My recent adventure begins while I was driving near my house; I stopped at a yard sale, a pretty white cottage I had admired in my neighborhood. I was looking for antiques and vintage items and I was excited and hopeful I would find some treasures. It was a bit disappointing but one box intrigued me. It was a small box of old ribbons. I paid the full price of $10.00 and told the woman how I had admired her home. She thanked me but offered no words about the box. A few days later I opened the box again and noticed a note inside which read “Old Time Ribbons, Grace Lyons Kirkland, hat millinery Bloomfield Indiana”. I knew the ribbons were very old and suddenly I visualized Grace in her hat shop. A shop surrounded by straw hats, bolts of fabric, satin, lace, and velvet ribbons. It felt strange to touch the ribbons, I thought about time travel, imagining and wishing that by just rubbing the soft velvet that I could be transported back to the 1800s. I wondered about Grace, so I Googled her name and there she was – listed in the cemetery in Springfield, Oregon.
A few days later my daughter Juliette and I went to the old Laurel Grove cemetery to look for Grace’s grave. I was especially curious about the fact Grace died in 1898 at only 40. We searched for an hour and only found her husband Arthur Kirkland’s headstone but no sign of Grace. Disappointed and driving home, my daughter, glancing up from her phone, suddenly burst out “I found the sister, she’s buried by her sister! Turn around, Mom, we have to go back!”
So, I turned the car around, we hiked up the hill again, this time looking for the Lyon’s family plot. After another hour only Grace’s mother and brother were to be found. I wondered if she might be buried under the exquisite white rose-bush near her brother’s grave; it had piercing thorns but a magnificent smell. Grace was the first in her immediate family to die; she died before her husband, mother, sisters, and brother. In my mind, I pictured a monumental headstone – an angel crying with huge wings that a thief may have carted off. Her husband was a wealthy stockman who refused flowers at his funeral. I wondered if he was still brooding over the death of his beloved wife as he died at the young age of 52. How could his headstone be so substantial, yet nothing for Grace?
I researched millinery shops, hats of the same era and the city that Grace lived in Bloomfield, Indiana. In the 1870s, hats were worn hung to the side, draped with silk or velvet ribbons. It was said a woman wouldn’t be caught dead without her hat. The purchase of a custom-made hat would be something that most women would have to save up for, as it would have been a substantial sum, beautiful adornments of velvets, lace and satins came in exquisite colors to set off the wearer’s eyes and frame the face. French ribbons were of such value that they might be recycled, taken from the wealthy woman’s outcast and saved for a less fortunate woman who could not afford the luxury of a beautiful new hat but still grateful for someone else’s hand-me-downs.
I decided to go back to the little white house, hopeful for answers about Grace. There, standing on the front porch watering flowers with her perfectly coiffed hair was a pretty petite woman. I approached her with a smile and blurted out my story of the ribbons. She welcomed me into her home and told me her name is Theda, named after Theda Bara. I chuckled to myself as she told me how her dad named her after the Hollywood Vamp and she wondered if I had heard of the famous film star. I told her I had and we proceeded to have a fabulous afternoon reveling in conversation about her antique acquisitions.
But disappointment again set in regarding the box of ribbons. According to Theda, she had acquired those years ago at a yard sale. She told me how she had a craft store at one time and that’s why she purchased the old box of ribbons. At 89 years old, Theda is still quite sharp in her thinking. She showed me photos of her husband (who was the love of her life), her children, and fabulous paintings adorning the walls that she herself had painted when her eyesight was a bit better.
Years ago someone had carefully penned Grace’s brief story on a note and placed inside the box, hopeful that someone might treasure the ribbons also. Now, over 100 years have gone by and, to some, this story may sound silly. After all, they’re just ribbons — but that box of ribbons brought together two like-minded women to share their stories. And funny enough, I have a five-foot painting of Theda Bara in my home!
reblogging from a past post. xo Val