During our journey through life, we meet many people along the way. Some are in our lives for only a short time and yet the impact they make is life changing. There were many women who helped me become the person I am, but the most dramatic of them was “The Duchess”. I was in my twenties and she was in her eighties when I met this grand lady. I lived across the street from her home in Norfolk, VA for a couple of years. From the first day I saw her, before she spoke a single word to me, she began teaching me lessons that would stay with me throughout my life.
She was born in a great plantation house on Avery Island in Louisiana at the turn of the century.
Her first husband was a Diplomat so she lived in Europe for several years.
She was the hand model for the ad to “Let your fingers do the walking” in the yellow pages and in the TV commercials.
She often mentioned one of her favorite homes which she called “The Apartment”. In my young mind, I could only imagine the apartments of my own experiences. That is until I discovered that “The Apartment” was a penthouse in the Watergate residential tower next to the Watergate offices, where a burglary eventually led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation.
Displayed on a wall in her receiving parlor, were ornate gold edged fans within black shadowboxes. The fans were certified to have belonged to Martha Washington.
Classical music was always playing in the background. She said it kept her Shih-tzus company while she was away for the afternoon.
Each day she wore a different elegant hat, full makeup and dressed as if the First Lady was coming to have tea with her. (Which in fact Lady Bird Johnson did!) The Duchess was truly of the manor born. Her style and grace impressed upon me the importance of putting your best foot forward each day. Items from her everyday life are now displayed in several museums. It was in her fur vault that I first held a Balenciaga couture dress and tried to imagine the event it was worn to. (Cristóbal Balenciaga, was a world renowned Spanish designer.) I’ve never forgotten those incredible details and the weight of that amazing work of art. The black silk was constructed into a sculpture that was still pure perfection even thirty years after the last time it was worn.
The Duchess taught me many life lessons. Among them was to buy the best you can afford, use and appreciate it everyday of your life. Don’t save it for the special occasions. Find your passion in life and immerse yourself in it. Attempt to find a job in that field, study it, practice it and surround yourself with that which makes you happy. It is life’s greatest reward to have something that brings you such joy.
Other grand ladies in my life…
Laura was my very first customer and has been my dear friend for decades. She is also the person who encouraged me to sell on eBay many years ago.
Dorean was my first personal assistant.
Even though I am twenty-four years her senior, we would go shopping, to the gym and the beach together. She included me in all her holiday celebrations, parties and Mardi Gras events with her family and friends. Strangers often complimented me on my beautiful daughter. She even asked me to be her Maid of Honor. Perhaps I was her Duchess… I hope so!
This is Erica.
Her grandfather saved my life.
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