Monday, March 24, 2008

Page Six Portraits

Established in a hilly nook of Kentucky, a two-hundred year old house sits, perched overlooking a stream and keeping watchful eye on the horses rambling around the back paddock. Yesterday, this house overflowed with Easter celebrants. I was one of them.

Our landlords and fellow worshippers, Jim and Susanna, invited us to join Easter Dinner forces with their fete. John and I cluttered our kitchen with casserole dishes, dirty whisks, stained potholders and empty butter wrappers Saturday night, and the oven chugged on, producing chocolate peanut butter pie, corn casserole, macaroni and cheese, and hot cross buns. We hard-boiled over four dozen eggs for coloring and deviling - I make mine blue cheese deviled eggs, garnished with fresh dill. The living room still bears the tangy, stinging bite of vinegar from the mass baptism of the Easter eggs. The dogs were lucky enough to catch a puddle of spilled pie filling, and Daisy still bears drips of filling on her head, where she was baptized by sprinkling.

Sunday, at a frigid, shivering 6 a.m., we covered a few hot cross buns, bundled in layers, and drove, bleary-eyed, to a little country church on a hilltop. There, rows of wooden and metal folding chairs awaited yawning worshippers huddled in blankets and reading the sunrise liturgy by the beams of flashlights. We faced the East, and the sky slowly leaked pale yellow and orange into the grey clouds of night. After Scripture, and singing, preaching, and singing, we joyfully headed indoors for a breakfast potluck. Since a breaker had blown in the church, the furnace was on strike, so coats were kept on, hands cupped around bleak church coffee, sludge-like, but hot. Sausage and egg casseroles mingled with fruit salads, pigs in blankets (smart pigs), cakes and muffins. Friends were embraced, updates shared, and we trundled empty dishes and cast-aside blankets back to the car, taking Ethan with us.

We abandoned the Episcopalians in favor of a post-sunrise, pre-dinner nap, and I arose to plod into the kitchen and make the "quick white glaze" for the hot cross buns, which happened to be from a different, older recipe, and were the best ones, in fact, that I have made. Upon inquiry as to what arrival time "afternoonish" meant, we found that gathering would begin around 2:30.

Gathering did. Over thirty guests gathered to mill around picking bits off of hor's doevres plates, gather something from the "bar," or munch on my blue cheese deviled eggs. We mingled, we introduced, we tried to remember names but immediately forgot, and we looked. We looked at the house - once featured in a magazine - that stood when Lincoln was born, when Lincoln was president, and when Lincoln died. Low ceilings capped walls full of paintings of horses. Dark beams steadied rooms adorned with functional antique desks, tables, and chairs. A corner cabinet showcased silver cups, trophies and bowls. Four or five dogs wandered in and out, mellow, welcoming, and pleasant. The family crest stood proudly on one wall. A screened in porch reached out into the yard, beckoning in cool breezes and quiet babblings of the stream.

The people constituted an Oxford crowd, a Bluegrass "Page Six." The popular fashion choices were corduroy, tweed, and leather. Rich, buttery, wide-waled corduroy pants, a muted, tan, corduroy jacket with mellow leather collar and leather piping on the button holes and front pocket. The women were well-heeled and quietly sported scarves or unusual necklaces or couture boots.

And the conversations were warm, amusing, insightful, and merry. It was rather like a gathering of hobbits, centering on comfort, merriment, and eating. Some chats were highly amusing, like the exchanges I had with a playwright from New York, who has been produced off-broadway. When I asked what he did, he drawled, "darling, as little as possible. I'm a writer." He now uses his writing in service of museum exhibits, though I noticed he had a keen eye on people when they weren't watching - a sign of someone sketching characters, discourse, pose, and movement in the back of his mind. He met his wife "at a cocktail party in New York," and pronounced that, as "they" say, "you can make a fortune at theater, but you can't make a living." He wore impeccable shoes, stood like Tom Wolfe, and edged his words in a near William F. Buckley tone and style - his wit dry and immediate. And though he looked the spitting image of Sir Ian McKellan, actor who portrayed Gandolf so successfully, it struck me, just as I almost commented on it, that here was a man who should never be said to resemble an actor, but should only be said that someone resembles him. His caricature of the New York writer made him look like a cartoon out of the New Yorker, and his awareness of his significance was not so much a true depth of ego, one felt, as the appropriately acted part of one who needs their patrons' confidence.

And then there was the senile, frail lady, who greeted warmly but vaguely, stopped the food line by eating half of her dinner roll in line, and, when I asked her later if she was "from around there," looked at a relative and said, "well, are we from around there?" Yes, they were. I fetched her some water - she looked under-hydrated - and delighted her by wishing a "happy Easter."

Chatting in other knots of guests stood, I would vow, a living, breathing Saks Fifth Avenue mannequin. There are certain women so stunning that you avoid them out of fear. They're often quite friendly - a Venezuelan friend, Carolina, could have been Miss Venezuela - but didn't seem to realize it. Saks Fifth Avenue seemed to realize it, but seemed rather self-conscious of it. Exquisite brown leather boots, well-fitted jeans, chic jacket, expensive hair cut, and wide jaw line, she looked like the next Cover Girl. She may have been a Cover Girl. If she's not a model, she should be. But she moved timidly among people she didn't know, and seemed relieved to find someone near her own age. In short, she seemed nice, if you could get over the initial intimidation.

Giggling in and out of rooms, a perky "two and a half" year old, adoped daughter of the Episcopal priest, was delighted to celebrate Easter. Her dark, shiny hair and Asian features expressed a bouncing, squealing extrovert who loves pink and Susanna's horses.

And then there was the Easter Egg Hunt: an all-guest affair, adults went scrambling over lawn, creek banks, and rock walls, with shouts of "help me reach this one!" and "they said there are more. How can there be more? I can't find anymore!" A prize was given those with the most eggs collected, a boobie prize given to last place, and I took home two gargantuan blisters from wearing new shoes across a soggy, bumpy lawn in search of Easter eggs. The blisters are worth it, though - the hunt and the shoes were both blissfully worth it.

We discovered that Jim's people descend from George Mason, a founding father, and that Susanna's parents are both writers, on the history and culture of Russia. We discovered many books in the shelf-lined library, and an embroidered fireplace screen in the living room. We discovered that even though you have to go down the road, turn, and drive down a long lane, our house is close enough to Jim and Susanna's on the land that we can easily see each other. We discovered a Tolkein-esque map of Barter Farm, which revealed an old cemetary on the land: I must find it, and soon. We discovered Easter again among the horse graveyard, the Easter eggs hidden along the creek bank, and the bread pudding with rum sauce. We discovered the luxury of good company, good food, and good humor.

1 comment:

Bob said...

....and of mentioned your DAD (the famous artist)has been in TWO magazines...right???...right???