Just like 2020, this is a long one…

In a year that most would gladly give back, we are here to share with you the many reasons we are thankful for 2020! You don’t believe us? Let us convince you!

This is not meant to run in some cruel cross-cut to those who have lost loved ones this year. We cannot imagine the agony of losing someone close in the circumstances of this year, especially related to hospitals and nursing home facilities imposing separation. Our hearts go out to you in your loss.

Let us turn though to the many blessings this year has brought. We want to share with you the story of a miracle, just in time for Christmas.

First the dry part: Have we struggled financially?

I have seen on a poll of small businesses that about 10-15 percent prospered this year and about 20 percent held steady with the previous year. I know most artists and craftsmen cannot say that. Most event promoters cannot say that either; some went out of business for good this year, along with many other small businesses across the country, not to mention the world.

Even in this, many can say they were blessed with being able to keep a job and even get promotions and higher pay than in previous years. I know this is true for my young adult children. My youngest daughter got a new job and a happy increase in her income with it. My son went to work for his father, just before all these shutdowns, in a construction-related industry. Just in time, he left a restaurant career for now, where he would have been out of work. He has made more money this year than he could have hoped to make before! My oldest daughter’s husband was promoted and received a raise at his job. My daughter’s blog, which is all about homeschooling, blossomed in the months that followed shutdowns. She was suddenly earning thousands of dollars on a blog she hadn’t touched in 6 months.

On the flip side of this, my husband’s son is right there with the masses this year. Working as an agent in the music industry, his work is mostly on pause this year, and maybe even next year. First, he was laid off, then he was let go. He regrouped quickly, forming his own company, but now is waiting, trying to lay a foundation that should pay off later. Our blessing in this is that he has worked with his dad again for the first time in years! I know this is certainly a blessing to my husband; his son’s work has benefited both our businesses. Even so, we know he cannot wait for his business and his lifestyle to be able to flourish again.

As for our own businesses before Covid -19, Jeff’s business was growing exponentially, so much that he was hiring people to help cover the jobs filling the calendar last December, into this year for January, February, March, April, and right into May. For the Craftsmen’s Fair, we had just finished the event cycle for 2019 with higher ticket sales than in the previous (post-fire) years. We were hearing great things from people who attended and great things from those who participated. We went to a festival in Florida the first weekend of March, and shook hands with and hugged lots of people who wanted to be in our upcoming events.

Then we came home and watched the tower tip over, free fall, and shatter on the ground in pieces right along with the rest of the country–and the world.

We were horrified as we realized the gravity of the virus (and all those people we hugged!). Then we were equally horrified watching job after job after job canceled from our schedule (court reporting–Jeff’s business) until all of them were completely gone. We waited for three long months to see what would become of the industry with courtrooms shut down. No depositions were being conducted. At the same time, it was completely unfathomable that we could even consider having events (Craftsmen’s Fair) in July and October. Trying to plan for those events during a shutdown with no written rules or plans by governments nationally or locally was impossible. We had no idea what was going to be allowed, nor under what circumstances. Then we also had to consider if we were expected to move forward:

(1) Would any employee want to work?

(2) Would any artist or craft maker want to participate?

(3) Would any people in the general public plan to come to Gatlinburg to attend an indoor event?

None of these things started to roll again until June in Tennessee. Jeff’s business was coming back by way of Zoom videos. We had conducted some in the past, but not the majority, and not legal depositions in full by all parties. We had to ramp up equipment, purchase some new devices, and spend hours learning how to pin a witness for video recording and be able to capture all voices while being heard ourselves. We learned the industry needed new techs as part of the crew, too, to handle all the depositions on screens remotely. It also required additional licenses to be purchased for software we use, plus several new kinds of software, not to mention devices to run all this on.

While juggling this, we were applying for financial aid of various sorts, just like everyone else. We were learning who was helpful, and who was not.

We were learning that our contracts for the events were being upheld.

Yes, we were expected to conduct publicly-attended events, and had to plan the first one to be open in less than 30 days after the first reopenings of business were taking place in Tennessee–with no rule book about how to do so.

This for an event that is staffed mostly by people of retirement age, featuring small businesses run by mostly retirement-aged artists and craft makers, and attended, for the most part, by mostly retirement-aged patrons.

Now how would do you like those shoes? We didn’t like them at all! So many unknowns!

We got to the other side of the July event without anyone getting Covid-19. Blessing number one! We didn’t make anyone angry. Blessing number two! We lost a lot of revenue, but the Gatlinburg Convention Center was able to put some people back to work; our employees who could not work were still paid, and those who could work were happy to be somewhere again!

