In the Eye of the Beholder
I’ve gone through most of my adult life expecting gracious living just around the corner, believing that one day I’d wake up and find myself in a Renoir garden outside of an Architectural Digest house in Audrey Hepburn’s clothes. I dream big.
It’s come to my attention this summer that this is never going to happen. Hope has been vanquished. Guests arriving in a steady stream from the beautiful coast to my humble, workaday place in northeast Mississippi have served as reality check. They are all deserving of the best I have to offer. And I suddenly realize it isn’t much.
I was shabby before shabby was chic.
Across the Bridge
I do my best to stage it for visitors. I cut and clean and hide and polish. I even wash windows. But minutes before the scheduled arrivals, I take a look around and see the truth.
The yard is a yard, not a lawn, and it looks good for approximately half a day after mowing.
Then the briars and the weeds and the gum balls begin to compete for attention, and visitors realize the endless river of green they first glimpsed is hopelessly polluted. It’s not a space for playing croquet, but more like a practice field for teaching youngsters how to drive a pickup with a straight shift.
The “house” really is a collection of two small cabins, one bedroom and one bath respectively, made less claustrophobic with a screened porch tacked on each. You better like your hosts and those with whom you travel when you land here.
And don’t think quaint. There is none of the “cottage charm” that Bay St. Louis residents take for granted, but instead a 1950s look with low ceilings, thin floors, inherited furniture and too much sentimental swag. Clutter is clutter is clutter.
As I sit wondering what the latest guests must think, they tell me.
A visitor cries out, and I think she must have slipped on the mildew-covered walkway between the cabins, something I’ve done myself. “Look, look,” she says, pointing. One of last night’s crop of luna moths is sticking around. They routinely beat against the wickedly irregular windows in the back room, drawn to the light.
Together we study the moth’s green velvet wings.
The next day I take them to the old pontoon boat that floats in a nearby Pickwick Lake marina. Earlier in the season I’d wrapped the cracked vinyl seats like big birthday gifts with a few yards of sale cloth in a color that matched nothing else on the boat.
“Oh, what magnificent spider webs,” one visitor says, just as I am about to knock the webs down with a broom I keep aboard for that purpose.
In a world where people like lively entertainment, a rock wall is a quiet anomaly. But my visitors get it.
We picnic on the Tennessee River along the Natchez Trace. The breeze is constant, the conversation lively. And suddenly I’m proud of where I spend half of each year, half of my life. Domestic imperfections seem inconsequential, dwelling on them silly.
If you invite the right people, if you have the right friends, gracious living is a given.