Ah – Valkyttie!

ValkyttieJack guest blogs today on the end of an era, and the Monday book will return next Monday.

She came to us as a tiny kitten, just four weeks old. One of her earliest acts was exploring the backyard in Rosyth, Scotland, where she saw off a big bruiser of a cat six times her size. (He’d had the audacity to use the yard as a shortcut to the field beyond.) “Now would be a good time to be magnanimous,” I shouted as the confused older cat hunkered down to watch Valkyttie–all of six inches long–arch her back and hiss like a little black powder puff. But she held her ground and established her territory.

We should have known then what we were in for. Every day Valkyttie had a fish finger for supper while we ate ours. This kept her from climbing our legs to dive headfirst into our plates.

WENDY&CAT1Later she tried to teach me how to catch mice. When I failed after two or three tries, she went off and returned with a moth, mieowing, “Perhaps you should start with something simpler”?

I knew she’d brought the moth to me because Valkyttie had epicurean tastes and wouldn’t have been caught dead with such a vile supper for herself. Once she jumped onto the table, speared a curried shrimp from my plate, and flicked it over her shoulder. The thing did a perfect splashdown into my glass of white wine. She then fished it out and ate it. I expressed astonishment at her “lucky throw” and she gave me That Look and did exactly the same thing again. Her mieow said, “You should know I prefer my curried shrimp lightly marinated!”pissed off valkyttie

Valkyttie shifted house with us twice. Not content with emigrating from Scotland to England, she persuaded us that we needed to move to America, as she had heard the weather was warmer there. Her final move was to Big Stone Gap, where she oversaw the setting up of our bookstore – first inspecting the building of bookshelves, then supervising the displays of books. Thus established as the bookstore CEO, she quickly assigned ‘greeter’ duties to her arch-nemesis cat Beulah, and then recruited Owen Meany and Nike for more menial tasks.

DSCN0283In her senior years Val took on the role of elderly aunt as hordes of foster kittens paraded through the bookstore, teaching them deportment and table manners and making sure they went on into the world as exemplary citizens. She was not above cuffing them in a corrective manner.

Finally, when her time came she made her own decision, making clear her intent to leave this world Saturday morning. Our beloved vet helped ease her out with no more suffering, and we all cried our eyes out together. Valkyttie left wrapped in the pink fuzzy blanket she loved to lie on and look out the window.

We shall miss her, but we are confident that she crossed the rainbow bridge in a sedan chair with gold leaf, borne by four Corgis. Even now she is greeting other famous bookstore cats, including Anna-Boo, who left this world in April, and Hazel, of this blog fame last year. We like to think the bookshop cats cross into human heaven by day, staff bookshops there (for what would heaven be without bookstores!) and then come home to kitty heaven at night to eat salmon from diamond plates.

Enjoy, Valkyttie. We loved and love you!

WENDY&CAT4

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Coach Oliver Wins Through

We’re sorry about the off-timing of our blogs this week; most of the adults associated with the bookstore and/or the Celtic Festival are lying in darkened rooms with cold cloths on their foreheads. The Monday book will return next Monday, and we’re back on track now, we promise!

Jack and oliverAs the 2014 festival fades into the distance, our headliner Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver Cookson are staying on for a bit of a holiday. We’ve sent them off to Nashville and have plans to hit Cherokee and Bristol before they fade into the British Empire sunset.

Among the simple pleasures they’ve enjoyed is attending our good Chef Kelley’s children’s soccer games. We walked over to one the Monday after the festival, after all the adults had slept 12 hours straight.

James, Kelley’s wee’un, plays on the Funky Monkeys for ages 4-6. Oh, the hilarity! The Monkeys had black shirts, the opposition purple. Purple showed up with fewer players than Black, resulting in rotations for the Black players. The first two put out began turning cartwheels beside the goal–not noticing when the teams came charging down to attempt to put the ball into said goal, or when said ball rolled merrily between them as they turned.

Next, one of Black’s players trotted off the field as his mates were running the other way, and said to his parents, “I’m tired. I don’t wanna play anymore. Can I have some cheese and crackers?”

One of the cartwheelers was quickly pressed into service.

Soon the ball was returned to some point in the field for a reason Jack and I didn’t understand, whereupon the clump of children surrounding it began to kick it toward a goal–regardless of shirt color–and the Purple coaches began to shout, “No, no, the other way!” A Black child looked up, shrugged, and started kicking the ball back the way they’d come. The Purple coaches shouted again, “NO, NOT YOU! NOT YOU!”

The Black player gave the Purple coaches an enigmatic look that suggested all adults were crazy and kicked the ball to score a Purple goal. All the children cheered madly as the Black coach shook her head in despair.

A few minutes later, time to rotate! But where were the extra Black players? After a quick search I heard the Black coach exclaim, “Come down outta that tree! It’s your turn to play!”

We thought our joy was complete, but about then, Jack asked, “Where are Oliver and Barbara?” We looked over at the sidelines between the peewee game we were watching and an older team…..

?????????? Oliver 2….and saw Oliver gesticulating with their goalie, demonstrating kicks while hugging a ball to his chest. The goalie stared up at him, enthralled.

No doubt a few parents were startled by the sight of a dapper man with a curly handlebar mustache beneath a straw boating hat, shouting, “Kick it, lad!” in a posh British accent. As we left the field, I heard some murmurs: “Nope, never seen ‘im before. Anybody know who that was?”

We’re all going back next week to watch another game. Who knew sports were such fun?!

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

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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The Monday Book: OUR FAMILY OUTING by Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor

a guest review by Beth O’Connor

Imagine for a moment that you have two small children, and your husband is one of four pastors at the large church where you are the minister of music. Now imagine what would happen when your husband determines that he can no longer deny the fact that he is gay.

Pain. Denial. Pain. Self-doubt. Pain. Anger. Pain. Shame. Pain. And more pain. An ocean of pain that threatened to drown everything. Yet, as deep as the ocean is, their faith in God was deeper. It was the lifeline they used to haul themselves up out of the darkness.

This is Our Family Outing, the autobiographical story Joe Cobb and Leigh Ann Taylor published in 2011 via TotalPublishingAndMedia. Told in alternating voices, Our Family Outing details Cobb and Taylor’s journey from being one very traditional family to two families who are anything but. All of the emotions in the process are poured out, from Taylor’s worst fear (What if my husband infects me with AIDS and leaves our children orphaned) to Cobb’s greatest joy (the birth of his and his partner’s second adoptive child).

Full disclosure: I discovered this book because Taylor is currently the music minister at the church I attend and my church book club went to her signing event. The book starts at the end, with Cobb and Taylor determining that they need to share their story with the world. The memoir takes you from the days they first started dating in seminary, to deciding how to tell their friends, family and co-workers, to creating separate lives in which everyone is loved and accepted for who they are.

The book can be awkward to read as Cobb and Taylor refused to avoid any of the uncomfortable situations in which they found themselves. As a reader, you will feel as though you accidently stumbled into someone’s private conversation and cannot find a way to escape from the room without being discovered. The description of their lives is deeply personal – such as Cobb’s fear that a lover from his high school years will give away his secret, to Taylor relating that early in the process her husband, “my favorite companion” did not smile at her for a year and a half.

Cobb and Taylor are not professional writers, and it shows – the writing is often clunky and disjointed. However, instead of distracting from the narrative, the raw style serves to underline how very real the story is. The book comes full circle, with the oldest of Cobb’s adoptive children playing The Game of Life and noting that everyone is along for the ride.

 

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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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