Monday, May 28, 2012

Another String Dispenser . . . and More

As I promised in my last post, Dear Reader, today's essay is about our trip to the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair, held in Rhinebeck, New York, every Memorial Day weekend.  First thing Saturday morning we piled in the Rover with our guests, Preston and Digby, and drove straight to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds, where the fair is held.  Not one of us was in much of a spending mood, unless, of course, an inevitable "must have" appeared in one booth or another, and we approached the fair more for entertainment than as a buying opportunity.

Boy's "new" nineteenth-century
English boxwood string dispenser

But, of course, that didn't mean we weren't shopping, because—despite our best intentions—we were.

In a display case at the booth of Michael Haskins Antiques, of Palmyra, New York, Boy spotted a "must have" for his collection of string dispensers, a turned-wood example that complements two already sitting in Darlington's kitchen.

"Three little [nineteenth-century
English turned-wood bee-skep-form]
string holders are we!"

One or two aisles before Boy found the string holder, I spied a large, early-nineteenth-century engraving in a lemon-yellow frame at the booth of John D. Gould Antiques.  It was unceremoniously sitting on the floor, propped against the wall behind a small tiger maple stand.  "What's that?" I asked.  Boy chimed in, "Is it 'The Death of Montgomery . . . '?"

An engraving after a Trumbull painting that the artist
painted for the purposes of having an engraving made.

"No," John said, "it's 'The Battle of Bunker Hill.'"  (Trumbull's painting, the source of the print, is generally known as "The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775," so Boy wasn't so far off, simply confusing his generals on a muggy May morning.)

Trumbull's painting, profitably licensed for engraving by
the artist, is in the collection of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
Other  Trumbull paintings of important scenes of the
American Revolution, including a study for this canvas,
are in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.
Image courtesy of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

We will hang the print above an engraving of George Washington at the Battle of Trenton or Princeton (I cannot remember without abandoning my laptop and climbing the stairs) on the landing between the first and second floors of the front of Darlington House.  Boy plans to tilt it forward with a few clean wine corks, hanging it in the old taste.

A perfect pair for tilting the top of a painting, print, or mirror.

Our first purchase at the fair was the humblest: two old cast-iron irons, one sporting an anchor on its handle.  Last weekend handyman Rich and his helper, Tony, carried out all of the wicker furniture, lamps, and other furnishings from the barn and the basement, and set up the screened porch.  When we depart Darlington for the city in the summer, we push everything on the porch together and throw a big canvas tarp over the lot, weighing down the corners with old irons.  Last Sunday afternoon, Boy suggested we find a few more of them (several were left behind in the house when we bought it) to better anchor the tarp against stormy winds.  And so we now have a few more of them.

Anchors away?

And that, Dear Reader, completes our Rhinebeck morning, done at Mach speed in under an hour!

Tell me, what did you find out and about in your travels this Memorial Day weekend?

Photographs, except where noted, by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Trade Secrets

Every May for the last twelve years, a very special horticultural event called the Trade Secrets Rare Plant and Garden Antiques Show has been held in rural northwestern Connecticut.  Founded by the inestimable Bunny Williams, the two-day show is a fundraiser for Women's Support Services of Sharon, Connecticut.  The show features vendors of rare and unusual flora; antiques dealers of gardenalia; and providers of tools, pottery (such as those of Guy Wolff, about whom I wrote several years ago), and related crafts.  Trade Secrets is a buying bonanza for anyone who appreciates out-of-the-ordinary gardening resources.  For the last several years the show has been held in Sharon, Connecticut, on the grounds of the glorious Lion Rock Farm, a handsome and substantial working farm.  Lion Rock is no run-of-the-mill farm, but rather it is a gentlewoman's working estate, owned by a successful Wall Street financier.  It is gorgeous.

"Three little coleus are we!"

