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V.R. Christensen - the Blog

It’s a New Year! Time for New Things!

circle tree

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I know that any goal I set for myself is going to be met first with resistance and a dedication that actualizes itself only in fits and starts before, eventually, becoming habit. It’s the habits, the “being” not the doing that I’m aiming for, and so I make resolutions, yes, but I give myself the whole year to master them, even to revise them, because that list I make in January is always a little too ambitious.

This last year was a doozy. I’d rather not repeat it. Ever.

Have you ever been in a relationship that you just allowed to happen? There was no real reason not to give it a shot, but you knew at the beginning it just wasn’t going to work? It entered your life, and you just said, “What the hell!” and allowed it, and yet you knew…you just knew that it wouldn’t work out, that it wasn’t a good fit for you, could never make you happy. And then…at the end, when you put no work into it, you never committed yourself truly, you just stood by and allowed it to be what it would…and it all fell apart…then you blame yourself for the failure? That was this last year for me. 2016 was a failed relationship that I just allowed to happen. To be honest, I’ve known what was coming for a long time. But even a failure you allow to happen is far messier than one you plan.

I like plans. I like lists and goals and organization. 2017 will not be a repeat of last year, and I mean to make sure of that.

So I’ve made some plans! Call them resolutions if you like:

Goal no. 1) Absinthe Moon will be published. The poor, dear thing just sits on my “desktop” waiting for the final edits, begging to be carried into a second volume, and praying this will be the year I introduce it to readers.

The problem is… I’ve not truly written in a long time. I just haven’t been able to. Personal insecurities and demons, weaknesses entertained, the breakup of my marriage…my father’s battles (yes, that’s plural) with cancer, some personal dramas and disappointments, have all completely paralyzed me from any kind of literary productivity. By the end of 2016 I realized that I either need to regain control of my writing career or give it up entirely. I’m done giving things up, compromising. I am a writer, and good one, and I need to continue on this path. I need to fight for it. So fight for it I will.

I spent seven months away from home last year, in a small town near a place called “Scatter Creek”, caring for my dad while he went through chemo, and after he had 85% of his stomach removed. I’m grateful for the opportunity to care for him, and to spend time with him, but it meant being away from my kids, away from the people I love, and Virginia is home to me now. During that time I did The Artist’s Way for the second time (an experience I will blog about in the near future) but one of the things Julia Cameron says is that we cannot be creatively productive while we are hanging onto fear and anger. I am one part hope at present, and nine parts fear and anger. And so…

Goal no. 2) I will move through fear into self-actualization, healing and happiness. Carl Jung teaches that only by moving through fear do we overcome neuroses and find healing.

Goal no 3) I will forgive and let go.

And by way of doing that…

Goal no 4) I will write something new.

While I was taking care of my father, I absorbed a lot of information, using my free time (since I couldn’t effectively write or edit) to read everything I could, to learn everything I could about relationships and overcoming neuroses (we all have at least one, and thank God we do!), about dealing with emotions and finding peace. I felt like the Universe was simply dumping information into my lap–all I needed and could possibly require–and it all related. It all seemed to be saying to me, that these experiences were for my ultimate benefit and would lead me full circle back to myself. Only I haven’t really had an opportunity to synthesize and absorb and put into use all that I learned, and so I think what I need to do is write about it. I’ll tell my story, the circumstances, the daily failures and personal shortcomings that came together to bring down a twenty year marriage and bring me to my knees as a human being, searching for some kind of meaning in it all and hoping for a chance to start again. I may not publish it. In fact I probably won’t. It won’t be an expose’. It won’t be a work of vindictiveness. The man I married was and is a wonderful man. It just didn’t work. We both ensured, in our naivete, ever seeking to preserve our own emotional safety first, that it wouldn’t and couldn’t be what it should have been. It was an agreement we both silently, tacitly made each other from the early years of the relationship. It was I who broke that agreement. It was I who changed the terms. I made other mistakes, many of them. And I hope…I pray…that my efforts to honestly examine where I went wrong will allow me to let go, to move on, to forgive…myself and others, and to move forward knowing better and determined to give my all to living a full and meaningful life in the future. Maybe I’ll meet someone new. Maybe I already have. Maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life alone. And that’s ok.

Goal no 5) I’m going to travel more. I’m going to do something new and fun every  month. I already have plans for Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and possibly Pennsylvania. I’m going to go see Bastille live. I’m going to visit the apple orchards, once in spring, again in autumn. I’m going to the beach and to the mountains, and…I’d really love to see England and France again. But we’ll see where the year takes me.

Goal no 6) I’m going to finish my house, so I will be free to find a new one. The living room and dining room have recently been finished. I’ll post before and after pictures soon, so stay tuned.

Goal no 7) I’m going to create one beautiful thing a month. I’m going to try, at any rate. If I could have my wish, I’d live off of my writing and supplement it by creating beautiful things and consult others on how to make their own spaces beautiful. I’d be good at that, and I would find it fulfilling. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To live a life that is fulfilling. What would be the point otherwise?

And in the spirit of moving that goal forward…

Goal no 8) I will write every day. And I may (or may not) share it with you.

In the meantime I wish you a joyful and prosperous 2017!


And you thought Halloween was over…

But we’re still wrapping up the Coffin Hop!

[Reposted from B.Lloyd's Bustling Along Bookshelves]

Like buses – nothing for ages, then three at once …

To help round off the Coffin Hop with a grand finale, we’ve gotten together with a couple of publishers to hold a (nearly)week long giveaway (Monday to Sunday), with the chance to win 3 titles together: Cass McMain’s Watch (vampirism) and two ghost tales: Summers’ End by V.R. Christensen with a rather sinister  pair of spectacles and B.Lloyd’s charming ghost tale, Ungentle Sleep which is a tongue-in-cheek take on haunted houses, with attics and, well, things going bump in them ….

Owing to WordPress’s layout, the giveaway page is again reduced to a link, however, it will be posted elsewhere and tweeted not infrequently. And there is the tale of the Red Footprints in A Night  at the Theatre meanwhile…

Simply click on the link here below, or top right  (on the main page), and choose how you want to participate (via tweeting, FB-ing, visiting the Coffin Hop!); there will be 5 prizes and around 10 runners-up…

About the Coffin Hop: this is the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror.

The Coffin Hop Bumper Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Carefully, Myra attempted to raise herself once more. Resting upon her knees, she at last dared to look at the macabre pit into which she had half-fallen. But without her glasses, she could make out very little but the gaping hole before her. She began to move herself away from it, but she stopped again. The moon’s beaming reflected and glinted off of something lying there in the broken earth. Were those her spectacles lying there? Dared she retrieve them, or ought she to leave them be?

There was not much to consider in the matter. There was no continuing on, not even a possibility of turning back, without them. She stretched forth her fingers, grasped a hold of them, and rose from the spot as quickly as she could. She replaced them on her face as she ran.

Thank heaven above, she could see again! And she did not stop to rest until she was away from the graveyard and safely on the well-worn and moonlit path of the road. There she rested a moment, only a moment. She knew she must press on, but she did not know which way to go. Which road would take her to safety? Which would make her circle back to Ravenswood complete?

