Tag Archives: big stone gap

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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A Quiet and Human Place

Kelly Saderholm’s guest blog about her and her daughter’s recent stint as shopsitters in the Little Bookstore -

“Oh, wow, I just LOVE it here!” The customer said as she handed me money for her purchases. “I could LIVE in a bookstore!”

“I am living here,” I said, happily, as I gave her a receipt and explained how I was shop-sitting while Wendy and Jack were away in Scotland.

“That’s really COOL,” she said. And she was right.

My daughter Rachel and I agreed to shop-sit and look after the two dogs and ever-changing number of foster cats; in exchange, we could pick out whatever books we wanted, and have the experience of tending a bookstore. For so many of us hard-core reader types, this is a secret fantasy. In the age of disappearing brick and mortar stores (of any kind but especially bookstores) I had often wondered how that fantasy would stack up against the real thing. In this case, the reality fared pretty well!

I was fortunate not to have bad days, crank customers, or disasters. The worse thing that happened was that Bert, one of the dogs, got upset by the Fourth of July firecrackers and chewed up a basement step.

The best thing? There were so many “best things” it is hard to choose. Of course the books, surrounded by books, ahhhhh. I loved chatting with customers. With a high school class reunion and the holiday weekend, people from all over were visiting family and friends. Most had either read Wendy’s book or heard about the bookstore from friends and family. It was interesting talking to people from different regions, discovering their connection to the area.

Even more interesting were the people living here. Rachel and I fell in love with the place. I realized that our temporary home was not just a used bookstore, but Big Stone Gap’s Bookstore, catering to the needs and wants of the community. In the introduction to one of my favorite books, Laural’s Kitchen, one of the authors, Carol Flinders, talks about “a sense of place.” Jack and Wendy’s shop is very much a nurturing “Place” with capital letters, where people feel a connection to each other, to the town, the region, the culture.

Speaking of cooking and food and place- Kelley’s Second Story Cafe (on the bookstore’s second floor) is another very special place, with delicious food. She kept us well-fed during our stay!

Kelley’s food nurtured our bodies, the books nurtured our minds, but a third, intangible element of the bookstore nurtured our souls. A strong sense of Quiet pervades the bookstore. That feeling was re-enforced as Rachel and I took our leave last Sunday just as the Friends Meeting started upstairs. But the whole week there was a gentle, quiet feeling throughout the place. Several customers remarked on it. All week people came in just to browse and enjoy the quiet. One guy stayed for two hours.

If one is looking for a business to make fast, easy money, a used bookstore is not it. But, if one is a bibliophile interested in a satisfying, rewarding business–not in a profit sense but in a people sense– one could do worse than to run a used bookstore.

The first Foxfire book has a chapter titled, “A Quilt is Something Human.” It makes me happy that with so many chain retail stores selling mass-produced consumer goods, Jack and Wendy’s bookstore is indeed Some Place Human.

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Rambling Boy

 

 

In Jack’s weekly guest blog he ruminates on the season -

Now that the weather has turned into something akin to Spring, Wendy and I have got back into going for a ramble round the neighborhood of an evening lately. It’s lovely to see everything looking green and coming back to life.

Part of our meanderings have taken us along the greenbelt path alongside the river and we were surprised and delighted to see how it had been upgraded with new fencing, lighting and signage. As we were overtaken by joggers, families on bicycles and passed by fishing folks, I couldn’t help thinking how much this would appeal to visitors to the town.

Those visitors, more and more, are coming here because of reading Wendy’s book – book-clubs, reading groups and individuals. As we get into traveling weather, I’m sure this will only increase. The latest messages we got were from readers in Portugal who have suggested a specially chartered plane!

But, of course, as we wandered along we noticed another colorful display – yard signs for candidates in the forthcoming Town Council election (I’m one of them).

Never having been a candidate in any election in my life and coming originally from a place that doesn’t ‘do’ yard signs I wasn’t too sure where you were allowed to put them, so tried to play safe. Front yards of folk I asked first and places that looked as if they were simply ‘common ground’. Imagine our surprise when we noticed that three signs I’d put out had disappeared! Not just blown away in the wind (my first assumption) because in two cases the wire frames were still there – somebody had gone to the trouble of removing the board from the frame.

