One of my guilty secrets – and there are few – is that one of my favorite books is not a thought-provoking, deep, analytical, literary novel. “Nine Coaches Waiting,” by Mary Stewart, a suspense-filled romance novel set in France in the 1950s, has all the elements of a Cinderella story: an historical mansion; a governess; a tall, dark, and handsome heir; a frail, abandoned child; a nefarious, mysterious undertone – and love between two unlikely protagonists. I read it every year.
Max looks at me. “Are you reading that again?,” he asks. I am. I read it because I know what happens at the end, and everything turns out happily.
I also read it because the owner of the mansion is coming out of a year of mourning, and prepares the house for its annual Easter ball. I love this section in the book: “ … And so, bit by bit, corner by corner, the great house was prepared for the event of the year, and excitement seemed to thicken in the air as Easter drew nearer… The Chateau Valmy was ‘en fête’” (132).
For 27 years now, Max and I have prepared our home for spring. We clean off the back porch, clear the pergola of dead leaves and willowy, bare birch branches, and turn on the party lights. We prepare for not only my family’s Easter gathering, but also for, in May, Derby Day, Max’s birthday, Mother’s Day, various graduations, Libby’s birthday, Mother’s birthday, and dinner under the pergola with friends. And every spring, after all the chores are done, I look around and say to myself, “The house is ‘en fête!’”
This year, however, we are working a little harder than usual to make sure that the house looks nice. We have agreed to participate in the Homes Tour sponsored by and benefiting the Heard House, home to the Helen G. Steele Music Club and Sorosis. I have taken leave of my senses, and we are joining others in the community who are going to open our doors for the world – or at least Sedalia – to see.
So we begin. The windows must be washed, and I’m not doing it. The “stuff” that has been sitting around for longer than I care to admit must be gone through and culled. The files that populate the hallway outside my office must be put away. And I must convince Max that, although he really loves those big notebooks, they have to go.
Fortunately, no one will go through the basement. We cleaned the basement a year or so ago, and it’s still tidy, but we are preparing for the mother of all garage sales, and that won’t take place until a week after the tour. So the basement is full of “stuff” that will eventually be taken out to the garage and sold to people who need it more than we. It’s pretty neat stuff, but we really don’t need it anymore.
If, and this is a big “if,” the upstairs is neat enough, we can let tour participants go upstairs to see the nifty walk-in showers we put in the bathrooms a few years ago. Of course, this upstairs tour would include Emily’s room, which is still full of things she has no room for in her apartment in Little Rock – so I would have to figure out what to do with that “stuff.” With luck, the tiny house will be close enough to being finished that we will be able to include it in the tour.
We still have to make a few minor paint touch-ups, and we need to plant flowers in the pots out front. We also need to dig weeds, as they are beyond prevalent in the front yard. And Max needs to trim the boxwood hedge, which takes a lot of time, because he cuts each stem by hand.
So don’t miss out. Buy a ticket for the Homes Tour on Saturday, April 29, and see the historical homes and buildings open for the tour. We’ll be looking for you.
— Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.