18 January 2018

Villa Sionna

"There are moments, when you're getting to know someone, when you realize something deep and buried in you is deep and buried in them, too.  It feels like meeting a stranger you've known your whole life." ~Leah Raeder, Unteachable

In the four days since I first arrived at my sister Shannon's home, Villa Sionna ("Shuh-nuh"), I seem to have unintentionally developed a bit of a routine.  As the resident night owl in a house full of larks, I tend to sleep in later than the others, then get up while Shannon is off working out and spend a bit of time in the morning chatting with her lovely children Kincaid and/or Arden, as well as a dear friend of theirs named Damian, who is currently living with them. I've come to love quietly hanging out with the kids and getting to know them and learn more about who they are.  Considering they've largely been dragged along their mother's journey of discovery (whether always willing or not), they seem remarkably resilient in spite of all the ups and downs of said journey and have been allowing me bit by bit to see who they are, which is generous in the extreme, all things considered. They know who they are for the most part, and they are incredibly clever, all but daring you not to keep up with their quick minds and wit.

Arden is a lovely young woman just a year younger than my own girlie, with long, dark hair and a ready smile.  She is a dear, sweet soul who loves being close and cuddly with all her relatives (even me!), especially her brother Kincaid, with whom she alternates between play-bickering and often appearing to share one mind; they are like twins whose 5-year-age gap is somehow nothing but a metaphysical fluke of time. She is a peace-maker, but still gives as good as she gets when necessary. She and I share a love of writing and literature and musical theater and she has a lovely voice that she accompanies with her guitar. Arden is also interested in food and writing, which largely precipitated her taking a 4-month cooking course in Ireland with her mother; I can only imagine what a powerful experience it was that they shared.  There is a poetry in Arden--in the way she moves, in the way she thinks, in the way she expresses herself. Hiding behind her soulful brown eyes is a wise old spirit and a knowing far beyond her years; she brings a quiet, understated grace to this home.

Kincaid is a bit of a chameleon; he is always in motion whether it's his mind racing with a plethora of ideas or his feet beating and clicking out Irish dance steps as he moves from room to room. A former touring dancer with Riverdance, he is by turns a shrewd and astute businessman; a sassy badass, take-no-shit-and-tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy; a consummate storyteller with such dramatic flair as to make Garrison Keillor so woebegone he'd cry in his Wheaties before giving up writing for a second career as a fro-yo scooper; and a very quietly thoughtful young man who voluntarily gave up his bed for me (which is quite a real sacrifice because that bed is amazing--I've slept better the last four days than I have the last four months and may considering an affair with it.) Kincaid always turns on a light in his room for me before I go upstairs to bed so I can find my way without bumping into unfamiliar surroundings, he makes me tea in the morning when he hears me moving around upstairs, and he secretly slips a hot water bottle with a fuzzy cover under the sheets for me to warm my toes on a cold night, all without expectation of thanks or recognition. I kind of adore him, and not just because he reminds me of the girlie in more ways than I can count.

Damian is a quieter guy, but no less sweet or thoughtful; he is constantly washing up the dishes and helping around the house; he makes an excellent foil to Arden and Kincaid's escapades.  We haven't really talked much, but he has an engaging laugh and seems to be a lovely young man (not that I'm aging myself at all by referring to him as a "young man.")

Kincaid, Arden, and Damian

Shannon has another dear son named Obie after her grandfather, but sadly he has not been available to meet me thus far, so I will have to look forward to getting to know him at some point in the future.

Another formidable presence in the house is the recently-passed Ooma, who was Shan's mother.  Ooma's whip-crack observations about life and her stories live on through each member of the family, particularly via Kincaid's wickedly brilliant impressions of his grandmother. Ooma's absence may be keenly felt, but she is still an integral part of Shan's family.

After Shannon finishes working out, we hang out a bit by the fireplace and swap stories before getting some lunch and running around in the afternoon.  Shannon, like my daughter, is the epitome of Shakespeare's quote: "Though she be but little, she is fierce." Shan is a boundless font of energy who dances and prances and moves around with a spryness that would make women half her age wildly jealous. She has imbued nearly every inch of this stunning home with her personality, from the Venetian plastering she personally applied all over the walls to all the artistic touches gracing every room.  Designed to look like a Tuscan villa, Shannon's home is absolutely gorgeous (not unlike the woman herself). In the downstairs bath is a wall mural of--a woman in a Roman bath...naturally. The walkway out front has artistic swirls imbedded in the stone. Over the stove is a mosaic of a Renoir painting entitled "Luncheon of the Boating Party." Everywhere you look is some different form of art created by Shannon, whether hung on a wall or part OF the wall. It is a living, breathing portfolio, and a testament to her extreme artistic talent.

