Hilltown Families Isn’t the Only One Turning 5!

Happy New Year & Happy Birthday

Now we are in the hammock week of the year. You start out the year in January and, well, the year is like an egg. You start out January first on the top of the egg, just off center, and you slide down it. June is at the bottom of the egg, and then you kind of climb back up it until you get to Christmas, back up at the top. Then you have one week that’s shaped like a hammock between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. That’s the hammock you sleep in for that week, resting in the quiet, dark, wind-howling, snowy days of that week. Then you get to January first again and start a-skiing downhill again!

You know, this January begins Elmer’s fifth year in bidness after I came along. We have a lighting display in the side café room to commemorate it—it is a string of lights with cows, flamingos and palm trees. The cows, see, they represent Ashfield. The palm trees, they represent me coming from New Orleans, where we actually have palm trees, and the flamingos, they represent the flamboyant stuff I do here that makes people look at me sideways.

So happy five years to us!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”  nanparati@aol.com

The Further Adventures of Mr. Justin Jones

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And now it’s time to tell the further adventures of Mr. Justin Jones!

As you may recall, last year at this time, Justin was fourteen years old and living in a homeless shelter with his mother, Regina Jones, in New Orleans. I wrote of his plight and a very good many of you responded with deep-hearted wishes of a good life for him, and brought me money with which to aid him in having a good Christmas, and a level playing field upon which to build his life.

I opened a bank account for him and from it, bought him clothing, personal care items (very important to a fourteen year old in a homeless shelter) and some white folks’ Christmas food and sent him several packages, with which he had a very, very nice Christmas, and for which he was extremely grateful.

Then, in the late spring, when I was in New Orleans for my annual Jazz Fest job, I saw him and Regina, invited them to the Jazz Fest, and visited them at their shelter. Spent more of your money on them and we had a good and funny time. (Life with Regina is always filled with a lot of laughter, even in the worst times.)

The update on Regina and Justin is that they are no longer living in the homeless shelter; they got themselves a two bedroom house in Mid-City of New Orleans. Their house is very close to my old neighborhood there, and so I know that they are in a very good neighborhood! (Not a fancy neighborhood, but definitely a safe one.) I’m not sure how the house came about, but it seems to have come through some low-income housing program in New Orleans. I don’t think it’s Section 8 housing, though it may be.

Justin is going to school and doing well, recently had his fifteenth birthday and seems very well adjusted and happy. Regina isn’t doing as well with her health, as she has had blood clots in her legs and has a difficult time standing up for very long.

My plan with the money was to keep it and use it as necessary. I’ll send Justin and Regina gifts this year again, and help them out when ever they need it. They are grateful and happy people and I hope you get to meet them one day, although I doubt it, as the idea of a world where it’s cold and there is no public transportation is a repugnant one to Regina. “Huh uh, Baby,” she says. “I’m stayin’ RIGHT HERE! You come visit US!”

And so, I will.


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”  nanparati@aol.com

And Crown Thy Good with Neighborhood From Sea to Shining Sea!

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The Quirks of Northern Gentlemen

Last week I told you about Jim’s leaving and Donna then announced her retirement from the grocery and produce departments, as well. Happily, I am the sort of entrepreneur who believes that everyone should do what they wanna in life and they move to the next place that makes them happiest.

I really, really appreciate both Jim and Donna for bringing Elmer’s to where it is today—much more professional and a lot sturdier as a result of their being here. Donna has also kindly agreed to stay on during the transition, especially in the area of local produce. She really got that department going and neither of us wants to see it falter! So she is with us until we get a new grocery and produce manager. So keep on coming, all is well and we’ll announce the next manager when we get her or him!

Thank you to all the people who have told me they appreciate my endowed shape! I think it will be a grand day that completely destroys the sociologists when they hap upon this quaint old town in Western Massachusetts where all the old New England farmers nod and say, “Yo, Babe! Look at you! You done turned voluptuous on us! Look at that junk in your trunk! Mmm hmmm! You could set a cold drink AND a clock radio on that fine behind, yes indeed!”

Which will be the contrast to the other group in Ashfield that made me laugh (in a good way) by singing at the Memorial Day gathering,

America!  America!
God shed her grace on thee!
And crown thy good with neighborhood (instead of brotherhood)
From sea to shining sea!

See, they wouldn’t sing that in New Orleans.  In New Orleans they’d say,  “Huh uh!  That ain’t the song!  God ain’t no girl!  I mean, I guess he could be a girl, I guess, but that ain’t how the song go!” Read the rest of this entry »

When One Chef Closes, Another Chef Opens

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Notes from Nan: Jim, Oh Jim done gone.
By HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

One of the problems of having a tiny restaurant with an outstanding certified chef is that he is constantly being recruited by larger restaurants that can pay him infinitely better than I can. Happily (and surprisingly!) for me, Jim turned the marauders down for 3 years, but while I was in New Orleans recently, one of them finally convinced him to go. It makes sense now that he has a family (wife and new baby) to support and all, so I wasn’t surprised, just sad to see him go and glad he stayed so long. Jim will still be with us, snapping out breakfasts with Mary on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but he’ll be cooking with the high rollers all the other days of the week. Thanks Jim, for all the excellent food.

So now we welcome our new dinner cook, Brolin! You’ve enjoyed his breakfasts and to-go lunches for a few months now; he came to us back in January—and here’s how Baby Jesus works: he (Brolin, not Baby Jesus) told me the other day that when he came back to this area he applied to a number of restaurants, but got no real interest. He was just starting to get discouraged when he applied to Elmer’s. We liked him as soon as we saw him and snapped him right up. And this is exactly where he’s supposed to be because we love him! He grew up in Amherst and sought his fortune in San Francisco where he had his own catering company, Instant Luau. He moved back to the area last winter and that’s when we got him.

Besides cooking, he has his own record label, 442 Records, preserving hip-hop, R & B and jazz for all time. He likes candlepin bowling, fly-fishing and lives to barbecue. He’s also cute as the dickens, which I can say because I am way older than he is.

I asked him what his culinary philosophy was and he shrugged, smiled and said, “I like to make good food that people will like.” So, okay! – He’s cooking Thursday and Friday dinners now!

Elmer’s Store | 396 Main St. | Ashfield, MA 01330 | (413) 628-4003


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm every week in her column, “Notes from Nan.” Share dinner with her every Friday at Elmer’s. Menu’s are posted with her column. nanparati@aol.com

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