Redeemed by Splendor and Grace

11 May

Do you know what I’ve discovered?   I don’t know what possessed me to think it would be a good idea to dangle hundreds of feet in the air in a wicker basket half the size of a bathtub, borne aloft by hot air from massive gas burners a couple feet above my highly flammable wig, while being carried along by the currents, above an endless mountain range at 6:00 in the morning.  Fortunately, I have my plans and God has his plans.  Fog set in each morning of our trip that was as thick as pea soup, cancelling my crazy-go-nuts plan, where I had fantasized that I was going “to sing a song and sail along the silver sky” sounding like the exact replica of the Fifth Dimensions—all five-part harmonies coming out of my mouth at the same time.   Maybe God knew I had booked myself on the Titanic of hot air balloons and wanted me to live to see another day.  Whatever the reason:  balloon day was a big fat bust!

Hot air balloon festival||Google Image

On top of the “no show” balloon ride, it rained on and off the entire weekend (as in the heavens opened up and exploded on us) throughout our winery tours, and the overly-crowded wineries in the Charlottesville area proved to be as lackluster as I had remembered.  One very popular winery, which will remain nameless, moved us along an assembly line of mediocre “watery” wines as if we were pigs at troth while each new section wine pourer barked at the crowds to get their samples and “move away from the counter” while waves of busloads of people filled in the gaps to line up at the troths to swig swill.  Maybe it was just me, but it was starting to look like the best laid plans of mice and men were beginning to go asunder.   Thanks Steinbeck!

But then when I stopped complaining and worrying about the weather and my missed opportunity to potentially get killed, along came the unveiling of the splendor that is the Inn at Willow Grove, our lodging that we had discovered by accident several months ago after a road trip through Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Inn at Willow Grove||photo by J Tomczyk

“The parlors in the big house at the Inn at Willow Grove are just chic beyond chic, the height of elegance, beautifully and luxuriously decorated, swathed in yards of fabric in understated blacks and grays and beiges, so tasteful, so subdued, so soothing, so rich.  It’s all serenity and silence.”—Zofia Smardz, The Washington Post (May 2011)

Usually historical places that bare the stain of slavery give me hives.  But the Inn at Willow Grove, located off Route 15 near Orange, VA is an 18th century plantation manor home situated on 40 well-appointed acres that was renovated from top to bottom by David and Charlene Scibal, and they have chased all the bad “juju” away with their gracious hospitality and charm.  Besides the main house, the property has five elegantly refurbished cottages with a couple of butlers to boot and a fabulous gourmet restaurant run by Executive Chef Jason Daniels.  Even though I was born a poor black child in the ghetto of Cleveland, Ohio, I have long suspected that I was destined to be “to the manor born.”   My diva spirit was confirmed when we were booking our room in the Inn and my wonderful white husband, WW, temporarily lost his mind and suggested we take one of the cheaper, smaller guest rooms in the Carriage House (beautifully done, but obviously the historical significance went right over WW’s head).  I remembering saying, in no uncertain terms:  “Hell to the no, “White and Wonderful,” I have waited over 200 years to sleep in the ‘Massah’s House,’ so pull out that platinum card, book us the ‘Master Suite,’ and have that cute, young, white butler fetch me a mint julep on the verandah, thank you very much, ’cause this is how Big Mama rolls!”

“Big Mama and WW’s Suite” (The Master Suite)||Inn at Willow Grove) ||Willow Grove website photo

As I walked the meticulously groomed grounds in the early mornings while giving my “shout out to God” and meditated on the grace of my Lord, I thought of my historical lineage (descendent of a slave owned by the Wimbushes of Pennsylvania and a Cherokee Indian grandmother).  When I later sipped champagne with my Coupmance friends and WW on our Jeffersonian balcony (it magically has no visible means of support) while the rain exploded in raucous joy and our genuine laughter matched its timber, I slowly but steadily began to realize that this redeemed plantation acreage (“where urban meets plantation” according to Mrs. Scibal), that had once been a place of disgraceful suffering in the 1700s, had now become a venue of healing and relaxation under the tutelage of people who not only had an eye for beauty but had the knack for hiring some of the nicest people I’ve ever met to propagate that welcoming spirit of a modern inn for the ages.  When the breakfast tray of French-pressed coffee and a bag full of warm beignets was delivered by the butler the next morning, I thought:  “Hot damn—now, Big Mama, this is change we can believe in!”

