This weekend is part of the Kentucky Writer's Day celebration at Penn's Store in Gravel Switch, Kentucky. In the United States, Penn's Store is the oldest continuously operated store by the same family since 1850. It is a small wood building with a front porch and a metal-clad shed roof, typical of most older stores around here that you can often find used, or abandoned, on old country roads. The main part was the store and the smaller room under the shed dormer was often the local post office. The difference with Penn's Store is its continuous family history and preservation of most of its original features, including its settled wooden floor with old black linoleum on it.
The store is located in Casey County but right at the juncture of two other counties. It was built facing southeast and right near a creek. Behind the store is a steep bank and a spring and right now the wild delphinium are blooming, followed soon by a mountain poppy (neither of which I've ever seen in the wild--Kentucky wildflowers will never cease to amaze and delight).
Jeanne Penn Lane and her daughter, Dawn Lane Osborn, are keeping the store going today. Dawn is a singer and Jeanne has had a diverse career spanning from songwriter for Chet Atkins to art teacher in the local schools. Jeanne is the life and blood of the place and a visit there would not be complete without pulling up to the counter and having a good chat. She is both welcoming and interesting to talk with, a rare combination but not unusual in Kentucky. Two years ago she was one of the first people we met down here.
Last year Temple and I both spoke at the store. He wove a few Yankee yarns and I read from The Pantry, which had just been printed and was about to be released by my publisher, so it was hot off the press. We were glad to participate (although we were both a bit nervous) but this year wanted to help out behind the scenes and just enjoy the day (especially as, apart from blogs, I had nothing written or published this year). Next year I will have some new things to read that I've been working on.
Catherine and Blaine Staat, Temple Pond & Joberta Wells
share a laugh and some pie from T.N.T. Barbecue in Lebanon, Kentucky
Our friends Blaine and Catherine Staat read from one of their columns in the local weekly paper, The Casey County News, called "He Said, She Said." They moved here two years ago, and like us, were drawn to the region for a simpler way of life off the fast track. Cat's magazine, Making It Home, now exclusively a blog and website, appeals to the kind of lifestyle about which some women might want but are afraid to ask. It appeals to another era and time which is what I like about it as I balance my own interests in the past with the modern world. She still keeps a blog, as does Blaine, who has recently become the director of the Liberty-Casey County Chamber of Commerce. Another local columnist, also for the Casey County News, Joberta Wells, brought the house down with her talk of underwire bras, having too many cats, and poorly made butterscotch pies, to name but a few topics of resonance and humor.
Some of the group that comes each year, the writing students of Dr. H.R. Stoneback at SUNY/New Paltz and Elizabeth Madox Roberts Society Members, were down a week earlier so Jeanne accommodated them with a special day last week. Today there is another afternoon of writers and performers (who also perform as part of the weekend at Woody's in nearby Danville). Moderator, since its beginnings, Terry Ward is humanities chair at St. Catharine's College in Springfield. Behind the scenes is Jeanne Penn Lane, quite comfortable behind her counter talking with people who come into the store for a cold drink, bologna sandwich or souvenir and not really wanting to be the center of things outside.
Jeanne Penn Lane handcrafts and paints many of the items
sold at Penn's Store, including these charming outhouses
Like Penn's Store itself, including the infamous Great Outhouse Blowout held each September (this year on September 6), Kentucky Writer's Day has become a tradition and an annual rite of spring in knob region. As with so many places off the beaten track, Penn's Store is well worth the journey. It is just several miles from the town of Gravel Switch, off Route 68, amidst the historically savvy community of Forkland. Don't expect anything cutesy or "real old timey shoppe" type stuff. Penn's Store is the authentic deal--it is what it is--and that is what makes it so precious and worth preserving.
Speaking of writing, I will not be blogging for a while--perhaps just a bit over on Cupcakes--as I need to hit the garden, office, and prepare a presentation (not necessarily in that order!) and am forcing myself to have a self-imposed blog-a-torium for a time. Check back sometime after May 9th. As they say here on the ridge, in lieu of goodbye, "you all come back when you're ready."