Due to the years I have spent writing fiction, I have become accustomed to applying my imagination to situations, places and people I hear about or read, just for the sake of it. see if there is anything that could become an interesting part of a novel or story. I do it here as I reflect on the “dining room girl” job that was occupied by a young woman who worked long ago at the Gilley’s Hotel in Bulls Gap.
Depending on the degree of access her work as a “dining room girl” has given her to the hotel as a whole, and also her personality and willingness to mind other people’s affairs, she may have. had one of the most interesting jobs in the area. .
I met the “Dining Room Girl” in a short story of Gilley’s Hotel written by Ruby Lee Gilley, whose family who ran the hotel now gone for years, gave it her name.
Part of Gilley’s story says, “Probably around 1924/25 Dad decided to build an addition to the hotel. They were concrete blocks, with a large concrete porch on the first floor and a full porch on the second floor. This adjoined the original building. Once this work was completed, the dining room and kitchen were moved to the new building.
This kitchen, Ruby Lee’s account notes, was “a very modern kitchen with a huge T2 wrought iron Home Comfort double oven that was still in use for many years afterwards.”
The dining room, the written story says, “was furnished with probably five or six tables that could seat six to eight people. There was a small table inside the dining room where a large brass bell was placed.
The “dining room girl” rang that bell on the porch before every meal. The written story says: “The hotel was renowned for its very good food and some local residents brought their families here for Sunday dinner.” By the way, this bell is carefully preserved today at the Bulls Gap Railroad Museum in the city center.
Something about the phrase “dining room girl” and the description of her duty to ring intrigued me as soon as I met her. Unless the task of ringing the bell was an unpaid chore assigned to someone’s daughter or granddaughter, the job was probably more than ringing a bell several times a week (this is where the “apply the imagination” thing I mentioned above comes into play.).
For the sake of the many people who have asked me how to come up with plot elements for the fiction they would like to write, let’s start imagining a story built from the situation of the girl in the dining room. For those who aren’t interested, I’ve checked off the “writing tips” below so you can ignore them.
WRITING TIPS TO GET STARTED: Suppose the girl in the dining room not only rang the bell, but also helped with cooking or serving, washing dishes or cleaning the bedrooms.
The girl was said to have occasionally had access to the rooms and luggage of the tenants, many of whom were men from out of town traveling for business reasons. And what documents, letters or whatever does such a traveler leave lying around when they leave their room?
What if a traveler wrote, say, an inappropriate and caring letter to a married woman in town, and the girl in the dining room, unknown to the author of the letter, found it on her desk and then read it? that he was out of his room?
And then, what if the man put the letter in a sealed envelope and paid the girl in the dining room to slyly hand it over to the woman without anyone else knowing? The man would have no idea, of course, that the girl knew the contents of the letter he was asking her to deliver.
So would the girl in the dining room actually deliver it, or hide it, or show it to an adult she trusted, or what? Continue with the “what-iffing” and you’ll figure something out.
Consider another scenario: what if two business competitors were staying at the hotel at the same time and one paid the girl in the dining room to pick up a particular document or item from her competitor’s room, or to listen to a particular conversation in the dining room, for the sake of commercial espionage? After all, who would suspect an innocent little girl spying on a boring adult conversation?
All kinds of intriguing things could arise from this situation!
Sounds a little crazy, I guess, all this thinking about wild storylines, but that kind of “what?” Freewheeling has worked well for me and others in writing fiction.
Bottom Line: To develop a plot, start with one or more characters in a particular situation and setting, and start “what-iffing” until you start to see how one thing can lead to another thing, and another, etc.
I can actually use a “dining room girl” inspired character in a novel at one point or another. Or, if you, too, are writing fiction, or have the ambition to do so, and something in the above arouses an idea in your own mind, there is no reason why you cannot. use yourself. END WRITING TIPS
Now back to the real dining room girl who rang the bell in Bulls Gap. Do we know who she was? And was there only one girl in the dining room, or have different girls done this task over the years?
I don’t know the answer to the second question, but Ruby Lee Gilley provided a dining girl name. Describing some of the people she knew at the hotel, she mentioned a railway worker named Sherwood Johnston, a train engineer and frequent tenant “who always played tricks on people. Everyone got together to have fun!”
She continues, “I remember he came home from an errand with his suitcase and asked for Flo Hinshaw, who was the girl in the dining room, as he brought her something. She entered and with great reluctance opened the suitcase. It was there – a huge brooding opossum! “
So Flo Hinshaw was the name of the girl in the dining room! I wonder: could she have been related to the Greene County Civil War Bridge Burner named Hinshaw? Given that Bulls Gap is just off the west side of Greene County where a bridge was burnt down, I guess a kinship is entirely possible.
Ruby Gilley’s account mentions the dining room girl once again. Ruby’s dad loved to fish to escape his daily work obligations, and what he caught became a dish for the hotel dining room.
Of those fish dinners Ruby wrote, “I remember being so little my family was afraid of having a bone, so the girl in the dining room would help me with mine. “
Memories of Ruby Lee Gilley’s life at Gilley’s Hotel include more than what’s featured here, and I might cover that in future Clips to Keep columns.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen Gilley’s Hotel for yourself, head to downtown Bulls Gap and check it out. The porch where the dining room girl rang is gone, but the closed building remains, and there is hope that one day it can be restored and reopened.
Maybe there will even be a new girl from the dining room to ring that old bell like Flo Hinshaw did.
Stop by the Railroad Museum in Bulls Gap and curator Bill Haskins will be happy to tell you about the hotel, the railroad, and the city.