I recently decided that after a summer of cramming my freelance writing work into the cracks between my children, I needed a vacation. Well, not so much a vacation per se, but a spot outside my house where I could do nothing but eat and sleep and write. I needed “a room of one’s own” as Virginia Woolf calls it, not just to tackle some deadlines, but also because I just needed to get the hell out of Dodge and leave the unfolded din of real life behind. I could have checked in to the corporate hotel around the corner from my house for this kind of escape, I suppose, but I decided I was going to do it up right, so for the same price, I booked a few nights in a historic bed and breakfast in the small Southern town of Senoia. On the day of departure, I packed my bag, taking not much more than my laptop and an extra pair of stretchy pants, and headed out, listening to whatever the hell I wanted on the radio, and singing along as loudly as I pleased.
As I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the B and B, I was struck by the clouds of Southerness that rose with the gravel dust. I learned the town is pronounced “See-NOY,” not "Sen-OY-ya," for the same reasons why Lafayette is called “luh-FAY-it”: it’s just more Southern that way. The old Victorian house B&B had so many rocking chairs and porticos it practically drawled. I parked, hauled out my suitcase, and rang the bell, causing the two owners to come careening in joyfully from two different directions to help.
“I didn’t mean to bug the whole house, but I’m checking in,” I said.
“Are you the writer?, “ the female owner asked.
I smiled, a little chagrined at the title. I told her when I made the reservation that I needed a desk in my room so I could work.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I am.”
“You’re gonna be in room 8.”
As it turns out, room 8 is the only one with a desk. It also happens to be the bridal suite, so I get not only a desk, but a couch, a 12-inch TV, and an en suite Jacuzzi bathtub big enough for two – not to mention a queen sized antique bed and the matching chiffarobe (not bureau, kids, a proper chaffarobe) stocked with a collection of vintage hats. Of course, I tried them all on, and immediately fell to Facebooking my favorite. I felt the white wool set off my dark hair nicely.
After a quick session of dress up, I pulled out my computer and set up at the shabby chic desk. Over the screen of my computer, I could see the green glow of oak leaves straining through the lace curtains, and I heard church bells ringing the hour. I realized for a moment that, except for my laptop and us women getting the vote and all, it could be 1850. The vibe that came with that realization made me feel part rebellious and part chaperoned, as if I should go out and get a tattoo but only somewhere that would be covered by white cotton tea gloves. I went down to the parlor, and tromped out the door to the heart of the town, which I could spy through the oak leaves roughly half a block away.
The town of Senoia (pronounced See-NOY, now, don’t forget) is literally picture perfect. So much so that it has been used as the small town in a variety of film and TV projects, including “Sweet Home Alabama” and, most recently, The Walking Dead. (Fans of TWD, if you remember Woodbury, the zombie-free zone not so benevolently run by the governor, that is literally downtown Senoia.) I tried not to feel creeped out by its perfect, Children of the Corn vibe, and instead embraced the idyllic buildings and buzzing of cicadas on a summer evening. I walked the entirety of the two-block town in 10 minutes, peering into the recently closed stores – it was after 5pm after all – and then sat down on a park bench. There are many strategically placed park benches in Senoia. I decided to eat dinner at the most happening place I could find, the Irish pub, where I was welcomed into dark, paneled rooms, and sat, by myself, at a table for 6. A gathering of film crew members was clustering around a few of the high top tables at the bar (Walking Dead crew, perhaps?), and I ordered fish and chips and pretended to watch baseball. It’s been a long time since I have eaten alone. I tried to brazen it out, but instead made a mental note to pack a magazine for next time. I considered going nuts and ordering whiskey after whiskey, then stumbling home drunk and ringing the doorbell of the B and B to be let in, but I realized I don’t have the balls to be rude or the necessary pensiveness to get drunk alone and mean it.
I went to bed early that night, trying not imagine that there were Civil Wars ghosts lurking in the draperies.
The church bells in this town ring on the hour and half hour during the day. But, because this is an EXTREMELY perfect little town, they don’t just ring. They also play songs. At 5:00pm the day I arrived, it was “Tomorrow” from Annie. At 8 pm, it was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The next morning at 8am, it was “Puff the Magic Dragon.” I know that because I needed to wake up to get to breakfast, which I was told by the owner “is kind of a big deal.”
It is a big deal. The first course was yogurt, fruit, and a piece of French toast garnished with an edible flower. The second course was a broiled tomato topped with four different kinds of cheese and sautéed mushrooms. The third course was a full plate of grits, bacon, and eggs (“straight from the chicken coop!”). Then there was homemade peach cobbler for dessert. I have now learned that there should always be peach cobbler for dessert at breakfast.
Since there were only three of us staying in the inn, some very nice ladies invited me to join them at their breakfast table, and they gave me some hot tips about traveling in the area and details about where to eat in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I found out over coffee that the owner had her husband give the little desk in my room a new coat of paint just for me, because it was “on the shabby side of shabby chic.” I thanked her and asked if I could take my coffee cup up to my room. “Take the carafe!,” she said, and I took it, waddled up to my room, took a quick picture of me in my vintage hat of the day – a white, netted number I called “The Church Lady” – and sat down to get some work done.
At noon, the church bells played Yankee Doodle Dandy.
At 3:00ish, I found @suburbanhaiku on Twitter, and took a break from the speech I was writing to pen the following:
My headache is back.
Will swallowing the kids work
like aspirin would?
At 3:30, I stretched my legs and left the room in pursuit of lunch.
At 5:00, I returned, bloated from pizza and humidity, after walking through downtown. I stopped in every shop and made polite small talk with every owner. I looked at homemade jewelry and at smocked dresses with matching bows, and at the zombie T-shirts of every ilk at the Walking Dead museum. I bought a few small things, including two Reader’s Digest condensed books die-cut into my children’s initials and an $8 bar of triple milled, honey scented, French-named soap that’s really made in Seattle. I decided the next thing to do was to fill up the trillion-gallon bathtub so I could use the soap, so I drained the heated bulk of the Chatthoochee into the tub until it was a foot and a half deep. Despite toting in a drink and a magazine, once I got in the bath, I couldn’t muster the energy to do more than stare at the window covered with stick-on frosted glass film. I laid my head back and floated, experimenting with the sensation of rising in the water when I filled my lungs with air, and then sinking as I exhaled. I felt anointed and zen as I got out, and I stank happily of Seattle honey. I thought to myself that the flow, that state they keep talking about on the internet where you are so involved in a task you don’t notice time passing, must lurk in the corners of this room along with the ghosts.
At 7:00pm, the church bells played the theme from Chariots of Fire. Taking inspiration, I pretended to run in slow motion to dinner.
I hit up the local barbecue joint, and as it turns out, I was the only patron there other than an elderly table of 20. I had their signature white barbeque sauce with smoked brisket and some excellent meaty beans. I read my magazine and laughed to myself about an article on all you can eat buffets in Las Vegas. I realized there was no one there with whom to share the joke. After dinner, I went home, rummaged in the chiffarobe, and posted a picture of myself wearing a full-length, tiara-ed wedding veil. Multiple people asked me, “Are you writing, or are you playing dress up?” A little of both, I thought.
I sat in the quiet room and realized that other than exchanging pleasantries with my host or the odd waitress, I haven’t spoken out loud for most of the past two days. I also realize the primary reason writers need to read. They need a voice in their head other than their own.
I rose early the next morning and decided, after my Internet admonitions, to don a much more serious hat of the day, so I chose a somber, bow-topped black affair I call the “Peggy Olson.” It was filled with minimalist Lutheran efficiency. I posted a picture, ate eggs and peach cobbler, and said goodbye to my breakfast ladies, who were headed home. Everyone asked me how the speech I was writing was going and marvelled at the tourists in from China at the table behind us. (I gave them a hearty “Ni Hao” as I walked by them on the porch later. Thank you, Nick Jr., for the lesson in Mandarin.) I finished my biggest project by lunch, and I poked once more through downtown. This time I found, among the jadite glass kitchen things in an antiques store, a set of four glasses featuring muscled men in sassy poses. I realized their clothes disappear when you fill up the glass. I was tempted to bring them home, but I smiled and left them there to shock the next Southern Baptist tourist. Clearly, the owner has a sense of humor to go along with her Gone with the Wind plates and autographed picture of Burt Reynolds.
I headed back to my room just in time to hear the church bells do a 3:00pm medley of “Feelings” and “Send in the Clowns.” I ate a bite of a cupcake that I picked up at the cute little bbq joint, and it tasted vaguely of smoke and meat. I sat down at the little white desk once more to work, and after a few minutes, the creaking stairs preceded the chatter of the B and B owner as she guided some new guests to their room. “Oh yes … she’s a writer,” I hear her say as they pass by my door.
Damn skippy, I think. And I keep typing.
Much like a cruise ship pulling into port, I am swept back into real life all at once as I realize that this is my last morning at the inn. I need to pack my bag. I need to take a shower. I need to get an oil change. I need to go to IKEA. I decide to go out with a bang and take the final, triumphant hat from the chiffarobe, a black beret-ish chapeau with black tulle and feathers. It’s just the thing a girl would wear to court so she could wink at the judge during her testimony. I christen it “The Vixen,” snap a quick picture, then fluff it up and put it back on the shelf.
I have completed my projects. I have made up the bed. I have zipped up my bag, and I am ready to head home. But as I walked through the room for the last time, wistfully looking at the bathtub, I decided to whisper something to the timeless feeling of flow that was in the corners.
“Come home with me,” I said.
“And maybe bring the hats.”
Hi. I'm Amanda Dobbs.