Faye Was The Oldest Child of Three

Artist: Marta Lavandier

Faye was the oldest child of three. Her sister Blythe, almost two years younger, was born with extraordinary gifts. A precocious child, Blythe lived away from home most of the year. At the tender age of eight, she already spoke three languages fluently and played the clarinet with such beauty and grace that it brought tears to the eyes of all who heard her music.

Faye’s parents agonized over the decision to allow Blythe to study with the greatest and most revered teacher alive, Italian Maestra Marina Sturmizi. Maestra Marina was not only exceptionally brilliant and beautiful, but a kind and loving human being. She assured Faye’s parents that Blythe would live with her in Italy and be treated as a member of the family. Maestra Marina believed in disciplined structure; it was important for Blythe to study in three- month increments. The fourth, eighth, and twelfth month of each year, she would be allowed to return home to be with her family in California.

Blythe took to this arrangement like a delighted mermaid to water. She loved living at Vizcaya, Maestra Marina’s amazing storybook villa. The household was a boisterous one: Three happy dogs who thought of themselves as human beings; the gregarious and kind housekeeper, Signora Soila; her gentle husband Leo who tended the vast and enchanting gardens; Kimo, Marina’s coveted vegetarian chef from Tahiti; and Twink, Kimo’s extraordinary girlfriend, an irreverent and brilliant bohemian who had won Maestra Marina’s respect and became her personal assistant. Twink was fiercely protective of Maestra Marina. In short order, everyone realized an irrefutable fact: To schedule time with the Maestra, one had to get on the good-side of Twink.

Italy was the most beautiful and magical place Blythe had ever seen. The romantic colors and diffused golden light were magnificent, straight out of a fairy tale. It frustrated her no end that she was unable to describe the beauty to Faye over the phone. When Blythe practiced her clarinet outside on the Villa’s ancient stone terrace, she felt an incredible lightness; being so completely present in the moment that time ceased to exist at all. She became one with the music, giving away her heart and opening her soul.

Because of her heightened perceptions and gifted intellect, Blythe loved to read all that Einstein and Carl Jung had written. She was the first to admit she didn’t understand most of it yet her private tutors encouraged her to keep reading and asking questions. Every day became an adventure in learning. She never studied in a classroom, but instead learned by interacting with each new environment. The many field trips to libraries, museums and days spent exploring ancient gardens were among her favorite activities.

Working side by side with Leo in the villa’s impressive gardens, the kindly gardener taught Blythe to identify and nurture each of the sensual flowers, tender plants, herbs and vegetables. He explained to her that gardening was much more than digging in the dirt, pulling weeds and hoeing. Gardening was an exquisite art form; a process requiring great respect, care, patience and love. Plants were powerful. Leo shared secrets, learned from his grandmother, and her mother before her. One November afternoon, Leo pointed to a wistful clump of ‘naked ladies.’ Blythe knew them to be autumn crocus.

Colchicum autumnale. According to my great-great grandmother, the Romans discovered these rather sad looking flowers produce an amazing tonic which cures gout.”

Blythe looked puzzled, “Leo, what is gout?”

“Gout is a painful malady, often excruciating. It causes joints to swell, especially in the toes and feet. A tincture made from the autumn crocus, in very small doses, will cure it. My grandfather was a one-man spokesperson, attesting to its miraculous power. He was so proud of my grandmother’s ability to heal people. I remember her gentle hands. She never turned anyone away from their door.”

The antique marble-topped iron table in Vizcaya’s entry hall always had the most glorious profusion of towering fresh flowers handpicked by Leo. Twice a week, like clock-work, Signora Soila lovingly arranged them in a huge clay pot glazed the color of green olives. On chilly evenings, especially when she missed her home in California, Blythe liked nothing better than to stop and inhale the sweet heady fragrance of the wondrous bouquet as she crossed the hall into the Villa’s impressive library.

The library was Blythe’s favorite room. A quiet oasis that invited dreamers to indulge their imagination. A place where anyone in the household could curl-up with a favorite book and disappear into the story. The inevitable tensions of everyday life were to be left outside. Any residue of stress seemed to be magically absorbed by a deep sense of peace and serenity. The stucco walls, a mottled pale shrimp-pink, were filled, floor to ceiling, with every imaginable book. As the companionable fire crackled in the massive stone hearth, Blythe could read about anything: Music, art, design, gardening, travel, philosophy, health, cooking, classic literature, history and, to her delight, there was every single volume of first-edition Nancy Drew Mysteries. Books were dear friends. She never felt lonely around them.

The embrace of an enormous wraparound wing chair covered in the softest fade-gold velvet had become ‘hers.’ Blythe talked to her family from this chair every Sunday afternoon. Snuggled into the soft feather-down cushions, she would cradle the ivory coloured old-fashioned receiver as though it were a magical glowing device that connected her to California. The library was a sanctuary; providing the necessary respite away from her beloved music.

Blythe knew she had been born to play the clarinet. Even the endless hours of intense practice brought her a sense of joy and satisfaction. She loved traveling to new and exciting places. In the last three months, performances had taken her to London, Barcelona and Australia. But going home to share secrets with her best friend Faye, and be the ‘older sister’ to their new younger brother, Quigley, filled her heart with a happiness she knew nowhere else on earth.

Of course, Blythe and Faye had their disagreements but unlike most sisters, they were kindred spirits. Blythe was filled with excited anticipation because she had sent Faye a special gift for her birthday; a beautiful poem in a simple wooden frame discovered at a small antique shop in the local village. Above the poem, the artist had drawn an arch; as though looking through a window out onto a beautiful Italian garden bursting with softly hued flowers. Roses, snapdragons, sweet peas, iris, daisies and hydrangeas. Leo had taught her well, Blythe could name every flower in the print.

The hydrangeas reminded her of home. One day, Blythe hoped to show Leo and Signora Soila her beloved Butterfield Road. She knew they would clap their hands in spontaneous delight to see the row of massive blooms which lived below the wide front veranda leading to the perfect, glossy-white front door. One beautiful summer day, Blythe had helped her mother pick the perfect hydrangea to take to the paint store. The front door paint had been meticulously mixed to match the pure, fresh white of the exquisite flower.

Along the entire length of Butterfield Road were masses of pink, purple, blue and white hydrangeas. Camellias, peonies, rhododendrons and precisely trimmed hedges defined the old brick walkways which welcomed everyone. Huge old roses, the color of sunshine and red ruby slippers, climbed on the crisp white fences. A massive wisteria vine encased a secret patio garden dripping long heavy cones of purple flowers that almost touched the ground. Blythe knew Faye would love the painted flowers and the poem by J. P. McEvoy. Written some thirty years before she was born, in 1924, it explained their bond perfectly. “You are my friend – you warm my heart. In all my thoughts you have a part. In all I say, in all I do, there is a comforting bit of you. I see your smile. I feel your hand. I hear your voice and understand. No word will mar, no deed will end. This comradeship of ours, my friend.”

Until their baby brother made an appearance, Faye and Blythe had grown up almost exclusively among adults; they had nothing to which to compare it and felt perfectly comfortable spending their days in the company of people much, much older. In fact, they found other children rather silly and babyish. Faye and Blythe thought of themselves as adults trapped in children’s bodies. Years would pass before they recognized the irony; how vital it was never to lose touch with their child-like wonder and enthusiasm for life. It was one of the most important things.