A Window of My Own
Award-winning author and syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson embarks on a new career as the owner of "Faraway Places," in Iuka, Mississippi.
Find out more about Rheta's books and read her latest syndicated columns at RhetasBooks.com. Rheta's new gallery/shop, Faraway Places, is located at 102 West Front Street, Iuka, Mississippi.
Charlie the barber was down below, raising ears and holding court, and I could hear the men gossip from my perch above. The quality of the gossip was okay, but only if you had plenty of patience.
“What you know, Charlie?”
“Gonna rain this evenin’.”
“Yep. Heard that but not before my bones did.”
I’ve always said that my ideal office would be a closet with the door locked from the outside, the better to prevent distractions. The old building my real estate friend showed me had a cubbyhole that fit the bill.
But what to do with the rest of the immense space?
I thought about renting out a big portion of the building for a quiet business – real estate, insurance or travel agency. I would come in through the back, find my hidey-hole and ignore whatever was going on in the front. Then I made the mistake of discovering two wonderful display windows, begging to be dressed.
I’ve secretly wanted to be a window dresser for a long time, since my first trip to Paris when I saw the Marais neighborhood and its tiny shops. The windows there were intricately decorated. I’ll never forget the story of the rabbit and the hare all done up in chocolate. Chocolate!
So instead of doing the sensible thing and renting out nine-tenths of my newly-acquired space, I kept it all, rationalizing that after 40 years of interviewing and getting to know fascinating artists, photographers and potters, I could start a gallery/shop that might bring a bit of culture to these hinterlands.
I know how presumptuous that sounds, but with the exception of one pottery shop and the mass-produced art on the frame aisle at Fred’s Discount, Tishomingo County lacks what some of us crave. We need books, art and pretty objects that give life dimension as much as we need food, haircuts and dental fillings.
In this thicket of auto parts stores, nail emporiums, fast food restaurants and churches – plenty of those -- I figured a pretty place that showcased art and literature and things not made in China might just be an oasis. I would call it Faraway Places – since these days so many of us wish we were – and make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible on a budget.
Two talented, creative friends took the bait and soon enough we three were filling a giant hall painted map water blue.
The window-dressing was as much fun as I’d imagined, with one side devoted to empty frames hanging at odd angles and an easel that looked recently-abandoned by the artist, palate and paints on the floor. The other side had a Christmas tree with French flag on top, a bistro table beneath a suspended Eiffel Tower and other touches that suggested my favorite faraway place: Paris.
As we worked to get ready for opening day, the building grew larger and larger. If I could have stopped with the windows, all would have been well. But there was still this football field to fill.
I kept making bone-headed mistakes, like sending the state tax folks the wrong street address, and locking myself out of the little office that started the whole misadventure. I was spooked.