Originally appeared on The Scout Guide Alexandria
I think it was the cobblestone streets that first made me fall in love with Old Town. I was also fascinated by the beautiful row houses that seemingly extended in each direction for blocks and blocks. Shared, narrow alleyways between neighbors, little courtyards tucked away behind houses, church steeples and bell towers dotting the sky line, the store fronts and restaurants all along King Street and tucked away on side streets…I loved it all. Coming from the Mississippi Delta, the small town vibe of Old Town felt so familiar to me yet the architecture and lifestyle were so totally different. I daydreamed about the life being lived beyond the walls of those houses.
After moving here with my small town sensibility stubbornly intact, it didn’t take me long to get to know many of the people inside of those houses and shops. I quickly learned those people were even more uniquely special than the exterior facades. One of those such people is artist TODD HEALY OF GALLERY LAFAYETTE. His art studio and framing gallery, filled with his meticulously created watercolors and pen and ink drawings of Old Town’s architecture, is located a flew blocks from my house.
Searching for the perfect and meaningful birthday present for me, my fiancé stopped in to TODD HEALY’S studio one day to see if perhaps he had ever produced a painting of my house. Todd had not; however, he had painted something far more special–the house directly across the street, but not only that, he had done two different paintings–one in the spring and one in the winter.
Upon seeing them, my fiancé exclaimed, “Miss Polly’s house!” Miss Polly is my 90 year old friend who lives across the street from me who is so precious I could just eat her up with a spoon. Miss Polly has a spirited personality, a healthy sense of humor and the absolute biggest heart, so it’s no wonder I absolutely adore her. In the spring and summer months when I see Miss Polly outside, I’ll go visit with her on the sidewalk, in her back courtyard, or sometimes we’ll just sit on one of the benches along our street visiting and talking about our respective lives. She’ll regale me with stories of Old Town back in the day, of rearing her kids in that house, the loss of her husband, politics and all the places she’s traveled. Likewise, I will reflect on the loss of my husband, new love, rearing my kids, the health of my parents or entertain her with stories from one of my latest trips or projects I am working on. During the winter months, and specifically during the snowstorm this past winter, Miss Polly and I would wave to each other from our second floor bedroom windows every day letting the other know we were doing ok.
My kids also adore Miss Polly. Whenever they spot her from the car or from the windows of our house, they’ll excitedly say, “Momma, there’s Miss Polly! Can we go see her?” My little girl will yell across the street to her, “Hey, Miss Polly!” and blow her so many kisses. "Mwah, mwah, mwah" will go back and forth between the two of them until Miss Polly finally throws her head back in laughter and waves her off saying how I have the most beautiful children.
My fiance’s mention of Miss Polly immediately piqued the interest of Todd, because as it turns out, he is an old and dear friend of hers. Todd produces an annual calendar of his drawings and paintings of Old Town, and in 1984, he was drawn to Captain’s Row and most specifically Miss Polly’s house due to the unique entrance of her home being tucked away on the side of her house. After seeing Todd standing across the street from her house for several days obviously working on something, she marched over, introduced herself and inquired as to what he was doing. It turns out, she loved his work, and they, too, began visiting with each other while he sketched and painted. Later on, Todd invited her to attend an open house for one of his shows, and the rest is history. Todd and his wife and Miss Polly have been the best of friends since.
My fiancé knew I would love having a print of the view from my house, but he couldn’t decide between the spring or winter version. He asked Todd to wrap up both, and on the day of my birthday, the kids and I walked down to Gallery Lafayette. When we arrived, Todd was standing behind the counter in his signature bow tie, had a flower arrangement and a poster that read, “Happy Birthday, Mom!” waiting on the counter for me. I opened up one framed picture and then the next. I immediately loved them both, but my fiancé urged me to look a little more closely and suddenly it hit me. I gasped, “Miss Polly’s house.”
My fiancé and Todd were both quite pleased with my reaction. But I couldn’t decide which one to keep. I kept going back and forth between the two, because I had stared out of my bedroom windows during some of the darkest days of my life the previous winter, but I had also managed to hold on and look out of those same windows until I saw new life and hope emerge during the spring and summer months. They were both so deeply meaningful to me. Those beautifully framed prints represented the seasons within my own life all while capturing the cherished friendship and wisdom of my sweet neighbor and friend. I obviously decided to keep them both!
The kids left the studio that day with fistfuls of Hershey’s kisses and after learning Todd’s favorite cupcake flavor at Lavender Moon is orangesicle, the kids insisted we immediately return with one of his favorites. As we were walking back to our house, we noticed Miss Polly standing outside of her house. We walked straight over, and I immediately unwrapped one of the prints I was clutching and said, “Look, Miss Polly! It’s your house. It’s the perfect view from my house.” She seemed rather teased by my excitement but invited us to visit in her back courtyard. I told her how much I adored her, and she said, “I’m always watching you and those kids, you know.” I assured her I did, and she stopped me and said, “No, I am watching over you more than you even know.” About that time, I looked up and saw this little cherub sitting on her fence and immediately got the chills. It made me wonder if Miss Polly is actually our guardian angel here on earth.
She once raised her fist and told me I was like a phoenix. I told her I thought I had learned it all from watching her fine example of how to live a life filled with such dignity and grace. During another one of our visits, she lamented we were not closer in age, because she just knew we would have been good running buddies. I assured her we still were.
If you’ve never stepped inside GALLERY LAFAYETTE, you are missing out. I strongly urge you to as Todd’s shop is chock full of beautifully framed prints and maps of Old Town and other unique items such as stationery, Christmas ornaments, calendars, cocktail napkins and gift bags all bearing his artwork. You can also visit TODD HEALY at WWW.CAPITOLARTIFACTS.COM to view his extraordinary collection of old, bird’s-eye view maps of various cities and states. When you do go in, I invite you to look past the exterior of the homes and churches he has meticulously captured, because if you look closely enough, you might just discover Miss Polly’s bedroom window or one of the many extraordinary people that make up this beloved town.
In life’s most joyful moments and in the darkest of hours and seemingly impossible circumstances, there is grace. Abundant grace always abounds if you allow yourself to see it. This I know, and these are my lessons in grace.
Read about what came before Sweetness Follows at TeamKennett.com.