A post to honor a special person, Jeanne Penn Lane of Gravel Switch, Kentucky.
Last year I was invited by a friend to ride out to Penn’s Store in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, to meet with Jeanne Penn Lane, owner and operator of what is possibly the oldest, still operational country store in the U.S. A family of Labradors met me as I stepped up on the same planks that the talented Chet Atkins had once stepped upon as if he were visiting a cousin. Inside, dry goods lined shelves, t-shirts hung on the walls, an old cooler full of ‘cold drinks’ sat near the door and Jeanne Penn Lane came from behind the tall wooden counter to greet me as if I were somebody special.
That’s just Jeanne’s way. She makes everybody feel special. She has stood on the stage with greats in country music and bluegrass. She has hugged renowned artists, poets and novelists. Still, Jeanne has a humility and grace that baffles the mind and makes you love her right off the bat. And, I suppose it’s the thing that causes me to feel indebted to Jeanne, she believes in Kentucky’s artists, writers and musicians. She believes in us so much that each year she hosts a marvelous event called Kentucky Writer’s Day where we all take turns sharing the poems we’ve written, singing the songs we’ve composed or reading from that novel we’re working on. I have met some of the most wonderful people at Kentucky Writer’s Day, people who remain my friends via facebook and email, all through the year and not just in April when the annual event is held, kind people, good people, like Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, whose music is more haunting that mist filled knobs surrounding Penn Store. I could mention so many fabulous songwriters who attend, like Dawn Osborne. Her voice is powerful and amazing.
And then there are notables and greats such as Ed McClanahan and Dr. H.R. Stoneback who always hails from New York with the Elizabeth Maddox Roberts Society of Poets.
Last year, May 2010, Penn Store suffered severe damage from a flood. We all despaired that the end of Penn Store and Kentucky Writer’s Day might be at hand, but Dr. Stoneback and his society of poets joined forces with writers from around the country and around the world. They compiled a book of poetry about Penn’s Store. All proceeds from this book go to the restoration of Penn’s Store.
If you ever happen to be passing through Danville, Kentucky or Lebanon or Liberty, stop and ask someone how to get to Old Penn Store in Gravel Switch. And while you’re there, drop a few coins in the jar to support Jeanne’s ongoing efforts to give creative Kentuckians a platform to share their works and their hearts. And if you happen to be passing through in April, maybe you’ll just join us, sit on the porch and pick a tune with us, or maybe read that poem you’ve been hiding for the past ten years.