Tag Archives: Jack Beck

Don’t Look Down….

garg_grimstonchurchtower28_1aJack tackles the topic of stress in this week’s guest blog.

When things get a bit fraught around the bookstore, such as when yet another unexpected litter of kittens appears, or we discover a leak under the water heater (Chef Kelley joke there) I only have to think back a few years to put it all into perspective.

Years ago I was an apprentice painter and decorator in my Dad’s business. Being the boss’s son, I was usually the one to be called on to do the particularly mucky or scary jobs–such as painting the drain pipe running from top to bottom of the bell tower on an old church in Kinross–full height of the pipe about 50 feet, starting more than 200 feet off the ground. On its way down the pipe passed about a foot away from the louvers where the sound of the bells issued.

The trickiest job was of course put off until it was the last thing left, so finally it just had to be done. We assembled our longest three-part wooden ladder with ropes and pulleys that weighed a ton, only to discover it didn’t even reach the bottom of the aforementioned louvers. Nothing daunted, we lashed an extra length of ladder onto the three-parter and that did just get to those pesky sound emitters.

Feeling a little nervous I looked to my two older workmates and realized they were making no moves towards the ladder(s). Sizing up the situation my Dad put his foot on the first rung getting set to put everyone to shame. “Hang on,” I said (after all he was approaching retirement). “I’ll do it.”

So, up I went until the ladder bent in so far, hardly and room remained for my toes against the wall. Still couldn’t reach the whole pipe. Down I came and tied the brush to a length of scrap wood and ascended once more. That got the pipe painted from the ground to about 1/3 of the way up, past the bottom of the louvers.

Pondering on how we’d get the rest done I followed my Dad as he entered the tower and climbed up the stairway until we emerged on the roof, carrying the paint pot and the brush still attached to the scrap wood.  We managed the middle next to those blasted louvers; I put my arm out of the nearest opening to the pipe (which I couldn’t see from inside) while my colleagues shouted instructions from the ground – “left a bit, right a bit, up a bit, down a bit.”

That still left the top of the pipe, just below the battlements. I looked over at my dad. He was looking at me in a speculative way, rubbing his chin. A horrible thought struck me….

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found myself shortly afterwards dangling upside down outside the tower between two battlements with my Dad holding my ankles while I stretched as far as I could with the extended brush.

Once you’ve been suspended upside down 50 feet off the ground by your ankles, there’s not much that happens in a bookstore that can faze you. I remind myself of this as I play with our new foster kittens.

Epilogue: Years later Wendy and I were visiting my elderly Mum and sharing stories about my by-then- deceased Dad. I was certain she would never have known about the Church tower, but I had hardy started when she began chuckling. “I knew about that before you got home, Son. Don’t think I didn’t speak to your father about it, either!” Her chuckle erupted into laughter. Let that be a lesson to you; don’t think your Momma don’t know!

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Someday—-

Jack’s poignant guest blog reflecting on then, now, and someday

Back in the early 1960s, I was a twentysomething hanging out on the Scottish folk scene. We had a number of dedicated folk-song clubs established in cellars, cycle clubs and all sorts of unlikely venues, and they all had one thing in common: singing in harmony together at the end of the evening We Shall Overcome!

Now we did (and still do) have a certain ‘fellow feeling’ in singing it, Scotland being a country that felt put upon by its bigger neighbor, but we had no real understanding of where the song came from or what it meant to the folk who created it. We just knew it made us feel strong and special.

Overcome has haunted me for years. An African American gospel song, it was brought to the famous Highlander Center in Tennessee in the late 1950s by Lucille Simmons and members of the Food and Tobacco Workers’ Union. There they adapted it, and staff member Guy Carawan passed it on to Pete Seeger. The rest is history, including more re-makes and re-shapes than Kumbiya.

Over the years I learned about Highlander’s work, and the place seemed near-mystical. When a mutual friend introduced me to Guy Carawan himself just a couple of years ago, I was able to shake hands with a man as legendary to me as John Lennon might be to someone else.

Knowing that back in Scotland we had a too-easy enthusiasm for identifying with those who had faced down the color bar, I was overjoyed when just last weekend Wendy and I were invited to join a group of Appalachian writers at Highlander Center – the very same place where We shall Overcome was re-born as a folk anthem for social justice.

Oddly enough, all the participants that weekend were white. I watched the day’s activities unfold, examined pictures on the walls celebrating the triumphs of activism, read news clippings and wandered around, feeling out of place. Was it my being from Scotland that made it feel an exclusive rather than inclusive experience? Was it worship from afar meeting the reality that one group can only do so much?

