Image from Luykas Groundhog's Columbia County History Adventures, 2014 January 07
The image is a recreation of a Civil War-era parlor in the Vanderpoel House of History by the curator at the Columbia County (NY) Historical Society. The parlor at Greybeal House looked a bit like this, only with a few more sofas and wing chairs.
The other day, I struggled into a corset and crinoline cage (and all the other clothing that go with them), and called an old friend of mine, Seconds later there was a chugging sound and the TARDIS appeared in my family room so the Doctor could take me back to 1864. Typically, first we had to take a hair-raising side trip involving involved Cybermen and Daleks and the safety of Planet Earth. Next time I think I’m going to call Mr. Peabody and Sherman to help me with my time travel. Less drama, more safety. I hope.
Anyway, my interview with Maggie and Eli Smith was scheduled to take place in Greybeal House. I was told to go to the old wing of the building and knock on the door there. It leads to the kitchen, and the kitchen, I was told, was the main place of action for the residents of the house.
The first person I met was Moira Brennan, a sprightly young woman whose light skin is sprinkled with freckles. She has reddish blond hair, and green eyes. In a delightful Irish brogue she explained that she was one of the Greybeal House maids and that Mr. and Mrs. Smith were waiting for me in the front parlor.
“It’s much nicer there, ya see,” she said. “Ya won’t be having the hustle and bustle all around you.” Moira led me out of the kitchen and through a short hallway. (I could see the butler’s pantry to my right.) "And seeing as how we're usually busy at work in the kitchen, we aren’t able to hear someone knocking on the front door. We’ve yet to install a bell that would ring where we work, ya see. So there you are.”
We now were in the great part of the house and striding down the main hall. Moira walks quickly, but as we swept past everything, I was impressed by the sight of a large dining room to my left, a cozy back parlor to my right, a flawlessly polished hallway floor, and a grand staircase leading to the second floor. With the front door straight ahead, Moira suddenly turned and gently knocked on a door to our right. A muffled voice bade us to enter. Moira opened the door and we went in.
“Miss Janet Stafford,” the maid said to the two people sitting in the room.
Maggie and Eli rose from their chairs and walked toward me. At last, I was face to face with the people about whom I have been writing for years.
Maggie is a bit taller than I am. Her face is slightly heart-shaped, and her skin light with a touch of pink to her cheeks. On this day, her auburn hair was neatly and simply pulled away from her face and fastened in a bun at the back of her neck. She wore an equally simple dress: a light-yellow background patterned with small green diamonds, held out by a small crinoline cage. Although not spectacularly beautiful, Maggie’s attractiveness comes from the sense of peace and acceptance that she exudes. And I must say that her smile immediately put me at ease.
Eli was – well, very much Eli in beige trousers decorated with a brown check pattern, a solid brown vest and bow tie, and a dark brown frock coat. And yet the entire ensemble gave the appearance of being haphazard and wrinkled. He is not what anyone today would call a "hunk," but he has a "guy next door" quality, a friendly expression, and brown eyes that twinkle with the possibility of mischief. He stands about half a head shorter than Maggie. His skin is a bit ruddier than hers, hair dark brown, and he wears silver wire-rimmed glasses. And, yes, he is as portly as the books claim and dependent upon a cane (thanks to an event that occurred in the first book).
As they both greeted me warmly, Eli said to refrain from calling him "Mr. Smith" and insisted that I address him as "Eli."
"Fine," I replied. "I'm Janet."
"Well," Mrs. Smith replied with a little laugh, "then I suppose I must be Maggie. Shall we sit?"
We sank onto chairs that had been arranged around a tea table. As I did so, I took care to arrange myself so my crinoline cage didn’t throw my skirts up over my head. Although it is not a skill one needs to master in the 21st-century, it was essential in this setting. The last thing I needed was to embarrass myself in front of my own characters.
Maggie poured me a cup of tea. Eli handed me a slice of apple cake. And the interview began.
To be continued next week.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder