Saturday, June 6, 2015

Miss Denise

Denise Spears Adams Chafin 1949-2014

My mom, Denise, created this blog a few years back when she entered the vintage re-sale scene. She was an elementary school teacher by trade but an artist, collector, and treasure hunter by heart. Students, parents & faculty loved her but it was later in her teaching career where she had the opportunity to work in the visual arts department that really lit her spark for teaching and being an advocate for the artist in all of us.  She absolutely loved it. She worked with schools, companies & the community to host art shows, school exhibits, teacher workshops, and was most passionate about integrating the arts into student's lives. She inspired, supported & challenged both students & teachers. A few years ago we were set up at an art show and a parent recognized my mom, (well I should say she noticed my mom's accent - her charming Southern West Virginia twang) and my mom remembered the family and as they hugged, the parent eagerly began to tell the story of her daughter. Her daughter was a gifted painter in high school and it was my mom who encouraged her to enter her work in exhibits & shows, win scholarships, and really helped her believe in herself and her artwork. The daughter went on to art school and upon graduating college decided to become a college art professor herself. The mother was grateful to my mom, even though 15 years had passed, their family still remembered the support & positive influence Denise had on their family. In listening to that story, in that moment, I just remember feeling so proud of my mom. She loved what she did and I hoped she knew the impact on herself & others she had by living her true spark.

After retiring from the teaching world she was able to focus on her love of gardening & flea markets. The gardening bug was from her mom- when I was a kid, my grandma's garden was full of everything from pumpkins, to giant corn stalks to vines of green beans. My grandma knew every flower & plant on her property and loved walking around and telling you about each one. Denise was the same way but roses were definitely her favorite. My mom could spend from sun up to sun down in her plants, yard & garden, and in the last few years I really think that's what kept her energy up & her spirit fed. You would have never known she had stage 3 ovarian cancer, and most people didn't.

The love of  flea markets, auctions, & garage sales was from her dad. I would bet my grandpa was known in at least 5 states as one of the coolest trading & dealing old timers around. The countless stories I've heard about him over the years could easily fill a book or two. People would actually drive hours out of their way just to stop by and see what he had, and most of the time 'folks' really just wanted to sit and listen to him tell stories. He was a true American Picker decades before any reality TV shows.  He taught my mom a lot: to see value in things, monetary value but more importantly the history, the workmanship & the creativity in anything from an antique coin to the engine of a Model T Ford. Denise married her knowledge of antiques and her love of art. Many of her favorite finds she loved as they were, but she also had an eye for finding pieces that she could add to, take apart, re-paint, or "marry" with another piece. In the mid 1990's we had a tiny little art gallery where we held workshops on our back patio & inside we mainly featured her art chairs. Nothing excited her more than finding an odd chair. It was a creative challenge for her to find just the right woman to paint on the chair. It was fun to watch her work, and she loved it.

She & her husband spent several years in retirement buying, fixing & flipping homes. As a kid she would tell me about how she would get a shoe box and the Sears & Montgomery Wards catalogues and cut out sofas, lamps and chairs and glue them into the shoe box to create her dream house. And so it was during these home buying years that she fed her passion to decorate with hand painted murals & themed rooms - like Paris Apartment & Greco Roman Villa.

Years later, she started White Horse Relics, and when I returned from living in Mexico I not only helped with her business but soon after her cancer treatments as well.

She was first diagnosed with 12 tumors, 8 of them the size of golf balls. Surgeries & chemo cocktails followed her for the next 3 1/2 years. We went through just about every western medical treatment, she saw the best doctors on two different coasts. The day she got the diagnosis I looked up an old friend, you gotta love Facebook (sometimes).

His name is Frederick, and I first met him when I was 19 & my Mom and I were at (of all things) an estate sale one weekend, where this artsy & energetic lady was moving and selling a lot of fun stuff. We spent at least two hours just oohing and aweing and picking. And of course she and my mom hit it off, my mom was like my grandpa- people were just drawn to her energy. Because of this new love fest with the cool lady & her neat stuff, she felt open enough to invite us back the next day to a party she was having with friends. That's when we met Frederick. A spiritual healer, teacher & guide who has this calm & knowing energy about him that is intoxicating . People come into your life at certain times and sometimes it's not evident right then as to why. While we stayed friends and kept in touch with him over the next 5 years, it was almost 15 years later that the real reason for the friendship revealed itself. The love, support & guidance that he gave Denise, myself & my girls is immeasurable. It was through the cancer that my mom healed. She learned to love herself, to forgive herself, to feel, to love, to let go. She worked through her hurt and her fear and her anger. It wasn't easy and it took several years, but she came to a place of trust, calm & knowing. Of course she still had hopes & dreams, things she still wanted to do in this life, but we feel she was at peace to make the transition and she went in December of last year at the age of 65.

