When we were kids some years ago her name was Jeanette Igel. I remember that later it became Jeanette de Lafayette, yes of the Revolutionary War de Lafayette’s. She had traced her lineage long before it was popular and found she was a daughter of American history. That’s just how she was. Her name changed because she divorced her husband at a time when it wasn’t all that common to do so. Whatever the reason, and I’ve long forgotten it, his infraction was totally unacceptable.
She was my unintentional mentor, she knew things, she actually read Smithsonian magazine and found the chanting monks before anyone else, a lifelong learner. She’s been gone many years now but I think of her almost every day. I’m thinking of her much more now that I am only months away from divorce myself. I wonder why I didn’t find so many things unacceptable in my own marriage and leave sooner.
She lived most of the years I knew her as a single woman. Many of those years alone, until she took in different members of her family as they became older and ill. Once they were gone she was again alone but I never got the impression she was lonely.
She taught me to garden. There are really only a few things you need to know:
If a plant doesn’t look happy where it is, move it.
If it wilts, water it.
Most importantly, don’t feed the dead stuff.
I used those rules to build a wonderful garden that bloomed in glorious succession through the season and gave me endless joy, many strained muscles and free therapy. The dirtier I got the more balanced I was. The more I was able to ignore what was going on in my life. I wonder how it looks now. I had just started to transition it to my getting older. Many high maintenance plants had been given away to younger eager gardeners and replaced with flowering shrubs and low maintenance foliage. I’ve always known when a garden has lost its tender, either through a death or a move, there really is nothing sadder. I have a tiny little patch of land that I am watching through my first year to see what it needs. I’ll watch the sun the way she did and I’ll put pots around so those plants can easily be moved to permanent spots once I know what those are. It’s a long way from Oaktree Garden but it will have to do for now.
She taught me the art of gift giving. There are only a few things you need to know:
People will tell you what they want but not in so many words.
If you see something that reminds you of someone, buy it.
The smallest things will always mean the most to people.
So many of the things I value came from Jeanette. She began my spoon collection which has grown into the hundreds. There are books and broaches she picked up from garage sales. There are blankets and framed pictures. There is a candle snuffer and cake pans and recipe cards. There are the lessons learned, there is the pride in having known her. I’ve given many a garage sale find to friends to great applause. I’ve framed my photos and made personalized note cards. I’ve inscribed sentiments on any number of little nothings that are held as precious. Mostly I’ve written notes with heartfelt words from my very core.
She taught me to decorate. There are only a few things you need to know:
Small vignettes around your home should tell a story so everywhere you look you are reminded of something wonderful.
Pictures of your family are priceless.
Surround yourself with things you absolutely love. Whatever they are, they will match if you love them.
I lived for many years in a house that was exactly the same as Jeanette’s. I didn’t realize that until recently when I was moving. I live in a condo now that is perfect for me and my two dogs. It is not the gourmet kitchen I left behind but I’m sure my Christmas cookies have never tasted better. The ravioli was light and the creativity of menu is the best it’s been in years. My dining area is graced with five cabinets filled with spoons from all over the world and everyone I’ve ever known. My living room has a fireplace that I light almost every night in winter. Over my couch is my most prized possession, Jeanette’s mirror, the very same one that hung over her couch and her mother’s couch. My deck is peaceful and conducive to sharing wine, food and troubles. My office belongs to the girls, they watch over our lives on Stowe Lane as if they were my guardian angels. Mostly there is peace, and an open door, and hope for a future.
She taught me how to entertain. There are only a few things you need to know:
Always have a favorite recipe for lunch and one for dinner. Her lunch recipe was an open ham sandwich with asparagus and lemon sauce.
Always have cheese and crackers on hand. Wine never hurts.
Use all your stuff; china, tablecloths, platters and cake plates and crystal. Or paper plates, paper cups and jelly jars for wine.
Ina Garten always says, “Your friends won’t have more fun if you fuss more”. I believe she got this from Jeanette. I only really remember having lunch at her home once or twice but she put the table by the window so we could see the garden, she used an old floral tablecloth with a stain that had a story and we ate off of the good china. Mostly she came to our house for holiday meals and she always brought the wine and some interesting something she found in a gourmet shop. Her best gift for entertaining was to be informed, she always had something interesting to talk about. Delightful.
Of all the things I learned from Jeanette, the thing that will serve me best is to be something to someone without even knowing it. She lived her life with enthusiasm and was a lifelong learner. I’m only now realizing that, I’m only now realizing so many things. Everyone is a mentor to someone whether it is intentional or not. Living by my mentor’s rules will not only serve me and my future well it will preserve her legacy. Love that.