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Monday, July 20, 2009



This is Una of Una's Cornucopia on W Whitehead St / Hwy 18 next to Virginia Setzer's sewing shop. Una sells vitamin pills and aloe lotions and a tremendous variety of things that are good for ya. She is a diminutive elfin woman in her early 90s, I suppose, and makes a good commercial for what she sells. Not that she's lived long, but she's up and about and runs a little business to keep herself going, talking with people, feeling in place, using vitamin pills and this and that to keep her going. She's sprightly as an 11 year old girl, though with much aches and pains of growing old, as well as that many years of experience to slow her down. She still has that kind of spirit, a youthful spirit that you see when you know her that's behind her older woman self.

Una was my next door neighbor for 4 years when I was at my little music store where mountain music was distributed to people's sound systems at home and in their vehicles. I actually dreaded the proximity to Una before moving into the space, but not much. I'd had an experience with her some years before that made me a little apprehensive, actually embarrassed more than anything, when I get right down to honesty. Embarrassed for my own stupid behavior that I thought was so smart at the time. I found Una to be a good neighbor and an interesting woman to know. She has her own ways, she's eccentric and that's why I like her.

I'll fess up and tell how she got the name, in my mind, Chihuahua Woman, or Woman Who Runs With Chihuahuas. For years I've had that association in my mind, and this is how it happened. First step is my mistake that created the incident. I was working at a bookstore at the other end of the shopping center from the Ben Franklin store, where Una rented a corner just inside the door to sell her vitamin pills. I had 5 boxes of books to return to distributor. I walked them down there with one of those things on two wheels for carrying several boxes like UPS uses. I figured it would be just a few minutes. There wasn't any business anyplace that day. So I left the door unlocked, knowing I'd be back in a few minutes.

I walked in at Ben Franklin and Martha was not at the register. In my mental schedule I'd counted on her being at the register. She was the one to take UPS boxes at the time. Una saw me and said Martha was in the back. She'd be back in a minute. I'm standing there thinking about the unlocked door. It would have been the more intelligent approach to walk back up to the store and lock it, then return and be back when Martha's ready. No. Instead of intelligent approach, let's try the dumb approach.

I waited what I figured was about 60 seconds and went walking to the back of the store to find Martha. The door was unlocked was all I could think. I couldn't be wasting my time tracking down employees who should be at the register. Huffing and puffing inside, feeling righteous. I found Martha and told her I had some boxes for UPS and we walked to the front. When we walked by Una, she snarled and growled and looked at me like a chihuahua threatening to bite my ankles. She snapped, "I said she'd be back in a minute! What'd you do, time it?" I said, "Yeah," and went on to help Martha get the boxes ready to go.

Of course, up popped in my imagination a chihuahua darting at my ankles barking. Chihuahua Woman, Woman Who Runs With The Chihuahuas stuck in my mind, and every time I've seen her since, I've seen Chihuahua Woman. It's not an insult. It just fits somehow. And, like a chihuahua, when she's not snapping at your ankles, she's warmly personal and friendly, a whole human being. In her business she is making available vitamins and varieties of healthful, organic remedies and vitamins, lotions, herbal teas, soaps, etc. Her business amounts to a service to the community. She doesn't make much, if anything, but she doesn't care. She doesn't need income from the store, so she provides a service according to what she believes is important, and a real service it is. The store keeps itself going and that's good enough. It's what accountants call a hobby.

Martha worked for Una for several years until she was unable. I got to know her too working next door, and discovered a very interesting woman kept entirely to herself. One thing I have to thank Una for is my friend Debi. She was working for Una after Martha. It turned out she was Tom Pruitt's great niece, Elgin Pruitt's girl. We'd met some when she was in high school and I was putting up hay with her daddy 30 years ago. She'd been away, lived her life, and was back home taking care of her mother, working for Una part time for gas money. Una loves big band music and ballroom dancing. You better hope there's no reincarnation because next lifetime rap will be golden oldies.

1 comment:

  1. I've driven by "Miss Una's" place dozens of times and wondered how in the world anyone could be making a living in a small down selling vitamins and health tonics. Making a living has a whole different meaning in the mountains. It's not about the money, it's about the connection with each other and feeling useful. I've got to stop in and meet her when next I travel that way. You're right. She does have that youthful, snap-at-your-heels look in her eyes...just like a chihuahua. Thanks for introducing her to us.