It's obviously taken me many months to be able to write this post. I would sit at the computer and honestly I couldn't write one single word. The tears would start flowing and the emotions would overtake me and I was paralyzed. I think I felt like as long as I didn't write this, her passing wouldn't be real in some way. With the sweet smiles of my girls & the loving support of a friend, I was able to do this today. Really no words exist that can even come close to describing her, her impact on the people she knew & loved or how much she is missed. It was standing room only at her memorial service in the small town where she went to high school and her mother still lives. She wore many hats in her lifetime ( or as she would prefer to wear 'crowns' ). From the Little Girl skipping down a dirt hollow road in a coal mine town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, to high school Homecoming Queen, to an Inspiring Educator, to a Beautiful Mom, to an Artist, to a Wannabe Motown Dancer, to a Life Long Friend, to Daughter, to Pinterest Addict, to Sister, to my girl's Amazing Nani & the list could go on....but really to Anyone that knew her she is Simply Unforgettable.

My daughters and I are slowly getting back to creating and hope to continue some of Denise's projects. We definitely don't have her unique eye but I think we do have a bit of her spark & love for creating.

Thanks for taking the time to read this about my mom, she was my best friend and I'm blessed to have been able to call her Mom...Smiles, Ashley


  1. Hi Ashley, I'm not sure if you remember me ..but we met at the Vintage Marketplace ...I'm sara and my mom is Abbey (sweetmagnoliasfarm). I haven't been on my blogger account in months and I happened on today to check out where another blogger resides and saw your post and my heart just absolutely sank. I read your entire post and your mom was a beautiful person and yes her personality was just amazing and so infectious ! ... We only chatted with you all a few times at the market but myself and especially my mom were so impressed by her artistic gift and her friendly, joyful personality. She just made us feel so welcome and like we were old friends even though we were just aquaintances. Last I read she was selling her home and moving to the East Coast .. Never realizing she was still battling cancer. I'm so very sorry for your loss. I can only imagine having not experienced what you have that your heart has ached beyond recognition. I'm so glad you were blessed with such a wonderful mom and that you had a beautiful relationship. I will keep you and your girls in my thoughts and prayers.

    My deepest Sympathy,

  2. I read your post about your mom. I was drawn into "White Horse Relics" from a really cool Steampunk Dress form I saw on Pinterest. Must have been one of your mom's many creations (: I too, am an older artist at heart. I am trying to find a way to actually make money channeling my creativity. I also love interior design & visual display. I have a few clients, but really want to spread my wings. I so appreciate seeing what other creative people come up with in so many forms! I never went on Pinterest (purposefully, knowing how dangerous a place that can be for someone like me!) until my daughter got engaged last Spring & I became her unofficial "wedding planner". She handed over the reigns completely, knowing I would help make her day special & more than likely "unique". When we landed on a Steampunk theme all Hell broke loose as I scoured Pinterest sites for Steampunk wedding ideas (which is a relatively obscure arena at the moment?!). Had more luck with "Gothic wedding" ideas...but a lot of those were a bit on the "Dark Side". But still got great ideas & concepts (: I had so much fun decking out a "waist up Mannequin" & my dress form for the wedding!! Anyways...all this to say I'm so glad there are amazing women like your mom in this world who live life to the fullest & dare to dream outside "the Box"!! She was awesome & creative & adventurous ...all things I seek to find within myself, at 53.

    I also can tell how very much you loved your mom, for so many reasons & how proud you were of who she was. I lost my mom almost 31 years ago (Jan. 4, 1985) to cancer, as well. She lost her 14 year battle at the age of 56 & I was only 22 & had just graduated from college with a Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design. I can feel the pain in your writings of her & her work. But, as you said, what a gift it was for you to have such a great role model on how to live life well. I don't know why I felt compelled to post something? Maybe it's just a form of therapy for grab hold of my creative side & chase my dreams, no matter how old I am? And I love to see & hear stories like your mom's. So hang in there...and thank you for sharing about the great woman behind all the cool things she created. You probably have more of her in you than you realize? She has inspired me in more ways than one. Thank you & God Bless!!