Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

We Had some Rantin’ Rovin’ Fun

DSCN1013Big Stone Celtic is now a host of sore leg muscles and happy memories. For its organizers, we’re already busy making lists of stuff for next year. For its attendees, we hope the music lingers in your head as long as the smile stays in your heart.

Enjoy these photos, and hop on over to Big Stone Celtic Day. You’ll find videos of the sheepdogs in action, the dancers in step, and the pipers mid-tune.

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We Be SWAMPED – Big Stone Celtic Starts Tonight!

sheepWe’re kinda in a mad dash to the finish line here at the bookstore, headquarters for Big Stone Celtic. Our headliner is in residence, our signs are up, our theatre seats are out and ready… and we can’t get much of a blog post up today. But come visit the site Sunday, and we’ll have all sorts of photos and fun for you about the weekend. Meanwhile, if you can join us, the schedule is at www.bigstoneceltic.com, and on Facebook you can visit Big Stone Celtic Day. Sheepdogs, singing, and food, oh my!

Come awa’ ben! (the Scots equivalent of “Y’all come!”)

 

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Insiders Watching Outlander

outlanderJack and I joined roughly half of the known world in watching a series called Outlander. We don’t have a television, but a friend recorded it for us and mailed the discs. For those of you who read this blog regularly, that was Susan, aka the late Hazel’s mom.

In addition to Susan’s having gone to some trouble, the music was done by the son of a fellow writer, Laura Kalpakian. (Bear McCrary is his name.) Although time travel romances are not our thing, Jack and I dutifully cleared a night in our pre-Celtic festival schedule and watched episode one.

We had such fun! Couldn’t tell you buggery about the plot, which seems to involve a porcelain doll lady of anorexic proportions and a craggy-faced boy-Scot, but we’ve been playing Spot the City for three episodes now.

The first we found was Falkland. As China Doll gazed wistfully into an antiques shop, Jack nudged me. “Isn’t that the violin repairman’s place, next to the tearoom across from the–“

The camera cut back, showing the “Mercat Cross!” (we shouted together).

Almost every medieval village in Scotland has a Market (“mercat”) Cross, a pole with a symbol atop it, recognized as the central point of the village square.

We identified Kynd Kittock’s Kitchen–oh the cups of tea and millionaire shortbread slices my friend Bun Brough and I have enjoyed there–and the backpacking hostel (bulletin board removed) in short order. We also got a quick view of the Palace before scenes changed to Dunkeld, then to Doune Castle. Only a couple of rooms remain in the ruins, so they kept using the same spaces from a different angle.

In episode three, things really got fun. By this time whasername was thrown back in time to just before the Jacobite Rebellion, and they were filming in various locations. We spotted the side of the cemetery in St. Andrews, the auld Kirk in Dunkeld, and then–

“Hey!” we both yelped, as the heroine bolted from a kitchen door hotly pursued by a broad-chested hairy Scotsman, “That’s Lindsey’s door!”

In Culross lives a dear friend of Jack’s, one Lindsey Portious by name. He’s quite the character – Scotland’s jaw harp champion, if that helps you get a handle on his personality.

Lindsey lived for years with his Mum, sadly now gone from us, in the Tron House, built 1619. He filled this historic home with assorted collections from his interests–popguns, antique musical instruments, heather-crafted jewelry. Lindsey makes bodhrans, those classic Scottish drums, and carves whistles. His home is one big garbage heap of creativity.

But his biggest claim to fame in that wild and crazy house was the kitchen door. Because the village was so old, over time Tron House had sunk as the street levels rose with repair after repair. In consequence, one takes a steep step downwards through the stone lintels of the doorway into the kitchen. Those who forget tend to get a sharp smack in–depending on height–the forehead (me, being short) the nose (for an average person) or the windpipe (basketball players).

It isn’t fun. I still remember the first time I “hit the wall”: stars and singing birdies and exploding dazzles of fireworks lit my brain. By the time I could gather voice to shriek, Lindsey had three Goody’s Headache Powders in a glass for me. My husband led me blindly to the table and put the glass in my hand.

So when we saw the delicate heroine spring like a greyhound from the door, we hooted with laughter. “Wonder how many times they had to practice THAT” we chortled, as the great bruiser of a Scots highlander exited behind her. He was a big man. “Did that guy get hazard pay?”

Quite honestly, we couldn’t tell you a single thing the series is about, but we are very much looking forward to episode four. Who knows where (or who) we might see?! We figure it’s just a matter of time until we spot one of our friends, plaidie wrapped about him, swelling a crowd scene.

 

 

 

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Filed under bad writing, between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

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

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

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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Triple Play Weekend

Jack’s guest blog on our unusually busy bookstore weekend

harrellIt was a triple play weekend here at the Little Bookstore. Friday night we had an excellent and well attended house-concert with Michael Reno Harrell, whose stories and songs were absolutely first class.You can see a video of him on our bookstore facebook page Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC.

cards-against1Then on Saturday night we had our bi-monthly ‘Cards against Humanity’ game night, also well attended and as hilarious as ever. The play of the night came when, using a blank card, Wendy asked “How did Susan persuade David to take in their latest adopted cat?” Several cards appeared–including the one no one would admit playing, “That Ass,”–but the winning card was “Abstinence.”

Played by David.

I had no idea Susan’s face could turn as red as her hair.

And then Sunday night was an event that I set up: a special movie night featuring ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, preceded by a documentary with Terry Jones and Michael Palin visiting the Scottish castles they used in the film. I aimed it at local folk who had been on my annual Scottish tour (and had, therefore seen at least one of the castles). That was another good night with lots of laughs and a lovely feel of reunion among those who’ve gone to Scotland with me.

This weekend Wendy and I emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Elizabethton (TN). And then at the end of the month, our own Big Stone Celtic festival is upon us here in town!

And, just as I thought I was finished writing this, a couple arrived all the way from Nashville who had read Wendy’s book, used to own a bookstore, and are now planning to do it again. At the same time, the mailman delivered a lovely thank-you card from the 17 members of a Johnson City book club who visited us a couple of weeks ago (and ate lunch in our cafe).

Just in case this sounds too idyllic, our old and rickety building still tests my less than professional carpentry and plumbing skills. I loathe and detest sink drains and stairs, but that’s what I’m doing between bouts of nerves over the upcoming Big Stone Celtic.

So – just another typical week. If it’s Wednesday, it must be time to check on our international superstar coming from Scotland. And then I’ll tighten the u-joint in the bathroom. Hey ho…..

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch