Two Ruths

When my grandparents moved their family to Roanoke, Alabama in the 70’s, my dad was in his senior year of high school. The epicenter of textile industry at the time, my grandfather quickly got involved in carpet sales and was on the road most of the time. My grandmother grew up in rural Tennessee during the Depression, and could not abide by the idleness that came with moving to a new town, even though she was raising 4 children and working at the church as a secretary part-time.


As my grandfather accumulated samples from his travels, my grandmother decided to open a storefront in downtown Roanoke to sell them and act as home base for her husband’s sales accounts. In little time, her initiative took off and became so successful that my grandfather eventually stopped traveling to work the brick and mortar location in Roanoke. Before long, they were stocking and installing carpet and other flooring materials in addition to selling the remnants and samples that got them started. When times got tough, they also operated a flea market out of the Red Barn on the property and even sold sewing machines and jacuzzis at one point. Amidst all kinds of ups and downs, the business soldiered on.


They started out in the back of an old warehouse, but I smiled a bit when my grandmother told me she already had her eyes on another space for when they began to outgrow it. My childhood is filled with rich memories of playing amongst the stacked carpet rolls that filled the back of an old train depot they turned into “The Carpet Shop,” the space she had walked by so many times and dreamt of one day being their next step. Like many small town businesses, they closed at midday on Saturdays and we would get take-out from “Big Chick”. The smell of fried chicken still takes me back to sitting in my grandfather’s office chair, much like the crackling sound of fiberglass takes me back to the sun-filled walkway to the front door of the Shop. In my mind I can still hear the sound of that front door opening and closing, the old heavy brass hinges protesting softly. We watched the Christmas parade many years from the front yard of the Shop. Across the street was an old gas station where my grandmother kept a tab and they would come out and wash your windows and pump your gas for you. My child’s mind has all bright, sunny memories from growing up around The Carpet Shop. And it all started with my grandmother trying something new.


In so many ways my grandmother reminds me of Ruth from the Bible, and not just because that is literally her middle name. Her willingness to find opportunity in a new town when all she had were a few carpet scraps is a profound inspiration. Since I share her middle name, I’ve always felt like this was a huge responsibility, endlessly searching for what parts of me are like her--what are my ‘carpet scraps’? I’ve asked the Lord a thousand times over to grant me just a portion of her determination and grit so that I can pass on the great gift that she’s given to me.


The story of the Carpet Shop has always been a favorite of mine, but I never actually thought about what it would take to start a business until the Lord put a roadblock in my path that I could not get around. Becoming a business owner was not necessarily something I set out to do (but I don’t think my Granny did either), it was the result of a combination of circumstances where the Lord asked me to take a leap of faith I never saw coming--or perhaps did not even want to see coming. I wish I could say I remembered Granny’s story at that moment and charged fearlessly ahead, but I held on for far too long until the Lord finally whispered in no uncertain terms NOW.


The last few months have been filled with ups and downs in all ways--emotionally, physically, mentally, and especially spiritually. Going into it, there was so much fear of failure, of change, and of letting people down. I had worked at my previous job for almost 7 years. Once on my own, I felt that aloneness fully, and the vulnerability often made (and makes) me wonder who I am to think I could attempt such a thing. I decided to break the news slowly. The response was diverse: “Oh, like you are freelancing!” (No, I started an architecture firm) or “So you jumped ship?!” (No, I made a career change). Thankfully there were a few people who understood: “That takes so much courage! I could never do that!” (If you only knew how scared I was and am!)


Then along came a friend and client who has patiently watched the whole process. Her phone call meant the world to me (just the fact that she called!). Her excitement and pure joy for my future encouraged me to the depths of my spirit. And then she sent me a song that was not only incredibly thoughtful but resonated in ways no one else’s words had:


“The Cape” written by Guy Clark, sung by Patty Griffin
“Eight years old with a flour sack cape tied all around his neck
He climbed up on the garage, he's figurin’ what the heck
Screwed his courage up so tight, that the whole thing come unwound
He got a runnin’ start and bless his heart, he headed for the ground
Well he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
Now he's all grown up with a flour sack cape tied all around his dreams
And he's full of piss and vinegar, and he's bustin’ at the seams
So he licked his finger and checked the wind, it's gonna be do or die
He wasn't scared of nothin, boys, he was pretty sure he could fly
Well he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
Now he's old and gray with a flour sack cape tied all around his head
And he's still jumpin off the garage and will be 'til he's dead
All these years the people said, "He's actin’ like a kid"
He did not know he could not fly, so he did
Well he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
Yeah, he's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape
Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape”

I’m certainly not the first person to identify with this song, but wouldn’t you know my last day of work at my old job was on the last day of February in a leap year. God knows my heart loves metaphors! The line “He did not know he could not he did” echoed in my ears long after the song ended because it harkens back to the old adage that you will never know until you try and often times our biggest risks leave room for God’s biggest successes. If the Lord laid this path before me, and His plan is perfect, then no matter where this endeavor takes me, He will enable it to go places I never thought possible. There have been crummy days that have given me pause, but the joy of flying is unbelievable! I’m grateful the Lord is letting me go through the motions of what my grandmother must have experienced in the early days of the Carpet Shop. And I hope that I will do her and my grandfather’s legacy justice as I trust this cape and try something new.