Tag Archives: small town life

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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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, small town USA, VA

As One Door Closes – – –

Jack’s weekly (kind of) guest post -

I have to admit that the sudden closure of the iconic ‘Mutual Pharmacy and Diner’ which features in The Little Bookstore, and in Adriana Trigiana’s Big Stone Gap series of novels, was a severe shock to everyone in our community. Wendy and I believe in places like that and so it hit us particularly hard. The fact that it was bought out by a well known national pharmacy chain (which probably needs to remain nameless, but is the only one in BSG) only makes it more poignant. Of course we are glad that said chain is re-employing some of the staff, but there’s a suspicion that it was all about removing competition.

But nothing lasts for ever, and that brings me to another point. Small towns have a USP (OK – I have an MBA so I’m allowed to mention a Unique Selling Point) and that is easily experienced, but very hard to define. It’s a mixture of architecture, culture, personality/character, position, dynamic and history (at least). Big Stone Gap has all of that in abundance, so I am optimistic about its future despite the closure of ‘The Mutual’.

Something else that the ‘Gap’ has is a growing number of people who realize that waiting for one of the existing established organizations to do ‘it’ for them is not necessarily a recipe for success. When Wendy and I travel around the country to other small towns we continually see that the thriving ones are that way because enough people just got together and did something. Sometimes that is centered on a business, but just as often it will be a farmers’ market, or a community yard sale.

Today I was doing my normal quick trawl through FaceBook and saw a post announcing that Bob’s Market and Family Drug was having a re-opening event. This is another long established local business. Bob has retired and everyone thought that was another one gone. But, no! New owners have taken over and are rarin’ to go – that’s great!

So, what’s the message?

All communities change and develop – sometimes much loved landmarks go; but sometimes enthusiasts like the new owners of Bob’s Market and Family Drug arrive on the scene. Their timing, in this case, was spot on! So to David Adkins, Kara Goins Adkins and Rick Mullins, I can only give the traditional Scottish well-wish: Lang may yir lum reek!

 

For more on the background to this post check out our friend Amy Clark’s op-ed piece in a recent edition of the NY Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/03/opinion/appalachian-hope-and-heartbreak.html?

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She was HOT! He kept his cool.

Wes is our first call if we need a pinch-hitter for a day here or there in the bookshop. Those of you who read the blog regularly may remember that Wes married Rachael in a Quaker meeting at the bookstore last year.  IMG_3418He’s been invaluable while Jack’s in Scotland, because I’ve gotten tied up with some things at the college.

Today when I relieved him, a stack of J.A. Jance mysteries were sitting out of place on a counter top. Wes grinned when he saw me looking at them.

“Funny story about these,” he said, and launched.

A woman had come into the store with her daughter, who was the epitome of metrosexual beauty: lots of arm tattoos, her nose was pierced, and she wore a floral print mini-sundress.

“She was HOT!” Wes assured me, waving his hands in curves that, presumably, described the contours of her paisley pattern tattoo sleeves.

Hot Girl browsed classics while her mom surfed the mystery room. Mom emerged with the five Jance paperbacks, marked $3 each in good condition.

“That’s $15,” said Wes, smiling at the producer of Totally Hot Girl.

“What?” she shrieked. Wes, accustomed to people being impressed by our pricing, beamed, but Hot’s Mama continued, “I can get these cheaper someplace else!”

A few other customers in the store (who had also been admiring THG) began to studiously ignore what was going on. Hot Girl threw her mother an evil look.

Wes, however, has been hanging with Jack and me awhile now. With perfect dignity, he scooped the books from Hot’s Mama’s arms. “Then of course you should,” he said, bowing from the waist. “I’ll put these back for you.”

Out went Mom, back erect. Hot Girl waited until she left, then, according to Wes, “began grabbing classics randomly from the bargain bin. She bought $25 worth, and kept apologizing for her mom.”

Wes assured her it was not a problem. He invited her to come back anytime. “ANYTIME,” he emphasized, bagging her books. He probably carried them to the car for her.

