Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Customers" at Carlton Gardens

The other day, among our guests at the Gardens were three women who just came to read. They came at different times and sat in different places. (We have benches, swings, gazebos, lounge chairs, you name it.) They know they are welcome and we are delighted to have people who enjoy our wonderful space. Another young woman often shows up on her bike with her nook. Yesterday was a rather slow hot day, not too many "customers." A thirty-something woman arrives with some devotional books that she has written and illustrated wondering if I would sell them here. I explained that I limit my consignment to mainly one friend who brings in antiques and collectibles. So then she explains her second reason for stopping: Would I be her "mentor" for the next book she is writing. My response was simple. No. I met this woman once before when she had stopped by. I don't know her. I have no time to help her write her book, and if I did, my fees would be very high. I'm glad to offer some advice to people, but I'm WAY too busy with this business and my own writing to get involved in their writing. This matter is not negotiable. Period. So then Shirley shows up. I've known her for years ever since she's been stopping by to shop, but hadn't seen her since Christmas. I asked her why she hadn't been around. Turns out her husband died in January and she "just feels lost." She'd been walking around out back before I even saw her and found very humorous some of my little signs that a lot of people simply don't get. She saw a large frog sculpture and wanted to purchase it so I put it in her trunk before she came inside to look around and pay. As I was packing it in against a pillow, I spotted what appeared to be an old quilt. I asked her about it, and that led to a conversation that lasted more than an hour (including my checking plantation info on the internet since she doesn't go online). The quilt had been made by her late grandmother born into slavery near the Cobb Plantation in Paducah, Kentucky. Shirley's great grandfather was a jockey on that horse-racing plantation. Shirley is 87, mind as sharp as a tack, and now I've got another project. What fun. She said that no one had ever asked her so many questions, and I scribbled notes as fast as she could talk. Her grandmother had moved to Rockford, Illinois and raised her when Shirley was a small girl. Her grandmother earned her livelihood by running her own boarding house and taking in washing. She teamed up with another woman, Lula Uray, who had a horse and wagon. Lula and her daughter Ida Fern would pick up white folks' laundry late each afternoon, and Lula would spend the night washing it, drying it on the line the next morning, and Lula would return it later in the day when she picked up more. I just can't get enough of this story. Shirley and I are now a team! I don't know what will become of her story but we will have a good time in the process.