I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.
– Claude Monet, founder of French Impressionist painting
April 1st marked the beginning of the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Kathy forewarned me that seeing the fields of tulips would likely be marred by tourists – from Canada, other parts of Washington, and far-flung places – who would create a parking lot out of the two-lane road to the picturesque town of La Conner, our eventual destination. We were “saved” by the rain, which never really let up most of the time I was visiting. While the rain deterred us from taking hikes along the waterfront or in the mountains, it not only kept the tourists at bay in the tulip fields but it was ideal weather for catching up with good friends over mugs of hot tea.
It was a little early for the tulips’ full glory, but the rows of vibrant colors – red, yellow, purple, and pink – were still breathtaking. We didn’t have to fight any crowds over the views while snapping photos. And we had a little respite from the rain as we stopped at one of the gardens on display, Tulip Town. I didn’t know that the area was known for its tulips, which were first grown in 1906 with Dutch bulbs. The tulips became part of the seed production industry that included beets and cabbage. Taking advantage of the increasing crowds that were coming every spring to view the spectacular colors, the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce created the festival in 1984, and in 1994 it became its own entity.
Visiting La Conner
Along the way from Mount Vernon to La Conner, we were treated to fields of yellow daffodils in full bloom. We had a nice leisurely late lunch at the La Conner Brewing Company (117 South First Street, 298257, 360.466.1415) – enjoying a hummus plate and wild coho salmon filet sandwich with thick-cut fries and coffee and tea, of course. We meandered in and out of the myriad rooms that comprise the large building that is Nasty Jack’s Antiques (103 East Morris Street, 360.466.3209). If you’re looking for old magazines, unusual vintage furniture, steel and wooden type set blocks, and reproduction badges, bottle openers, and key chains, this antique shop is for you. It’s also a great place to window shop.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go to the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum housed in the historic 1891 Gaches Mansion (703 Second Street, 360.466.4288) before they closed, but this museum will be a destination next time. To help celebrate the tulip festival, the museum hosts a quilt or fiber art piece tulip festival challenge, a fundraiser that benefits the building of its Commemorative Brick Pathway. One of Kathy’s favorite shops is the Caravan Gallery (619 South First Street, 360.466.4808), which has an unbelievably large and colorful selection of jewelry, handicrafts, and artifacts from overseas adventures – from multi-colored beaded cuffs and long, multi-strand, gold-beaded necklaces crafted in Bali to silver earrings and bracelets handmade by the Miao Chinese, and ethnic minority living in the southwestern mountains in China. The shop features a garden patio and waterfall, which is a great place to sit down, take a deep breath, and relax.
We ventured to a few more antique shops in downtown Mount Vernon, particularly Dilly Dally Antiques and Collectables (501 S. First Street, Mount Vernon, 98273, 360.336.8930). On the lookout for chatelaine pieces, Kathy spotted a pencil – with the lead intact – in a slim silver case that was attached via a very thin, working retractable chain to a round silver pin with an etched floral design. The tag described it as a sales clerk’s pencil, which was approximately 3 ¾ inches long. It was quite an unusual find, as we’d never seen such an item. When we got back to Kathy’s house and were on opposite sides of her dining room table, our respective laptop and tablet before us, we began a spontaneous quest, trying to find out more about these pencils.
Kathy had introduced me to Pinterest the day before and was looking at images on that platform. She found a handful on Etsy and eBay, some with different descriptions – 1940s dance card pencil and librarian mechanical pencil – both of which made sense to us. While the one at Dilly Dally did not have any markings on the back of the pin, many that we found were produced by Ketcham-McDougall, of East Orange, NJ. One had a patent date of February 24, 1903 (coincidentally, that’s my birth date!) and was manufactured in 1910. It definitely looked like an antique, whereas the silver pencil pin had a sleek mid-century sensibility to it.
Personally, I subscribe to the more romantic description of the dance card pencil from the 1940s and 1950s. Perhaps Violet Bick used it to try to get George Baily to sign her dance card the night that he laid eyes on and instantly fell in love with Mary Hatch in It’s a Wonderful Life. It is imagining who had this item, what they were like, and what kind of life they led that makes learning about, collecting, and appreciating vintage and antique items so enjoyable, particularly from a writer’s perspective. It was a fun exercise spawned by a vintage find and made special by having shared it with a dear friend.