Tomorrow is Tasha Tudor's birthday; it is a day that will be, doubtless, a lovely day because so many of us will be remembering a special person and the influences of her life.
The year I turned 50 I gave myself (and my husband) tickets to her garden tour. It was a lovely May, but cool and damp. After reading everything about Tasha I could find, one sentence really stuck out to me: "Tasha doesn't understand why a woman would wear pants.... she prefers dresses...." The writer of the piece went on to discuss how Tasha thought women looked horrible in pants "completely unattractive" and how she really did encourage female visitors to wear one of the many dresses she had on hand.
With this in mind, I began to search for a lovely fabric from which to make a 19th century dress for myself. Finally, I found just the right thing -- a lovely floral entitled, appropriately enough, "The Secret Garden." I realized, too, that I would need a shawl and spent a great deal of time looking at Tasha's shawls. I could figure out the garter stitch, that was easy enough, but the edging was a trick. Then, I found Nancy Bush's "Tasha Shawl" here. Isn't it lovely??
I eagerly began work on the dress and shawl while preparing mid-terms and then finals. Graduation was May 11; my birthday AND the garden tour was May 13. As soon as the recessional played and the faculty and students were out of the auditorium, I ran to the car, pulling off my regalia as I hurried, jumped behind the wheel and off we flew! Vermont is more than 16 hours from where we work in Virginia, so we had to cover a lot of ground that night in order to get to Vermont and rest before the garden tour that Saturday.
We drove until we were exhausted, arose early the next morning, and fairly flew down the interstate, clicking off the states as quickly as a child slurps down a chocolate dipped ice cream cone. Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York.... We scurried along, making record time. That evening, we checked into the nearly abandoned ski lodge in Marlboro, VT, Tasha's hometown. The owners were lovely folks and offered advice on where to eat, how to drive the mountains, and watch for elk (honest, they really do cross the highways just as freely as the deer do here!), and how to get to Tasha's the next morning.
I could hardly sleep, I was so excited! Eagerly the next morning I rushed to put on my lovely dress. Rip!!! The zipper had ripped out! Somehow, I had missed backstitching the zipper and the thing had pulled out. Quickly, I hand stitched it back into place, smoothed my hair (it was short then -- a moment of weakness and I had cut it!) and slipped my "Tasha" shawl around my shoulders. On my feet? Why hiking boots, of course! I looked quite "pilgrim-y", Don said!
The ride to Tasha's was amazing. The mountains were a lovely green -- I now understand "the Green Mountains"... But, I was particularily struck by the huge sticks poked upright along the road's edge. Don and I debated what they could be there for when it hit us. The inn-keepers told us that they often had more than 300 inches of snow in a winter. The sticks marked the side of the road when the road wasn't to be seen!
We carefully nudged the Forester down a narrow drive and parked in a lot already filled with cars. There were about 16 of us there for the tour. Each of us was so excited and eager to see if life imitated art or vica versa. Amy and Winslow met us at the Rookery and outlined our day. The walking route, tour, and history of the home were given and we had a nice look around the shop. Then, out we went, over the stream, up hills, past the rocks where the Madonna holds her Babe at Christmas, and across the field where children frozen in time in Tasha's paintings surely had played. Then, there it was. The house.
We all paused and seemed to gasp simulataneously. It felt as if we had entered a sacred place, something not of this world. The peace, the quiet, the beauty,the barn, the goats, the gardens. It was all here. Because May had been so cool, very little of the garden was out, but it was just on the edge of spring. One could feel it. Any day the ground would erupt in colour and the golden yellow of the sun would be mimiced in the daffodils below. A gentle rain began to fall and I was grateful that I only knit wool. It repels water better than any slicker could. I was warm, dry, and completely happy.
In and round the gardens we walked, quietly, mediatively, looking for those familiar settings shared in books, pictures, articles, which we had all devoured for years. The greenhouse was filled with plants, blooming or just emerging or somewhere in between; daffies, still unopened, filled the yard and nodded in the wind and shower. The pond rippled as rain water danced on its surface.
"Surely, this is a another time and place," I thought. There wasn't even a contrail in the sky; it was as if time had slipped and we were no longer in our own time. It sounds trite, but it was magic.
Winslow and Amy led us around the garden and the house exterior, answering questions, talking about the barn, the house, the garden, the corgies, and anything else we had in mind. Then, they led us down a sloping path to Seth and Marjorie's home for tea. It was all there -- the special family tea mixture "Stillwater tea" along with various cakes, cookies, and breads. A wild flower bouquet, mostly long grasses and a few early flowers, filled one corner of the table and lovely linens, faded with use and time, set the stage for a truly genteel tea party.
We sat in small groups and discussed our passion and our interest in Tasha's life. Each of us had a favorite painting and each of us adored Tasha, or at least what we believed to be her.
When the tea was over, we walked past Seth's workshop and around to Winslow and Amy's house where we again were encouraged to explore the grounds. Don and I had a lovely conversation with Winslow about honey bees as he was thinking of starting beekeeping. Don and I enjoyed telling him about our farm and our life; we even shared a moment with a striking orange salamander!
Then, we were back at Tasha's for one more look before we headed to the Rookery for last minute shopping before leaving. We gathered in the barn, checking stalls and admiring Seth's fine wood working. Then, we heard a door close and a soft voice with a strong New England accent said, "Are they here?" Amy replied, "Yes, Granny. Do you wish to come out?" And then, standing in the barn, was Tasha!
She was gracious and cordial, asking questions, answering questions. She was the most generous hostess! There was something in the way she smiled and seemed amused and yet pleased with people coming to see her home and her gardens. She looked at my dress and shawl, asked if I had corgies, and talked a few minutes about what a fine animal the corgy was. Winslow called to us and asked that we join Tasha in the doorway for a group picture. Quickly, I sat on the ground at Tasha's feet. And, hanging on my stairwell, along with all the pictures or art from special trips, is a lovely photo of Tasha, hands folded along her stomach, looking down at me and my dress!
It was a day I will always remember for many reasons. But the one thing that I will always always always cherish is discovering that Tasha was just like all of us; she wanted to live her authentic life. And she did. Isn't that the best part of loving her life, her art, her books? Just knowing that each of us had a bit of heaven within us gives us hope that we can make our lives just as we wish them to be.
Happy birthday, Tasha.