The snapping of a twig startled her. She looked around to find the source of the noise. There was no one there. The night was perfectly still. Still, but for the faint sound of footsteps in the distance. They were coming nearer. She searched in the darkness, her heart beating wildly, but there was nothing there. The steps grew nearer still, until she thought they were just before her. Something brushed against her, like the sleeve of a heavy woolen jacket. And still there was nothing at all to be seen! She removed her spectacles and, squinting into the darkness, thought for a moment that she saw the faint outline of a man. She put her spectacles back on again and saw nothing at all. Even the footsteps had vanished. She stood there a moment longer, unable still to choose a direction. She did not wish to follow the footsteps, but neither did she wish to start upon the path from which they had come. She must make a decision, however.

She took off the spectacles and looked again into the night, but predictably she saw nothing but blurry and hazy darkness. Upon putting them back on and looking once more in the direction the footsteps had gone, a light appeared.

Summers’ End

The Quest to find Paint Colors


facade 2It’s been on my mind for a while, and clearly it needs to be done. Finding the right colors requires serious consideration and, at least for me, a great deal of time. This is a commitment, after all. 20-30 years. Perhaps as many thousands of dollars to accomplish the task.

But what colors should my house be?

Our house is described on the tax records as being white with black trim. If you get close enough however you’ll see that it’s actually green. The Days took occupancy ninety-nine years ago, and they really made the house theirs, stripping all the wallpaper and putting up Colonial Revival papers, adding the stained glass window and painting the house in typical Edwardian colors. But is that really what is right for the house?

I did a little research, and I managed to find some samples of wallpaper from the year the house was built—1897. I see lovely mossy greens, some browns, ochres and gold. Great colors! But how to apply them? My house has some interesting detail, too. Besides the bowed gable, the columns on the porch are highly detailed. In order to punch all these details out, I could be looking at anywhere from six to ten colors. My background is Interior Design, and my strength is in choosing colors and materials. I should be able to do this. But the very fact that it’s outside somehow makes me feel a little baffled by it all.

wallpaper sample

While the Old West End preservation guidelines do not presently require that I have my paint colors approved, I still want my house to contribute to the overall integrity of the neighborhood. I want it to fit in well beside my neighbors, while, at the same time, allowing for the inherent individuality of my house. As my house was one of the first built after the Sutherlin estate began to be divided up, I feel it needs, not only to be an acceptable example of the neighborhood’s architecture, but a remarkable one as well. Of the ten houses on my side of the street, I know that P.F. Conway built at least five of them. But he lived in mine! Certainly he thought it was special. Certainly he would have thought it deserved the utmost consideration when it came to painting it. If only I could know what colors he chose for it. If I had the money and the time I could send in a piece of the crumbling paint for a paint analysis and they might be able to tell me what the original color was. I don’t have either at the moment.

We’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to take out a loan on the property to do the necessary work. We paid cash for it as a foreclosure, but some of the money was privately borrowed, so in order to pay it back, we thought we’d borrow just enough to repay those private loans. We’re pretty much do-it-yourselfers anyway. I don’t like the idea of paying someone to do what I can do myself. But painting, that’s a big job. So we’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to do it now, whether to finance it, or just take a few years and do a bit at a time. Well…something happened to push us toward making a decision.


That got the ball rolling. Honestly, I don’t blame them for putting the pressure on. This poor, sorry, run down, magnificent old house deserves better, and I firmly believe in the efforts presently being exerted to “smarten up” the city’s historic treasures. Hopefully our funding will come through and we’ll soon be on our way.

In the meantime, I’ve got to decide on colors! This is where I am presently. I thought you might like to see my ideation process.


house colorscolumnsspindleswindow details

.99 this Weekend!

Free banner April and don’t forget about the blog tour going on now!

Comment and enter to win

a signed paperback copy of…

Sixteen Seasons4

My Writing Process

Writing2Many thanks to the lovely and uber-talented Libi Astaire for inviting me to join her on this blog tour. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, please visit her website and take a peek at her wonderful Regency Era mysteries. They are utterly delightful!

My assignment for this blog tour is to answer the four questions below, and then to choose two or three other authors with whom I am proud to be acquainted. There’s a reward for your participation, too! All you have to do is comment on my blog post and one other of the authors I’ve selected and your name will be entered to win a signed copy of my short story collection, Sixteen Seasons. Ready?


Gods Kindle

Look for it autumn 2014!

1) What am I working on now?

My third full length novel is entitled Gods and Monsters. The culture and social atmosphere of bygone eras often inspires me to examine our own. I’m constantly amazed by how little—despite technology and ever evolving fashions—things have changed. And yet there are some things which have changed entirely. Thank heaven!

Take the disparagement in practical education between the sexes in the Victorian era. A woman was raised to be naive and innocent, knowing little if anything about the seedier sides of life, while men were encouraged to display their virility and masculine power. Thus they often had experiences which far outdid those of their fairer counterparts. Such was all well and good as long he was discreet and no inconvenient consequences resulted.

But what of those consequences? Certainly there would be consequences of one type or another. What might happen were a “gentleman” of considerable worldly experience to find that his past has inextricably entangled him with a woman he might love—who might inspire him to a better and greater purpose—had he not a past to answer to that must prevent her from trusting or even respecting him? And how does he explain such a past to satisfaction? If he means to do it honestly, such might prove his destruction. But sometimes our destruction is also our salvation.

2) How dokissinges my work differ from others of its genre?

My chiefest complaint with modern Historical Fiction is that it isn’t historical enough. Things seem to be getting better as readers demand more attention to research and historical detail, but for a long time historical novels—even bestselling ones—were really modern stories set against a backdrop of lavish costume and stilted manners (and sometimes dialog). My aim is  not only to paint a story that is painstakingly accurate in historical detail, but to give it life and atmosphere and flavor as well. I want my readers’ experience to be that of walking into history, rich with the sites and sounds and smells of it all.

I’ve also found that there is a lot of misunderstanding about how these people really lived. We have our hackneyed and cliched ideas of what etiquette did and did not allow for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised to find that their lives were not quite as tightly laced as one might think. Naughty parlor games, cyphered want adds for marriage and dating and help when one has found themselves in the family way, herbal and natural remedies, and the bearing of various body parts without the threat of impending matrimony are all addressed in Gods and Monsters with what some might find dubious accuracy. But it’s all true, I assure you! *snickers wickedly*


3) Why do I write what I do?hand written

To be honest I don’t like to answer this question. I guess I fear people are less likely to read my work if they know I have an agenda. But then, for each of my books the answer is slightly different.

In my first novel, Of Moths and Butterflies, I felt a need to explore some of my own past experiences, and to come to terms with them if I could. My hope was that my journey would help others. But I also wanted to show what the long-lasting effects of abuse are, and how, despite our desire to overcome, or our impatience with loved ones whom we feel ought to just “get over it” sometimes healing takes a very, very long time. It will and can happen, however. And in Moths, I wished to show what happiness can come by leaving the past behind and having the courage to love and trust again.

In Cry of the Peacock—which was actually the first book I wrote—my purpose was somewhat different. I really only wanted to see if I could actually write a book. I wanted to attempt to recreate a classic, if I could. I’m not sure I quite accomplished that, and while it does deal with honesty and secrets and lies and pride…it is not meant to have a strong didactic theme to it.

