How a Tea Towel Reminded Me to Sit on the Porch and Eat Strawberries

Kitchen Diary: Anne in South Carolina

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Spring is a busy time for me, the storm before the calm and heavy heat of summer. Just as the most colorful produce appears in the market, I'm so busy I sometimes forget to taste it. Last week, I met an artist, and her work reminded me to slow down and eat the strawberries, on the porch after lunch, with a bottle of cold water from the fridge.

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She uses materials found close to home. Her philosophy of art mirrors my own about food; the best materials are found locally, and they're worth the effort.

Leigh Magar started with hats, the kind that turn a skeptic into a hat wearer in a moment. (Trust me. This is heading toward food.) Recently, she's started working with fabric, designing and making frocks inspired by pictures of early 20th century dresses in the former mill community center where she was an artist in residence.

Read more about Leigh Magar: Madame Magar’s Workshop in Charleston Mag

Leigh came to dinner one night during her residency, and the conversation flowed. Have you ever noticed how that happens? When you don't know someone well, and don't know many people in common, you can't gossip, or talk about the mundane things that are happening in everyone's lives. "Have you seen Lila? She's dyed her hair red again." "Are you going to the thing at Ted's on Friday night?" "Guess who's moving in around the corner?"

Instead, you talk about movies, food, books, flowers, seafood, natural dye, astrology, and any other random thing that weaves its way into the conversation. We could tell Leigh was a friend when, as we lingered at the table after supper, our youngest son came inside with a mildly bloody nose and a few scratches. Somehow, she managed to leave gracefully, without making us feel like our son's drama made us bad hosts.

Just before Leigh left town, she dropped off a gift, an absolutely stunning dress from her collection that I had fallen in love with. The gauzy attached shawl feels like air, and the dress falls to my knees, the fabric so soft I feel like a baby lying on a line-dried, perfectly worn cotton blanket in the sun. It was hand dyed with indigo from Charleston, like the tea towel she used to wrap it. There was a second towel wrapped with the dress. The tea towels are as soft as the frock.

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The towels look like a South Carolina sky on a beautiful, spring day. As I folded them to put them away, I decided to take a minute to look at the sky, and have a solo porch picnic. The kids were at school, my husband was at work, and my dog napped in a patch of sun as I set the table for myself, using my sky blue towel as a tablecloth. I added a bowl of local strawberries I bought earlier that day, the ones I knew would disappear down the gullets of my children as soon as they came home from school. Temperatures here are already in the 90s, so I took a bottle of chilled water and a cup with me to the porch.

My picnic only lasted 15 minutes, but that was enough. I enjoyed the balmy heat, glanced at the bird who has made a nest in the corner of our porch, put my feet up, and watched the grass grow. As much as I would have loved to contemplate the beauty of hand dyed tea towels and juicy, local strawberries all day, I had work to do. But serenity was mine.

The tea towels reminded me to take a moment to bask. That bowl of strawberries, presented in a beautiful way, and those 15 minutes in a rocking chair changed the course of my day. I finished my work without anxiety, finding it easier to focus. The chatter of children during carpool time didn't put me on edge. I decided not to panic about a missed appointment. (I even decided not to freak out about having to pay for the appointment anyway. Gah!) I found serenity on the porch in a bowl of strawberries, all because of a tea towel.

(Image credits: Anne Wolfe Postic)

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