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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Filed under between books, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, small town USA, writing

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

Never Underestimate the Healing Powers of a Primal Raspberry

raspberry catOK team, it’s like this: the former Governor of Virginia and his wife were between them found guilty of 20 out of 28 possible corruption charges; I quit teaching an enjoyable subject because of in-house shenanigans; two of our foster cats died; and the other little furry beasts gave me poison ivy on my face.

In shorter terms: this week sucked.

Jack and I are off to emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival today, and I’ll be able to write a relaxing blog about that tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s just all take a collective deep breath and emit a nice primal raspberry. Primal raspberries are deeply underrated in adult society. They’re healing. Go on, try it.

PBBHHHHHHHTTTTTT – take that, universe! I’m still a happy person, I still get to spend the weekend enjoying all things Celtic, and we still adopted two fur babies to lovely forever homes.

PHHHBBBBTBTTTTTTBTTTT! And DOUBLE PHBBBBTTTTTTTTT!!!!

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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

The Monday Book: ACCIDENTAL JIHAD by Krista Bremer

bremerI have no idea how this book wound up in my bookshop. It’s an Advance Reading Copy (known in the biz as an ARC) and those are only distributed publishing festivals, or by mail to bookstores (but not usually used book stores). But there it sat on a table, waiting to be shelved, and I picked it up…

…and devoured it in two sittings.

Bremer writes like a journalist poet. She always has the right word, her writing economic with the confidence of a vast vocabulary. But what she’s writing about is intensely personal: marriage to a man whose background is so different from her own, she knows they don’t have a “storybook marriage,” just “their story.”

What sucked me in is something my agent and editor have warned me against time and again: description and analysis are all very well, but people want a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  My Accidental Jihad is not a story, but a snapshot leaping back and forth between time, dripping descriptive analysis in depth. It has a beginning, but it doesn’t have a middle or an ending.

Which bothered me not one whit. I admired the way Bremer described things that are hard to admit exist, let alone look at squarely with intent to analyze. Courage and lyrical writing aren’t things I always put together, but rather than blunt, she’s finessed.

Bremer and her husband live in North Carolina, in a progressive city that still doesn’t know quite how to react when she shops Whole Foods with her 10-year-old olive-skinned daughter, who chooses to wear a head scarf. When Qaddafi dies at the hands of his people, the family watches it on television in a mall restaurant. Bremer’s one visit to Libya, to see Isamel’s old home place, is a disaster tinged with love.

I love culture clash books anyway, but what intrigues me about this one is that it drills down to attitudes rather than surface living: aging in American culture is in poor taste; poverty is a moral failing; she isn’t materialistic, but Christmas just needs to be the way it is. There are some very funny “ouch” moments in this middle-class expose-memoir.

Not that this is an “all praise to diversity” book; in fact, she deals with diversity with the same ruthless boring down to the core that she uses on issues of women’s beauty and bodies. And she turns the same analytical eye on husband’s way of handling the world as she uses on hers. Her description of him bartering for a wedding ring will stick with you.

In the same way that it is not a story, Jihad is also not a summational inspirational catechism of life lessons learned. Ironically, Bremer’s authoritative use of language describes a lifelong situation of not knowing what to think. A chapter entitled “Rage” describes her husband telling his relatives that she hates Libya–while they’re in it, being feted as house guests. The story doesn’t end in resolution, but in her saying “Fuck you” in a car full of people who speak English, with her Libyan sister-in-law taking her hand in solidarity.

The last two pages might dip into platitude-ism, but I sympathize with trying to sum up a painting still in progress.

I really enjoyed this memoir.

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