I can only surmise that this election is more competitive than I first imagined!

Regardless who gets elected – if enough people get out and vote then we’ll get a Council that truly reflects the wishes of the local folk and if the Town continues with its downtown revitalization work we’ll have something our visitors can really savor.

 

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FIRE! FIRE!

 Jack’s guest blog post today recounts the great fire of 2014 -

Well, that was quite an experience!

We were down in Johnson City on Monday doing radio shows and meetings and then headed home to avoid the forecast snow, arriving back in mid afternoon. Shortly afterwards I looked out the window and couldn’t see the other side of the street. Thinking it was fine snow I moved to a better position and saw clouds of dense smoke pouring out of a building only a couple of hundred yards from the bookstore. It was a NAPA auto parts store full of paint, oils, tires and other scary stuff and as I watched dumbstruck flames began to appear through the smoke. Within a short time the firefighters and police had all the surrounding streets closed and fire engines and high-lift ladders came screaming in – locals as well as from all the surrounding towns. They worked until 11 pm and then left it to burn itself out.

Next morning I walked across and saw a small fire still burning inside. Hhhmmm, I thought – that doesn’t look good! Within half an hour the whole place was blazing worse than ever and all the firefighters were back with their machines. We took a walk up to look in the evening and despite the enormous quantities of water we’d seen poured on the building for two days, there were still a number of healthy fires burning inside. Finally this morning it looks as if it has really has burned out!

Through the whole thing I was torn between disbelief that this was actually happening, the danger of the  whole place exploding in all directions, and fascination at the scale of it – a great column of smoke, enormous flames, the apparent ineffectiveness of the enormous quantities of water being poured down on it (and how quickly we could evacuate our dogs and cats).

Now that it really does seem to be over, my final thought is for two groups of people – the owners and workers in the business that has gone, and the brave men and women who battled to keep it from spreading to the adjacent buildings (including our bookstore).

Finally, pictures -

and gets worse

and gets worse

It starts

It starts

and even worse

and even worse

Then yesterday morning

Then yesterday morning

Half an hour later

Half an hour later

Last night

Last night

Meanwhile Owen is ready to go!

Meanwhile Owen is ready to go!

 

 

 

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Are we there yet?

Jack’s weekly guest post examines concepts of distance -

Whenever Wendy and I are away from home in a big city for a few days we have an arrangement – she gets to eat dinner in a Middle-Eastern restaurant one evening and I get to an Indian restaurant on another. Last night here in DC it was her turn. “How far is it to The Lebanese Kitchen?” I asked. “A mile and three quarters” she replied.

We debated various options for covering the ‘mile and three quarters’ and decided, since we had plenty of time, we’d walk. Wendy likes walking and I foolishly said, before we married, that I did too (the things we’ll say for love!). What we didn’t specify then was what each of us meant by ‘walking’. What has transpired over the years is that Wendy’s concept of distance is fundamentally different from mine. We have spent many a weary hour walking through boiling heat, freezing cold, horizontal rain, across freeways, under interstate bridges and dodging insane drivers as ‘just a mile and three quarters’ turned out to be considerably longer.

Sometimes the place we’re walking to is closed, sometimes it has gone out of business, occasionally it turns out to be just delightful. Other times we get funny looks from drivers or locals, who clearly think we’re insane or suicidal. Last night was a classic – we walked briskly through the cold, following the meanderings of Connecticut Avenue through downtown Washington DC , as the upscale embassy district gave way to equally upscale apartment blocks and then to somewhat seedier areas of broken sidewalks and finally over a very long bridge over a scary drop. Clearing the end of the bridge my heart lightened as we espied an Indian restaurant, and another – -

“Not tonight, dear” – said my beloved! Tonight is the Lebanese Kitchen and tomorrow is the Indian restaurant. “Keep walking!”

And, so, we did finally arrive. It was open, and filling up rapidly. The place was delightful, as was the food, and the service was excellent too. To Wendy’s surprise I suggested we walk back to our hotel afterwards. You see, I’ve found that returning is always quicker, or so it seems. I think it’s because I know how far it is on the way back, whereas going out there seems to be no end to it.