Boy and I make a point of attending the Trade Secrets show every year, to stock up on unusual plants for our screened porch, for plants to fill our metal urns for the summer, and for whatever else strikes our fancy.  And there is a lot to strike one's fancy at Trade Secrets.  We enjoy going to the show for a number of reasons.  Not only is it a wonderful source for all things flora, and in a beautiful setting, but it is also an opportunity to see the Tribe out in full force.  Trade Secrets draws affluent shoppers from the surrounding Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts areas.  That means there are lots of well-cared-for, perfectly art-directed ladies with blond hair, straw hats, quilted jackets, and Hunter boots.  And there are also many well-cared-for, perfectly art-directed men who might possibly wish that they, too, were well-cared-for, perfectly art-directed ladies with blond hair, straw hats, quilted jackets, and Hunter boots.  Not surprisingly, given who founded Trade Secrets, one sees any number of fancy Manhattan decorators, antiques dealers, and lifestyle purveyors at the show, busily shopping, visiting, and having fun.  One can also be assured of seeing a certain blond lifestyle goddess who appears at the show every year, without fail, enthusiastically shopping along with the rest of the blondes in attendance.

This year the Trade Secrets show was blessed with sunny, balmy weather.  The grounds of Lion Rock Farm were beautifully groomed to a fare-thee-well, and there seemed to be more dealers than ever and blockbusting attendance.  In other words, it was a huge success!

The map showing the location of all
the dealers at the show

We arrived shortly after the 8:00 a.m. opening for the premium-priced Early Buyers portion of the show and were amazed at how many people had gotten there before us.  Boy was issued buyer's number 339 on his admission bracelet, indicating that more than three hundred people had already entered the grounds by about 8:30!  The parking fields were so heavily planted with Range Rovers, Mercedes-Benzes, and other expensive cars that I was afraid we would have difficulty in harvesting ours when the time came for us to leave.

A portion of our Trade Secrets bounty

This year we approached the show with a restrained buying appetite.  We only needed a few potted plants for our porch, and that's what we got.  I refrained from buying any myrtle topiaries from Atlock Farm this year, even though I was sorely tempted.  As I have written before, I am unable to keep myrtle topiaries living beyond a month or two, and I couldn't bear the misery of watching yet another one wither and die under my supposed administrations.  Boy did find three diminutive variegated coleus plants and a charming fern at Atlock Farm's booth, and a bay standard with great potential at the nearby Hoffman and Woodward booth.  He also bought three striking bromeliads at David Burdick Daffodils & More, which has been an excellent source for unusual daffodils for us in years past.

Three bromeliads with a frog for companionship

We often combine our visit to Trade Secrets with stops along the way home at Privet House in Warren, Connecticut, and Hunter Bee Antiques in Millerton, New York.  Last year we met our friends James and Calista Littlefield for lunch at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, Connecticut.  Recently renovated by new owners and beautifully decorated by Michael Patrik Smyth, the White Hart Inn is everything that one could wish for in a Connecticut country inn.  The lunch we had on one its spacious porches was delightful.

Looking down into the opening of a russet-colored

This year we headed directly home to Darlington House after the show, though, as we have much to do to prepare for Memorial Day Weekend, when our dear friends Preston and Digby are spending the holiday with us.  One of the things we have on our docket for next weekend is a visit to a large antiques show in Rhinebeck, New York, about which I will try my best to muster a post.

Boy selected the plants to coördinate
with our porch furniture's upholstery

In the meantime, Dear Reader, do please mark your calendar to attend next May's Trade Secrets show.  And don't forget to tell them that Reggie sent you . . .

A pretty, feathery fern to complete the decoration
of our porch at Darlington House

More can be learned about Trade Secrets by visiting their website here.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy MD Day

As I wrote in a post one year ago, I will always think of Mother's Day as MD Day.  A pun, really, on what we called my mother growing up—MD, short for Mummy (or later Mother) Darling.

Patricia Hewitt Darling
1921 to 2000

I am showing a photograph of MD that was taken in the mid 1940s when she was a young woman.  I keep it in a silver frame that once belonged to MD's mother and that sits on my bedroom chest of drawers at Darlington House.  The frame was a gift to my grandmother from her best friend when she got engaged to my grandfather.

