Sunday, February 19, 2006

Going home, Part One

At some point in everyone’s life, they get the urge to “go home again.” These days this isn’t as easy as it used to be. Usually, some other family is living at “home” or “home” has been torn down to make room for the significantly larger structures than the original three bedroom baby boomer homesteads.

My brothers and I are among those who cannot, technically, go back to our roots, not without being charged with breaking and entering, anyway. Instead, we go to Longwood.

Since John Boy was 10 or 11, I was six or seven and Dark Garden was born, we’ve made pilgrimages to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., at first dragged by our parents, then to relive our childhood.

Longwood Gardens is the estate of Pierre DuPont (by all means take a look at the website for what it looks like in season, because you sure won’t see it at its best in this post) and I appreciate him setting it all up for my brothers and me. Most people go to Longwood from spring through Christmas, each season having its special displays. Only your die-hard Longwood fans find a reason to show up in the dead of winter when nothing particularly special is going on.

But we’re not really there for the displays, are we now? Oh no. We, after all, are coming home. And it always comes as a surprise to us that the gardens are, in fact, open to the public. What are all these people doing on our lawn? Why are total strangers wandering around our greenhouse? The nerve.

This time, though was a treat. For we finally got to see somethings that we have been curious about ever since we were kids.

But first there are certain rituals that must be maintained and incantations that must be chanted. First we must genuflect at the outdoor theater,

and walk down the flower path, whether the flowers are there

or not.

Then a trek through Pierce’s Park

to the Italian Water Garden,

past the gazebo,

through the wisteria arbor until arriving back at the entrance. There must be no deviation from this path lest the gods of memory whack you upside the head with reminding you that when you were 14 you had your first asthma attack on the woodland walk next to the Italian fountains or that one extremely hot July afternoon you and your brothers complained so much your mother growled, “We’re never taking you three anywhere ever again, forever!”

Since some of these memories are very very old, they are also very very exaggerated, as we found with Dark Garden and the “massive whispering bench.” He could never find it again, he said. Not after that first time when he was four. It had to be easy to see because it was absolutely huge. Yet he hasn’t been able to find it since that one time.

This is what Dark Garden remembered:

After consulting maps, this is what we found:

Ah well. It is a bench…

Then finally, the conservatory. As always, the conservatory is beautiful and just about all of it is open to the public. And, as much as it’s been my favorite part of going to Longwood, ever since I was little I would peek through the one-way mirrored doors in the back where I had read a ballroom was located.

Each visit I’d press against the glass. I could never see the whole room, but could catch glimpses of materials; a parquet floor, ornate plaster or a bit of taffeta on the walls. As a little girl I wanted to tap dance on the parquet and sneak into the glamorous balls given

by my wealthy parents, dazzling everyone with how clever I was before being whisked off to bed by my frazzled governess. When I was a teenager I imagined myself in red satin waltzing gracefully around this beautiful room reflected in the gleaming wood floor. I vowed this was where I would live and give huge parties, bringing this whole decadent lifestyle back

into vogue. I’d bring back the Dusenburg

and garden parties, lace gloves and poetry readings.

Eventually, though, I would have to back up from the glass, turn around and behold my fellow tourists in the clunky sneakers and tacky t-shirts, pushing their sticky toddlers through my conservatory, snapping, “You’ll see the damn fountains when I say you can see the damn fountains.”

So much for romance.

So finally, the conservatory.

And as always it is beautiful.

Daffodils, snapdragons, lemon trees, fountain after fountain and, in the back –




The ballroom is open!

We look at each other, mouths agape, then hurry to the back. Breathless with anticipation we enter and…

What are all these people doing in my ballroom? This is my dream come true. Why are they ruining it with their clunky sneakers and sticky toddlers? GET OUT!

Still, the room itself does not disappoint. I’m not sure our carpenter Tony is going to appreciate the changes I’ve decided to make to the bathroom at the new house, though…

And imagine how many dogs you could fit at Longwood Gardens!

Editor's Note: A mighty thanks to Dirtman who gamely followed the siblings around as Sisiggy and her brothers engaged in memories he had no part in and talked about people he didn't know. Yet he was still nice enough to take pictures when asked. Sisiggy can only apologize and remind him that this is what it is like for her during every conversation he has where they live, which also happens to be where he grew up. Dirtman has only to drive a half hour and walk into his parents' house to "go home." Only they don't have as many fountains. But their yard is very nice.

1 comment:

Mrs Lifecruiser said...

Sounding like a real nice nostalgic trip you had there :-)

Love the photos of Tte Italian Winter Garden, the Dusenberg and of course the ballroom ceiling! *whistle*