In September, I had to spend an afternoon way out in Hanover County taking some photos for one of my new clients. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to take the backroads home with the sunroof open and the volume up loud.
I had driven this same route a few weeks earlier and noticed an intriguing sign, so when I saw it again I pulled off the road and parked. I had my “real” camera with me so it was the perfect opportunity to try to get some decent shots (instead of the iPhone through the open window while pulled slightly off the road attempt that did not work out so well the first time).
My instinct was just to be fast and bolt, but as I crossed the street, I saw that there was a woman watering plants just down the driveway. That’s when a funny thing happened: you know how people are always joking about turning into their mothers? Well, my Mom can (and will) talk to, and make friends with pretty much everyone. And that’s what I did that day.
I (as non-creepily as possible) walked up to the woman and asked her if she’d mind if I took a few photos of her sign. At first she shrugged me off saying she didn’t mind at all, but that the sign was old and needed a new coat of paint. I explained to her that I was a graphic designer and that there are not many hand-painted signs like hers around—what she had out there was really quite a gem.
She looked at me, surprised, and then told me to wait for a minute and disappeared inside her house. When she returned, she held out an envelope with a name written on it: Mr. Bagby. In it contained a photo she had taken of a sign she saw and liked in South Carolina. Years ago she brought that same photo to Mr. Bagby, who then custom-made the picket fence sign and did all of the lettering himself.
She informed me that the name she gave her home came from the film, The Enchanted Cottage, which I was too embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of. (Let’s face it—if it isn’t Hitchcock I’m pretty clueless until the era of, well, Clueless.) At any rate, it soon became obvious that as awesome as the sign was, it was nothing compared to the place, and the people, it represented.
She spent the next half hour or so with me talking about her gardens and how she and her husband were Master Gardeners and members of the Richmond Rose Society. She showed me the yellowed copy of the Hanover Press that featured a story about them, the cottage, and the stunning gardens they've meticulously maintained for more than three decades.
As I stood in her dining room, she told me that her husband had been born in the house. The very first time she saw it was after they had gotten engaged and were visiting his parents. And while her husband thought she was crazy, that was when she fell in love and declared that that’s where they were going to live someday. After his parent's passed away, she got her wish, and they have lived there together ever since.
She told me that she couldn't imagine not living there, but she knew the day was coming soon. She told me she was going to miss it. And that she was going to miss him.
Our conversation was cut short when the phone rang. She had been expecting an update from the doctors that were treating her husband for a stage of cancer that did not sound good. I quietly slipped back out through the screen-door, took the photos I had come for, and choked back tears the rest of the way home.