Watercolor painting of the Rosson House (above) by Jerry Wilson.
Α week ago, my girlfriends and I took a trip back in time, to the year 1895.
Our morning started off in 2016 but when we stepped inside the Rosson House, a Queen Anne Victorian home in Phoenix built for Dr. and Mrs. Roland Rosson in 1895, time whisked backward.
The Rosson home, fully restored to its original grandeur and open today for public tours, features 10 rooms, five fireplaces, and a creaky, oak staircase.
Before entering the home, our tour guide introduced herself. “Hello, I’m Debbie. I’ll be your guide,” she said with a cheerful air swinging her dark, wavy hair as she took our admission tickets. Eight of us stood on the beautiful porch with ornate railing waiting for her to open the front door and begin the tour.
Our group included Phyllis, Julie, Sherlyn, and me, in addition to two other couples we didn’t know. Debbie asked us all where we were from. With the exception of one couple from New Mexico, we all claimed residency in Arizona. The fact that none of us came from a faraway land, like Ethiopia or Patagonia, seemed to dismay Debbie. Her cheery facial expression dropped upon hearing our responses. Her blank expression gave me the feeling she felt disappointed in trooping another group of locals through the house. After all, she can see people from Arizona every day, and New Mexico is next door. When she drives home at the end of the day and her family asks, “Who did you take on your tour?”~she has nothing exciting to report other than, “People (yawn) from Arizona.”
After the introductions, Debbie opened the front door and our group stepped inside. That’s when I suddenly felt my life whirling backward to the late 19th century.
It soon became obvious the couple from New Mexico had trouble adjusting to the transition of a past era. They began fanning themselves furiously with their museum brochures. The Rosson House is one of the few attractions in Phoenix that doesn’t offer air conditioning. But if you want the 1895 experience, you don’t get AC. The indoor temperature ranged in the low 80s, which for those of us from Phoenix seems like a few degrees above freezing. In the summer when the temperature drops from 116-degrees to 105-degrees, Jerry and I want to break into a joyful dance, we’re that excited over the cooler days.
Debbie explained, “The Rossons and the families that moved in after the Rossons in the early 1900s didn’t have air conditioning so they would take wet bed sheets outside and sleep on them to keep cool.”
She showed us the Gib doors, doors that served as windows and lifted upward so they could have air flow on the floors.
In the family room, we didn’t see a flat screen TV or a computer. They had a Victrola and a stereoscope for their entertainment. The stereoscope offered a 3D effect with picture postcards. I tried to recapture the 3D effect by moving the vintage postcards back and forth as I peered through the view finder. I only captured a headache.
As our tour progressed to the kitchen, Debbie asked if anyone knew what the contraption set on the stove was. Sherlyn and Phyllis said, “They used it to toast the bread by the heat of the stove.” Debbie agreed they were correct and then showed us how they kept their food cold using ice delivered to the back porch and explained the ice flowed from the porch through the wall to the kitchen. I didn’t get how this worked exactly, but maybe I was too distracted by the lady from New Mexico fanning herself with fury.
It’s not easy traveling back to 1895 when you’re accustomed to the privileged life of 2016. Dr. Rosson, one of the wealthiest men in Phoenix, did not have the everyday comforts and luxuries we enjoy today. Dr. Rosson, it is believed, was one of the few people in all of Phoenix to own an electric fan. Imagine, the kind of fan we might see in the free box at a garage sale, was state-of-the-art that only the rich could afford.
Who today brags, “I own an electric fan”? I know I haven’t, at least not recently.
The Rosson house also boasted a wood-framed bathtub and a pull-chain toilet when outhouses were most commonly used. Who today brags about their indoor plumbing?
In today’s world we have indoor bathrooms and air conditioners and electric toasters. We think of them as necessities rather than luxuries.
After our tour, Phyllis, Julie, Sherlyn and I stepped back into the sunlight of the modern day. We left the Rosson House and strolled about a hundred steps to the restaurant called Nobuo at Teeter House, a Japanese eatery in a Victorian house serving delectable dishes made by Chef Nobuo Fukuda, a James Beard award winner.
A thirty-something lady with a silver nose ring and definitely not Asian, greeted us and led us to our sunny, window table.
Our table had linen napkins and chopsticks leaning atop smooth river rocks.
“What are the rocks for?” I asked our thirty-something hostess with shiny nose ring. She gawked at me like I just dropped in from another planet. With eyebrows raised, appalled she had to explain the obvious, she said, “They’re to rest your chopsticks on.”
“Oh, our chopsticks need rest?” I asked. “I thought the rocks were to hold in our hands for comfort and to relieve our stress, you know–like worry stones.”
Our hostess didn’t seem amused and left us to scan the menu. Forget the chopsticks, Phyllis and I rubbed our rocks for comfort and to connect with our inner calm. “Yes, I’m feeling much better now,” I said to Phyllis as I caressed my rock.
A few minutes later, our hostess returned to our table as our server, definitely a lady of many hats. She stood erect and ready to take our order. Her patience with me seemed to fail even more when I asked about the dishes on the menu. “What is better? Tofu salad with udon noodles or chicken katsu curry?” She sighed and said, “They are different. You’ll like the chicken katsu curry.”
She seemed very serious about her job, bringing Sherlyn and me genmaicha tea in a heavy ceramic tea pot that required a hoist to lift. She made no mention we could incur shoulder and arm injuries when attempting to raise the tea pot from the table. Sherlyn, with much strength and endurance and pain, managed to pour tea for us.
For dessert, our server recommended (with sober expression) the chocolate tofu mousse. Sherlyn said she would not enjoy tofu even if it were chocolate and ordered the almond fritters. Julie, Phyllis, and I thought chocolate tofu might be an adventure. Our no-nonsense server departed without a word and later returned with the desserts. She had no word or emotion as she set the desserts before us. She didn’t actually get friendly until she passed out the checks at the end of our meal. “Thank you for coming,” she said with a slight smile, the first smile I think she expressed during our time at her table. I suppose if you’re hoping for a tip (as she was), a smile helps encourage the giving spirit.
It came to me later that we had spent the day visiting another time period at the Rosson House and another world at Nobuo. But as different as they are from life today, some things don’t ever change over time or geographic locations.
Love, friendship, fun, kindness, appreciation, grace, abiding faith, courage, adventure, the beauty of nature, forgiveness, and laughter to name a few, ~these remain the same today as they were in 1895 and throughout time. These timeless qualities are what make our life rich.
“Things” don’t make us rich, maybe more comfortable as I know that indoor plumbing definitely helps make my day a tad bit brighter.
But to be really rich we need love and friendship, forgiveness and appreciation, kindness and compassion. These make us rich even if we have nothing in our bank accounts.
Now, please excuse me, I must turn on the air conditioner. It’s insufferably hot in here.
♥♥♥Kathy, Jen, and Aubrey–we missed you.