Years before it began, I filled 3 ring binders with images, bits of poetry, doodles, quotes and commentary that echoed what I felt and envisioned. I daydreamed about how I would satisfy these yearnings that affect women and men equally. About a year before it finally happened, I knew I needed to leave the Washington metro area, family and friends, and a successful career to realize my heart’s desire. Moving to the south meant I’d have to broaden my vocabulary, lighten my wardrobe, downsize my career, and alter perceptions. No sacrifice was too great.
I look back with a soupcon of regret, a full measure of triste, and a dollop of dolour’eax. The French are masters at expressing via words the subtle, sharp stab of ecstasy and remorse a passionate affair produces—the kind that blazes hot and swift like shooting stars, and scorches the crater of your heart forever.
Songs written about the object of my desire confused me. The plaintive “A House is not a Home” and Graham Nash’s “Our House,” written during his brief affair with Joni Mitchell, partly touched on what I was hoping to experience.
Convinced I was ‘to the manor born,’ I intensified my quest, and imparted my wish to the universe. I drove 1,000s of miles over a five state area. Then like a page from The Wizard of Oz, the love of my life figuratively landed at my feet, thanks to several wrong turns and a gusty headwind. Before I knew it, I’d become conjoined; I embarked on a three and a half year love affair—with a plantation in the country, a home, a moneypit—ultimate digs. I didn’t mistake infatuation for love—this was the real thing. I registered at the local hardware store—and while I didn’t get a housewarming shower, it was customized curtains for the groom—at every window. It took nearly two years before the ‘you take my breath away’ feeling became ‘I’m suffocating,’ before ‘tie me up’ changed to ‘stop tying me down.’ I realized my gold digging country mansion didn’t love me back. It was a narcissist, a demanding poser.
My plantation in North Carolina was located east of my budget and west of my common sense at the edge of the Uwharrie Mountains (in the middle of nowhere). But when did love ever make sense? The tall, scraggly pine wood setting matched my personality. So what if the nearby town was the ‘cheese whiz of culture?’ A favorite writer, Tom Robbins, wrote “sometimes the absence of cultural stimulation is culturally stimulating.” Those first months I was joyfully giddy. Finally being in bed (so to speak) with the object of my desire reminded me of the line from Jane Wagner’s play In Search of Intelligent Life in the Universe ‘. . . at the moment you’re most in awe of all there is about life that you don’t understand, you’re closer to understanding things than at any other time.’ That’s how I felt about my dream house, or in the lingo of the south ‘if that ain’t love, then grits ain’t groceries!’
Before becoming intimate with the plantation’s plumbing, clogged sewer, outdated bathrooms, mouse friendly butler’s pantry, and the legion of bats that did a nightly fly by—I strolled round the acres, ran soon to be chapped, blistered hand over bricked carriage house walls, hugged the 350 year old oak tree, and promised the overgrown bushes I would give them a spa worthy trim. With the engagement over, I got down to the business of marrying my skills to the house’s need. I relished renovating a 130 year old lover and inducing it to work with and for me as a B&B. Needless to say, I was “inn over my head.”
I was naïve enough to think this 5400 square feet beast could be tamed and rehabilitated. It had withstood hurricanes and fierce storms, watched generations grow up and leave, endured intrusion of creeping kudzu, rewiring, and a few small fires, and still stood tall and regal. It smelled of smoky, fragrant pine; magnolia musk; and the sweet perfume of camellias and beeswax. In certain rooms, one could detect a lingering odor of raw tobacco, and every morning, the sweet aroma of my signature fruity aloha or cinnamon loaves and coffee escaped the kitchen and moseyed through the house. The plantation translated the language of bullfrogs and whippoorwills, echoed musically the clank the oversized boiler made, and amplified the chatter of tree limbs against the bay window and the authority of a wind that rattled the slate tiles.
There were so many decisions to be made, and jobs to tackle: clear the cobwebs and fill the wine cellar; make the cantaloupe sorbet, tomato jam for hor d’oerves, and blackberry conserves for weekend guests; update website; dust the books and brick-a-brac in Highlander library; refill the decanter and clean the windows in the Solarium; host a southern belle open house party—call it Gone with the Wind-ex; get ploughed (hop on riding mower and cut the grass). Some guests suggested I create theme weekends. My increasingly jaded self wrote down ideas: Stitch-n-Bitch (for surly women—or men); Wine & Chee-sus (philosophical sarcasm open mike and bar night); and Romancing the Stove (guests cook for me!)
Slowly, I realized a house wasn’t a husband that could metaphorically act as an air bag—to cushion life’s blows. However, there were similarities between the two—both littered and neither dusted or vacuumed, did the laundry, or remembered special occasions. My next task was to name the B&B. Last Inning was taken, and Invisible Lover sounded so strange. What about the Odd Inn? A year later, I wished I’d named it Hocus Croakus or Hannigan’s Folly. At least someone would be laughing. What inevitably happened mirrored what happens when love affairs end. My house took me for granted—however much I did wasn’t enough. There was an limitless TO DO list, no nearby neighbors, and a parade of demanding guests. Ironically, I’d lost my liberty in the pursuit of homeowner happiness. It was time to end the affair when I caught myself muttering ‘I wonder how many of the road kill out there were suicides?’
I filed for divorce by putting a For Sale sign at the entrance—six months later it was over. I was fortunate to walk away with a fair settlement. I paid one last visit to the plantation—without speaking a word—without gazing longingly on the object of my devotion. Businesslike, I passed through each room, tested locks, and flicked a stray fuzz off a pillow. Then like a callous lover, I drove away. Perhaps it was my imagination—just before I turned the corner at the Bait, Beer, Bread, BBQ, and Bullets sign, I looked in the rear view mirror. The sun, glancing off the plantation windows, was blinking an S.O.S. at me. I sighed and accelerated. #
PS, the plantation had a fascinating history. The original owners were a magnificent, eccentric lot–and I was privileged to know the playwright/poet great great grandson. The patriarch married 5 times and claimed over 20 children. They were successful planters and world travelers; one of his great uncles married a millionairess and when she left, he drove his car into the pond and drown; another relative was a psychiatrist, and it was rumored his pharmacist great uncle sampled the wares too often and might have caused the fire that started in the 2nd library. Veterans from 3 wars huddled there; and yes, ghostly lingerers were occasionally felt or seen.