When a Bird Marries a Fish

When people from different countries (or religions) marry one another, interesting things can happen over the course of their union. This post may be misunderstood as a comparison by some, but any fish who has married a bird will understand.

I was in Scotland when 9/11 happened – specifically, driving home from teaching a very successful workshop on using storytelling with abused children. It had been glorious and I was high on life–until I turned on the car radio and the world flipped upside down. Scotland is five hours ahead of the US, noon here is 5 pm in most of the UK. The fourth plane had just gone down.

A pit opened in my stomach.

In the days that followed, the usual anti-American sentiment one finds in the UK intensified, oddly enough. It was a bad time to be American in places other than the US.

But for two different reasons. The first was that people who heard your accent would turn to you in the grocery and say things like, “Well, since you’re here, I guess Cupar will be bombed next, ya bloody Yank.” (Cupar is a market town of about 8,000 people.) The second was that a sad, terrible, terrifying thing had just reinvented the future of your homeland, and you weren’t there to be a part of it.

For reasons I don’t fully understand even now, I didn’t watch the news coverage for four days, and by then they were playing the last cell phone calls of people who had realized they couldn’t get out of the Towers. One was a sweet 20-something who called her husband and told him she was sorry she wouldn’t be seeing him any more, but she wanted him to know how happy she’d been, being married to him. “Bye now,” she said at the end.

And I sat up in bed in the middle of the night, about a week after 9/11, and started crying my eyes out, thinking about that poor girl all alone, reaching out to someone she wanted to know she loved, and then dying, for nothing she’d done. Poor Jack woke up and put his arms around me until I fell asleep, still sobbing.

It is hard to be away from your country when something intense is happening. It doesn’t matter what it is: a chance to change, a good thing, a bad thing, an uncertain thing. What matters is that you are not there. You have made a home somewhere else, with someone else, and you have traded in one set of influences for another.

Jack had to watch the Scottish vote from afar. And if he wakes up crying in the night, I’ll be there. It will not be the same as being in his homeland, but it will be home. Because we made our homes with each other.

It is not always easy. When Jack ran for town council here, a handful of ignoramuses made rude comments about his accent and equated ‘foreign’ with ‘godless.’ Sure, I’d like to see Coalfields Appalachia come into its own by shaking off such stereotyped behavior, but what seared my soul with blue-white heat lightning was their disparaging of a good man. My husband. Jack.

I still hate them. That’s part of the package. We protect each other. We defend each other. Our homes are each other. The voice from the tower says, never mind the madness; it’s just you and me.

To watch your own country struggle is hard. To be somewhere else while watching it is harder. But Jack and I pledged to each other, and this is a union that will not dissolve.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized

The Scottish Independence Vote is TOMORROW!

Scotland photroJack’s weekly guest blog could have no other subject at this moment.

Thursday September 18th 2014 has been a long time coming, but now it’s almost here. That’s when Scots go to the polls and check the box for “Yes” or “No.” “Yes” means Scotland becomes an independent country in 2016 (two years to get everything sorted). “No” means Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.

It’s a big day when everyone resident in Scotland gets to vote on whether to become an Independent country again after 307 years. Not through terrorism or threats or bombs or any other kind of armed struggle, but a generally polite and well informed discussion. In fact a number of our American friends have commented on how civilized the debate has been compared to political discourse here in the US.

Britain Scotland If you’re watching the coverage via BBC or other British channels, you’re probably not getting a full picture. Of course, the same would be said of taking news from Twitter and Facebook (as if anyone uses that as a sole source!) Most of the anti-independence rhetoric has come from newspapers and TV stations that take their cue from the UK government, while the pro-independence movement has overwhelming control of the internet and social media and by far the most ‘feet on the ground’.

Some of my favorite online moments have come from pro-independence musicians hitting the streets to support flash mobs. This one of Dougie MacLean is particularly moving. And for pure fun, not much beats this man welcoming the MPs come up from Westminster to march in support of “Better Together.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bGuCGdLxW0

If you want an accurate picture, you have to look at both citizen and establishment journalism. Two years ago the polls were showing a 20+% lead for ‘No’ whereas now with just a day to go it’s narrowed to 50/50 and no-one’s certain which way it will go now.