A friend uses the term ‘folk elite’ to describe people who mean well but who don’t ultimately impact the place in which they have decided to practice charity. Perhaps that is what I was: one of the elite, incapable of grasping the legacy spread before me. But I have to admit, at the end of that weekend I felt no closer to being part of the “We” in We Shall Overcome than I did back in the sixties, in Scotland, holding hands with all my fellow middle-class singing friends. And that saddened me.

 

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Filed under blue funks, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, writing

Half a League, Half a League – - -

jackWhen Wendy and I first met she asked me if I liked walking. “Of course!” I lied. I was smitten and would have said anything.

Ever since, when given the option, she will walk rather than take a bus or taxi when we’re out of town on book or health business. Her preferred enticement for me to join her in this activity is to find an Indian restaurant nearby, knowing I love a curry dinner above most things in life.

“It’s only half a mile” is the usual precursor – -

On pretty much every occasion, however, the ‘half a mile’ turns out to be considerably more. I have learned to ask “a Wendy half-mile or a standard half-mile?”

It’s sometimes been necessary to cross busy highways, garnering strange looks from car drivers who are obviously wondering who these idiots are clamboring over guardrails. Sometimes the Indian place is no longer there, or it’s become a Mexican eatery, or it’s not open for another two hours – or it’s not open on Sundays.

That’s not the point, though – it’s all about the walk – - -

Yesterday we went to the Kennedy Center in DC to see ‘Evita,’ which involved a forty minute walk from the hotel to the Metro station. Because we had extra time, Wendy suggested a walk to the botanic gardens, which of course started with a twenty minute walk in the wrong direction. A suggestion from me that we avail ourselves of the shuttle from the wonderfully named Foggy Bottom station to the Center was grudgingly accepted, as was my later suggestion that we do the same in reverse going back.

Wendy always wins out in the end, though; she was saving the final ‘cherry on the cake’.

We still had a forty minute walk back to the hotel from the Metro.

The view was lovely, but my feet hurt.dc sunset

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Filed under humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Hi! I’m Prince Caspian!

DSCN1247Hi! I’m Prince Caspian! I’m a very brave explorer and a good shoulder sailor. I love to find small spaces to hide in and then jump out at people’s feet. And I love, love, love to cuddle.

I’m just here at the bookstore until I get my forever home. The bookstore is fun for now, though. Lotsa tall places to climb up and jump on people’s shoulders from. The other day I did a perfect four-paw landing on the back of one of the ladies who works here, as she was stooped over shelving some books.

DSCN1214Was it my fault she screamed like that? Honestly, it was kinda fun though, flying through the air. It didn’t hurt cause I landed on a soft chair. Just kinda bounced a little. But to hear her tell it, she thought the devil had her.

I’m just a little kitten, lady, no big deal!

Really I’m kinda sweet and innocent. Except I’m gonna be a pirate when I grow up. But don’t tell the people in the bookshop, ’cause they said I’m named for a character in a Christian children’s book.

People say I’m cute, but what they don’t know is what a very brave cat I am.They used to call me Small Fry, but I didn’t like that very much because it reminded me of the scary time I spent in that garbage can. There wasn’t anything to eat in there but cold french fries and it was so hot and hard to breathe. I knew I had to get out so I was very brave and cried and cried for help, and a nice lady heard me and got me out.

I’m trying not to hold a grudge against the guy who put me in there. He said I’d find some stuff to eat and it wouldn’t be his problem. Buddy, you need to rethink how you’re living your life. That’s all I’m saying.

DSCN1226Who needs a grudge when I’ve got all these nice people around me? First I went to the animal hospital and I stayed there a whole two weeks because I was so small and you could see my ribs – well, cold fries just aren’t much to eat, are they? And I had coccidea, which is a kitten disease that’s easy to take care of if you get the right nutrition. (Again, with the cold fries….)

Everybody loved me at the hospital and carried me around on their shoulders and let me ride on their shoes. And then I came to the bookstore, and everybody here loves me too. I’m a really lovable guy. And I get all I want to eat here! This place is great.

Mom says soon somebody will take me to another place and that will be my forever home, and I’ll get all I want to eat and have lots of laps and shoulders and chairs and shelves. I’m looking forward to it.

‘Scuse me, I see somebody coming and I don’t want them to know I’m using the computer. Come see me! Ask for Prince Caspian! Bye!

DSCN1253

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – -

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – - – -

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA

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