Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lit from Within

The change in light tells me fall is on its way. I plan on wringing summer dry and just bought a pretty new beach towel so I know I have a few more summer days left. But the light change reminds me that September is near and it is perfect for Tom Peeper-ing. It’s legal so don’t worry but when night comes sooner in September, I love going for one of those last ice cream cone drives or walks just after dusk when the opportunity is nigh to glimpse into people’s houses for images of peaceful domesticity.

A few years ago, I was in the hospital for an extended stay and the unhappy recipient of what I learned to call potassium bombs – IV’s containing the necessary mineral that stung like mad going into the needle in my wrist and nearly took my breath away. They were brought to me every evening for several nights and I dreaded them. To get me through, I dialed up my friend Katherine, who distracted me with stories from her household. Like what kind of seafood her fish broker husband brought home, how it was cooked, who ate it, and whether there was wine, flowers, or candles. I survived the Blitzkrieg with my friend’s verbal portrait of domesticity and descriptions of her delectable family fare.

It’s these little coup d'oeils of life that I try to catch in other people’s windows on my evening peregrinations and I’ve been fortunate to see some lovely ones: a hostess in a gold damask sheath lighting tapers for a dinner party, a man of the house rolling out blueprints at the dining room table in front of a brass lantern I imagined he moved from the sideboard, a young woman carrying a large folded antique quilt in her arms as she padded across shiny hardwood floors to drape it just-so on a bannister. Would she bring it up to bed because of the cooler September air? I’ve seen babies being rocked, two tots climbing onto their father’s lap before a flickering blue TV screen. Little sketches of homey domesticity which linger in my mind the way Mary Cassett's paintings do.

Some sitings involve the beauty of candlelight. How I long to find twisted candles described in my favorite Nancy Drew, The Sign of the Twisted Candles. I'm always searching for signs of them in the older houses I pass. They’re so elegant and old fashioned. Recently, a friend told me she sniffed a jar of Yankee Candles’ November Rain and declared it made for me. Is there anything more satisfying when the dishes are washed up and stored, than to light a jar candle with a delicious scent and place it on top of the stove in a clean darkened kitchen? Recently I bought three small pink candles in “Rose” and pulled out a small crystal holder that belonged to my grandmother. It will light AND scent my way to the powder room before bed.

At dusk one day last week, I was outdoors taking in sheets from the line, when I turned to go inside and was suddenly and pleasantly surprised to see my own home lit from within. The under-the-counter light threw a shadow of lace from my curtain across the bare kitchen wall, a little bloom softly floated down from the magenta orchid to the table where it rested forlornly beside the sugar bowl, and the electric penny candle I "light" each evening, illuminated the cat from behind and etched in silhouette her pointy ears and half-moon head onto the glass door, where she sat silently watching and blinking into to the falling darkness.


  1. Such a charming tale of domestic bliss observed! I loved this one, Donna, and I'm telling you, that candle has your name written on it! Love that you discovered your own house held that kind of charm for you, too! Hugs, Kay

  2. I think you just outdid yourself with this post. Your wonderful vivid descriptions leave little for the imagination. The best part of all...that you stop and take notice...and share them with us.

    For me, I have always loved lamp light, especially in a window or next to a wingback reading chair, and visible from the street. No blue lampshades for me. Gotta' have an amber glow.

  3. When making the short trip from our grandmother's house to our apartment in the next town over, I occupied myself by peeking into other peoples' windows at night. I noted, and this was 50 years or so ago, how many people had a rectangular mirror above their living room sofas! I mostly just wanted though to witness a warm glow coming from a window, and if there was a lace curtain, I was in heaven. I'm still a peeper. The warm light from a candle or a lamp seems to whisper to me, "quiet down now, let's get cozy, everything is going to be alright".

  4. Nothing much to say, just that I still stop by now and then to discover wonderful remembrances such as this.