We were cautious and we learned a lot. We left that event wondering what would happen in the world in the meantime and whether or not anyone would want to come in October.

Starts to heat up a little now. Bear with me:

Now at this point we are working frantically trying to update all kinds of websites, signs, recorded material, social media, press releases, emails, contracts, you name it. We are checking with our artists and crafters, trying to get a consensus from people who have no more information than we have for making decisions. It was tough. We gave them the bottom line. Almost all of the same people who stayed out of the July event were staying out again in October. It was up to them to find quality artists and craftsmen to participate in October to make the event what people have expected there for years.

Little by little, new applications started to come in. Phone calls, emails, social media messages. We worked and worked to get back to all these new people as quickly as we could; we looked at what they made; we gave them information; we tried to help them find hotels and campgrounds; we sent them contracts. More applications came in; the cycle began again. We worked and worked, planning the layout of which artist goes where; then we changed it; then we changed it again. We communicated with employees, and sent so many emails to the artists and craftsmen–I lost count. There was so much information to share and so many individual questions. It was a mountain of a job for just a couple of people to tackle. Day by day, bit by bit, the pieces fell into place.

We finally made it to October with my husband’s business picking up steam again the entire time. Even those things fell into place.

Time to move into the convention center. The entire time we were worried about an 18-day event. So many people. Would we make it with no one getting sick? This of course was utmost on our minds. Would people be cautious and courteous? Would they do what they said they would? How would the public perceive all this? What would they do? So many questions; so many things to balance.

Here we go:

On the first day of move-in for our artists and craftsmen, we got our first answer.

Those of you who come often to our events may have noticed a ceramics booth missing in the gallery. There were many of the regular artists and crafters not attending, so I am sure you would not think too much about it, under the circumstances. In this case, though, your assumptions would have been wrong.

This couple came with so much inventory after working at home for months with no other shows to go to. Our dear friends were setting up their booth; we were checking people in and doing what we do. My friend A (I’ll call him that) also works for us during the event. He sets his wife’s booth up with her for two days, works the first and last day with her, but works for us all the other days during the craft fairs in July and October.

On the first day of move-in (the two days before we open), A came to the office to make coffee with me. He is a big fan of coffee! About an hour later, someone came to the window of the office, frantic.

My friend A had fallen, they said. Come quick!

Just moments before this I had walked down that way talking to his wife and a new artist in our event about a storage space right across from their booth. Now I was grabbing the house radio and the one for our staff as well. I was yelling into the house radio to call 911, we needed an ambulance, that A was down on the ground. I was walking very fast, sometimes trotting, because that booth is a long way away from the office. I was imagining he has broken his leg or something like that.

When I got to him, I immediately went into shock. I had had CPR training 10 years ago when I was getting licensed to teach school. I had never used it though and really had not thought about it in years.

Everything was in fast motion and slow at the same time. I could see my friend on the floor, not aware of anything, but his eyes were wide open. He was making a sound for air. I was not sure if he was getting enough air; he was bluish though and red. I was not sure what was going on. I asked some questions, I could hear the ambulance people, my husband, and the building staff on the radio all at the same time; I was trying to decide which way the ambulance was going to approach and what I needed to do about that while taking things off my friend’s belt, undoing his belt, undoing his shirt, then I thought he was getting no air because he had aspirated, so I turned him on his side, supporting his head as I did so. The women in front of me were on the phone with 911 I suddenly realized and were saying no, don’t do that, put him on his back. The next moment my husband was there giving A mouth to mouth, then it seemed just as suddenly that Jeff just disappeared. Then building staff, J, showed up with a defibrillator. I looked up at him and just said Skin! I yanked my friend’s shirt up to his chin and gave a nod.

J placed the defibrillator on A’s chest. The machine gave verbal instructions, and then it shocked A. In a few more moments, the ambulance crew was in there with us and quickly started working on my friend. I retreated to a position beside A’s wife. One of our crafters came to pray with her. My husband came back just before the ambulance crew. Jeff had been everywhere making sure the ambulance could get in, cars were out of the way, that they knew where A was, managed to give mouth-to-mouth to A, and then brought back one of our crafters with EMT experience from the far corner of our building!

The official EMTs gave our friend oxygen, checked his vitals, got instructions, gave him meds, part of them loaded A in the ambulance, and the others got all the medical information from his wife. Our friend was going by helicopter to the university medical center in the next city. This was good news, but scary. We arranged for my husband to drive A’s wife to the hospital. I knew it would be tricky with all the traffic. Jeff is great at navigating anywhere you want to go–he has GPS built into his brain! He is also very conversational in any situation. I am a stone, especially in those circumstances. A’s wife needed conversational. I was certain the reassurance women usually feel from most nice men would be a blessing as well. I know I made the right decision.

I arrived at our house in Knoxville at about 10 pm. It took nearly 2 hours for Jeff to get them to the hospital. My niece worked there, so I had texted her to get information, which I relayed to them on the drive. Jeff then stayed at the hospital while doctors, A’s wife, and Jeff tried to get a response from A. His first daughter arrived at the hospital after a long drive. Doctors talked about a body-temperature-lowering procedure that would take days but might get a response from A. One doctor brought DNR papers. A’s wife had to leave him at the hospital that evening (Covid regulations) and go to a hotel with their daughter.

Jeff got home not long after 10 pm. We prayed off and on all through that night. Things were not looking good for our friends. We woke up over and over and could not stop thinking about our friends. When we went back to Gatlinburg in the morning, we felt things were grim. We had such dread, but we prayed. I cannot speak for every person there, but I know a lot of them were praying for our friends, too. They are all friends with each other, more like family.

I know I was in shock going through all that. We were merely functioning the next day. A‘s wife called us in the morning and said they would not give her an update on the phone. She was heading to the hospital. I was fearing for the worst.

We kept trying to do the work that was before us. Our event was to open the next day, Oct. 8th. A’s friends, some crafters who were already there, coordinated with the five-plus children/grandchildren of our friends who came to help take care of their loved ones. They were packing all the ceramics back up to drive them back home. That was taking place out in the hallway while still more crafters were checking in, unknown to them what was on our minds, nor what had happened the afternoon before.

Wednesday at about 11:30 am we got a call. A‘s wife was on the phone.

She told us A was sitting up in the hospital room, sipping a cup of coffee.

She told us, she walked into his room at the hospital; she looked at him sitting there saying nothing; she was so afraid the oxygen deprivation might have done something to him so that he would not know who she was. He didn’t speak, so she didn’t either.

Finally, she said, Do you know who I am? He said, Of course I know you. You are my beautiful wife and the love of my life.

When A’s wife told us this, Jeff and I stopped everything, we grabbed each other and started to cry. We were so happy, so thankful, so relieved!

The doctor said only 4 percent of people survive what our friend A experienced. If this had happened when the couple was in their hotel room, or in the parking lot, or on the drive up, or anywhere else–anywhere that didn’t have people who were responding quickly, a defibrillator with people who knew how to use it, and an ambulance close by, with a helicopter and a top-ranked heart hospital close as well–he would not have made it. Four percent.

Now let that sink in for just a minute.

Of all the things that were against this event taking place this year…if he had not had this heart event at our event–where he did, and when he did–he would not be with us today.

I said this year was full of blessings and even miracles. Are you convinced? I am. His wife is. His family is. He is. A is at home with a nice defibrillator implant, recovering and wanting something to do! His wife is so happy and thankful as are all their children and grandchildren (one of them just signed to play with the University of Tennessee baseball team).

So how did our event go after that?

It was fine. It was wonderful in fact.

Everything after that IS wonderful.

Several other crafters had some issues (fractured shoulder, pneumonia, emergency appendectomy). Artists and crafters pulled together to help, to comfort, to provide some financial assistance, friendship, support, and prayers. Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries was there to help all of us with all of that, too!

If you aren’t convinced yet…

One of our crafters came to the office towards the last days of our event. She had something she wanted to tell me. I missed her the first time she came by. We caught up later that day after closing. She told me this event saved her business. She had tears in her eyes. She said the money she made at this event paid her rent on her retail space for the year, and it saved her business. This stopped me in my tracks. Between A’s miracle and this: I know we were meant to be exactly where we were. Her story was the inspiration for creating our Holiday & Gift Shop.

Every one of you is who makes these miracles happen. Because you said you would come, they came. You made this event bring blessings and miracles into the lives of people who have waited and wondered all year, just like you asking, What is going to happen next? How do we make it through?

Thankfully we did not have one case of Covid-19 among artists, crafters, or employees. This I would call a miracle as well. We were very careful, but there were a lot of prayers.

In all this, we can say we are so thankful to be blessed with all of you who came, and even those who wanted to come but could not. We know you were there in spirit. We know that that counts, too! More than we may realize, our prayers for each other are a blessing. In a year like this, they even bring miracles!

Luke 2:1-20

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Merry Christmas!