The Hostess with the Mostest
This was the title aptly deserved by Summervillian Barbara Clancy, proprietor of The Victorian House, (now closed) who passed on late last month. According to her son David, for approximately 30 years she was hostess, caterer and presider over thousands of people in what must have been hundreds of events. These included showers, receptions, weddings, anniversaries, and other special festivities. All her food was fresh and homemade. My family was part of that era with my sister Cynthia and her husband Jon’s wedding in 1989 and the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for the Jim Hills five years ago.
Barbara worked into her 80s and once told me “Everything I do is a happy thing, that’s why it’s such fun.” This not only described what she did, but the person herself. Barbara had a soft voice and walked with a skipping step, gesturing with her hands, as though she might break into a dance at any moment. (And she often did just that.) Her manner was, “What can I do for you?” whether in business, personal or volunteer activities.
Whenever there was a need, she was one of the first to offer help. She not only ran a business, she supported her church, St. Theresa’s, hosting many parties and cooking for innumerable activities. She and Gene restored The Victorian House and won a Restoration Award from the Summerville Preservation Society. Barbara also volunteered with the Historic Charleston Foundation, serving as a docent for festivals of homes and gardens.
Jim and I knew Barbara and her late husband Gene for over 30 years, beginning with our church association. They were both genial, fun people. With a name like Clancy, they were Irish to the bone and celebrated St. Patrick and shamrocks every chance they got. We spent many a night at parties at their home listening to Irish pub songs, especially one called “The Unicorn” which has eleven verses and includes animal gestures with melodies, which we all belted out with great enthusiasm. This ditty was written by Shel Silverstein and recorded by The Irish Rovers.
Then there was the “Curious Case of the Commode.” Gene started it all by depositing said essential in a friend’s front yard. Nobody doubted “who done it” and the joke went round robin to several yards, ending up at the front door of the original perpetrator. It was painted shamrock green, decorated with blow pops and featured a sketch of you-know-who. Can you imagine grown people acting like that? You bet!
Barbara brought this sense of fun into everything she did whether on a personal or business basis. “Gracious” was her middle name. She said of The Victorian House that, “The heart of this home, like any, is the kitchen. I don’t have a lot of modern equipment. I like plain and simple – like ‘on’ and ‘off’.” Guests always felt easy venturing into this “plain kitchen” to have a look-see and hug the hostess. She called The Victorian House her “Feel Good House,” and said that when she went to work there it was to make people happy.”
I imagine that the Good Lord has already put her to work serving up divine canapés. And after all, why not? Southern hospitality is surely welcome everywhere, starting with heaven.