Gods is different. As I’ve found some considerable success in my writing, I’ve felt compelled to use my talent to try, if I could, to better the world. I want to use Gods not only to show how much things have changed—for both good and bad—but also to point out the chaos we create in society and in our relationships when we do not treat those relationships—sexual relationships in particular—with the sanctity they deserve. It is meant to show the consequences of unwise actions. But it’s also meant to show that wrongs can be righted, that hearts can be changed, that forgiveness can be found and honor recovered. My purpose is never to lecture, only to inspire and uplift—and to give hope, as those writing and performing with similar purpose have done for me.

732px-Gustave_Courbet_auto-retrato-1-560x4584) How does my writing process work?

I try to write every day, but it doesn’t always happen. We’re remodeling a Victorian house at the moment, and it’s lately been taking all the spare time I have. Ordinarily I devote four hours a day to my writing. I typically start a work with a theme I want to address and a few key characters, then I outline. Then I research. And then I write. I may not outline the entire thing before I begin, but I’ll have a general idea of where I need to start and end, and what it’s going to take to fill in the dots to get me there. Each day I read what I wrote the day before, and so long as everything continues to gel, then that usually primes me to write on from there. If, however, things aren’t working, if I can’t come up with the words, then I know I have to go back and figure out what I’ve done wrong. And that can sometimes take weeks! Which I really hate. I do have an amazing editor who helps me through it all. From beginning to end she ‘s there to support me and help me and guide me. I think she’s really more of a personal writing trainer than just an editor. I’m pretty sure you couldn’t hire the kind of service and support she provides for me.

And that’s me explained in a nutshell! Or my writing life, at least. Now it’s time to pass the baton over to three wonderful and amazing authors whose work I would love for you to become more familiar with. Remember, comment on my post and on one of the other two, and I’ll enter you to win a copy of my recently published short story collection, Sixteen Seasons! It’s a perfect sampling of what I do and where my writing might yet take me. (hint, hint, and wink) Don’t like short stories? Well, then. Think of them as sixteen tiny novels. (They really are very good.)

Please meet:

-Jenny Baxter was born and raised in a small town in western Washington, where she now resides with her husband and four kids. She is a substitute teacher at her local high school, and somehow manages to write around all the work, children, and laundry. She is the author of the Chronicles of Nequam series and a wonderful blog on the art and craft of writing.





meMarch252014Gev Sweeney lives with her guinea pig, Auden Baby-Boar, in a tiny cottage in an old Methodist Camp Meeting town at the Jersey Shore. She holds an M.A. in communication from Monmouth University and an M.A. in the history and theory of music from Rutgers University. Once upon a time, she traded her master’s thesis about the Berlioz opera les Troyens for tickets to a sold-out performance of Candide at New York City Opera. Her first book, a historical (The Scattered Proud), was followed by a contemporary (Mount Can’t) followed by a Regency (Acquaintance) followed by a paranormal (Salutaris). Not one to stick to any particular genre, Gev writes about schemers and denialists, the loved lost and the detested found–characters shaped by fear, freed by obsession, and carved by the quest to understand people and worlds that defy analysis. She also maintains a blog, where she highlights her work as well as the work of other authors.

Suzanne Adair

Finding a Sense of Place in a Historical Small Town


As I write this, I’m sitting in my daughter’s bedroom looking out the window and shivering under a blanket. It’s snowing, and our outdated electrical system only allows us to run so many heaters at a time. My daughter’s room, which has the luxury of two circuits, is consequently the warmest. And yet, as I watch the snow fall, I can’t help but feel grateful. This historic neighborhood is beautiful! And I’m in love with my house. Maybe that’s why, while my kitchen is dismantled, only one bathroom works, and I’m not sleeping in my bedroom while the plaster ceiling is being repaired, I can think of all of this as an adventure. And yes, I’m having fun. But this story isn’t about why I chose to live in this derelict house. It’s about why I chose to live in this wonderful, Southern small town.


While I don’t have it quite as bad as a military wife, we have moved around a lot. My story begins on the coast of Washington state, where my grandmother’s family had moved from western North Carolina, and where my father had grown up after being adopted at the age of 3. I never felt that I belonged there. I was out of place–an oddity. I felt it polite, you see, to say hello to passersby, who subsequently looked at me as if I were a little strange. I had a habit of waving to people, both strangers and acquaintances, when I saw them on the street. They would turn their heads, half-ashamed to acknowledge such an outlandish gesture. Worst of all, I had an exaggerated love of European and early American history in a state that was too new to appreciate what little history it had managed to record. I snatched at straws of significance in modern events. I was in the sixth grade when the Challenger exploded on take off. I would mark the anniversary every year. “Did you know it was five years ago today?” I once said to a classmate. She looked at me blankly. “So what?” she said to me. “Who cares?”

I don’t mean to paint Washingtonians as heartless. They are hardly that at all. But the people I was surrounded by seemed not to have much interest in things of the past. My personal family history was only granted, in bits and snatches, after years of perseverance and of irritating my elders until they were persuaded to tell me what little they knew, if only to shut me up. And they told it as if they were ashamed, even when they had nothing to be ashamed about. Though, to be honest, they just as often did.


We moved from Seattle to Savannah in 2001. My parents, grandparents, and siblings were not pleased by my desire for distance, particularly since the attacks of 9/11 occurred but two months after we had left. I worried for them worrying for me across busy circuits. But it was the history that drew me. A sense of place and self that comes only from the perspective that past stories offer. Even if they weren’t my stories. Savannah was fun in its way, but it wasn’t home. Old South likes its Old South Families, and we were not one of them. They liked to remind us of the fact.


In 2004 we moved again. This time to a small college town in South Carolina. I knew from the start it was only temporary, but, ever anxious to surround myself with history, we bought a 1918 Colonial Revival in desperate need of TLC. That’s what they call it there when a house needs complete restoration. I was up for the adventure. The second week we were in the heat (a series of ancient, oil-burning heaters, one the size of a small refrigerator) went out. We camped in the living room with a kerosene heater and the windows cracked so we didn’t suffocate. But we did restore it, and we lived in it and we loved it. Only a lack of protection for these houses and an under-appreciation for their value meant that, four years later, our beautifully restored and updated house is still on the market. Amelia Street was the place to live in Orangeburg at the turn of the century. The street is lined with old houses still, but most of them are run down now, empty and abandoned. On the opposite side of the street from where our house is situated, the phone company has begun tearing them down. The empty spaces sit like gaping holes in a child’s smile. A gated parking lot lies between two of the most impressive houses. No one wants to live there because there is no permanency. There’s no guarantee that Bell South’s need for ample parking and their optimism toward possible future expansions won’t outweigh the city’s need of outdated and under-appreciated architecture. I decided that, when the time came to move again, I would choose a house in a city with a strong preservation ethic.


Because, here’s the thing, those old-fashioned Victorians knew then what some of us know now; they were building art, and they were building it to last.


In 2010, my husband took a job in Martinsville, VA, but it was Danville’s astounding collection of historic homes that persuaded us to choose the commute. It took us a long time to find a house, nearly three years, but at last we did, and I can say I’m not sorry we waited. There were certainly plenty of houses to choose from, but it took a while for the right one to appear. We are now comfortably situated in the Old West End Historic District, in a rundown house with limited electricity and little in the way of real heat. And we have found our home.


Danville welcomed us. My eccentric habit of saying hello to people on the street, of waving to strangers, is not only accepted here, but considered a way of life. It’s just what you do.

As is preserving our past.


As Westerners, there is an innate ambiguity about Civil War history. We’re not Yankees, and we’re not Southerners. We’re something in between, which confuses people. Sometimes it confuses me. But I’m not without my Southern connections, after all. My grandmother was here when that episode in history took place.  She was born, ironically, in North Carolina, where generations upon generations of her family were born and raised, and where the streets, nearly all of them, are named after her and her kin. They are my kin, too.

2014 snowstorm

Danville was the last capital of the Confederacy. I’m not sure I realized just how significant this fact was just at first. It seems that, with the inhabiting of this house, I suddenly feel a kinship with the people who lived here before me; the Day family, a photographer by the name of Oliver Cole, P.F. Conway, who is responsible for building most of the Victorian houses on on my street, and, I suspect, many other of Danville’s historic homes. (It’s suggested he may even be responsible for building the magnificent Masonic Temple.) I suddenly relate to these people, I am interested in them. My life in this house is no longer so much about me, but it’s about the community as well. It’s about what happened before I came to live here, and what will happen when I’m gone. History lends perspective. Danville’s history, evidenced by its old houses and historic buildings, is what, in my opinion, and in the opinions of those who come to visit me here, gives the city its charm. It gives it character, and the revitalization of our historic districts, despite the seeming mass exodus of a decade or so ago, is what will allow Danville to maintain an air of significance and permanency, even while we—yes, I said we, for it’s my home too now—look to the future.


Gods and Monsters – an excerpt

I was going to post this Monday on an issue of significance to me, but I have failed to get all my research done. Instead, I offer you my newly rewritten chapter one. Yes, I’ve decided to overhaul this book at the last minute. It means my release date will be pushed back, but it also means I’ll be releasing a much better novel. And I’m really excited about that.

Without further adieu…


Chapter one

Surrey, 1897

“WILL HE BE AT THE ball tonight, do you think?” Laynie asked of her sister’s reflection in the mirror.

Beth’s gaze shifted to meet hers momentarily before returning her own. “Who?” she asked, though Laynie knew she understood her.

“Mr. Hartright, of course.”

“I really do not know,” Beth answered. “And to be quite frank, I don’t care.”

Laynie turned to her, but Beth would not look her in the eye. Instead, she kept her attention focused squarely on her appearance, working as quickly as she could to mend the damage that had been done to her hair by the gusting of the wind upon their arrival at Ashworth’s Chapel Hall assembly rooms.

“Beth?” Laynie said at last and tentatively.

Beth ignored her.

“It’s quite all right, you know, if you are feeling anxious. I know I would be. I’m sure he must come tonight, and bring her. If you want, I could go out and see if he’s come—”

“I’m quite all right, Laynie, dear,” Beth impatiently interrupted her. “It’s nothing to me if he comes or if he doesn’t. There are other fish in the sea, and tonight I mean to prove the axiom.”

Laynie didn’t believe her, but knew it better not to pester. She chose, instead, to change the topic. “I understand Mr. Vaughn is expected to be here as well.”

“Harold Vaughn?” Beth said, with a brief and indifferent glance. “I thought he was at University? Isn’t he training to go into the church or something?”

“I believe he’s come home. It’s something to consider.”

“I don’t know why you think I should consider him. He was an awkward youth—do you remember?” And Beth could not quite stifle a laugh at the thought of him. Laynie remembered him well enough. Perhaps he had been a trifle awkward as a boy. He had always been extraordinarily tall for his age, and it did not help that he was very lean, as well. The two things combined did not provide much to admire in his appearance. And it was true that he was reserved around strangers, as uncomfortable in a crowd as a fish out of water.

“You thought much of him once upon a time, if I recall,” Beth reminded her teasingly. She laughed once more at her youthful remembrances of him.

“You are being unkind, Beth. He was a good friend to us both, and I expect will be still. And there’s no telling but that he’s changed a great deal in the time he’s been away.”

Beth rolled her eyes, smoothed the last stray hair and adjusted a curl. “Then perhaps,” she said as she prepared to leave the ladies’ refreshing room, “you ought to try him out for yourself. A humble and socially withdrawn curate would be just the thing for you.”

Laynie ignored this and followed her sister into the assembly room. Beth stood, scanning the crowd, trying to look indifferent to the company. A breeze blew through as the doors opened once more. Chapel Hall was a favorite place to hold country balls and little social gatherings such as these, for it had the advantage of a determined and consistent draft, which on any given night during the summer months was a welcome thing. Tonight would prove the exception. A gale was blowing without, and the rain was threatening any moment to come down in torrents. Judging by the weather alone, one would think summer was yet months away rather than a mere few days.

Beth shivered in the draft, and Laynie thought to offer her shawl, but Beth’s attention was fixed on the doors that had now closed. Standing before them was Mr. Jonathan Hartright—and his new bride. Mr. Hartright seemed not to notice Beth, but his wife’s gaze was fixed firmly upon her. She gave Beth an assessing look, which quickly turned cold and then immediately dismissive. She took a firmer hold of her husband’s arm, as if her claim on him was not already sealed by the Bible verses which had two months ago been read over them, and led him into the crowd and out of sight of the sisters.

“It’s all right, Beth. It’s nothing.”

“Of course it’s nothing!” Beth snapped, and forced a smile just in time to greet the friends who were now coming to her rescue. Laynie moved to make room for them.

“I hope you are not lamenting your losses, Miss Durham,” said Miss Annabeth Sharp. She had become, since Caroline Hartright’s betrayal, Beth’s closest friend.

“Certainly not,” Beth assured her. “There are bigger fish than he, you may be certain of it.”

“There is nothing to regret, if you ask me.” Miss Harriet Fisher assured her. “I hear the rooms at Hartfield are ever so small, and there is not nearly as much money as he likes people to believe. I do not envy the brave face poor Caroline must maintain.”

“Perhaps she loves him, after all,” Laynie offered.

Miss Fisher scoffed and turned away toward the dance floor. A smile slowly crept upon her face, and she turned back to speak confidentially to Beth. “Mr. Harold Vaughn is come home. Did you know?”

Beth rolled her eyes and released a breath. “I don’t know why everyone seems to think I should have any interest in Mr. Vaughn’s return. It is unkind of you to suggest, Harriet, that I can do no better for myself than an aspiring curate.”

Harriet’s smile was smug. She leaned close to Beth and whispered a few words into her ear. Whatever they were they served their purpose. Beth’s attention was now fully upon Harriet.

“You were once good friends with him, I believe?” Miss Sharp asked of Beth.

“Yes, I was,” Beth answered , and omitted to add that of the two sisters, Laynie had been the closest.

“Then perhaps you had better strike while the iron is hot. He’ll have no shortage of dancing partners tonight, nor admirers either.”

Admirers of Harold Vaughn? Beth seemed to imply with a dismissive toss of her head. But she was considering; Laynie could see it.

“What do you say, Miss Sharp, to a walk around the assembly rooms?”

“If you wish it,” she returned and appeared a little reluctant. “We will walk in his general direction, and if he chooses to acknowledge me, I’ll speak to him. How is that?”

It was Harriet’s turn to roll her eyes, but Beth reprimanded her with a look. With another look, Laynie knew she was in the way, and so retreated to the far end of the room, where tables had been set up for those who did not wish to dance, or who required rest and refreshment.

She had not been there long when she found she had company. A young man with auburn hair and decidedly ginger whiskers had approached her. An invitation to dance would be welcome. She was hardly a wallflower, but she often had to play one for the sake of her sister’s equanimity.