Because I’m not resident and I won’t have a vote, I like to think I can view the campaign neutrally. But there’s a coaster sitting on the table beside me that reads “You can take the boy out of Dunfermline, but you can’t take Dunfermline out of the boy” and that’s true. Despite being an American Citizen now I can’t forget where I come from and have to admit that I’m not the least bit neutral. I want an independent Scotland, in charge of its own resources, doing what’s best for its citizens, not having to live by rules made in a city of 12 million to govern a country  of 6 million living in a predominantly rural area.

This isn’t about kilts or plaid or bagpipes or even ‘Braveheart’ and the other media images of “Scottish identity.” It’s simply about bringing democracy home again.

 

scotland yes

A Scotland soccer fan waves a Scottish saltire flag with Big Ben seen behind in Trafalgar Square in central London

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The Monday Book: PATRON SAINT OF UGLY by Maria Manilla

ugly coverThe author of this book is a facebook friend of mine, and I got it directly from her by request, because I like books set in Appalachia and wanted to review it. It’s a  magical realism romp, set in Sweetwater, West Virginia. Normally I’m not much for magical realism, but the cast of character in Ugly just won’t quit, from the indomitable Nonna to her fierce-yet-naive granddaughter Garnet Ferrari.

Garnet has a mop of flaming red hair, and the port-wine stains all over her body replicate a map of the world. Pilgrims flock to her home, convinced that she is pretty much the reincarnation of Saint Garnet, healer of skin ailments and other miracles. (Along with truth and lies, theology gets a little tangled with practicalities in this funny, fast book.) Garnet, used to being an outcast and the victim of bullies, doesn’t have much use for people, but all those poor unfortunates give her pause. She’d really like to just convince them this is all hooey, and they should go home, but at the same time she doesn’t want to hurt them.

It doesn’t help that the family has origins in the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily, where another saint named Garnet once presided, so the Vatican sends an emissary to investigate. Garnet’s written responses on the questionnaire to the investigating priest are some of the funniest bits in the book. Slowly she untangles a sad history of family rights and wrongs, learning that reality and myth blend in every family, and that love doesn’t always conquer all, even if it helps.

I like snarky writing, so enjoyed Garnet and Nonna’s interactions particularly well. Nonna, so patient, so reasonable, so astute behind that little-old-lady innocence, is the perfect foil for Garnet’s “please go away” attitude.

If you like magical realism, if you think Michael Malone’s Handling Sin is funny, if you love to read snappy dialogue from quirky characters, if you like bittersweet humor, you’ll enjoy this book.

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Grandma was Right?!

seriouslyWhen I was a little girl we lived next door to my father’s parents. They were strict people: no short sleeves, no jewelry (including wedding rings) no music except hymns on Sundays.

But they were also great fun, being crazier than anyone else I knew. In my house, books lined the hallway, flowed across bedroom floors, covered every flat surface. In theirs lived just three: a Bible (KJV and don’t you forget it); a strange novel from the 1920s called something like Mary of the Hazel Woods, about a mountain girl’s search for book larnin’ so she could get herself a Bible – which she did months later after taking in sewing and then walking barefoot through the woods for eight miles to buy one second-hand, repairing the cover with her sewing needle; and, for some unknown reason, a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

I don’t think they’d read the sonnets. I read every book in their house at least three times in the years they babysat me after school, and by age eleven understood that a bunch of those poems were about sex. I didn’t let on, though; I’d had enough of that self-righteous prig Mary o’ Hazel Woods.

Everyone in my family but them liked books. And although everyone in my family liked God and talked about Him a lot, Grandma and Grandpa said things the rest of us didn’t. Like He didn’t like it when people with straight hair used curlers.

So  I grew up viewing my grandparents with equal parts love and suspicion, learning not to rely too much on Grandma’s little homilies, delivered as we were cooking or sewing together. Among other things, Grandma believed women should not go to college, that when Catholics died they shot down a specially reserved chute straight into Hell, and that the people across the street were spies for the CIA.

“Why would that matter, Grandma?” I asked, still kinda stuck on the “girls shouldn’t go to college” part.

“Because they’re spying on me.”

“The CIA wants to spy on you?”

“‘Course they do. They wanna know ever’thin’ ’bout ‘ever’body in America.”

“Uhh, okay, Grandma. How do I turn this seam?”

