“But, the stultifying lingo aside, the question I raise is a vital one for us all, we are all stuck with trying to find the meaning of our lives, and the only thing we have to work on, or with, is our past.”
Robert Penn Warren, A Place to Come To
I don't think I could have imagined at age 11 or 12 that anything important would ever come of what was now our family's sixth or seventh summer pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg. I was confident, however, that the joy experienced by my friends vacationing at Disney or at the beach was of a more enduring value. While they were sure to be squealing with delight as the teacups spun or the waves crashed, my sister, Tay, and I toiled away in hot Tidewater sun at Colonial Williamsburg's Little Patriot Program, dipping candles over a cauldron of hot beeswax and beating flax into linen or touring the trades, homes, palace, capitol, grounds and gardens comprising Colonial Williamsburg. Which we did without fail every. single. year.
All in all, we made our mecca over twenty times. Some times twice in one year. We've been for Christmas. We've been for Thanksgiving. At some point, we stopped counting how many times we had been there. And, somewhere after all of that, we stopped going all together.
When my husband and I bought a house in complete disrepair in an old neighborhood in Mountain Brook, Alabama, we would have the luxury (and intimidation) of a completely blank slate. Equally as daunting was the understanding that this would be our forever house - it would have to suffice for the next 40 or hopefully 50 years. There would be no second chances.
The architect, James F. Carter, a good friend, agreed to do the architectural drawings, so I knew no matter what, the house would be tremendous. But, when James asked me twhat kind of house I wanted I was overwhelmed. What DID I want?
At the time, I could not remember anyone anywhere in the area building a classic Georgian, although our neighborhood had a good sprinkling of them here and there from the time of its original development in the 1920s and '30s.
It was not at all surprising to my mother that, when the time came to pull the trigger and get started, the only idea I could entertain was a hipped-roof Georgian, a replica of the George Wythe house in Colonial Williamsburg. I had always considered the Wythe House the most beautiful of all of the houses there. The symmetry and proportion soothed my OCD in a way that other houses could not. And, I knew that while this house might never actually be considered "cool" by my contemporaries, I could rest assured that it would be classic and, therefore, always in style.
This would be James's first Georgian and I was thrilled to be his first. And, although the choice of Georgian met with his incredible enthusiasm, my choice of color scheme did not. For me, however, there were no other options - the color scheme, like the choice of a hipped-roof Georgian, was an emblem of my past.
I spent a full calendar year in Paris during college, studying during the school year and then nannying for 4 months to extend my stay. And, what makes Paris more beautiful to me than any other place on earth has always been the sea of white shutters on white buildings cast against the large foliage of tall Sycamore trees. A visual delight that floods my brain with endorphins and memories of great times.
And, so, while the combination of a white-on-white Gerogian is a bit of mixed metaphor- Georgian with a French twist - in the end, the only thing I really had to work with was my past. But, because of that, I know that I will always have a place to come to that both grounds me and sends my heart into the stratosphere.