Friday, April 1, 2016
DIMESTORE by Lee Smith
As all of my book borrowing friends will readily attest I’m an unrepentant page crimper - I simply fold over the top corner of a page that holds something I want to reread. Needless to say my copy of Dimestore by Lee Smith is probably the most page crimped book to be found. It is a treasure filled with warmth, honesty, understanding and humor.
In this her first work of nonfiction Smith tells us of growing up in the small coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia. It was a place where everyone knew everyone, and immediately helped a neighbor if assistance was needed. Her father owned the Ben Franklin dime store where he knew all the customers by name and sported a red bow tie at Christmas. Smith loved to help out at the store where the fluffed the dolls’ skirts and combed their hair as she made up stories about them filled with thoughts about where they came from and where they would go once they left the dime store. She grew up shadowed by mountains that she was free to explore and were so high that the sun didn’t hit her yard until almost noon.
Her mother was a “real lady” who tried to show Smith a way of life other than the rural community in which she lived. She was sent off to get some culture - to Hollins College. Her dream had always been to be a writer, but when her professors told her to write about what she knew she swore she’d never write about Grundy. Thank goodness she did!
She wrote beautifully about the Appalachian culture that she has come to appreciate, thus showing us people and a way of life that most of us never knew. Smith does not disguise the mental illness that was part of her family’s history and took her son’s life. Both of her parents suffered from a condition that was then called “kindly nervous” and often required hospitalization. She introduces us to relatives and local characters who changed her life, all described with love, respect and humor.
Dimestore is so much more than a moving personal account, it is a gift to all of us to be returned to again and again.