A Window of My Own
I have lost my mind, and I’m afraid it’s not a temporary situation.
With a small inheritance, I bought the second oldest building in Iuka, Miss., with the thought of having a place in which to write other than the corner of my bedroom. An office would be a luxury I’ve rarely enjoyed over a 40-year writing career.
I did once have a small space up some ladder-like stairs that discouraged all but the most stalwart of visitors, including the tiny Jehovah Witness lady who walked miles daily to proselytize in every local store and business. She tromped up to see me only one time before giving up on those treacherous stairs and my soul.
Across the Bridge
“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.
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.
Before opening day, however, friends pitched in with amazing alacrity. Reed brought wonderful Oriental objects his late friend had left him. Anita filled a French infant tub with homemade soap. Bobbie cranked out amazing table runners and pillows. Barbara made candy impossible to resist. Nick and Chris hefted heavy stuff up and down the attic steps. Terry boosted my morale about the whole hare-brained scheme. Dale and Pam delivered pottery on their trek southward to Waveland. Hines sent word to his many artist friends in Colorado and we were off to the races.
I had opening day jitters. But people came. Some came for the teetotaler punch, but some came to look at the art and beauty. Some bought books. The mayor said it looked like something you might see in Bay St. Louis!
There is now an art gallery in faraway Tishomingo County, albeit a small, work-in-progress one. And the windows! Well, eat your heart out Le Bon Marche.
Click here to order Rheta's latest book, "The Dogs Buried Over the Bridge."
Rheta Grimsley Johnson writes with nothing short of beauty about childhood, lost loves, sad dogs, and everything else worth knowing about.
--Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author
What may appear to be a book about dogs and mortality is actually a memoir of companionship and life... Well-written, thoughtfully composed, and lovingly descriptive, Johnson's humble memoir is a tribute to the dogs who helped to shape her life, made her a better person, and taught her lessons in unconditional love. --Publishers Weekly