Garden Pathway||J Tomczyk photo

Butler’s Cottage||J Tomczyk photo

Main Event Space (receptions and corporate meetings)||J Tomczyk photo

Old School House Cottage||J Tomczyk photo

I am discovering I agree with John Lennon in that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  I didn’t get to risk my life in a hot air balloon and I’ve toured better wineries in my day, but I’ve rarely had such an engaging, peaceful, laugh-filled, sumptuous, beauty inspired weekend as I did at the Inn at Willow Grove.  I returned to the front lines extremely grateful that I am a black woman living in 2012 and not the 1700’s—thank you very much!||owner photo||

“That a gracious innkeeper can be found in Virginia is hardly surprising. That one who offers of-the-moment fare and Fifth Avenue urbanity has taken up residence here lends this hidden gem a brilliant shine.”—Karen Sommer Shalett, The Radar|Weekender

The Author on the day she serendipitously discovered the Inn at Willow Grove

“Any fool can be happy. It takes a man (or woman/parenthesis=mine) with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep.”—Clive Barker, Days of Magic, Nights of War

 “People have the power to redeem the work of fools.”Patti Smith

“The highest compliment that I can give Charlene and David Scibal, the proprietors of the Inn at Willow Grove is that they have ‘redeemed the work of fools’ (from the historical plantation stain of slavery to a magnificently elegant property of graciously welcoming, restful inclusion to all who cross their threshold).  I shall return—again and again.”Eleanor Tomczyk, How the Hell Did I End Up Here?

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , ,

31 responses to “Redeemed by Splendor and Grace

  1. becomingcliche

    May 11, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Well, I’m sorry you missed the balloon ride, but you got an even better story!

    I am sorry about your upcoming weekend. I shudder when I think of it.

  2. Tina

    May 11, 2012 at 11:26 am

    I wonder if some sites can ever be redeemed. (Concentration camps come to mind.) You have wonderfully illustrated that the encounter of redemption takes the participation of many. By the way, I’m secretly glad you didn’t go ballooning. Now I can say I’ve done something you haven’t!

    • etomczyk

      May 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

      Tina: I hate to disappoint you, but I have done ballooning. I did it in California where the wine was soooooo much better. My Coupmance friends had not done it and one of them is afraid of heights so we were probably spared a great scare. I think you’re right that there are some things that can’t be redeemed UNLESS they are left intact to remind us of history we never want to repeat–Anne Frank’s house comes to mind. I was so moved when I visited it that it totally changed my outlook on life. Have a good one!

  3. imagesbytdashfield

    May 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Sorry you missed being Marilyn McCoo but happy you had a good time at that lovely inn. That is one of my bucket list things to do, winery tour in Cali and France and Spain and Australia (you get the point) Pretty soon I’m going to have a big tale to tell you – again, weather permitting. Welcome back

    • etomczyk

      May 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm

      TD: I know! I wanted to be Marilyn McCoo so badly. I almost mentioned that in the piece but I figured no one would know who that was. I should have known you’d know who she was (she’s still gorgeous). I too want to do the winery tours France and Spain and Australia. Maybe we’ll see each other there someday. 🙂 Cheers!

      • imagesbytdashfield

        May 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

        Oh don’t make me want to plan a trip with you two! I can see the 4 of us getting thrown out of many a place.

      • etomczyk

        May 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm

        TD: I can only imagine. Thanks for being such a faithful reader. I truly enjoy your comments. Cheers!

  4. momshieb

    May 11, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Well, my friend, I have a couple of comments:
    First: Why the hell do you have to be in Mitt’s presence?! I have been there, done that, up close and personal when he was governor here and I was on a local board. Made me want to run home and take a shower after I shook his hand….! Good luck, be strong!
    Second: I LOVE the idea of you in that beautiful manor house, sipping on that mint julep. Kind of the same karma that I felt when the first black President moved into that big house that was built by slaves.
    Third: The Fifth Dimension is my guilty secret. I love them, and sing all their songs in the shower….
    Glad you had fun!

    • etomczyk

      May 11, 2012 at 10:38 pm

      Momshieb: The story of “why the hell I have to be in Mitt’s presence” is a long and beautiful story of redemption that a teacher, such as yourself, would consider to be one in a million and to be treasured for a lifetime. I am going to witness the graduation of a young woman that has been to hell and back, has almost died a couple of times due to her own poor choices but has triumphed over it all to finish a Bachelor’s Degree that she had lost along the way along with just about everything else in her life. Today she is strong, sane, clear-headed, and whole. Talk about being redeemed by splendor and grace, she is the epitome of that title. I would go into the presence of the devil himself to see her cross this finish line. After saying all that, I can only imagine the blog fodder I’m going to get. In fact, I’m taking a notebook so as not to forget anything.

