Another beautiful mid-summer day in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania brought curious merchants, shoppers and tourists alike to Finch’s Crossing’s newest business venture, Laurel Yoga. It had taken Summer Hamilton only six months to get her business up and running, but that day was ten years in the making. And on that Friday afternoon, surrounded by friends, neighbors and family, she watched with delight as mayor Peggy Brightwell opened the massive gold plastic scissors and cut the pink ribbon strung across the storefront. The ends broke free and fluttered to the ground like large pink petals, and Summer took a deep, cleansing breath, bowed her head in fleeting prayer and whispered to herself, “Namaste.”
Summer had picked the perfect time to open a business. In recent years, the village had risen from insignificance to a thriving community that attracted tourists who wanted to supplement their rafting, camping and adventuring vacations with a good meal, some shopping and the good feelings that arise from walking the streets of a small town. Even in the winter, skiers and snowmobilers from nearby resorts ventured into Finch’s Crossing. Although there were other towns nearby, Connellsville to the west, and the larger Mt. Pleasant to the north, Finch’s Crossing, with its eclectic shops, a tea room, and a five-and-dime store, had, made visitors feel they had entered a different era where life lulled, rather than zoomed. With prosperity came additional revenue for the town, and Mayor Brightwell had funded free Wi-Fi along all of Pittsburgh Street and spruced up the historic light posts with bright flags that read “Finch’s Crossing: Embracing the Future, Loving the Past.”
And that day in mid-July, with the late afternoon sun and a refreshing breeze singing their songs, the cutting of the ribbon in front of Summer’s new business symbolically severed her ties to her once vagabond life where she had crisscrossed the world in search of a perfect state of harmony and happiness. Over the previous ten years she had written obituaries in a tiny Alaskan town, painted houses in Florida, waitressed across Europe and held countless other odd jobs. But none had ever fulfilled her in the way she had hoped they would. In the end, fulfillment only came when she was centered on a yoga mat, eyes closed, soul open. She had been a chauffeur in Hollywood, when she learned beach yoga and fell in love with the practice.
Mayor Peggy shook Summer’s hand, and then embraced the young woman she had known since she was a child growing up in Finch’s Crossing. “Well done,” the mayor whispered. “We’re all so proud of you!”
Peggy stepped back and Summer stood before the microphone which had been set up for the occasion. She felt like a superstar standing there in front of the friends and neighbors in her hometown. Summer hadn’t seen most of them in the years she had traveled the world. She didn’t know how much she had missed the predictable rhythm of small-town life until she had returned six months earlier, appearing on her her sister’s doorstep with a duffle bag full of clothes and an idea forming in her mind to open her own yoga practice.
“Thank you all so much for coming to the opening of Laurel Yoga,” Summer said, swaying slightly to the music she always carried with her and that no one else could hear. Her strawberry blond hair hung down to the middle of her back, thick golden curls with light red hues. She had worn a light, flowing Maxie dress in her trademark pink color, dotted with tiny white flowers. “I don’t know how much you know about yoga, but practicing it regularly helps reduce stress, increase agility, and lower your blood pressure. Along with a healthy diet, yoga can significantly improve the quality of your life. I’ll be holding classes for all skill levels and you can also sign up for private sessions. And, tomorrow morning, I’m holding a free class for beginners. No strings attached. Just come and try it out. Now, I hope you’ll come in for my hands-on yoga demonstration and refreshments.”
The crowd clapped and Tim Delaney, the editor of the local weekly newspaper, snapped a few photographs. Summer watched eagerly as the crowd streamed through the front door of the studio. She had scheduled the ribbon cutting for five-thirty on a Friday afternoon, so the town merchants could all attend after closing their shops at five. And she was pleased to see an assortment of shoppers and tourists there as well.
Summer knew that opening a yoga studio in a town of 5,000, an hour away from the nearest major metropolitan center was risky. She tried to make her business venture as multi-faceted as possible. In addition to the studio at the back of the space, she created smaller areas to sell custom exercise clothes, yoga mats, and gifts. She had installed a small glass-front fridge to sell healthy drinks and snacks. She would need to draw in as many customers as she could if she was going to make the business a success. But as with most things in her life, Summer did not worry. Worrying was not in her DNA. She always felt that she was a lucky person, for whom circumstances and resources always came through. She always landed on her feet. And what was more important, she was always grounded in the kind of happiness that only comes from leading an authentic life, true to herself no matter what. She would make the business work, simply because that’s how things were for Summer Hamilton.
As Summer stood back to let the curious crowd in, her sister Autumn Hamilton Rasmussen emerged to give her a congratulatory hug. “I have to hand it to you sis,” she said, proudly. “You’ve really outdone yourself. This place is gorgeous!”
Autumn’s best friend and town grouch, Meg Overly Oswald, stood next to her in her typical summer outfit of jeans, white T-shirt and Doc Martens. “Well you won’t catch me doing any of those crazy poses,” Meg groused. “I like my exercise standing up and moving forward, thank you very much.”
“Oh Meg,” Summer purred. “Have you ever tried yoga? You really don’t know what you’re missing. It might even help with your attitude.” She grabbed Meg’s hand, then Autumn’s and led them inside.
Using her untouched inheritance from when her father died ten years previously, Summer had purchased and restored one of the original nineteenth-century buildings on Pittsburgh Street, the main thoroughfare through downtown Finch’s Crossing, and home of the town’s main commercial district. Doing much of the work herself (she had spent a year working on a construction site in Denver, and had apprenticed with a master carpenter), she transformed what had been a sorry-looking eye sore to a stunning facade, with two huge windows overlooking Pittsburgh Street that let in morning light to illuminate the studio. Summer had restored the brick exterior and installed a new awning over the front door. In the six months that she had been home, Summer felt more at peace than she had ever during ten years of traveling the world after college.
