Southern hospitality. We felt it on our paddle through this area of our country, and again during our most recent gratitude tour.
Our first stop was Paducah, KY, where we volunteered with Paducah Cooperative Ministries, an organization formed through the cooperation of area churches. PCM “seeks to do God’s work with human hands by bringing together individuals and resources to respond to basic human needs and conditions in McCracken County.” You can find out more about them here.
PCM’s Moonlight Ride fundraiser was the reason we planned our southern trip for the dates we did. In fact, we found out later that these Wisconsinites were the first two riders to register in the event! We weren’t about to miss this! Two of our River Angels, Kenneth and his wife, Lottie, decided to register and ride with us – but they didn’t have bikes. So, Kenneth bought one and Lottie rented one for the day!
648 riders set off at 10 PM under a nearly full moon, bicycles decked out in colorful lights. Our dollar store light sticks were no match for the new-fangled LED strings of bicycle wheel lights adorning many of the local two-wheelers. We weren’t in a hurry, but we probably packed more conversation into ten miles than any of the rest! We arrived home a week later to several packages from Kenneth – new flashing tail lights, flashlights and handlebar mounts, and four sets of multicolored bike wheel lights. I bet Kenneth and Lottie might be the first two registered for next year’s ride!
While in Paducah, we also made a stop at Hooper’s, a downtown sporting goods store, to thank them for storing Donna while we were in town. We checked out a new tribute to those who have lost lives to terrorism, and of course, visited the river. A special thank you to Chris for hosting us for a signing at Paducah Books. We enjoyed meeting his customers, signing a few books, and finding several titles that we couldn’t resist buying for ourselves.
In Fulton, MS, our first destination was the Itawamba Learning Center to visit with Elizabeth Triplett, founder and tutor. We learned the organization is continuing to thrive and to change lives through education. Greg, a new member of the team, has helped enormously by taking on the role of grant writer, increasing both their financial resources and their impact.
Our reading and signing took place at the Itawamba County Pratt Memorial Library, where we were welcomed by the librarian, Jeffrey, when we stopped in early. He was holding a summer class on robotics, where we met some brilliant young programmers.
At the reading later that day, we renewed friendships with members of the Learning Center staff we met on our trip as well as new additions to the team. We congratulated Gwen, a student who went on to graduate from the area college, and met her mother, whose picture is with Gwen’s on the quilt Judy made for us. The Blake family River Angels, who hosted us at their home during our trip, even trusted me to read their section aloud before they had yet seen it. I laughed to discover that Alan actually HAD been watching when we got hung up on a stump upon leaving after our stay there! On our way out of town, we stopped at the Itawamba Times to say “Hi” and “Thank you” to Adam, Times reporter and photographer, for his excellent media coverage of both our visits and the Itawamba Learning Center’s work.
We had no book events in TN, but stopped at the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah to thank Vicki for her assistance with logistics, and Kent, for storing Donna for us while we were in town. We also drove (this time) to the office of Dr. Gallien, the kind dentist who found me great relief from a toothache during our trip. Aware that we were taking up his time during his work day, I hastened to shorten our visit, when he comforted, “Right now, you’re the only thing that’s important to me.” What an example of courtesy that seems endangered today – focusing entirely on those with whom we are having conversation. I asked him about his goal of working fifty years before he retires. “I’ve changed my mind about that,” he confessed. “I’m planning on working ’til my toes point up.” A smile on his face, he held his hands out with his fingers bent upward. If that’s so, his patients are the lucky ones.
Our last visit was with Gene’s daughter, who drove out to the river to meet us during our trip. “Do you realize how much has changed in your life in the last five years?” Gene asked her, as we strolled the mall. “New job, a wedding, a baby?”
Cassie glanced at her husband, Adam, and hugged her 7 month-old daughter, Ellie. “Yes,” she said. “I’m so happy.” Gene beamed, too – happy for her.
We’re back in WI for August. It’s nice to be home for awhile. Lest you think that the author life is all glamping and travel, our August calendar is filled with meetings, work, cataract surgeries for Gene, and unanticipated kitchen remodeling due to an unfortunate dishwasher flooding incident. Yep – we’re just everyday folks!
‘Til next time,
Barb and Gene