Monday, July 21, 2014


Bookstores and readings are common venues for book sales, but Friday I enjoyed a different kind of marketing event. I sold books at a bazaar hosted by the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly Women's Association in Monteagle, Tennessee, just down the road from Sewanee. It was a "dark and rainy" morning when the sale opened at 9 a.m, The event was slated to close at 4 p.m., but my personal fortitude waned after standing by a table hawking books, from set-up time at 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., when I threw in the towel and helped pack boxes of books. Rain pelted us as we exited the bazaar and headed for dry quarters.

The bazaar featured everything from arts and crafts to clothing and baked goods. When we first entered the auditorium, I was intimidated by the long tables of goods since Border Press had only a small card table and copies of five book titles arranged on it, with photographs of the book covers of Porch Posts and Why Water Plants Don't Drown (Pinyon Publishing) in the foreground of the display. I was further intimidated by a craftswoman next to our table who had a large, dazzling display of silver jewelry created from old forks, spoons, and other silver items that took her at least an hour to set up on a table twice the size of ours.

"Are there many book sellers at these bazaars?" I asked the craftswoman.

She looked at me, gave our table a cursory glance, and said, "There's at least one of those at every crafts show I go to." She returned to arranging her table.

"Do they sell many?" I persisted.

"A few," she said dismissively. She was a native Tennessean from Tracy City, so I was accustomed to such brief conversations, but the dismissal didn't inspire confidence.

"Been to many of these crafts shows?"

My interruptions seemed to be a bit much for her, but she threw a long reply over her shoulder, "I go to three or four of these every week. I fill my van with the jewelry, take it to the show and unload it, find a campground, take out the seat in the back of the van, unroll a sleeping bag, and I'm good for the night." She beamed a smile, pleased with her resourcefulness.

The last piece of information silenced me. I thought to myself, this gal ain't camping out in a van to sell a few books... and I sent out for food fortifications.

I met visitors to the bazaar from Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia, and the first half of the day passed quickly because we received and talked with a lot of lookers. I spent several hours touting the virtues of porches and plants, but most people were more interested in the conversation than the books. After lunch, time lagged, and although my neighbor, the jewelry maker, stayed until the bitter end, we left at 3:30 p.m., having sold a dozen books and a few packets of cards. The cards featured the beautiful plant paintings of Susan Elliott who had illustrated Why Water Plants Don't Drown by Victoria Sullivan, owner of Border Press, and the arresting pictures attracted many lookers.

Although the sale seemed to last as long as a church meeting "singing all day and eating on the ground," it was a colorful event that benefits the work of the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly Women's Association, which has sponsored the bazaar and Tour of Homes for 51 years. Following lunch, Ralph Null, renowned floral designer, demonstrated his secrets for easy floral arrangements and auctioned these arrangements at the end of the program. Proceeds benefitted the Monteagle Women's Association.

The Monteagle Sunday School Assembly has a history dating back to 1882 when the Sunday School Convention of Tennessee established an educational congress for Sunday School teachers. Sunday School teachers from many southern states attended summer classes at the Assembly in Monteagle to enrich their Sunday School teaching.

The Monteagle Assembly had close ties with the first Assembly in Lake Chautauqua, New York, which was created to combine Sunday School teaching with "the promotion of the broadest popular culture in the interest of Christianity without regard to sect or denomination," and the organization attains its mission through a variety of spiritual, health, cultural, and educational activities. The Monteagle Assembly eventually became the headquarters for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle.

"The Assembly," as Sewaneeans refer to the attractive property, also contains over 160 homes, and the homeowners are fifth-and sixth-generation Assembly families. Two of the homes on tour Friday were the "Hallelujah Cottage" built in 1905, which has always been owned by women, and "Mojo," formerly known as "The Little House," built in 1885, that also has a special arrangement for dogs to come in through the screen porch door and leave through the kitchen door. Many of the homes have porches that reflect Queen Anne and Gothic architectural influences, which interested me because I've just published a book about porches and porch sitters. The homes are sought after as rentals during the summer months when special activities for adults and children are offered—youth programs dominate the Assembly's schedules.

The Assembly has an active rental program, public meeting rooms, a dining hall, tennis courts, an amphitheater, and other buildings and programs designed to accommodate thousands of visitors every summer. Sunday services and evening prayer (called Twilight Prayer) take place every week, and outstanding guest ministers and lecturers are featured in programs offered to the public.  

We actually developed good rapport with the silver jewelry craftswoman who was our neighbor at the bazaar and shared part of our lunch with her. She told us that she makes a better living creating and selling jewelry than she did managing a convenience store and gets more satisfaction from a creative occupation. In her spare time, she paints. She's representative of the numerous, talented craftspeople and artists born and bred in the Cumberland country, and I admire her ingenuity. But I'm still not going on the road and sleep in a van in order to market my "creations." Perhaps I would've been game for this sleeping arrangement at age 40, but that number is getting ready to double!

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