As the years flew by, it grew simpler to filter out the silly stuff–like not having sex except to have children (which explained why some of the extended family had so many, but I kept my mouth shut)–and hang onto the stuff that seemed wise–like darning socks over a light bulb, and putting the milk into the biscuit batter last.

Trouble is, I missed a good one. All these years later, with Grandma long gone and her granddaughter crocheting her own socks after getting a PhD and then opening a bookstore, I have to admit Grandma was right about the spying. The CIA does watch everybody – or maybe it’s that NSA, or whoever’s in charge of the Internet now. Everywhere you turn it’s Edward Snowden, data mining, privacy rights, and on and on and on.

Who knew?
Grandma!

Sorry, Gran, you were right the whole time. About that. I’m still not buying that women should stay home with three books and not go to college. Love you, though, and thanks for the recipes!

 

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Beulah Plots Revenge

beulahGood morning. My name is Beulah, and I am the shop greeter at Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used and New Books (The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap).

No doubt news of my recent lawsuit has reached you by now, so allow me to provide the untold half of this story. People tend to side with their own species so quickly….

Yes, I am suing my employers for compensatory damages after emotional distress, and punitive damages. Owen Meany has assisted me in filing the needed legal briefs with Mr. Kallen, the lawyer across the alley.

Here are the facts of the case: On Thursday last I was taken against my will to a local animal hospital. In a carrier into which I was stuffed headfirst. Like a sack of potatoes. Despite my best efforts, which I assure you were considerable.

At said hospital I was drugged, and this was done to me.

beulah shaved IIGo ahead, laugh. I’ll add you to the lawsuit.

As I came groggily to myself, an unspeakable procedure called a “fecal exam” was performed. I added the animal “doctor” to my lawsuit. Don’t let that sweet little smile fool you; this woman is a sadist.beth More about her later.

One would think enough suffering had been inflicted, but on my return “home” I was locked in a room for three days, while vile concoctions were mixed into my food, something called “panacur.” First it was in milk. When I rejected this, they brought tinned food, again with the horrid stuff. I don’t know which was worse: having this thrust at me, or their belief that I was unintelligent enough to fall for such simple bribery.

But then they brought chicken. Lightly poached in its own juices. In tiny shreds. My willpower weakened from two days of confinement…..

I ate the chicken until I detected a foreign substance in my mouth. Ejecting the small pink pill (which they’d so “cleverly” smeared with chicken fat) via a ladylike “ptui,” I continued my meal.

The next day, a plate of tuna awaited me. As I loathe tuna, I followed protocol and covered it with cat litter. (Did I mention they’d provided me with a nasty little portapotty?) The unhygienic humans removed the pill–now looking very unappetizing indeed–and came toward me.

The phrase “fought like a wildcat” is incorrect. I fought like a calico. When three of them finally got the thing in and held me down, I waited. And waited.

I am very good at waiting. When they released me with murmurs of “good kitty, sweet kitty” I looked up at the ringleader and spat out the pill.

Their curses were as music to my ears.

By then I had been in confinement for three days, enduring the vile panacur mixed with chicken shreds. The humans, apparently satisfied with this torture, released me.

And then…. SHE came back!!!!!beth hood

As I sat at my old familiar post, greeting customers, Miss Priss trotted across the lawn, and before I knew what was happening, she had grabbed me and forced a whole new pill down my throat. I resisted, I fought, and then I waited. And waited.

But so did she. My mouth filled with saliva. I thought I would drown. And still she waited, smiling. Oh, that smile……

Finally instinct took over, and–curse all the dogs of this world and the moon–I swallowed.

The Evil One released me at once. And. Patted. Me. On. The. Head.

“Was that so hard?” she said, and as the door closed, I heard her say, “No, no problem at all. She’s a little lamb.”

I moved her name up in the lawsuit to primary defendant. You’ll get yours, Missy. Just you wait.

Owen tells me it may be next summer before my case comes to court. That’s fine. Revenge is a dish best served cold. I am very good at waiting….

 

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, VA, writing

The Monday Book: THE CHANGELING GARDEN by Winifred Elze

garden coverWhat a weird, fun little book.