On a related subject, where we live in Big Stone Gap seems to be almost exactly one and a quarter hour’s drive from anywhere else you’d want to be – Bristol, Abingdon, Johnson City, Cumberland Gap, it doesn’t seem to matter – always an hour and a quarter. When our friend Mike was over from Scotland on vacation a couple of years ago and keen to explore on his own, he’d ask how far it was to these places. As he was leaving to go back home he announced that he’d dubbed any journey of that length a ‘Jack’!

So tonight we’ll be celebrating my birthday at an Indian restaurant, in the company of friends of many years whom I’ve never met face-to-face. They are choosing the place and I’m just waiting to see where the distance lies between a ‘Wendy’ and a ‘Jack’ – – -

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Wayfaring Strangers

 Jack’s weekly guest post –

Regulars will probably know that I have a certain interest in traditional music, which for me anyway, means music of particular cultures that has stood the test of time even while it is evolving and developing. It can be purely instrumental or ballads and songs and can be from anywhere, although my personal specialty is Scottish songs.

When I used to sing with my old band ‘Heritage’ we traveled ’round Europe over fifteen years playing festivals and doing regional tours and we heard wonderful music from all sorts of interesting cultural corners.

While I’ve been presenting my weekly music program ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ on WETS.fm from Johnson City in TN for the last five years, I’ve also been developing an understanding of the links between Appalachian music and its Celtic forebears. For six years I was a staff member on the Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week at Warren-Wilson College near Asheville NC and that was a wonderful opportunity to engage with others, all of whom had an equal enthusiasm for those links.

More recently I’ve been fortunate to be part of the team organizing ‘Big Stone Celtic’ – our annual celebration of all the Celtic nations modeled on small town traditional festivals back in the ‘auld countries’.

So, what do I think this has to say to us in the age of electronics and fifty years after the last ‘folk-boom’? Maybe that there is still an appreciation for  music and songs that aren’t designed carefully to pick your pocket, or that do chime with a basic human need, or maybe that resonate with a distant memory buried deep within us.

Perhaps you can see from the above that I’m quite passionate about this. So I’m planning a weekend retreat down here from Friday April 25th through Sunday April 27th at the beautiful farmhouse of friends who live just outside Big Stone Gap. The focus will be Scottish ballads and songs and we’ll be working on repertoire, program balance, accompaniments, sources, sound systems and lots more. There’ll be comfortable accommodation, great food and a ceilidh at the bookstore. Although it’s aimed at singers we’ll make sure that non-singers will have plenty to interest them as well.

If you would like to know more – jbeck69087@aol.com or 276-523-5097

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Should auld acquaintance – – -

Jack’s weekly guest blog -

I know – this guest post is a bit late!

But, hey – last night was Hogmanay!!

That’s one of the most significant nights of the year for Scots all over the world, and we celebrated in style with a houseful of friends, both young and old – er. We exchanged memories of our best moments of 2013 and our hopes for 2014 and played some interesting games (our dear friends Wes and Rach are serious ‘gamers’!). We all finished just after midnight with the obligatory rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – pronounced with an S and not a Z, of course!

So that’s my excuse.

I finally woke up this morning around 9 o’clock to the realization that, not only was it 1/1/2014, but Wendy was in full flow basement flat re-organizing mode. I should know after 15 years that whenever I do some remodeling it doesn’t matter that it isn’t quite finished – furniture has to be moved, and moved, and moved again. So I had to very quickly finish off the last work to the famous basement toilet and get rid of all the tools, wood off-cuts, left over ceiling tiles and numerous garbage sacks in order to clear space for the aforementioned furniture moving. But, wait – we said the bookstore would be open today, and we actually had customers who took us at our word.

Talk about hitting the ground running!

the useful corner

the useful corner

So this is how our life goes – and it’s great. Here’s a couple of pictures of the finished toilet (or rest room as I must remember to call it. Rest room? REST ROOM?? What on earth does that mean!?) And God Bless Us, Every One, in this new year!

the other end

the other end

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