I’d like to start this letter out by saying that my dad used to be an ass. Really. He was crabby more often than not, all of my friends and cousins were terrified of him, he abhorred affection of any kind, and I’m certain that he believed that lightning would strike him if the words “I love you” passed his lips. And I spent a good portion of my younger adulthood angsting about over it. Until one day I realized that this same no-love-saying father also built half the furniture in my house. That he had showed up and moved said furniture from house to house. To house. To house. That he had personally served a restraining order to a young man who didn’t seem to get that I didn’t appreciate his behavior. That he had patiently taken me fishing during the ages where I never, under any circumstances, stopped talking for longer than it took me to take a breath. And that list could go on and on.
The point I make here is this – I spent 6 months in Ashfield a couple years back. I had never been there when I showed up, and I didn’t know a soul. And I arrived with a dog. A particularly sweet dog, but a big, sometimes smelly dog. Never in all my gypsying around the country have I been so immediately embraced by a community, and I credit that in large part to Nan (in spite of the fact that her immediate reaction to me, she later admitted, was “Oh no, here comes trouble”). Nan didn’t fall all over herself greeting me every time I walked into Elmers. Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t. Often, I later realized, she was completely immersed in some thought process in her head, generally having something to do with how to make her customers happier, and her community healthier and more cohesive. How to provide entertainment the likes and calibre of which is generally found in large, culturally-rich cities (like, say, New Orleans), not small rural towns. How to accommodate their particular food sensitivities. How to create an environment that suits everyone from small children to important whoevers. How to create symbiotic relationships between local bakers, farmers, chefs, artists, musicians, herbalists, and anyone else with some fabulous thing they’re doing, and the recipients of their efforts. And often at little or no benefit to herself. I was often amazed at the sheer genius of Nan’s creativity when it came to what went on at Elmers, and how it affected Ashfield. Not to mention that Nan let me and aforementioned dog stay in the Inn prior to it’s opening for next to nothing, AND provided bedding off of her own bed.
That said, on to Rob. Rob is a strange and fascinating creature. He thinks a lot. I suspect lots of the thoughts going on in there are funny. And probably sarcastic, but not unkind. Rob didn’t say a lot to me overall, though he did make me a zillion fabulous lattes. Upon my arrival to Ashfield, I’d noticed that a piece of my car seemed to be hanging down from the bottom. The thing that keeps crap from flying up into the engine from underneath, I think. (You can see how mechanically inclined I am). I figured it would eventually fall off, and if it were something important I’d find out. One day I noticed that it was no longer hanging down. I happened to mention something about it to a friend while I was in Elmers that day, whereupon Rob said that he’d fixed it for me the week before. No fanfare, hadn’t even mentioned it to me. Just fixed it. I can’t say that I’ve had that kind of service – I hate to even call it service actually, it’s kindness – at any other breakfast joint. Ever.
So, in closing, my dad taught me something valuable – sometimes you have to look at the doings of folks to see where they’re showing the love.
And for the record, I was neither a tourist, nor a local, nor rich, nor famous. Thought Talulah did make the front page of the paper while we were there. Twice.