“I was hoping,” he said, standing there in flattering temerity as she waited for the invitation, “I was wondering if it would be possible, Miss Laynie, to…”

“Yes, Mr. Granger? It is a simple question. All you need to do is ask it. I’m sure to say yes, you know.”

He offered a smile that was at once anxious and grateful. “Would you mind awfully if I sat?”

“Of course not,” she said and watched him do just that. And then she waited patiently for him to go on.

“I hope you won’t consider me forward, nor impolite…”

“Of course not. What can I do for you?”

“You see, the thing is… I was hoping for the opportunity to speak with your sister. Alone, you see. Only…” He looked in the direction of Beth and her companion, seemingly inseparable and engaged in the admirable exercise of walking. “Well, she is never alone. And I thought it time to enlist some help. Will you help me, Miss Laynie?”

“I suppose so,” she said, realizing that his former apology had come in advance of his indiscretion, not in consequence of it. “What is it you would like me to do?”

“If you could perhaps contrive some time for us to meet, when I can be certain she is alone—and available—and where I will have her undivided attention…”

“You might come to the house any day you like, Mr. Granger.”

“But your father…”

“You needn’t fear him. He won’t interfere.”

“Should I speak to him first, do you think?”

Laynie considered this. It was the gentlemanly thing to do, only… “I think you had best feel her out first. My father wants the best for us, but he is inclined to put the pressure on rather thickly at times.”

Mr. Granger seemed to consider this a helpmeet to his aim.

“I think it would be unkind to use my father’s influence to manipulating her into giving you audience, Mr. Granger. Surely you would prefer your own merits to do that.”

“Of course,” he said. “Would Monday suit? Perhaps two o’clock?”

“Certainly, Mr. Granger,” she said. “I’ll be sure we are at home to receive you.”

“Thank you, Miss Laynie.” He arose, bowed, and was gone.

She was not long alone when, once again, she found she had been approached. This time by a large woman with a hat full of black feathers.

“My dear Miss Durham,” she inquired, “why are you not dancing?”

“Lady Vaughn,” Laynie said, surprised and prepared to stand.

“No, don’t get up. I’ll sit, if you don’t mind.”

Please,” Laynie answered, and welcomed her to a chair beside her.

“You didn’t answer my question,” the woman reminded her.

“Well…” Laynie said, and stopped to think. There was really no explaining it to her, not without making Beth look a little ridiculous. “I suppose because I haven’t been asked.”

“That was not Mr. Granger’s intent, then?”

“No, ma’am. I’m afraid not. He only wanted my help in gaining an interview with my sister.”

Lady Vaughn exhaled loudly. “Men can be so frustratingly stupid,” she said, and then paused to study her a moment. “What a tragic loss was your mother’s death. What has it been, ten years now?”

“Nearly that, yes, ma’am.”

“You were old enough to remember her, and you are old enough now to miss the counsel she would offer you during this delicate time in your life. If only you had someone to guide you.”

“I have an aunt, in Gravesend ,” Laynie reminded her.

“Yes, yes, but how often do you see her? You would benefit by her influence though, I dare say. It would put you in the way of… But perhaps I am too forward. Forgive me.”

“You are right, Lady Vaughn, to suggest our prospects are not good. But I never expected much. Beth, if she does not marry a man with property of his own, will inherit the house, but there is not much more for my father to leave us than that. We live comfortably, but when he is gone… Forgive me. I do not like to think of it.”

“And who can blame you? You will be thrown into a life devoid of so many of the comforts you have been raised to enjoy—even to take for granted. It will be a bitter adjustment, I fear.”

“Oh, I don’t mean that, Lady Vaughn. I am prepared for my fate. At least I am working to prepare myself for it. I’m always willing to help Mrs. Hill with her work about the house, and I assist cook one night a week . I do not dread having to do so much for myself. It’s my father’s death I cannot bear to think upon.”

Lady Vaughn smiled quietly to herself, as if Laynie’s words had pleased her. “Now, now, dear. Do not fret yourself. Your father has years ahead of him. I promise you.”

“I hope you are right. I believe you must be, but he is not so mentally attuned as he used to be.”

“Or perhaps you have grown up and are beginning to realize he is not quite as rich in wisdom as you had always thought him.”

“Lady Vaughn,” Laynie returned, a little shocked by the statement. She would certainly never own to such a thing, even if she had considered it.

Lady Vaughn, however, seemed to make much of her own joke and laughed, which inspired Laynie to laugh too—just a little—at her father’s expense. She quickly repented of it, however. There were few things more important to him than his confidence in his own wisdom—a man’s self-respect was nothing to laugh at.

Lady Vaughn’s laughter ended in a cough, which she quickly stifled with a handkerchief, and seemed to struggle with for a moment or two before recovering enough to speak, considerably sobered now. “Forgive me, my dear, that was unkind. You love your father, and esteem him, as you properly should. And your spirit of self-reliance does you credit.”

Laynie smiled a thank you and, finding her hand now freed, returned it to her lap.

“I propose a change of subject,” she said, and then said nothing more.

If it was up to Laynie to choose, she could think of nothing.

It seemed Lady Vaughn was already prepared with a new topic of her own. “My son is home,” she said. “Have you spoken to him yet?”

“No, Lady Vaughn. I haven’t had the privilege. I hope his studies have been going well. There is no trouble, no difficulty that has brought him home, I hope?”

“Yes, some difficulty,” Lady Vaughn answered with a look of apparent suffering, which Laynie regretted, and prayed her old friend had not somehow gone awry. “Oh, not from dear Harry!” Lady Vaughn quickly qualified. “Never from him! He is a good and dutiful son, and ever shall be, I trust. It’s his brother who has caused us the trouble. I had always hoped that Harry would take orders, but it is wrong for a mother to be too firm in her planning on behalf of her children. It is a sure road to disappointment, for fate and circumstance will have their own designs. And I think, after all, that I will enjoy having him at home. I have been lonely without him. And he will make himself useful, no doubt, whatever his circumstances.”

“I believe you are right, Lady Vaughn. He is just the type of man who was always good and who always will strive to make himself useful to those he loves.”

Lady Vaughn gave her a grateful smile and took her hand once more, this time as it sat in her lap under the table. “You know, it has always been my wish,” she said, “that he would find someone who truly appreciated him for who and what he is. Whatever her circumstances, she must, first and foremost, understand him and love him as I do, for his goodness, for his integrity and sincerity of character.”

Laynie suddenly felt a little uncomfortable with this turn in the conversation. Surely Lady Vaughn did not mean to suggest she should marry her son. She’d never even considered it. They had been friends since they were children. She thought of him as a brother, and the possibility of loving him, of marrying him, seemed equally as preposterous as that of marrying a sibling . Marrying a cousin—as her aunt would have her do—was difficult enough to fathom, though for its own, and quite unique, reasons.

Lady Vaughn’s attention was still on her, but it wasn’t the weight of her gaze alone she felt. She looked up to find her father looking approvingly at her. He gave her a nod and a wink before turning a knowing look upon the unaware Mr. Harold Vaughn. Laynie observed him. He was even taller now than when she had last seen him, but he was not so lean. He appeared more man now than boy, though he was as tow headed as ever. Neither did he seem so uncomfortable in a crowd. At least not in this crowd, which may or may not make every difference. Harold Vaughn was not handsome by the common standard, but there was something appealing about him. Perhaps it was his sincerity of character, after all. One felt safe with him because one always knew he could be trusted to do the right thing, even if he did not always say the right things. Not that he was in the habit of giving offense. He was just, plainly and simply, awkward in conversation. Or had been once. Was he still?