I am partial to this photograph for a number of reasons.  MD is young and lithe, and she is sitting barefoot in her parents' living room in a chair whose slipcover has contrasting moss fringe.  How stylish is that?  On her lap sprawls her most adored pet spaniel, Sall—short for Sally;  she was also known as Silly Sall.  And right by MD's elbow is a large glass ashtray, sitting on top of a bobbin-turned table, for her ever-present Lucky Strikes.  I remember that table well, as it sat in our own living room when I was growing up.  That is, until MD replaced most of the antiques in our house with Danish Modern furniture in the late 1960s.

She really was something else, that MD.

Happy MD Day, Mummy Darling, wherever you are!

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reggie's Five Favorites: Household Cleaning Products

Back when I first started this blog, I wrote that I would do a series called Reggie's Five Favorites in which I would share with you, Dear Reader, five favorites of mine within a particular category.  The first—and only—installment that I wrote focused on cookware.  Well, more than two years later, I am finally posting the second installment in the series, this time focused on my five favorite commercially available household cleaning products.

Laundry day at Darlington House

I am fortunate to write that I am not responsible for most of the cleaning and laundering that takes place at Darlington House and in our city apartment.  There are others in our employ who ably take on such responsibilities for us.  However, Reggie is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves, donning a bib apron, and tackling such mundane tasks as scrubbing the surface of a stove or doing a load or two of laundry.  That is because there are times when I am not entirely satisfied with the jobs done by those who do them for us.  As the saying goes, "If you want it done right, [there are occasionally times when] you have to do it yourself."

Herewith, Dear Reader, are the top five commercially available household products that I use when engaging in such tasks:

1. Caldrea® Mandarin Vetiver Dish Soap Liquid

There are any number of attractively packaged and pleasantly scented dishwashing liquid soaps available today, unlike when I was a lad, when all of them came in uniformly ugly plastic bottles and had cheerily artificial smells.  One certainly no longer must decant one's dishwashing liquid into a discrete and "tasteful" bottle the way Martha Stewart taught us to do twenty or more years ago.

My favorite dishwashing soap is Caldrea®'s Mandarin Vetiver Dish Soap Liquid.  Not only is it highly effective in cleaning dishes and utensils, but its scent is marvelous.  It is a delicious combination of blood orange, grapefruit, and wood-bark essences.  Heaven!

2. Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day® Lemon Verbena Countertop Spray

Where would we be today without Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day® household products?  Handsomely packaged and readily available, Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day® aromatherapeutic household cleaners are staples in our house and apartment.  I particularly like the company's light and citrusy lemon verbena scented countertop spray.

According to the products' labels, "Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day® provides hard-working, naturally occurring ingredients and essential oils that are tough on dirt and grime, yet gentle on your home & the earth."  They are also biodegradable and cruelty-free.  What's not to like about that?  Also, who doesn't love the fact that they are named after the reassuringly homey Mrs. Meyer, an actual Iowa homemaker and mother of nine whose daughter founded the company and named it after her?  Do check out the company's website, where there are several quite charming videos, including one of an interview with the one and only Mrs. Meyer.  Who knew?

3. Bar Keepers Friend® Cleanser & Polish

I tell you, Dear Reader, this is a miracle product.  Bar Keepers Friend® (ungrammatical as it may be) is a gentle scouring powder known as "The Can-Do Cleanser."  It has been made since 1882.  According to its old-fashioned label, it can be used to clean stainless steel, chrome, fiberglass, porcelain, ceramic cooktops, copper, tile, and brass.

I use it to scour our stainless steel sinks and stove tops, and when I do, the gleaming results verge on astonishing!  I have found nothing better to remove the residual, sticky, stubbornly baked-on goo from the surface of our stainless steel stoves.  Barkeepers Friend® is both strong enough and gentle enough at the same time for me to use it to polish our copper cookware, where it does an admirable job of brightening up the metal's surfaces in a jiffy.  In my house, Barkeepers Friend® truly lives up to its motto of "Once Tried, Always Used."