I've been here four days and I still cannot stop staring at Shan when we sit by the fire and talk.  It's as though I'm trying to memorize every inch of her face before I have to leave for my conference. We don't look much alike physically, she being largely the embodiment of her birth mother while I am all but a clone of our father, but we are astonishingly alike in so many other ways. I keep looking at this petite, beautiful woman and being absolutely floored that we are related.  One moment she is exuding deep, soulful compassion and understanding from her wise, dark eyes; the next she is a joyful pixie bounding throughout her home like a jack-in-the box.

There is virtually nothing Shannon hasn't done, nothing she hasn't achieved (or rubbed the elbows of someone else who has). She is smart as a whip and more accomplished than I could ever hope to be and yet easily one of the kindest, sweetest, and most generous (and least Diva-y) people I have ever known;  I am more than a little in awe of her.

Me and Shan

When we are together and it is just the two of us, so clearly a part of each other, it seems as if we have always been so. It's an uncanny connection, even more so for having overcome so many lost decades and wild improbabilities during the years between our births and our meeting. I felt as though I knew Shannon 30 seconds into our first phone call, and nothing has happened in the last three months (or the last four days) to change that reality--quite the opposite, in fact. My only wish is that she and our other new siblings didn't live quite so far apart.  Someone needs to get on that whole transporter technology post-haste.

Shan and Allen

After running around in the afternoon, dinner preparations begin and Shannon's husband Allen comes home.  Thus far Allen has been relatively quiet, but I know he is clearly taking everything in because I like to watch his quick and observant eyes as he smiles indulgently at his family when they're being enthusiastically goofy. A bad-ass brain tumor survivor, Allen is the keeper of the zoo, smirking bemusedly at all the chaos swirling around him. With a heart of gold and a ready wit, my new brother-in-law also calls things like he sees them, though his quippy observations often seem to come more in the form of sneak ninja attacks that catch you off guard and leave you giggling as you struggle to catch up. A kick-ass grill master, Allen just tonight fed me the best steak I have literally ever eaten in my life--like "slap yo mama, better than sex" good.  Like "I may have to cheat on Kincaid's bed" good. He is a marvel.

I have been singularly fortunate to have landed myself a visit in a house full of foodies. I doubt I've ever eaten so well in my life. Food is a vital part of life here at Villa Sionna; in this place it feeds soul as well as body, and is one of the ties that strongly binds this family together, whether they are planning meals, shopping for meals, or cooking the meals.  I particularly enjoy listening to Arden and her brother discuss food and cooking on and off all day long; they put me to shame with their knowledge of and skill in cooking diverse and healthy foods. Meals are a part of the lifeblood of this home, and everyone here has inspired me to do better about cooking for real when I get home instead of just being lazy by half-relying on semi-packaged foods for convenience. They are spoiling me rotten here and treating me like a queen. A girl could get used to this...

After dinner we all hang out by the fire a little while, till one by one the morning larks peel off for bed.  This has become one of my favorite parts of the day.  While the house is quiet, I sit cozy and warm in front of the fireplace, illuminated only by the light of my laptop.  To my right is a curving stone staircase with wrought-iron railings.  To my left, across an expansive kitchen island (on which I threatened to make my bed before being introduced to my new boyfriend upstairs) is the Renoir mosaic over the stove, illuminated by the hood light. Behind me is the breakfast nook and hearth room, which should really be called the "heart room" because this area, along with the pass-thru fireplace and kitchen is where everyone congregates for the majority of the day.  It is the heartbeat of this home, a home which now folds my heartbeats into its own. It seems strange to say that sitting here alone in the dark while everyone sleeps is one of my favorite parts of the day, but as I relax here in this beautiful room every evening, listening to the crackling of the flames and repeatedly looking across at the Renoir mosaic--which seems to epitomize all the camaraderie and life and sharing of food that occur daily in this heart room--I am given a chance to reflect on the events and conversations of the day and to realize how truly fortunate and blessed I am to have found such love and acceptance among these wildly talented and loving people and to be able to call them, in however small a part, my own. I am tearing up even now just at the overwhelming thought of it all.

My heart is full.


  1. Aww . . . beautifully written, Mary. Isn't this so wonderful to have this surprise in life when you most likely least expected it? Much love to you and ALL your family!

    1. Thank you so much! It has definitely been something I could never have anticipated, but I have been wildly enriched by the outcome, in spite of the circumstances which precipitated it. :)