Laynie’s attention shifted from Mr. Vaughn to her sister, who was just walking past him, arm in arm with Miss Annabeth Sharp, who was looking bored and a little put out. She was hardly the only one to appear annoyed. The dance floor was now being trespassed upon by no less than a dozen young women who, like Beth, were trying to attract Mr. Vaughn’s attention as he stood in conversation with old schoolmates and childhood friends. He took no notice of any of them, so engrossed was he with his present company. And so the walking—and the trespassing—persisted, to the mounting annoyance of those trying to dance in formation.

“You have not spoken to him at all, you say, since he has come home?” Lady Vaughn said, recalling Laynie’s attention.

“No, ma’am. Not yet. I did not know he had returned until I arrived here tonight.”

“I have been keeping him to myself, I’m afraid. He has spoken of you, however. Do not fear he has forgotten you.”

“Oh, I had no fear of that, ma’am.”

But Lady Vaughn was no longer listening. She put a hand in the air, waved a distinct figure with her glove, and Harry’s attention was summoned. He looked, first to his mother, then to Laynie, smiled, and approached.

Laynie stood. Whether out of respect, or fear, she could not be certain.

“Miss Alayna Durham,” he said, upon arriving to stand before her. “What a pleasure. I had hoped I would see you here.”

“How very good it is to see you, Mr. Vaughn.”

“Have you no dancing partner?” he asked her, and seemed surprised to find that it was so.

“No, none,” she answered.

“That is a pity,” he said, his brow furrowing.

“Not much of one, Mr. Vaughn. I have had the great pleasure of keeping your mother company this last half hour.”

Lady Vaughn gave an encouraging nod, and Harry posed his question. “Would you care to dance?”

“Well… the set is not quite finished yet.” It was so like him to not have noticed.

“Shall we get some refreshment while we wait?”

“Yes, of course.”

He led her to the refreshment table, where she chose a drink and nothing else. He took one for himself, and turned to examine the dance floor. “What is going on over there, do you suppose?” he asked, nodding in the direction where several of the young ladies had stopped walking, and now stood in an odd and haphazard manner, struggling to determine their next move.

“I really do not know,” Laynie answered. She was not about to try to explain what she herself did not understand. Why this apparent desperation to gain one man’s attention? Harry Vaughn had hardly been the sort of gentleman women fawned over before. He seemed a little more self-assured than when she had last seen him, but he was much more the same than changed. Was there something about him, some magnetizing, hypnotic quality she had not yet realized?

“How have you been, Miss Durham?” he asked as if remembering his manners, or perhaps broaching the subject they might naturally have come upon had they been dancing, after all.

“Very well, thank you. You have come home to stay, I understand.”

“Yes. I have.”

“You are not disappointed, I hope, that your studies are at an end.”

“A change in plans is always a little disorienting, but I would not go so far as to call it a disappointment.”

“I’m glad of that. Father would like to see you. I hope you will not be a stranger.”

“A stranger? To oldest and dearest friends? I think not.”

“I’m glad of that. Beth will be glad to see you, I think.” She was not certain it would be true. She was not certain it wasn’t. With Beth it was always hard to tell. She had expressed her resolute indifference toward him, and yet she had taken a sort of half-hearted initiative to seek him out. She was approaching them now. Laynie alerted him to the fact.

Harry’s attention was arrested. If he had not changed in his time away, perhaps it bore some consideration that Beth had. She had always been the more gregarious of the two sisters, if not always the most reasonable. She had always been the prettier, but now she was the established beauty between them. Laynie, average in every way, could hardly compete. It was perhaps a good thing she had no desire to do it. Beth’s fair hair set off an angel’s complexion. The rosy hue of her cheeks and lips was quite natural, and she could raise the color in the former as if on command. She was blushing now, and Harold Vaughn was quite plainly entranced.

“Beth,” he said, then stammered a correction. “M-miss Durham, I mean. Of course. Forgive me. Old habits, you know.”

Beth giggled, then nodded at the refreshment table. “Would you be so kind, Mr. Vaughn? I’m quite parched.”

“Of course!” he said, as if waking from a trance. “Yes, of course.” He delivered the requested refreshment, and apparently knew not what else to do or say.

“You are home, then? Do you mean to stay?” Beth asked him with a look that begged for the unnecessary reassurance.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “That is, I’ve not quite finished my studies, but mother is alone now, and my brother, well…” he cleared his throat and glanced at Laynie as he struggled for the words to relate, in uncondemning terms, the trouble his brother had caused.

But Beth, it seemed, had other plans. “I don’t want to hear about your brother, Mr. Vaughn,” she said. “I want to hear about you. You have left university? Don’t tell me you were expelled!” She affected a look of surprise. “You weren’t were you?”

“Oh certainly not, Miss Durham. No, of course not.”

“And now you are home, what do you mean to do with yourself? I hope you will be a regular visitor at our humble home at the Beeches?”

“Yes, of course,” he said. “If you will welcome me, I’ll consider it an honor.”

There was an awkward silence, and then Beth took Mr. Vaughn’s arm. “I think you were just about to ask me to dance,” she said in a confidential tone.

“Good heavens, yes!” he said. “Would you do me the honor, Miss Durham?”

“Yes, of course,” she said, looking up at him through her lashes and holding to his arm all the tighter. Together they walked away, toward the dance floor, leaving Laynie to sip at her drink and to watch after them. She did not resent the slight. Truly it was hardly a slight at all. If Beth found something to admire in Mr. Vaughn, that was a very good thing, perhaps for them all.

She watched them for a little while, as Beth led the conversation, as she batted her lashes and flirted, as he responded with increased confidence and enthusiasm. Before the set had ended they both seemed to be sincerely enjoying each other’s company, and Laynie was pleased. At least she felt the pressure to consider him for herself fall away as her sister worked her charms on him, and with apparent success. She considered Lady Vaughn’s words on the subject of her son and turned to share in the pleasure of the happiness her sister seemed eager to give him. Only the look on Lady Vaughn’s face was not one of pleasure at all, but of pain. Was she so displeased by the thought? Or…or was there something truly the matter? Was she ill? Laynie thought to return to Lady Vaughn’s side, but it seemed she was not the only one to observe the woman’s altered state. Two gentlemen helped her to her feet, and the doctor, who had been in attendance, was very soon at her side. It seemed he understood the matter at once and ushered her out, stopping in the foyer only long enough to retrieve her things.

Laynie, honestly concerned, followed them outdoors. In the drive she stood and watched as the doctor placed the woman in her carriage, and then as he entered the carriage to sit beside her. Laynie could not help but wonder at the severity of Lady Vaughn’s ailment, and what Harry’s unexpected return portended.

A gust of wind blew Laynie’s hair out of its pins. A clap of thunder, and then the rain fell in torrents. She returned to the shelter of the assembly hall, and she nearly ran into her father as she did.

“Good heavens, child! Where have you been?” He looked her over disapprovingly. “You’re nearly drowned. You’ll never win Harold Vaughn this way!” And he appeared truly sorry to know it might be true.

