When I think about love, one of the earliest symbols in my life was Vardens, the pharmacy building my great-grandfather, Dr. George Varden built in 1891. The place where my grandfather, Dr. Jo S. Varden was the pharmacist when I was a child. The wonderland of Tiffany glass and gold-tipped South African mahogany cases where the small padded box, covered in yellow and pink brocade held the French perfume my Grandmother Minnie wore. The two images are inseparable in my life: “Daddy Jo” behind the prescription counter for long hours of the day and night. The gifting of the perfume to Grandmother.
I might never have known how foundational these dual truths were in my life if I had only the childhood memories to hold in heart and mind. But there the two great gifts – surprises of sorts- as It was not in my plans for my life to return to Paris, Kentucky. But the building is compelling. And before I knew it, I was partners with my sister and niece in a boutique named – Vardens. From the days of clean-up and restoration, we, and those who dropped by to check on our progress commented on the good feelings that just lived in its bones. “There’s love in the air,” one said. We in turn passed the building along to one who had ” fallen in love” with it, and wanted to see it preserved for coming generations. (The love word was always being associated with Vardens!)
If gift number one had been a surprise, gift number two was more so. An invitation to show my art at the new restaurant now at home in the Vardens building.
How quickly I realized it was about more than art!
As a little girl, those magnificent cases held treasures – from notebook paper and school supplies to delicious boxes of candy and the perfumes. The drawers – there was one particular one where Daddy Jo kept change which one of his three granddaughters might need. My grownup hands touched the known, the familiar, as we filled the store with new treasures for purchase. Now, as I hung the art, my hands knew which niche would catch the light; how to balance the shelves; how the case lights would warm the ambiance.
The proprietor was welcoming and affirming of color and light providing a backdrop to her menus.
The question I asked popped out from somewhere deep inside:
“Would you like some seasonal decorations?”
And so I found myself the week after New Years, storing the Christmas and New Year’s decor, and bringing the pink, red and white heart-themed items into the space. For weeks now, they had been filling my art space at home. Fabric and papers and paint calling out ‘ Love. Love. Love”
I watch the noon-time crowd fill the restaurant. A business meeting carries on at one table. A family group laugh and chatter at the round table in the front window Work colleagues. Mother/ daughter. The patriarch of the family group had arrived early. I was aware he was watching as I put the last heart inside the case. ” it looks really pretty,” he observed. I think him and move on to the back shelves, passing the penny drawer, and thinking of my grandfather and grandmother, the French perfume and 62 years of marriage. Of after-school stops where I felt safe and loved and content. Of “Dr. Jo” in his white lab coat. Exchanging much-needed medicines for a dozen eggs. Of late night phone calls and Granddaddy’s return to the store to fill a prescription. Thinking of my sister. My Niece. Of laughter-filled knitting classes in the light of the Tiffany glass. Birthday parties and lunches; book signings and meetings of the Downtown merchants; the beginnings of Stoner Creek Arts.
One of the waitresses pauses, pondering Valentine’s Day, romantic love and more.
Her grandchildren, she states emphatically, are “the greatest loves of my life,”
We smile in knowing agreement and she is on her way to the next table.
That’s love, actually, I think to myself. Love manifested in different sizes and shapes, love that might be missed if only looking for romance. It is in the air here, and in the stories. Love lived out in French perfume, healing medicines and caring for others. In fellowship around a table.
May the hearts be a reminder, wherever we see them
It’s love that makes the world go ’round.
May we help keep it in the bones of places where it can flourish, in the air we breathe.
May we be both custodians of love, and givers of love, whatever the season.