      Wish me luck! ET

  5. composerinthegarden

    May 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Well, even though I was picturing you all week in the hot air balloon, I enjoyed your account of the big trip with unexpected payoffs. And good for you, staying in the luxury of the big house! If you go on a wine tour again, try the Lake Cayuga area near Ithaca, NY – absolutely wonderful, friendly, with excellent wine & food and lovely gardens everywhere, and beautiful in September 🙂

    • etomczyk

      May 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      Lynn: Surprise, surprise: WW and I met in the Ithaca area, married there, had our first child there and those wineries were our second home. Those were our “salad days” being hippies, musicians, and actors in Ithaca. Aw, those were the days my friend. . .

  6. Joanne

    May 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Lovely… and profound….

  7. debbie

    May 13, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    What a beautiful place I have stayed at several of these type places and they are so refreshing to your spirit! There is a similar place I love in Indiana, just south of Michigan. Run by a German woman who used to be a day labourer in German. It has a beautiful terrarium and a glass porch. Thanks for sharing

  8. aFrankAngle

    May 14, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Wonderful pics from the inn … and the suite for the lady with the bling!

    I love the Charlottesville area .. .but can imagine the crowded wineries – and I’m envisioning to answer with the hordes of people.

    Sorry you didn’t get the chance to sing on your balloon ride. But here’s a chance to sing for still being alive. Therefore, here’s your chance to sing along.

    • etomczyk

      May 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      Hi Frank. I did sing along with gusto! Thanks for making my rainy day. ET

      • aFrankAngle

        May 15, 2012 at 7:47 am

        And why am I not surprised! 🙂

  9. Linda C.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Just reading made me sigh, Eleanor–though I would have preferred the Butler’s Cottage…

    • etomczyk

      May 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm

      Hi Linda. We almost chose the Butler’s cottage (that’s where our friends stayed), but encouraged the to take it since it was an anniversary celebration for them. We spent time on the porch/patio area though and it was, indeed, very, very lovely. Take care. E

  10. aFrankAngle

    May 18, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Good Morning Eleanor. Did you awaken with a little burn in your ears?

    • etomczyk

      May 18, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Frank. As in what? As in the old adage that “my ears were burning because you were talking about me”? 🙂 Or as in Donna Summers has passed and I am in deep diva mourning–kindred spirits and all!

      • aFrankAngle

        May 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

        Alright E-Tom, I’ll be more direct … so you should pop over.

      • etomczyk

        May 18, 2012 at 10:15 am

        Frank, I just did and I left you a note!

      • aFrankAngle

        May 18, 2012 at 12:14 pm

        See … your ears had a burning itch! Meanwhile, I did leave you another hint. 😉

        Good luck on the rewrite, and then getting it past the tough editor. Will having some wine ready when he arrives help?

      • etomczyk

        May 18, 2012 at 12:27 pm

        Frank, yes. . .that and pizza!

  11. Lori-Ann

    May 18, 2012 at 10:01 am

    What a great read! I have to say that I paused at the second last photo because I couldn’t figure out if you had set fire to a hottub, but on closer inspection I see it’s an outdoor fireplace.

    • etomczyk

      May 18, 2012 at 10:30 am

      Hi Lori-Ann. Now that you mention it, it does look like I set the hottub on fire. Ha! They have those lovely outdoor spaces all over the property and it is quite lovely. Thanks for stopping by. ET

  12. An Observant Mind

    May 21, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    “This is change I can believe in.” Oh Eleanor, you had me in stitches, you are the best!!!! The manor looked incredible. Incredible. I have said it before and will say it again, no one does stunning scenery coupled with gorgeously designed structures like the USA. I love that you too the suite (life is too short!) and love even more your post about the experience! x

    • etomczyk

      May 22, 2012 at 7:13 pm

      Karyn, so glad this translated with you not living anywhere near this inn. That means I did my job. I was a little concerned that it would be too esoteric. It is a very lovely place and we had a ball. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. Cheers!

  13. Lindy Lee

    June 4, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    You have written & photographed an enticing review about the Inn at Willow Grove.
    They owe you a great big debt of gratitude…

    • etomczyk

      June 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Hi Lindy: I really liked Willow Grove, although I think they might be a little scandalized that such a provocative blogger wrote about them. Haven’t heard a peep! Oh well, the review was heartfelt.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: