Every summer I fly to Martha's Vineyard for a long weekend to visit my college roommate. Half of the reason I go is to see her and the other half is to absorb her orderliness, to be inspired by the spare but beautifully appointed interiors of her home.
In college we were the odd couple. I was the messy one. After 46 years I continue to live with piles of "stuff" and two shedding cats but now I want to live like she does. Her gray shingled Cape Cod-style house sits on the edge of a vast meadow of heather and clover. The salty smell of the ocean is there, mixed with the sweetness of beach plums and roses.
The vineyard is seven miles off the coast of Massachussetts and contains in its 125 square miles about 90,000 summer residents. Yet, from the air, it looks almost uninhabited - a grand swath of green broken here and there by the glint of a chimney peeking out of the trees at wide intervals. The legendary wealth is invisible from on high and is hidden on the ground at the end of one-lane dirt roads that lead to the ocean. There is nothing unsightly on the island: no cell phone towers, traffic lights or retail chains and no bars. Sheep graze on emerald pastures with stone fences, the sea just off in the distance.
When we land she is waiting, both of us glad that we are together in person. E-mail has allowed us to re-establish our relationship after years of intermittent hand-written letters about births, deaths, new marriages and grandchildren. We head to Edgartown to shop and then to Vineyard Haven for lunch. We eat at Cafe Moxie, pricey, precious and perfect, next to a bookstore where Jackie O used to browse.
My roommate's house is always the visual inspiration I need. Furnished minimally, the colors of the tiles and the wood and the fabrics reflect that rich grassy meadow. Her own design ingeniously hides life's clutter with antique cabinets and hidden drawers. I struggle to keep my guest room clear of any signs of inhabitance. I think of my unruly geraniums at home while sitting in her garden sipping wine. Here, there are plants I see nowhere else, tender pink flowers with delicate leaves of shaded, muted green.
On Monday as the plane heads south, I meditate on the importance of beauty and order. Back in Baltimore I am recharged and ready to confront chaos. I throw out piles of magazines, reassess the scraggly petunias, organize my closet in my head and dream about minimal decor. But then, the part of me the vineyard impressed starts to relax. I am home.
Shirley Lupton lives in Baltimore.