4. 'All'® Free Clear Laundry Detergent

I don't know about you, but I cannot stand perfumed laundry detergents, and I find the scent and residue of fabric softeners revolting.

We use 'all'® free clear liquid laundry detergent to wash our laundry, both at Darlington and in the City, because it is free of perfumes and clear of dyes, and it is biodegradable and free of phosphates, too.  My sister Camilla introduced me to 'all'® free clear several years ago, and we've used nothing else ever since.  Thank you, dear Sister.

5. Oxi-Clean®

This is another miracle product.  Oxi-Clean® is a versatile, oxygen-based stain fighter that's chlorine-free and color-safe.  I use it to clean and whiten yellowed or stained white clothing and linens, instead of relying on harsh chlorine bleach.

I have found nothing better to restore and revive tired linens and return them to their original whiteness than Oxi-Clean®.  Here's how I do it: I fill the washing machine with water, pour in three to five heaping scoops of Oxi-Clean® powder (depending on the size of the load and how soiled it is) and also a regular dose of 'all'® free clear laundry detergent.  I let the water agitate so the Oxi-Clean® and detergent are completely dissolved and dispersed, add the sorted laundry, and let it all soak overnight, and sometimes longer, up to 24 hours.  I then run the machine for a long cycle, and double (and sometimes triple) rinse it when completed.  The clothes come out stain-free and as white as possible.  Oh, and of course I only use the scent- and dye-free variety.  And yes, I really do decant the powder from the ugly box it comes in, and I use my own metal scoop instead of the flimsy plastic one provided.

Lastly, if you really want to get your whites "whiter than white," I suggest that you hang them to dry in the sun, as we sometimes do at Darlington, as shown in the photograph at the beginning of this post.

Tell me, Dear Reader, are there commercially available household products that you use and that you would recommend?

Please note: Reggie has received nothing in return for these recommendations, nor does he expect to.  He is sharing them with his readers solely for their pleasure and enjoyment, which is why he writes this blog in the first place.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Lilacs Redux

Now, for a well-deserved break from memories and lessons learned.  It's time for me to move on to flowers.  Lilacs, to be specific.

Lilacs are one of my most favorite flowers.  As I wrote last year around this time, we have rather a lot of lilac shrubs at Darlington that (usually) produce a profusion of flowers.  I love gathering our lilacs by the armload when they come into blossom, and filling the rooms of Darlington House with their gorgeous presence.  Not only are they beautiful, spilling over the vases like frothy clouds, but their marvelous, heady fragrance pervades the rooms, too.  Lilacs are one of life's greatest pleasures, I believe.

This year our lilacs only produced a few blossoms, due to a combination of a too-mild winter and a too-dry spring, I understand.  We gathered what ones that we could, and have enjoyed their fleeting beauty for as long as they lasted.

A vase of lilacs in our dining room at Darlington House,
lit by the slanting rays of the afternoon sun

What a delight they were, Dear Reader!

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Family Secret, Part IV

The Secret Denied

After hearing my Aunt Mary's story of how she discovered the Family Secret, and what it revealed, I spent the remainder of the weekend reading through the papers she found in the manila folder my grandfather had forgotten to destroy.  There were letters and telegrams between my grandfather and his mother; there were letters from landlords, lawyers, and former family friends to my grandfather demanding money that his mother owed; there was correspondence with officials at institutions and organizations where my great-grandmother had been placed, and then expelled from, over the years; and there were police reports from her final known days.  Among the papers there was also a three-page, single-spaced, typewritten recollection written by my grandfather that described what happened, at least from his perspective.  It all vividly brought to life to me my great-grandmother, an incorrigible, emotionally damaged, ungrateful person who left a trail of broken promises, waste, and frustration wherever she went.  My great-grandmother Darling was, I learned, a thoroughly rotten egg.  And a crazy one, too.