Summer had practiced and taught yoga in hundreds of studios around the world, and taken bits and pieces of each to create her own studio, creating a homey apartment on the building’s second floor in the process She painted the studio walls with soft hues of sage greens and tawny tans, colors inspired by Mother Nature and meant to bring the outside in. The studio itself was towards the back of the building, with a large water wall providing soothing trickle sounds of water falling in ripples. It had been Summer’s crowning achievement, and had required many YouTube videos and trips to the hardware store for consultations with the proprietor Stan Brilhart, but she had done all the work herself. On either side of the wall, lush green plants evoked an Amazon rain forest.
The guest lockers, retail fixtures and refreshment areas had been done in all-white built-in cabinetry that Summer had custom-made herself. That day, she wasn’t sure what she was most pleased with: that she had finally fulfilled her wish of opening a yoga studio, or that she had practically built the entire thing herself, from the studs up, needing only a plumber and electrician to help bring the building up to code.
Summer slipped into the private office and changed into yoga pants and a tank top with “Laurel Yoga” embellished on it, a twig of light green laurel leaves forming the ‘L’ and the ‘Y.” She had created the logo herself and purchased a DIY silk screen kit so she could embellish the activewear and accessories she would sell to her clientele. She bent over a large vase overflowing with purple irises and white hyacinths and inhaled deeply, feeling the beautiful scent in her soul. Her neighbors on Pittsburgh Street, Lila Geyer of Morris Ladies Wear, and Samantha who owned Demuth’s Florist, had presented the bouquet to her that morning as a welcome gift.
When Summer emerged from the office, she was pleased to see that several guests occupied the mats that been laid out on the gleaming wood floor, waiting for the demonstration to begin. Some sat in exaggerated cross-legged poses, while others gingerly laid on their backs. Ninety-some-year-old Miss Elsie Hixon, who had owned Miss Elsie’s Tea Room for more than twenty-five years, was easing down onto a mat, her long white braid swinging back and forth on her back. Summer rushed to her side.
“Now don’t fuss, child,” Miss Elsie chided. “I can get down by myself. It’s the getting up where I’ll need some help.”
Teppy Tartle, the president of the Merchants Association and owner of the Et Cetera Boutique and Christmas Shop, sunk down on her mat with a thud, her voluminous orange purse clutched to her chest, and her large, mysterious up-do not in the least mussed. Kyle Oswald, the town’s social media and marketing consultant, and Meg’s long-suffering husband, reached out a hand to steady her.
“Oh Teppy, are you alright,” Summer cried. “Did you hurt anything?”
“Just my pride,” Teppy responded, trying, and failing, to arrange herself with anything remotely resembling ladylike adroitness. Summer observed the room, pleased how it had filled with eager students. Ducky the letter carrier, shared a mat with her beau, Stan Brillhart. Melissa Overholt, always serious in her black pants and white blouse, sat ramrod straight and looked as scholarly as ever in black-rimmed round eyeglasses, as if she was about to research a new antique in her Burnt Orange antiques shop. Autumn had drug Meg into the studio and the two leaned against a wall to watch. Kyle stood next to Meg, his arm draped around her shoulder. Only Mallory, Stan’s twenty-something daughter, looked as if she would be able to do any of the moves Summer was about to demonstrate.
Summer took a breath and centered herself as she stood in front of the room, and welcomed her guests, with the traditional hands together, slight bow and “Namaste” greeting, which the group parroted back to her. Summer reached back into her memory for her days in Austin, Texas, where she had dated the recreation director of a nursing home. She had developed a chair yoga program for the group of elderly residents, modifying the traditional yoga poses to meet their abilities.
Studying the group before her, she led them through a series of seated arm stretches and neck movements. Confident that they were limber, she instructed them to stand, and led them through the mountain and warrior poses, which they all mastered beautifully, albeit with some jerkiness and wind milling of arms. She demonstrated the one-legged tree pose and the triangle, and was relieved that Miss Elsie chose to march in place rather than attempt either. Summer wrapped up with the child’s pose, and felt herself relax into the familiar stretch. At the end of the demonstration, everyone broke into cheers and applause, and Stan offered up high-fives all around, his six-foot-four frame an imposing presence.
After the demonstration, the group admired the yoga gear and environmentally friendly gifts on display, which Summer had curated from some of her favorite green boutiques from around the country.
After the crowd dispersed, Summer looked around her studio with satisfaction. It was amazing how many items could be made from recycled materials and eco-friendly materials. She had purchased yoga mats made from natural rubber and bamboo fibers, without harmful chemicals like PVC, chloride and latex. She used eco-friendly paint to seal the beautiful, original wood floor with toxic-free gloss.
To stock her gift kiosk, she had selected purses woven from discarded gum wrappers, Christmas tree ornaments made from soda cans and an assortment of home goods made from bicycle chains. She’d add more items, including shoes made from plastic water bottles, once she was generating a good income. And she would find them all good homes, where their functionality would be appreciated and their beauty admired. It was like restoring a balance in the universe, and she and her new business were a part of that. Summer knew she was an oddity in Finch’s Crossing. No one else in the town wore flowing Maxie dresses, gypsy skirts, and peasant blouses accessorized with flowing strands of glass beads. She was alone in her practice of revering Mother Nature as if she were its actual daughter. Yet she knew none of that mattered. Surely in a town where a ninety-some-year-old Miss Elsie had learned to use Twitter, the sheriff had a juvenile criminal record, and the town Grinch led an annual Halloween pet parade for children, she would find her place again.
Summer will be available in August. Check back for pre-order details!