Beginnings and Endings

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(Before I begin, a quick P.S. - PRE-Script, in this instance: Thank you for so kindly taking me under your wing while she is abroad and for teaching me how to upload photographs. Now I clearly just need some serious help with page layout!)

The modest, shy boy never told me he grew up in a mansion.

Perhaps if he had given me fair warning, I wouldn't have spent so much time acquainting myself with the mansion's powder room immediately upon my arrival, ungracefully getting rid of the shock.

Oh, all right. Yes. So the nausea may have been brought on by the shock at discovering that the boy grew up in a historical mansion. Or it may also have been brought up (or it may have been purely coincidental, you decide) by some of the alcohol consumed the night before.

I ask you: Who in their right minds go to weddings where they drink heavily the night before they're supposed to meet their boy's father (and owner of said mansion)?!?

I implore you to tell me: Who on earth would dare to bond with the bridesmaids over shots of brandy and the like, shouting for more rounds just to celebrate the fact that it was someone's very first time attending a real American wedding? (And declaring that fact loudly to the whole world, slurring that, by George, it wash jusht like in the moviesh... with the I do'sh and shtuff. In South Africa we merely grunt "yes" at each other during the vows, and that's that, then you're hitched. And when South Africans wish to divorce, we just scream NO! three times, really loudly... Oh, no. Sorry. That's something else.)

Anyway, I digress.

So yes, I admit that the drinking mixed in with the nervous anticipation of the meeting may have played a teensy part in the extreme waves of nausea which had me running right past the boy's father's outstretched hand and straight into the powder room.

Talk about great first impressions. But of course, nothing less could be expected from a savage South African.

I prefer to blame the boy though. The way he overlooked the minor detail of the manor. (Later he explained to me that it was really nothing to boast about. He spent hours convincing me how they really weren't wealthy. How they were indeed just mere mortals like the rest of us. He explained how his parents had bought the house at a bargain price during the 1960s and how they had then spent the following decades putting in hard labour and love to restore it to its former splendour. Later, his parents confirmed the whole story. But that didn't prevent me from forever after teasing him about growing up in a mansion.)

But no, far too polite to be cocky and tell me early on: "Hey babe, just so you know, I grew up in a mansion," he left me to discover that fact for myself, through my very own bloodshot, heavy-lidded, hung-over eyes.

As soon as we drove into his home town, I saw this unbelievable Victorian mansion on a hill, all lit up by the Tennessean sunset.

House 1.jpg

We turned into a winding driveway leading to that very house and I weakly said something like: "Oh, I didn't know we were going to meet your dad at a restaurant." (A prospect which would've excited me at any other time, but not quite right then, when I was still paying my debts for all the shameless boozing of the night before, driving any thoughts of food as far from my mind as possible.)

"Er, no," he said. "Actually, this is home."

And that's more or less when another wave of nausea hit, this time out of sheer nerves. Until that moment I had been mentally preparing myself to meet a kindly, middle-class father. But then, that house! How was I supposed to behave around an upper-class father? Was I expected to curtsey? I mean, we WERE in the South, after all, and I had seen a lot of movies featuring young Southern Belle debutants executing frightfully low curtsies. What was the protocol?

I never did get the answer to that question. And I suspect that, what I ended up doing, charging right past his dad with my green face, probably wasn't the appropriate course of action.

The boy was kind enough to wait nearby so that I didn't have to face his father alone after my rather abrupt and embarrassing entrance. He reassured me that his father had so little time to form any sort of first impression about me, let alone a bad one. He told me that he had explained my er... condition... to his father as being food poisoning.

So with all my immediate concerns out of the way, I finally dared to lift my head and take a good look around the house.

It was stunning: High ceilings, arched doorways, crown moldings, wide sweeping stairways, wooden floors, bay windows, lace curtains stirring in the southern breeze, intricate, delicate chandeliers... It was absolutely breath-taking. I suddenly understood why the boy became an architect.

House 3.jpg

House 4.jpg

I was lucky enough to visit there twice more after that. The last time was in early spring of 2003, when the a cappella group that the boy belongs to held a performance there, inside the house. (The concert would've taken place in the lovely garden, but an unexpected downpour kept us all indoors. In a way, it was a blessing, because how else would the acoustics in the entrance hall have been discovered?)

House 2.jpg

We all had such a wonderful time, and I know that the boy was happy to share that part of his childhood and his life with some of our closest friends.

I loved wandering through the rooms and imagining the boy growing from an infant, into a toddler, into a little boy, into a teenager, into a young man. If only walls could talk...

I will never forget the countless rowdy hours we spent in the gracious dining room, sharing jokes and listening to the history of that sturdy, safe and beautiful house. And it's quite a history, considering that it had been around since 1875.

And now, of course, it is gone. Just this past Wednesday, while the boy's father was out of town for the day, there was a massive, destructive inferno.

Turns out it was caused by an electrical fault.

Even though we know that, in the end, it's just material possessions and that we should be grateful that no one got injured (or worse), we are all heartbroken and still reeling from the shock.

Rest in peace, beloved home. Thank you for the shelter and the comfort you provided with such style and southern grace. We will never forget you.

1875 - 2004.


martha said:

you have such a way with words... i'm glad you posted, I'd been hoping that everything was okay. sending good thoughts your way, the boy's way and his family's way.

MJ said:

I can't even imagine what it feels like to have such a huge part of your life taken away in a blazing inferno. There's just no way to replace that home (mansion) and the memories that it contained. so sorry for you all.

kim said:

this totally made me weep. especially the part about the growing up from a...

i think the worst thing about something like this is loosing the stuff you can never get back. like photos, letters, drawings from the boy....??? i hope a lot of stuff is save at the boy's place. and i'm sending more real german hugs (the good stuff ;o)) hoping things will fall back into place and maybe one day you'll find out there was a reason for this to happen.. XOXOXO

pylorns said:

Dang, thats a really nice house. Man, talk about suckie to have that burn down. What about insurance money?

sphinx said:

What a beautiful house.... very sad that it's gone. *sigh*

Helen said:

Oh babe. I'm so sorry, it was so beautiful.

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)


  • Helen : Oh babe. I'm so sorry, it was so beautiful.... [go]
  • sphinx : What a beautiful house.... very sad that it's gone. *sigh*... [go]
  • pylorns : Dang, thats a really nice house. Man, talk about suckie to have that burn down. What about insuran... [go]
  • kim : this totally made me weep. especially the part about the growing up from a... i think the worst th... [go]
  • MJ : I can't even imagine what it feels like to have such a huge part of your life taken away in a blazin... [go]
  • martha : you have such a way with words... i'm glad you posted, I'd been hoping that everything was okay. sen... [go]
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