Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Great Balls of Fire

Despite making less than a ditch digger, I love my work.

There are road trips, I get to talk to interesting people and more than a few times, I've had a chance to see something I would otherwise never see.

Today it was an enormous southern mansion styled after Tara in "Gone with the Wind."

After stopping at the initialed gates to be buzzed in, I passed by the guest cottage which looked to be about 4,000 square feet. Pfft! That was nothing, I was soon to see.

As instructed, I followed the long, winding, pine needle-covered road over rustic wooden bridges spanning man-made lakes, past a turn-off for the stables and nearly a mile later got to the elaborate fountain directly in front of the house.

My host was waiting on the veranda with an umbrella and indicated that I should park directly in front of the wide front staircase so he could escort me up without getting a drop of rain on my pretty little head.

We made our way to the great room, which in Scarlet O'Hara's time would have probably been called the drawing room, with its two-story ceiling, massive fireplace and view of the grounds descending to the dock.

My purpose in being there was to interview this Philadelphia native who'd retired to the northern neck back in the '90s after having had this grand house built on 88 acres of what used to be a pine farm. That was tough to imagine given the acres of lush lawn I was seeing today which had replaced the cleared trees.

When I'd first come in, he'd said that after we talked, he'd take me on the fifty cent tour. Note he did not offer to give me the nickle tour because everything in this house was grander than could be covered in anything less than a half dollar.

Or at least that was my take on it.

I couldn't possibly recount all the rooms because after a while, I lost track. Okay, were we in the master suite sitting room or the breakfast sitting room?

Was that the library or the billiards room off one of the two wooden spiral staircases? It couldn't have been the pool room (where the air temperature is always one degree warmer than the water temperature) because that was downstairs, complete with a Jacuzzi, sauna, changing room, gym and bar.

In the small bathroom off the foyer were the most exquisite fixtures I've ever seen, even in a magazine. All the porcelain - sink, toilet, spigot fixture with facial mirror - were hand painted in elaborate floral designs. I'm willing to bet those three pieces are worth more than everything I own.

In the entrance hall, he'd had a local artist paint a mural on the curved wall depicting a plantation house with a couple - he and his wife, no doubt - in Civil War-era garb strolling the grounds. The dog in the painting is his deceased dog, Rhett, and on the back veranda, I met Scarlet, barking in excitement at a visitor. Painted on a tree were his and his wife's initials. Floating over a grove of trees in the background was a small UFO.

Artistic license, don't you think?

There was a wing to house the mother-in-law should she ever desire to move in and a widow's walk high atop the five-car garage.The dining room was bigger than many conference rooms, although he said it only got used at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

And get this: speakers were unobtrusively built into every room of the house for surround sound (controlled, naturally, by a box in the media room).

From the second floor balcony, there was a fabulous view of the cove and beyond it, the Chesapeake Bay. But the most charming element of the property was the Love Garden.

While clearing away all those pine trees near the house, he'd found a small stand of dogwood trees and taken down everything else around them. Now, in the center of that were several stone benches, a fountain and birdbath, nestled under a canopy of dogwoods. It was the kind of thing you'd read about in an Elizabethan play: a love garden where couples went to woo.

What ditch digger gets to see something so wonderful?

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