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Visit from friend sparked shopping adventure

There can be nothing more pleasant than to have a friend of long time ago come to visit. Especially when they are years younger, full of talent and grand ideas about cooking, decorating and making life a little happier. This visit will surely go down in history.

Laurie arrived on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday, we had lunch at Anna's Arbor. She brought her family histories that will place her and her daughter, Roz, in the arms of the DAR and that coveted group known as the Dames of the 17th Century, all made possible by her father's family, which arrived here in 1659. Mary Jane Stallworth, formerly of Chester, perused the histories and directed her to the groups in her area of California. Also joining us were Phyllis O'Connell of Richburg, Lou Watts and Ruth Whitman of Rodman and Ann Marion of Chester. Everyone talked at once, and they were all pleased with getting to know Laurie. We made a stop at Black's Drug Store, where Laurie purchased some Red Oil, and then to Schumacher's to search for fabric, which we found and bought. Later on, we headed to the Wagon Wheel for dinner and had some of George Katergaris' fine cuisine.

Laurie's mother, Maureen, owns a wonderful store in Glendora, Calif., called the Ross Myer Gallery. Behind its magic doors, one finds gifts of exceptional quality, interest, and art that can touch the heart. When I talked to Laurie about her upcoming visit, she mentioned a candle maker in Spartanburg whose line they were adding to their inventory, and she wanted to visit their factory. Of course, a new place to go is the thing I love most, and candles create the effect that make a dull life glorious. If it smells good, it makes for happy thoughts.

So, Friday, we were off to Spartanburg in a driving rain. After an hour or so drive, we arrived at the Votivo candle-making company, and we were happily standing at the bright, attractive front door of a huge efficient and imaginative enterprise that caters to the olfactory senses of human beings. We were a little early for our appointment, so we decided to go to lunch, and had a great one at Billy D's. Then it was back to take the candle tour.

There were machines delivering tantalizing scents into stunning containers that are packaged in lovely boxes that need no gift-wrapping. The whole place was saturated with lovely scents, nothing strong or overwhelming, just a gentle essence that wafted through that huge warehouse, amid forklifts and conveyor belts. Workers applied labels by hand, and others stood above rows of candles, discarding those whose wicks were slightly off center or ones where wax had dripped unattractively.

It was a quiet atmosphere. It seemed we walked miles watching conveyor belts carrying deliciously scented candles of various sizes and colors to a place where they were given a last-minute inspection and skilled hands applied the final touches to the clever boxes that would contain them.

We discovered how scents are made, how involved the mixing and matching becomes, and the ability of the chemist, who is said to have a nose like a bloodhound. He works alone, dealing only with scents that complement one another. He has developed collections that have helped to make the Votivo candle famous. The White Collection offers crisp, clean and gentle scents. Then there's the Garden Collection, which tells of rosemary, grapefruit and ivy. The French Collection is presented in two types of containers, glass and terra cotta, that offer a little kick to a decorating scheme.

Then came the important reed diffusers -- what fun they are. No fire, just cleverly grown, very thin sticks that carry the scent into the atmosphere. The very chemist with the nose-to-the-ground attitude discovered these reeds, as they are properly called. He found after searching that some reeds are not solid. Some contain little tunnels that are really almost impossible to see. However, those very tunnels catch the oil and hold it in place while it busily perfumes the room. There is no need with the Votivo diffusers to switch the reeds -- just let them stand and deliver a luscious fragrance into the atmosphere.

In Rock Hill, these exceptional candles are sold only at the Overhead Station, and the reed diffusers are on their way to that shop, too.

We decided to have barbecue for dinner, so it was off to the Front Porch to have some of Joe Gaston's fine meat with all the fixin's. Saturday, it was back to Schumacher's to buy fabric for living room drapes. Then, on to Mary Jo's in Gastonia, probably one of the world's largest fabric stores.

We hurried home, and Laurie started to work. We moved a little furniture and set up the sewing machine that had not been touched in 20 years. However, in the hands of our guest, it ran like a top. First, it was the drapes, done with ease and expertise. They were hung, and then she made a pillow with a darling little Papillion on the very front. We had dinner -- Southern food -- the cheese thing, pork tenderloin, delicious biscuits "Mary B's," little tea-size numbers, simple peas, baked apples and dessert. Then, Laurie was off to fix the shower.

This guest, one that all of you should have the good luck to know, did it all in a matter of 3 1/2 days. Laurie Myer Astle has been my friend since she was in the sixth grade, and she is one of those treasures who is carefully cared for throughout one's life. Her talent, family history and personality added to our pleasurable lives, and we were happy that she graced us with her presence.

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