It was the first time I'd been invited to a Victorian tea, and in a perfectly charming setting with others of "my own kind"¯. A girl thing!
A Lewiston school chum from the ‘50s asked me to join some gals one December Saturday at her county home in rural Winona. The unpretentious, two-story house had belonged to her husband Elmer's parents, Erih and Beulah Gilow, for nearly fifty years. The cozy home has been restored in its original style, every room welcoming the visitor to step into yesteryear.
Judy (Harmon) Gilow and I beamed at one another as I was escorted to the door of her home by a gentleman with a formal black suit, a stovepipe hat, shiny black shoes, and a handsomely trimmed beard. He offered me his arm with a somber air of responsibility. I had to assume that he came with the place. (For that day, he did indeed.)
About a dozen other gals of all ages, whom I didn't know when I arrived, were chatting in various rooms adorned in dĆ©cor of a previous century. I was escorted to the parlor and shared company with two other cheery guests and a docile, uninterested pooch.
We were all asked to dress in Victorian style. I thought I had no such outfit. But there it was, squished deep in my closet, that beautiful, emerald green two-piece, with a floor-length skirt that I had never worn. Like velvet to the touch, it was too inappropriately elegant for anything I had attended. The Victorian atmosphere made the day, like a "red hat"¯ gathering.
The rest of the story is quite fantastic! It was like Christmas at Macy's! Judy, along with her longtime friend Jan Johnson, had placed hundreds of Santas, 11 decorated trees, and other antique adornments in every room, upstairs and down.
There is an upper room, with a slanted ceiling, that comes alive with the mystical glow of a Christmas village, every store, house, church, and streetlamp lit up. As in every family homestead, each item has a story of its own. How enchanting to be surrounded by mementoes so reminiscent of bygone days, and to remember ancestors and the hardships they endured to survive!
Hot tea was served at a dining room table elegantly set with white lace over red linen and a unique variety of teacups and aromatic teas. As conversations sweetened the tea,
decadent, homemade cookies, candies and breads were laid before us, too tempting to resist.
Stories shared around the table were most enchanting. Denise Accord spoke of the drastic transition of her father's homeland of Ireland, from a simple, grassroots existence into an informational and technological society. The Irish people now use cell phones and drive vehicles, thus leading to the construction of highways where quaint lanes once sufficed.
They've deserted their frugal, sparse cottages, which were constructed for the poor and in times of the great potato famine, when much of the country's population was wiped out, forcing thousands to flee to the cities of America for jobs. It is now the Americans who come to Ireland and seek out the small cottages, while the Irish are constructing huge mansions, even more lavish than many American homes.
Judy remembered coming home with me after school to the steeping pot of tea Mother would have waiting, and how she sipped it just to be polite. I had forgotten that. We both recalled riding our bikes on gravel country roads, back and forth from each other's homes, which was quite a ride!
Always, anywhere, nothing ever stays the same. The cup life pours can be bittersweet. I can remember when our tears flowed only in laughter.
Upon leaving, and as the courtly gentleman escorted me to my van, the nippy air couldn't penetrate the warmth of friendship in my heart. Thanks, Judy, for the memories!
Happy New Year to sentimental souls everywhere"¦ who pause to share the cup of kindness along their way.
Janet Burns grew up in Lewiston where she continues to reside. She can be reached at