At first they had tea parties with their dolls in the back room of the building. The girls stayed and played among themselves in that snug art gallery amid the paintings…
Suppertime back home
…. while the grown-ups mingled up front with their chai tea, smoothie, or steaming hot espresso. Take your pick. Max served drinks suitable for every taste bud under the sun.
On open mic poetry nights at Luna Bean a diversity of folks showed up to read their favorites, everything from free verse to rap to classic.
When my friend Nancy first showed up with her niece Kayley (and her doll Kaya), she described the place like this.
“The ambiance is instantaneous – am I in Paris, London, Greenwich Village?
“Soft mystical music, dim lights, adobe-colored walls covered by works of art. Pottery and wood carvings lining the mantel of the fireplace. At small, hand-painted round tables or on easy chairs and welcoming sofas gathers the most eclectic, congenial, multi-talented group of people I have ever encountered.
It was magic, it was unbelievable, and I soon discovered it was Max – Max with the welcoming hug and smile, the whirring coffee machine, the art of making you feel special, welcome, at home. Max, who served free ice cream cones to the homeless every afternoon.
Here in a small southern city in the angst of economic depression, racial mistrust and fear, wracked by senseless murders that have shaken all of us to the core, drugs, gang influence, have and have-nots - we have come together week after week – the hopeful, the believers, like moths to the flame of Max and the Luna Bean.”
Soon the girls abandoned their dolls and joined the poetry readings. It was at the Luna Bean where my daughter developed her stage presence.
Amid paintings of Native Indians in their pure, unadulterated habitats, and dozens of mythical motifs that engaged the imaginative eye, she tested her wings and learned to fly.
Against All Odds
The Wolf I Cry For
Eagles Cry Too
Every week we joined the gathering of poets reading everything from Rumi to Redmond, from Shakespeare to Seuss. She read the works of Emily Dickinson as well as her own creations.
Every genre was applauded passionately, regardless. This was the place to shed reserve and shine like the noonday sun.
Then one day the Luna Bean just up and closed. Just like that. Abi said, “The heart of Wilson stopped beating when the Luna Bean closed.” (She borrowed this line from Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café).
Its purpose had been served. Poetry 101, a fait accompli. The good news is that the friends she’d met at the poetry readings continued writing and sharing their work with each other.
We met weekly at a local Italian café and the girls sat at their own table and read to each other their latest writing. They read short stories, poems, and novel excerpts…
Until one of the young authors fell ill and was in and out of hospitals for several months… which turned into years.
Another heartbreak for Abi, who lamented, “I miss my friend. I want the old Kayley back. The one who sits patiently while I read my stories and pretends they are the greatest. The one who cheers me on and encourages my writing.”
This is the girl who’d written with a passion and thrived on creativity. The girl who won poetry competitions, crafted jewelry, sang, danced, and acted with Abi in A Little Princess.
But some friendships are meant to last. The literary friends reunited and celebrated Kayley’s sixteenth birthday on the eve of Christmas Eve 2010. Nancy and I took off and let the girls hang out and enjoy their time together. Once again.
A special thanks to Horace Raper for allowing us a glimpse into his awe-inspiring art gallery. His paintings once graced the walls of Luna Bean and filled its space with captivating charm.