“Father, please. I don’t want—”

“You’re a girl of nineteen. You don’t know what you want!” And taking her by the elbows he led her to the carriage, where she was to wait while he got her things, and while he retrieved Beth—who would not be pleased to have to quit the dance early because her sister had managed to get caught in a deluge—and then he drove them home, lamenting all the way on the difficulties of being a single father with two daughters who would prove impossible to find suitable husbands for.


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Stay tuned for further updates.

Poking around in the archives

archives-departementales-de-la-haute-loire.-magasins_imgI don’t know when I’ve had so much fun. And yes, I know that makes me sound like a geek. And I’m OK with that.

There were a few things I knew when I bought my house. Mostly things I’d learned from hearsay. I knew that my house had been owned by a woman named Evelyn Day. She was my neighbor, after all. (We rented a house nearby for a year or so.) I had never met her, but I do remember walking by and waving hello. I do that, it seems. I remember sneaking a peek, while her foyer light was on, into the house through the window in her front door. I wanted to know what it looked like inside. I wanted one of those grand old Sutherlin houses, or perhaps one on Holbrook, so bad it hurt. I had been told, after I bought it, and from a local old house and history expert, that the house had been owned by that family for perhaps a 100 years, but that he did not believe they had built it. He believed, in fact, that they had purchased it in the teens, maybe 1917. He suggested I go down to the archives to find out. Only I couldn’t quite remember just where I needed to go. To the courthouse? To City Hall? And, having just moved in, I had a million other things to do. I put it off.

But then the local Historical Society had that same expert come and speak on just how to do it. It was noted, while I was at the meeting, that I had very little work to do since everyone knew that the Days had always owned the house. With such conflicting information, I was understandably confused. Shortly after that, a very wonderful and generous neighbor brought me some photographs he had. I don’t know how he came by them. Perhaps, like me, he found them at the estate sale. I had picked one photograph up myself, though I don’t know who it was of. He had evidently asked around and had been told that the photographs were of  a mother and daughter, who had both lived in the house, and that they had been the only family to live here.

Day pic 1 Day pic 3 Day pic 2

(Elsie Saunders Day (?) left, Evelyn Day center, a photo I bought at the estate sale right)

With so many conflicting stories, I was curious, and so I headed down to the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, where the archives are kept. Now I was in for a treat, I’m telling you, because not only was I going to look through records, but I was actually going to physically handle THE records. Meaning all the deed books are there for people to look through, complete with indexes and maps. The actual books. Not microfilm. Not photocopies. Not digitized images. No. But the books, however old they may be. I gave myself two hours to search, and within and hour, I’d found everything I needed.

Now whether that first very knowledgeable gentleman told me they had bought it around 1917 or if that was just the date I fixed arbitrarily into my skull, there’s no telling. But I had found a cancelled check when we had excavated the fireplace in the bathroom. The check was dated 1915, so I had begun to wonder. Sure enough, searching back, I found where H. Fenton Day, the man to whom the former owner of the house, Mrs. Evelyn Day, had been married, had inherited the house from his mother, Elsie Saunders Day, her husband Henry F. having died in 1954. The will was dated November 1959. Now with deeds, you search for what you know and you go back. In my case, the last three deeds (the ones indicating the foreclosure, and then the sale to us) were listed on the tax records. Along with it was the will’s document number. And from there the trail ended. Each deed will list the document before it, usually another deed, so they are quite easy to search, but the will lists no other documents. Fortunately the indexes are easy to use, and so I was quickly on the trail again. Cole advert

The true story!

In September of 1915, Elsie Saunders Day bought the house from Oliver W. and Annie Bell Cole for $7,200. Interestingly, the deed stated “this conveyance includes the Mills Range now installed in the kitchen of said dwelling house, and all heating fixtures and appliances.” I’ve tried to search for an image of such a stove, but so far have had no luck. I looked up Mr. Cole in the directory and found an advertisement for his photography studio in the 1906 directory. He did indeed live at 134 Sutherlin.

Cole bought the property in August of 1904 from P.F. Conway and his wife, Maggie B. “a married woman holding separate property.” Mr. Cole sold the house for $5,000. It seemed, however, that Mr. Conway did a great deal of real estate transacting in the area, and so I wanted to be sure that he actually lived in the house and, possibly, built it. The next deed took me to a man named Robert Brydon. In that deed it states that Brydon sold the property in October of 1896 for $1,000 cash “All that certain lot of land situated in the city of Danville…” Then it goes on to give the lot description. No building or improvement is mentioned. I know the house was built in 1897. A plaque near the front door says so. In December of 1897 there is another deed, in which Mr. Conway grants the property, “all that certain lot or parcel of ground together with the improvements thereon and the appertanances thereunto belonging….” to his wife “in consideration of ten dollars paid by said Maggie B. Conway, and of the natural love and affection he bears to said…” So it looks like he bought the property, built the house, and gave it to her. They lived in it, it seems, from the time it was built until Cole bought it. I found them, too, in the directory for the years 1898-1899. And doing a little more digging, found reference to him in two books on local history, Virginia: Rebirth of the Old Dominion and Men of Mark in Virginia.

Powhatan Fitzhugh Conway

PF Conway

Mr. Conway was born 11 Nov 1867 near Danville. He attended public school, but he was not a robust child and so was forced to quit his education early. Upon leaving shool in 1886 at the age of 17, he commenced work as a solicitor and collector for Messrs Bass, Brown & Lee, who, at the time, had the largest coal, wood and manufacturing business in Danville. He worked there for four years, until 1890, when he formed a partnership with F.L. Walker to start their own business dealing in the same. Six years later (1896) they bought Bass, Brown and Lee, consolidating with Anderson & co and incorporating as Danville Lumber & Manufacturing co. It grew to be a large firm, over which Conway served as chief executive and genral manager. They had an “extensive line of millwork, including interior trim, sash, doors, frames, molding, blinds and other materials.” Conway served as vice president of the Masonic Building Corp, which erected the handsome Masonic Temple on the corner of Main and S Union Streets.

On Feb 14, 1893 at Richmond, VA, he married Maggie Bradford Brown of Richmond. She was educated at Danville College for Young Women. She died Apr 2 1925. They had one daughter Margaret (Moore).

Digging around a bit more, I discovered that Mr. Conway bought the two lots east of mine at about the same time, built houses on them and sold them. In 1903 he bought two lots to the west of mine and built houses there. At one point they lived in a house on Main street, in which there was a fire that caused considerable damage. My next research project is to learn which houses he built and how many of them there are. It does make me happy to know he was such a big part of Danville’s development.

So now I know the history of my house, and, as history does, makes me feel like I am a part of something important. And this house will something significant once again. That I’m truly looking forward to.





What is that doing there?

bath4It’s the first time I’ve said it in this house, though I’m sure it won’t be the last.

At present we have one fully functioning bathroom, and as it is ensuite to our bedroom, it’s not exactly convenient as the family bath. Neither do we have a shower, though both clawfoot tubs are still here, and my husband is anxious for a shower. So we thought we’d start tackling the plaster to begin with, which is in pretty bad shape as you can see in the photos below. Firstly I needed to make a decision about whether to try to save it (always my preference) or whether to gut the bathroom and start over (which gives us the advantage of addressing some of the plumbing and electrical issues at the same time.)

The first hurdle to this project was a large cabinet that took up the entire wall between the door that goes into the boys room and the wall that separates the toilet area from the rest of the bathroom. I didn’t want to lose the storage space, but in order to really address the plaster issues I had to at least move it. I started by taking off the quarter round molding that went around the bottom of it, and I discovered that the floor ended where the cabinet sat, which told me that the cabinet was there before the floor was laid down. Still, I was determined to move it without destroying it.

But I was mistaken on both counts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAplaster on wallplaster on ceiling

In the pictures above you can see the cabinet, the plaster above where the cabinet was, and the plaster on the ceiling.

We began by trying to pry the cabinet away from the wall, but this only resulted in further damage to the plaster. A thin piece of particle board served as the backing, and after tearing this out, we realized that the plaster was black. Mold? I began to get nervous. Now we knew the cabinet had to come out. So bit by bit we began prying apart this piece and that piece hoping to find the magical nail that was holding this thing to the wall with an iron grip. By the time we realized there was no hope for it but to take it apart entirely, we were left with nothing but one side, a partially separated top and doors hanging haphazardly. I relented and told myself I could rebuild it later. I do have a plan for it, even though I had decided by then that the cabinet would have to be moved elsewhere. It’s great storage space, but what I really saw on this wall by this point was a dressing table and a large mirror.

Wrong again.


At last we had the cabinet disassembled and what we found behind the cabinet surprised us greatly. A fireplace! And that cutaway piece where the floor had not been laid, it was a slate hearth, in near perfect shape. But why was there a fireplace in the bathroom? On top of that, there was a fireplace on the opposite side of the wall, and I didn’t think they could be back to back.

Wrong again!

Really, this is not my first old house restoration, but our house in South Carolina had virtually no changes at all made to it and had been owned by one family (before us) since it was built in 1918. This house is somewhat older, having been built in 1897. My understanding is that it was sold in 1917 to the Day family. Who owned it before that I’m not yet sure, but I mean to do some research on that soon.

So were there two chimneys back to back on this wall? It seemed the only way to know for sure was to excavate. And so I began.

bricked inThis picture is really blurry, but you can see the black paint on the plaster. This is consistent with the fireplace in the front upstairs bedroom, which has a large mantel (matching the one in the shed) and has black paint surrounding the ironwork where tile might ordinarily be. You can clearly see through the plaster where the edge of the brick is. It took a great deal of chiseling and persuading, but at last we had the brick free.


After inspecting the chimneys, their sizes, etc, I decided that there always were two fireplaces on this chimney. It’s just possible, and really, it’s the only thing that makes sense (sort of). But, as with my excavation of the dining room fireplace (where I found an 1870′s Indian head penny) my work here did not go unrewarded.

bath 2

I found a receipt folder from the Kiwanis club at Leeland Hotel (now subsidized housing) embossed with the name Henry F. Day, a laundry recent from Star Laundry Co. on Patton street, and a cancelled check in the amount of $5.45 and dated March 19, 1915. Which I have to say confuses me a great deal. My understanding was that the Days bought the house in 1917. So now I need to go research that and find out who originally owned and built the house, and just when the Days moved in.


As for the question of why there would be a fireplace in the bathroom, this is my guess. The toilet (or commode, as we like to call it in the South) was not invented until 1891. From what I’ve read, indoor toilets, even plumbing, was not a household staple until up into the 20′s and even 30′s. It’s apparent that when the Days bought the house they did a great deal of remodeling and redecorating, and so it’s entirely likely that the house was plumbed after the Days bought it. Also, the plumbing is stacked. The bathrooms are above the kitchen, which suggests these amenities were added later.  I think the fireplace was in the bathroom to heat it, and possibly even to heat the water. There were indoor bathrooms certainly by the time the house was built, but the water for them would have to be hauled from the kitchen and/or heated on the spot.

And so, instead of putting in a dressing table, I’m going to restore the fireplace. I’ll likely never use it, but I like the idea of a mantel in there. I’ll give my nod to modernity by adding a shower for my dear husband. He’ll like that. I think we both will.


What I’m grateful for this year

ThanksgivingI find myself complaining. I do. And it’s wrong. It’s cold out, and we are struggling to stay warm in my 116 year old house. But the thing is…I have the house, and I love it! It feels like such an honor to have gotten it and to be the ones restoring it. Even if my loan is taking an eternity to go through. But the thing is, despite the drafty windows, and the low water pressure, and the lack of central heat, I really, really, really love this house. And it was sort of a miracle we got it. So yes, I’m grateful.

I’m grateful, too, for my family. I have had the misfortune of witnessing a lot of familial unhappiness in my life. My two best friends are recently divorced, and while I’m glad they are both out of the bad situations they were in, I’m sad, too. The death of a marriage is a very sad thing, all those hopes and plans and dreams ruined. I’m grateful for my marriage, and for the man I married. He lets me live my life, he places no hindrances on me. He believes in me, even though I only really know that because people tell me how proud he is of me (he doesn’t tell me stuff like that). He values me as an individual human being who, companioned by him, is willing to work together to make both of our aspirations in life come true. My dreams are as important to him as his own. And I’m striving to be equally as supportive. I fear I take him for granted too often. I also, because of him, have these amazing children. I cannot describe to you how amazing they are. It’s not because they get great grades (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t), it’s not because they are beautiful (I think they are, but of course I would) and it isn’t because they are extraordinarily talented, it’s because they are really, really enjoyable people to be around. I adore them, and I feel so blessed to know them.

I’m grateful that I am able to stay home with my kids. This move to Virginia has been tough. We left behind a life and a house in South Carolina. We were in good shape for a while, but the rush of relocating, then being left behind for a time in a horrible housing market, financing two households, has really hurt us. And so, for a time last year, I went to work. It was a good experience, and I’m grateful for it, but I’m more grateful than ever that I don’t have to work. Only…there’s a chance I may have to go back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lazy, I just feel the pain of my kids growing up. My oldest is 16. I have two more years, three perhaps, before she’ll be on her own. And it breaks my heart. True, they don’t need me while they’re at school, but it’s important to me that I send them off, and that I’m here when they get home, that, when there’s a school closure, or a holiday, I can be here to enjoy it with them. I cherish every minute I have with them. I don’t want to lose any of it. It goes by far too quickly.

But let me just say this, while I’m at it: When I am home, I am working. I’m writing and publishing, editing, cover designing, marketing and promoting. This when I’m not working on the house, cutting down trees, repairing windows, doing plaster work, stripping wallpaper, painting, etc. While I was working outside the home, my book sales tanked. Now they’re back up again, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I have been able to fulfill my dreams of 1) writing a book, 2) publishing it and 3) having people actually read the stuff. It’s really quite amazing when I think of it. And so usually I don’t. But I am grateful. Exceedingly so.

I’m grateful for my parents, for my sister, and for the brother I loved with all my heart—and whom I lost a couple of years ago. I’m grateful for the family to whom I am not blood related who helped to nurture me and guide me to make good and responsible decisions. I’m grateful for the teachers who have taught me, and for the friends who have supported me faithfully through good times and bad.

I’m grateful for the good times.

And yes, I’m grateful for the bad times, too. I’m grateful for what they taught me. I’m grateful for the person I am because of them. And while I really hope I never have to relive them, and while I’m sorry for friends I’ve lost and people I’ve hurt, if I’ve learned something in my trials, then it is all for the better.

I’m also really, really grateful for chocolate.

Just sayin’.

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Regarding Annie
Regarding Annie
The Bath Novels of Lady A~
The Bath Novels of Lady A~

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