I can remember when there were only Cracker Barrel restaurants in the southern states. We folks in Southern Illinois had never heard of a Cracker Barrel eatery. The first of these unique establishments was during a holiday in Tennessee. The Cracker Barrel is a combination of a restaurant and a General Store. Along the walls are either replicas of old things and antiques or the genuine articles. Vintage toys and games and treats are sold in the General Store. During the 1980’s there was a prominent display of Cairn Gnomes that were created by the artist, Tom Clark from North Carolina, and I had never seen anything like them. There was, Enoch who was a depiction of a farmer and Parson Patterson who was a pastor, and Gnomes that looked like they would like to know me better. MJ would say let’s move along now…we don’t need something else to set around….and I reluctantly followed…still wondering what the Gnomes were concocting.
Paducah, Kentucky is a wonderful town to visit. We do so often and in the 1980’s we regularly stayed at the Executive Inn Hotel…who had the most delightful two nights for one night price. Aaron and Jonathon loved swimming in their large indoor pool and they had several shops as well as an indoor restaurant that prepared delicious cuisine. We were accustomed to being awakened by the fragrant aroma of bacon frying and coffee brewing…around 5:00 A:M:. One morning, during breakfast, the person serving us told us of a lunch special…we returned in 2 hours…still full of bacon and eggs…so as not to miss the lunch special… During our weekend adventures we would drive to the Kentucky Oaks Mall. I have never seen a busier mall. I have deducted that everyone in Paducah…fellowships at the Kentucky Oaks Mall. In those days…in the mall…was a Hallmark Shop. The proprietor’s name was Elizabeth…and she made the Tom Clark Gnomes…come alive… Elizabeth of Hallmark was so into each artwork that Mr. Clark had produced that once you heard her passionate portrayal…you had an emotional connection to an inanimate object. Then and there was where we began collecting Gnomes.
Elizabeth of Hallmark had the prized ability of explaining what she had to offer with a narrative that drew the customer into the story. We became excited about the art of Tom Clark because someone took the time to invite us into the story and to become a part of it. Two institutions that I have been a member of for over 40 to over 50 years…Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale and the Church…could take a lesson of Elizabeth of Hallmark of over 35 years ago…take enough time to personalize the story of your group and by your compelling words…invite your guest to come in the open door…and become a part of the family.