December 16, 2009 Edition

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The Grand Tour:

Teagues experience taking part in tour of homes

Sarah Shell Teague
Guest Writer

(Editor's Note: Sarah Shell Teague grew up in Walnut Ridge and graduated from WRHS. She has a doctorate in English from the University of Mississippi. Sarah lives in El Dorado with her husband, Jeff, also formerly of Walnut Ridge, and they have three sons. She is the daughter of Rev. Frank Shell of Batesville and the late Carolyn Shell.)

Jeff and I were asked to participate in the Service League Holiday Tour of Homes last year. We were honored, excited, and quite motivated to tidy up the minor projects that accumulate around a house. The problem is that many tasks can't be simply solved: a part must be ordered, or something is no longer made and sold, we lost the carpenter's number, and so on. As the tour was held the Saturday before Thanksgiving, November 22 from 2-5, we prepared for the holidays quite early.

I paid the high school Thespian Troupe, raising money for a trip to Scotland, to scour the grout in our kitchen and mud room. I love clean grout and joked that I wouldn't look anyone in the face during the tour because I couldn't take my eyes off the pristine grout. We tackled many chores: had cushions made to cover our unsightly kitchen chairs, scratched from the boys' booster seats years ago; cleaned the pool and covered it, removed zinnia stalks, planted pansies, ordered firewood, rearranged the back porch furniture, and replaced the shutter blown off by the remnants of Hurricane Katrina. I worked in closets, straightened up shelving, and couldn't walk through a room without snatching an out-of-place item, stuffing my pockets with pins and accumulated trash, letters and bills.

That fall, '08, in the midst of our preparations, a record number of skunks visited our neighborhood. Our son Justin killed two, a neighbor shot two, and we sighted another huge one right before the tour. I hope I'm not offending animal lovers, but I'm certain they would not welcome skunks before a big party at their house, either. No one got sprayed, and ironically, we didn't sight any after the big day.

I drove November 18th, the Tuesday before the tour, to a Christmas tree farm thirty miles away to select a tree. We usually sing carols on the trip, but I didn't feel right singing them before Thanksgiving, so I began to warble "We Gather Together" and "Come Ye Thankful People Come." Even though we were pushing toward Christmas like crazy, I didn't want to rush Thanksgiving.

After saying I was their first customer that season, the tree farmer told me they were spraying the trees green. I started to ask him what color the trees were before, but refrained. I assured him I didn't want my tree sprayed green. He also intended to shape the tree into a perfect cone, like something out of Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland. Chain saw in hand, he started toward the tree I'd selected and I cried, "No, sir, please!" Certain he could convince me, he shaved up a tree near the one I selected. "Don't you see?" he asked smugly, like of course I would be persuaded. I repeated, "I DO NOT want my tree shaped." He must have felt sorry for me because I didn't want an ultra-green, conical tree, because he only charged me $15 for a beautiful nine-foot tree. So I drove home, once again singing "First the blade and then the ear, then the full bud shall appear..."

Thursday the housekeeper came. The window cleaners came. The florist came. The piano tuner came. And I was trying to decorate a tree. We bumped into each other at every turn. I covered the tree with lights, then ornaments, and at last blew tinsel on each branch. Several limbs stuck out, fortunately, because I didn't allow the tree man to shear them off. I thought about taking a picture of the finished product to send to him, but figured he'd still be disappointed in my non-sprayed, non-conical tree. By Friday, the day before the tour, I was rewashing bathroom rugs and inspecting underneath the beds in the boys' rooms, so obsessed with projects that I considered dusting the light bulbs. We decided to go out for the evening, which provided some necessary relief for my compulsions.

Saturday dawned, though, with touch-ups needed everywhere. I stalked the creek behind our house for more pine greenery and holly berries, and prepared a traffic/parking plan. Jeff decided to wear his tuxedo. Just before noon I remembered that I hadn't swept the front porch. I ran out with my robe on, towel on my head, and began whisking away. League members arrived with refreshments, recipes from their new cookbook. At least I didn't have to worry about food.

I was trying to sweep, with girls tramping through my foyer, when someone mentioned, "we've sold three hundred tickets already." They were also selling tickets at the door. I couldn't believe that many people were going to tromp through our home, but it was too late to back out now. I scurried to dress and dry my hair.

The girls soon covered the counters in the kitchen, stacked the laundry room up to the cupboards, and piled the garage fridge with vegetable canapˇs, pineapple dip and punch. And all I could do was smile at my lovely clean grout. I rubbed one last smudge off a brass candlestick and confined the dog to the garage; then the pianist arrived, and soon the guests.

For two and a half hours, a torrent of friends, acquaintances, recognizable faces, and complete strangers flowed through our front door. People sang carols at the piano, shared decorating mishaps, and drifted into the holiday season. It was one of those events, like a wedding, where you begin to hover above reality, so much going on, a fog of happiness. By 5 Jeff and I collapsed on the family room sofa. A few stragglers wandered through while League members cleaned up. I hit what was left of the refreshments (we ate cream cheese sandwiches for supper that night).

Soon the house was quiet. The girls left the kitchen spotless. I couldn't believe how many plates, forks, punch cups, and napkins had run through there, but not a crumb was left. Jeff and I planned to stare at the TV all evening. The phone rang; my brother Joe asked if I had gotten a message on my cell phone. I told him I had no idea where my cell phone was. He said that Dad had fallen in the tub and broken four ribs. As tired as I was, that was scary to hear. My dad's in great health, but four ribs! He was in terrible pain. It was such a downer after a euphoric afternoon. I'd been so focused on getting everything ready that I wasn't prepared for such news (as we never are).

While hosting the tour was exhilarating, our Thanksgiving visit with my dad and our family was much more meaningful. Beyond houses and Christmas decorations, I was grateful for health, safety, and family peace. This year Dad has returned to his usual vigor, and I don't have to pull out the Snow Village until we're finished with the pumpkin pie.

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