I’m so delighted to share that the Autumn 2021 issue of Cultivating is live and online, friends! Do steep a pot of tea or brew a large mug of coffee and savor this one as the weather turns; there will be new releases all through the season.
I had the joy of revisiting some old memories and some moments from Beatrix Potter’s life in my contribution. One afternoon as I worked on the essay, a sudden sunshower appeared outside my window, looking for all the world as if it had been plucked from the opening scenes of the old BBC “The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends” show.
The theme of this issue is “Cultivate,” and I hope this braided piece encourages you as you cultivate beauty in your own life — as you drink it in deeply yourself, and turn to pour it out for others.
Somehow she always knew to save the best for last.
When my mother took me along to run errands in the summer at the outlet shops — or “shoppes,” I should say, for the entrance sign emblazoned the word on my memory in those early years — I found ways of amusing myself and recognizing our various stops over time.
The menswear store, for instance, I knew by the scent of its bright pinewood floors. The best clothing racks were the circular ones; a small girl could slip unseen into their center, suppressing her giggles, until her mother stopped browsing to guess whether she was hidden among the short-sleeve polos or the button-down shirts. When Mom walked to the counter to purchase my father’s clothes, I too would pop out into the open, gravely pretending to shake the hand of a mannequin in farewell.
I held my nose to avoid the hot-glue smell at the hair accessories stand and the overpowering rose potpourri that saturated every clearance item in the home decor shop. The fudge and ice cream confectionery held an undeniable fascination for me as we passed by, of course, but my favorite shop — and very often our final one — was the Royal Doulton fine china outlet.
Whatever the weather outside, the first step after the swoop of the glass door took me into what seemed another world. Here it was cool and dim and hushed, the space lit chiefly by spotlights on glass shelves. The shelves lined the walls and extended out from them, creating smaller display rooms where I walked with the careful tread of a museum-goer.
I looked at the impossibly thin, deckled edges of miniature sculpted roses, and at the figurines of dancers in ballgowns. The elegance of motion in the sweeping porcelain skirts, with the ladies in them turning to smile demurely over their shoulders; the jaunty tilt of the puppies’ heads; the gently scalloped rims of the teacups and saucers: these left me with a sense of beauty and gracefulness that inexplicably stirred a resonant chord in me. The thin loops on the sides of the teacups looked as if they might house my pointer finger and thumb exactly, but I kept my hands very still and walked on by.
For in the back right-hand corner of the shop was the best spot of all: a little rug and a tantalizing rectangular box, containing twelve white books tailor-made for small hands. Each book had a woodland creature on the front, painted in exquisite colors. I’d never seen such stories or illustrations anywhere else, and I intended to acquaint myself with each one.