Tag Archives: Appalachia

Don’t Look a Gift Potato in the Eye

I was gardening out front of the shop when one of our favorite customers pulled up. IMG_4190

“H’lo, dear!” Ms. X waved a hank of fuzzy cloth. “I was yard sale-ing and found this jacket and said, ‘This looks like Wendy.’”

Hence the favorite thing. Not only does she do nice stuff like this all the time, she’s always right. I liked the pretty jacket instantly. Cost her 50 cents, which she did not want back.

Ms. X is one of many people around here who takes life by the horns that tried to gore her, and headbutts it. She and her son, both chronically ill, have no insurance; he has a crappy job. They live carefully in a house that labels them legally homeless, frugal to a fault with secondhand sales, day old baked goods, and the daily, considered creativity of what’s for supper. They don’t fish or garden for fun. But they have fun fishing and gardening.

“They’s sweet potatoes in Appalachia,” Ms. X winked as she departed, a couple of value paperbacks under one arm.

That’s not some mysterious Southern code. About every six months, in a little town two miles over, some person or persons unknown dumps produce under an abandoned gas station’s awning. Word of mouth goes out, and those as want it, go get it. Often it’s sweet potatoes, sometimes bananas. (When that happens, banana bread becomes currency and Huddle House runs a month-long “banana breakfast biscuit” special.) Rumor says once “the dump” was Hershey bars.

quick get in!I’d never availed myself of “the dump” before but my friend Elissa’s dogs LOVE sweet potato treats. Knowing she was busy helping another friend run a yard sale, in a fit of mischievous humor I grabbed a tea cozy, the back scratcher we use to turn off the kitchen light, and a role of tp. Racing to the sale field, I leaped from my car and shouted to Elissa, “QUICK, GET IN! I’LL EXPLAIN AS WE DRIVE!”

I probably should have remembered that Elissa is a news photographer. While everyone else stared, dumbfounded, with a swift flick of the wrist she held up her cell phone and snapped. And now I’m a meme on the Internet.

At the dump we got two bags for Elissa’s rescue dachshunds–who will waddle through this week in plump yam repleteness–and a bag each for friends we knew were busy. I asked Elissa, born and raised here, about the dump’s origins and she said rumor suggested some wealthy individual who’d made good elsewhere did it for his hometown. No one knows who, or why. And no one really questions. Why look a gift potato in the eye?

I imagine sweet Ms. X and her son sitting down to buttered baked yams, she saying, “…and for breakfast tomorrow there’ll be fresh sweet potato muffins.” On the counter sits a steaming potato casserole she’ll be taking to the church social.

Go by, mad world.


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Why Us?

The one, the only, Elissa-the-photographer guest blogs today. And while Elissa is too shy to tell you this, her photography is on elp6n (that’s the name) on Facebook, if you want to see some of it. This is what comes of a 7-hour time difference whence Wendy, in Turkey, realized she could put up Elissa’s guest blog before Elissa ever got up.

Wendy is not a “native.” Jack is not a “native.” Oh yes they’re native to somewhere, but they’re not “from here” as we SWVA natives tend to say. You can’t tell just from looking at them; Wendy has a non-local accent that belies her.

In Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap they barely touch on the subject of why Southwest Virginia is their chosen settlement. Have you ever thought about it? Of all the places in this great big world to settle down, why Wise County/Big Stone Gap?

Is it the fabulous people? I wasn’t living in the area when they settled down here so it couldn’t have been that.  Are they here as spies? Wendy doesn’t lie very well so it can’t be that.

Let’s go on a little speculative photo trip. What is so fabulous about this area that Jack and Wendy moved here and birthed our dear Little Bookstore.

This is Powell Valley, where it’s rainbows and butterflies all the time. In fact, back in October when Superstorm Sandy rolled through, most of the county was on the receiving end of upwards of a foot of snow. Powell Valley / Big Stone Gap received none.


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Just down the road less than 5 miles is Roaring Branch Falls, a rough waterfall located off the side of the road. It’s just sitting right there for the world to see, no effort, no muss no fuss.


If you’ve leaving Big Stone Gap driving past Roaring Branch Falls, this is your destination: the small town of Appalachia, built by coal, carrying a lot of history.


Morels. Dry Land Fish. We have them. Restaurants pay $50+/lb for them.  We eat them by the pound for free. Envy us. By the way, it’s currently Dry Land Fish season here.  If you ask a local where his/her hunting spot it, the absolute best you could wish for would be to be blind-folded, driven in circles for a couple of hours, hike a few miles, and maybe you’ll be permitted to see a morel. morel

We throw a heck of a party. The July 1 2010 Stator Party was one for the record books. This bad boy rolled through town July 1 at 11:45 pm. Big Stone Gap partied all day and all night. Familes, college students, the elderly: everyone celebrated The Stator.


You’ll also find recreation areas of various sorts. Here we have Flag Rock, a 25-acre recreation area in the Jefferson National Forest. The flag was placed here in 1920.


Next up: University of Virginia’s College at Wise. At the left of the photo across the lake is the Gilliam Center for the Arts. In this building The Phantom of the Opera was recently performed, featuring students & musicians from the college. Every show was sold out, with the natives and non-natives demanding access.

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Trek down US58 and you’ll find Little Stoney Falls. A person can walk a short distance from the parking area to find these falls, and if feeling more adventurous, walk on down to find additional equally lovely falls. I highly recommend it. Don’t fall in. I don’t recommend that. The water is freakishly cold at all times. I know this the hard way. I’ll miss that Birkenstock…



Fall colors. Not just for the Northeast!


Talent. We have it.

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Here, Lyric the Mastiff teaches her human how to spin wool. Lyric doesn’t look very pleased with her progress, does she?

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There’s a local group of woodworkers that make art with chainsaws, or carve 3-Dimensional faces in standing trees. I asked one of these folks what his approach was when carving a large bear from a tree and I was told “Easy. You just remove everything that isn’t a bear.”

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And lastly, we have one of my dachshunds, Princess Nellie the Nelligator. You don’t have one of these. There’s only one. (And the world breathes a sigh of relief…)

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, VA