I bought The Changeling Garden in Neenah, Wisconsin, at my friend Tina’s PAPERBACK BOOK EXCHANGE. Which is a funny name for her shop because it’s a beautiful store with lots of lovely hardbacks and paperbacks on multiple subjects standing tall and proud on shelves stretching above your head, not one of those sad places with chest high shelves full of well-thumbed Penguin Classics lying sideways.

Although a book did fall on my head while I was there, so maybe there’s something to be said for chest-high shelves, Tina?

ANYWAY, Garden has a little bit of everything: reincarnation, Mayans, killer plants, environmental awareness, and space-time refraction – Oh My!

The story’s premise is that a bank is making some bad investments in rain forest deforestation, and a local woman has a house with a garden that she and her son can talk to, and there are a couple of Mayan priests from the Fourth Age running around watching the Greenhouse Effect take down the humans who shouldn’t be here any more….. yeah. Convoluted, and yet, sort of like the root structure of a tree, it builds a foundation a story can grow from.

This book is actually kind of fun. The writing is deadpan, sometimes a bit illogical, but you really don’t mind because who can help but enjoy moments like these:

(Annie, the protagonist:) “Well, stop him! He murders people!”

(Mayan time traveler:) “He’s allowed to kill people if he wants to. He’s a priest.”

Yeah. That kind of thing. This book was published in 1995, way before the Mayan calendar crisis of 2012, but its take on the preservation of plants and forests is not preachy, just tucked underneath a lot of rushed-past unexplained phenomenon. Elze’s writing kind of reminds me of Stephen King’s advice: Not everything in life is explained, so why should writing be different?

I was in the mood for something different, and this book obliged. If you’d enjoy reading about murderous plants, night flights as women turn into birds, modern day herbalist witches who really don’t want to be, and planet-surfing Mayans decked out in parrot feathers who speak in English slang because of translation headbands, you’ll like this book.

And what’s not to like about planet-surfing Mayans with translation headbands? :]

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Let the Music Flow

We always enjoy emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, but this year the job had two big bonuses.

First, a combination of thoughtful performer choices, near-perfect weather, and on-the-day professionalism has made this year musically superior to others. Sigean, Maidens IV, Night Crossing, and the debut of the charismatic and very silly Kryss Dula and Taylor Morefield, along with whistle player Martha Egan, the Irish Skye Dancers and Sandra Parker on Celtic harp, has given the year a more acoustic and genteel flavor.

I wouldn’t say gentle, because there’s been plenty of hard-driving fiddle and a high energy bodhran or two, but the overall ethos has been people drawn together by the quality of the music rather than showmanship. This year has also lacked who’s-on-first band crap. That’s been very pleasant.

During his set Kryss spoke to the festival’s theme, Scottish Independence (election Sept. 18) and talked about the “civility of political discourse” he’d been watching when reporters asked people on the street whether they’d be voting for or against–and why. “We should have that kind of unscripted, friendly dialogue in America,” he says. “We’re all one people. We should talk to each other.”

It was that kind of call for community all day at the festival, and it was really answered. Audiences sang in harmony, clapped to rhythms, and helped get the tent sides back up quickly when a peal of thunder threatened our little corner of paradise with rain in the sound equipment.

A day of dwelling in harmony, indeed.

And then, last night at the concert, as the sun went down and we watched a thunderstorm pass us by the west, a bright yellow full moon began to rise above those storm clouds. Full moons have traditionally been thought to excite, but people listening to Night Crossing’s lovely vocals and smooth blend of whistle, fiddle, bodhran and guitar were wandering out of the tent with little smiles on their faces, some clutching a partner’s hand, to watch as peeking became rising became shining. Mare’s tail clouds wisped over its bright-pale surface as Denise, their lead vocalist, sang a haunting Irish lament.

In short, it was pretty near perfect.

moonriseSouls that need soothing enjoy music. Souls that are celebrating enjoy music. And a warm night with just enough breeze to make it comfortable, listening to performers who are contributing together to a successful community event–well, throw a beautiful moonrise on top of that, and we all went home happy.

If you missed yesterday but live near Elizabethton, Tennessee, you can still make today’s musical moments. The festival runs 10:30-5. And if you can’t make it here, don’t forget that Big Stone Celtic is Friday night Sept. 26 and all day Saturday Sept. 27.

And as I look forward to these days, I will treasure yesterday, Sept. 6, like a shining moon on a calming sea.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch