, belonging to Antonia. We took this as our own special sign to move forward with it.

In 2012, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we had just returned from vacation. I was in the back yard when I heard Katie talking to someone. When I looked up, Katie was introducing me to a woman and her husband who were in town from Ohio for her fiftieth high school reunion. Her name was Susan. “I had to stop by and see this house. My family lived here from 1940 to 1966.” She went on to tell us that she had gone to Michigan State after her high school graduation in 1962. “When I got married my reception was here in the backyard,” she said. “Oh, and President Ford was here for my wedding.” “Oh my gosh, really! A president has been here? Tell me about it,” I excitedly asked. She said that her uncle was a dairy owner in town and he was friends with then-Congressman Gerald Ford. “He was invited to my wedding, and in fact, he had been to dinner at our house with my uncle before, and this is where he sat.” She was pointing to the chair facing the wall as we stood in the dining room. Needless to say I was bubbling over with enthusiasm. “I love finding out these great things about the house – thank you for stopping by!” She further explained that the dancing barres in the basement were there because the woman who had originally had the house built in 1920 was a dancer for a dance company in town long before the Grand Rapids Ballet existed. “She also taught private lessons in the basement,” she said. “That also explains the ballerina wallpaper in the bathroom,” I grinned. Since that day, I’ve considered putting up a “President Gerald R. Ford Dined Here” plaque in our dining room and I tell everyone who eats with us the story of the previous famous diner.

Now, as we consider making a move back to Virginia, I’m finding myself not wanting to leave this house. Katie grew up here, her friends stayed here – and some still do from time to time. All of her FIRSTS were here; learning to read in her pink, book-filled bedroom, losing teeth, First Communions, dances, proms, graduations all started here. There’s a warmth here that I felt that first afternoon and I still feel every time I walk in the door. We entertain often at The Kingrey House and everyone who spends time here uses that word, “warmth”. I have cards to prove it. Thank you cards sent from friends after attending a party or an event, most using “warmth” somewhere in their message…all without prompt.

There have been Christmas parties too numerous to recall with Bing Crosby, candlelight and champagne welcoming our guests. Katie’s special birthday parties with themes from palm readers, to Gidget beach parties and southern tea soirées complete with lemon water finger bowls for washing tiny hands. Engagement parties for our friends’ kids have always been hosted here and the Virginia is For Lovers wine parties for school fund-raising auctions because we were from Virginia and it made the perfect Valentine party headliner. But the best are the patio parties with lanterns filling the backyard with twinkling light all while Van Morrison serenades us. These are just some of many reasons this old Kingrey House has always been very special to me. In a way, it has become my soul. In my mind I sometimes play the story of the next twenty years and wonder if the new owners will tell the tale about all the cocktail napkins and champagne corks they found from our life celebrations, because there have been many. We like to celebrate everything here – especially the Eves of holidays, birthdays, even Fridays…so Thursday celebrations are a big deal at The Kingrey House. Yes, will they wonder about us, all while shouting, “What’s up with these yellow walls…what WAS that woman thinking?”

There’s a part of me that looks forward to returning to the historic Commonwealth. But then, there’s the part of me that loves it here and is not ready to give up the life, friends and home we have created. Maybe we should live in both places for a while and see where our hearts lead us.

 

 

 

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” That song brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it during my long “Christmas Music listening” season. Growing up in Staunton, Virginia and celebrating Christmas is a vivid memory for me. From planning our decorations with trips to the garden centers, Woodrow Wilson Gift Shop, The Emporium and Small’s Hallmark with Grandma Miller, to listening to Momma’s classic Christmas albums – Andy Williams, Walter Brennon, Johnny Mathis, Elvis & The Statler Brothers – and watching “White Christmas”, to planning our meals with holiday cooking and baking. Delicious fudge, sugar cookies decorated just right and the country ham with brown sugar and cloves. The hustle and bustle of running around to get everything done, the Christmas parade, shopping in the great little boutiques downtown. Those images remain in my mind, in my sense of smell and best of all in my heart.

I started traditions with Miss Katie early on in Richmond. The paper Noah’s Ark garland that we purchased at the James Centre during the annual lighting ceremony downtown on Cary Street, a sugary candy garland from the Christmas Shop at Westbury Pharmacy, and continued with us in Grand Rapids with special ornaments from the Nutcracker after the performance at DeVos Hall downtown. Every year we add something from one of our favorite spots, even as minimal as the perfect cocktail napkin.  

I think I was longing for those early moments and thought Christmas, at home in Virginia, would provide for me what I remembered. It wasn’t until this year, Christmas 2015 that I realized that “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” now means, MY home, with MY family, specifically Daryl and Katie, along with my special and unique pets, Miss Muffin, Socks, and Tinkers and the traditions that I recreated for us based on what I grew up with. Not to mention all of the special friends in our lives who have become like family to us. Starting in November, with all of us getting the house decorated, planning our menus and events, Bing Crosby and other Crooners always in the background, a houseful of people either just stopping by or specific parties, Christmas movies galore and the weeks of Advent. None of that happened this year. Instead, we were away for Christmas for the first time in eight years to enjoy family and friends in Virginia. We did celebrate Advent and Christmas Eve Mass between all of our stops – Grand Rapids, Columbia, SC and Staunton – and that keeps us focused on the important things along with our family bond.

Ahhh, The Eve, haven’t even touched on that yet. Eve’s are our thing. The Eve of any event is celebrated enthusiastically in our home. And ALWAYS with popping and woos of the champagne bottle. To quote one of our favorites, Lilly Pulitzer, “Let’s have a party, let’s have it tonight,” is our motto.  

Starting with Thanksgiving Eve the beautiful season begins for us. With preliminary prepping and cooking, the perfect music, hor d’oeuvres and an artistically created – if I do say so myself – cheese board, champagne of course, and a holiday favorite of either “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” or “Miracle on 34th Street,” we’re ready to celebrate! The latter is a favorite because of John Payne being a Roanoke native. We get up early on Thanksgiving and have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade playing in the background. We never watch a lot of it, but it’s ALWAYS on. Usually a breakfast frittata and mimosas for early brunch and then the cooking continues with football in the background. We try to have dinner early, but at our house, it’s tastefully Dinner at Eight for many reasons, mainly our lively conversations and stories throughout the day. But after Dinner at Eight, Christmas officially begins.  

Except this year. Because of Daryl living and working in Virginia, along with Bryan’s wedding the week before Christmas, our being home for Christmas, we opted out of everything that was familiar to us. No decorations, no Christmas tree, no parties. We missed it. The wedding was gorgeous, meaningful and special. After that, I thought, Okay, the wedding was the perfect kickoff, we’ll just accept this as a transition year and enjoyed Christmas in Virginia.

Christmas to me? This was always Christmas to me. Listening to these classics in our home.

Lyrics, by The Statler Brothers.

 

Death of a Classmate

 

Saturday afternoon before a snowstorm in Michigan. Not just a snowstorm, but the snowstorm after a very unseasonably warm and dry winter. This was the first one of any significance and a foot of snow was expected. And so, uncharacteristic of Michiganders, the grocery stores and roads were packed. As I’m waiting for Katie to pick up a few more items, and I’m standing halfway back through the store with over 20 shoppers in front of me, I decide to check Facebook to keep me entertained. The first post in my newsfeed was from Mark Goff, a dear classmate and friend. His message: Just in case you haven’t heard the news – our classmate Susan Pleasants (Sue Batt) passed away – she was at the reunion – I just wanted everyone to know – gone too soon!

I was in complete shock! I was overwhelmed with emotion and tears were streaming down my face. Although we were not particularly close friends in high school, as many of us were not, I had just seen her,  and had spent time talking with her at the reunion and during the planning. How could this be? Like others, I wondered if she had been ill based on a couple of indicators. But there was no discussion of it in detail on Facebook or in our conversation that beautiful July weekend in Virginia. I was on the planning committee for our reunion and from the time we announced details to the time for the event, Sue had sent me numerous notes letting me know how excited she was to join  all of us for the festivities. Her first note read: Hi Dana..want to come to the 40th..how do I pay…best wishes, Sue Batt Pleasants. After a couple of months of correspondence, I found her last note to me prior to deadlines, the most interesting. Ok gonna pay soon.. Anxious about seeing who is no longer alive…thanks.

My greatest memory of Sue as a classmate was that evening and how much she wanted to dance. She asked me several times when the dancing would begin. She enjoyed catching up with everyone. Her date was a handsome gentleman that she introduced as Nelson. Sue’s obituary in the Richmond Times Dispatch, painted a loving picture of a life dedicated to her beautiful daughter, her friends and family, and helping others as a nurse. Our classmate Paul, shared old pictures of Sue that he had held in his memories from 1976 when he and Sue dated. Most of us probably weren’t aware of their brief, post-high school relationship, all of which now allows us to know Sue more personally.

Many have said that our reunion weekend was magical. For reasons and memories like this, it truly was. So much so that we are planning another Lee reunion for this coming summer. No, Sue and some others in this special class won’t be joining us in person, but I know they’ll be looking down on us and we’ll be reminded that our Robert E. Lee High School class just might be the most exceptional group of friends to ever grace those historic hallways on Churchville Avenue.

 

 

SBP3

Sue Pleasants –   Picture courtesy Richmond Times Dispatch