As I read through the documents and letters I felt increasingly sorry for my grandfather, a man who had been thrust into a situation that he clearly was not able to resolve satisfactorily, nor equipped to understand despite his best efforts.  How lonely he must have felt, I thought, and how miserable.  And isolated.  As I read through the documents I wept for my grandfather and for the misery that he felt all those years.  And I was profoundly saddened, too, by the private embarrassment and intense shame he felt, and also for his need to cover it up, and to keep it all a dark secret for all those years.  Poor, dear fellow.

Several weeks later I visited my father, FD, in Washington, D.C.  One evening, while the two of us were sitting in his living room after dinner, I asked him what he thought of the materials he had received from his sister.

FD froze.  "What are you talking about?" he asked.

"The copies of the documents that Aunt Mary sent to you, FD, that explained what happened with Grandfather and why he left England after his father died, and what became of his mother."

"Reggie," my father carefully responded, "your aunt Mary is a delusional, troubled person.  She forged those documents."

"What?" I asked incredulously, "I read the originals, FD, and they weren't forged, they were real."

"No, they weren't!  They are nothing but lies, and outright fabrications by Mary to elevate herself and disgrace the memory of my grandmother!" he responded with his voice pitched and his face flushed with anger.

"But I read them, FD, and I held them in my own hands.  They were not faked!" I said.

My father was wildly upset.  He jumped from the sofa, grabbed me by the arms and shook me, and shouted,  "Stop it!  Shut up!  Don't you believe a word that Mary says, that lying bitch!  You're just as bad as she is for spreading such lies!  You can go to Hell, the both of you!"

He then slapped me across the face, hard enough to send my spectacles flying across the room.  He stood over me, shaking with rage, and raised his arm to strike me again.  Just as he was about to do so he hesitated and then abruptly turned, left the room, and slammed the door.  I then heard the sound of the front door slam behind him and his car screeching out of the driveway, as he drove off into the night, abandoning our confrontation, and me.

I was absolutely stunned.

I rose from the sofa, picked up my glasses, and put them back on.  As I did so, I wondered how was it possible that this had just happened?  Why was my father in such denial?  How could he doubt the veracity of the evidence, when it was so clearly documented?  Why did he think his sister had fabricated all of the papers?  Why did he react so violently when I asked him about them, and slap me?

My father was not a physically abusive person, and I cannot remember him striking me more than two times in my life, this being one of them.

I attribute FD's reaction to his emotional immaturity and his own alcoholism, which by then (he was in his late fifties when this happened) was beginning to interfere with his cognitive abilities, particularly when he drank (as he had been doing for much of that evening), and which at times made him irrational, even when he was sober.  I also believe that what I witnessed was the lingering after-effect of my Grandfather having kept his own story a deeply hidden secret from his children their entire lives.  How else could my father harbor such delusions?

The next morning FD apologized for hitting me, and said that he preferred to leave it at that.

I left shortly thereafter to return to New York.  As I rode the train north, watching the scenery pass by the window, I reflected on my visit with my father and the one I had with his sister and my mother only weeks before.  The contrast was startling, to say the least.  Given what had happened the night before, I decided that it was probably best for me not to pursue the topic of the Family Secret with FD any further.  That is, if I wanted to maintain any kind of relationship with him in the future, however unsatisfactory it might be.

I never spoke about it with him again.

So, what do I make of all of this?  That mental illness, substance abuse, and addictions frequently go hand in hand in hand.  I believe that a family's not acknowledging situations such as my great-grandmother's is unhealthy and leads to further unhappiness, and increases the likelihood that such behavior will be repeated in future generations.  I also believe that Family Secrets have a way of festering and metastasizing when they go unheeded, and can become cancers that invade a family's collective mental health and emotional stability.

I am not suggesting that I think it appropriate to air all of one's dirty laundry, far and wide at every opportunity.  But I do believe the frank acknowledgement of and honest discussion of such situations among those who need to know is the only way to ensure that history does not repeat itself, and that lessons are appropriately learned.

And with that, Dear Reader, I conclude the sad and shocking tale of the Darling Family Secret.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick
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