“Look for the green mailbox with our name on it and take a left. That’s our road,” Tommy Higgins had said.
A crystal ribbon of water snakes its way between the tawny hillocks, and cattle graze lazily amongst the scrubby hemlocks and jutting rocks. Everything is beautiful — even in the dead of winter — but nothing is familiar, and so I am relieved to see the name “Higgins” on a battered mailbox by the roadside. I have spent the better part of an hour rattling along in Bubba’s borrowed beer lorry through the pristine Virginia countryside. Crammed in the back of the lorry is a spectacular array of groceries from the shop: my belated Christmas gift the the Higginses.
I turn the wheel to the left and drive along a gravel country road for almost a mile without seeing any sign of humanity. I am relieved when a house — a very large house — appears through the trees; and I caress the rickety lorry to a halt to ask for directions. The front door is easily eight feet high, and a polished plaque bearing the words “Jericho 1782” names the dwelling. I grab the enormous brass knocker and drop it once upon the huge oak door. In a moment the door swings open to reveal the exquisite Mary Robins.
“Jesus!” I say. “Is this your house?”
“Happy New Year to you, too!” says Mary Robins Higgins. “Please, come in!”
“Is this your house?” I find myself repeating.
“Yes,” says Mary Robins with gentle patience. “The family’s anyway. Higginses have lived here for 230 years. It’s a bit drafty, but it’s home.” I am impressed. Then I am embarrassed, because I’ve just brought a truckload of groceries to a woman with a mansion.
“Where’s Tommy?” I ask, feigning composure.
“He’s out on the property getting dinner. He insisted on pheasant,” replies Mary Robins. In the distance I hear the sound of booming gunfire. Mary Robins proves to be a delightful conversationalist and I am a touch disappointed when Tommy returns. The two of them show me round the enormous home and its grounds, and as the sun sets along the western hills of the Higgins property, a lugubrious servant rings the dinner bell. I cannot recall ever having seen a table quite so opulently laid out. Even the pheasant is delicious. After dinner we make our way to a cozy fire in the great room, and Mary Robins and I find wonderfully overstuffed seats. Tommy, however, pantomimes an exaggerated stretch and checks his watch.
“Oh, would you look at the time?” he yawns. “Better hit the hay!”
“Tommy,” I say. “It’s nine o’clock on New Year’s Eve. You can’t be serious.”
“Pheasant hunting’s hard work, ol’ man,” he drawls, faking another yawn. He winks at Mary Robins and is gone.
Sitting very close to me, Mary Robins picks up our delightful conversation where we left it before dinner. The hours slip by like minutes, and before long she looks at me and says, “Happy New Year, Simon.”
© 2013 Middlechurch Musings, LLC