Just beyond the curtain door at the back of a little shop, there is a special place for art and history in downtown Goldsboro, NC called The Gladstone. Dark wood walls and a crystal chandelier hanging from an antique tiled ceiling give this place a Golden Age feel. An upright piano frequently plays classical music and artists that serve coffee, tea, and pastries often sing along there. Occasionally a visitor pops in with his/her instrument, sits in one of the tall wingback chairs, and belts out a series of folk tunes.
Making a place for artists and people to feel welcomed and inspired was part of the owner’s vision. Her welcoming heart is present in every creative display, quirky item selection, and ornate fixture. Uniquely R’s offers customers an opportunity to experience a richer culture than their own and buy things they couldn’t possibly find anywhere else. Guests are drawn in by the quaint, enchanting floral patio entrance. They are curious about what lies beyond the water fountain and tables. They come to support a local business, but they end up transported to another time and place. The Gladstone gives guests an opportunity to sit and soak in that different time and place; it is the pride of the shop, Uniquely R’s, and the heart of its owner, Ruth Glisson.
In such a place, I get big ideas.
As an English teacher, I always struggle with making British literature relevant to my students. They have a hard time grasping the concepts and language of classics like Austen and Shakespeare. They don’t understand Victorian customs and practices; all things British seem old and unnecessary to them. How could I make them see the beauty in a bygone era? How could I make them truly understand and love the classics they had to read? The answer: let them experience it.
My big idea: bring students to The Gladstone and let them experience a foreign culture firsthand. l mentioned the idea to Ruth Glisson, and she loved it. Many months later, a travelling show was set to come to Paramount Theatre and present “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged”. It was the perfect timing and opportunity to take my English 4 students out for a cultural experience. I wrote a grant to the Foundation of Wayne Community College, and got approved! I was never so proud as when I got to walk into Uniquely R’s and talk business with Ruth. The party we planned was special, but the end result exceeded my wildest imagination. On April, 16, 2016, nine students and myself were treated like royalty.
My students had just read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, so we made a high tea themed around Pride and Prejudice. We had custom menus and music from the movie version–which we had watched in class–of the book. Courses came out in shiny tiered trays as the host (me) gave the nod to move forward. Ruth explained the history of tea and tea parties during the Victorian era as well as the history behind each food choice in our course. We began with savories then sweets with three drink choices along the way.
The students were encouraged to dress up for the occasion. While some were not able to do so, others dressed up in suits, dresses, and hats. Regardless of their dress, every person there sat a little bit taller and prouder that night. They felt special…treasured…loved.
Later, students would tell me that this event gave them the chance to “actually live the life style” and “examine the fine things that have been so well kept over the years”. Of the play, they said it “got into the love, pain, betrayal, and lies within the stories, but told (it) in a way…it would reach out to our…generation”. They liked the way the tea party and the play made them get involved with the literature and experience it first-hand. One student even said:
I thought it was the most beautiful night I’ve had in a long time and convinced me to go out and live my dreams as an actor or performer of some kind.
We English teachers hope to infuse the love of literature into our students. We want the words to come to life to them the way they do for us. The looks on my students’ faces that night said it had done just that. April 16, 2016 is a night we will never forget.
Much thanks to Uniquely R’s and the Foundation of Wayne Community College for making this experience possible.