It’s unusual that someone fusses about our prices–more unusual than a tattoo-wearing, flesh-piercing, breast-and-leg bearing Totally Hot Girl waking into our bookshop. Big Stone Gap isn’t as sleepy as people think.

And Wes? He’s looking forward to minding the store again tomorrow. I’ve told him my project at the college might take all week. He assures me this is not a problem.

Such a nice boy.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Great Liver Explosion of 2012

Regular readers will remember Shelley (mother of Holly, the girl who asked Santa to autograph her copy of “Night Before Christmas”). Here’s her guest blog on what life-and-death means when it’s real.

As many of Wendy’s readers know, I suffered a major health scare a few months ago. After facing death, Wendy blogged about my recovery and now you’re getting the rest of the story.  

It’s funny how the universe is always conspiring to bring the right people and circumstances into our lives. The GGGs all came to me serendipitously. One I met through our local paper, one through our passion for school consolidation, one works with my brother, and another’s husband coached baseball with mine. Since becoming part of this “secret society,” I always have someone that lets me know when to hunker down. One  member also needs to quit her medical practice and be my private physician. And then there’s Wendy and the bookstore……She’s the glue that keeps us together. Always planning a new adventure or just giving us a place to chat about life, politics, or small town drama. The friendship, support, and encouragement from this group have given me great joy and hope during the worst time of my life.

Before the great liver explosion of 2012, I had a storybook life-a loving husband, beautiful, healthy children, a successful business, and more sparkle than a Porter Wagner suit. Everything always seemed to work out in my favor. I never questioned why or how, I just rambled through life without a care. I became accustomed to a relatively worry free existence.

Then it happened. I decided to have liver surgery to correct a genetic condition. I did my homework and found the best liver surgeon in America at the Mayo Clinic.

Ahead of surgery, I saw everyone I wanted to see and said everything I wanted to say, except for one certain GGG. I had lingering worries about what would happen if things went sour. There were so many things I needed to tell her, but I never got the chance. I tried to pass it off as unnecessary concern, but thoughts of her haunted me.

As usual, everything was going smoothly. Pre-op appointment- GREAT. Date night before hospital check in-GREAT. Surgery-GREAT. Discharge from recovery-GREAT.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, everything wasn’t great. As a matter of fact, things were bad. VERY, VERY BAD.

My ammonia level skyrocketed. This is an indicator of liver failure and it also makes one delirious, confused, and not of sound mind. Next, I developed a blood clot in my liver followed by the explosion of a spontaneously formed bleeding ulcer. Back to surgery I went.

Since I can’t remember any of this, I have to say my surgeon has the hands of God. He repaired everything inside of me and left me with an almost unnoticeable scar.

Eleven days after this dramatic turn of events, I began to wake up and take in what had transpired. I had been on every form of life support available, received enough blood to satisfy a village of vampires, and more IV’s than any human should have to ever receive.

My tiny body was desperately trying to heal, but I couldn’t walk and speaking was not going so well either. For a moment, I imagined my children with no mother, my husband with no life & business partner, my mother losing her firstborn so soon after losing my dad. Then I did the only thing I knew how to do. I put on my big girl panties and I got over it.

After a few days, I could stand. After standing, I was able to walk a few steps. Within a week, I could walk down my hallway with a walker. My speech slowly came back. I started to believe I would taste food again. I dreamed of eating a Popsicle and oatmeal.

It took several long, scary months to regain my strength and some semblance of normalcy. When I finally felt like things were going to be okay, I realized the biggest healing hadn’t been my liver or my mind; it was my heart. This ordeal taught me to love bigger and deeper and to actually mean it.

During my recovery, my GGs gave me love, brought me food, lit candles for my healing, prayed, begged, pleaded, and did everything possible to make sure I could return to the ranks. One in particular sacrificed her scare and precious free time to keep me company and bring me homemade food and even a rescue puppy to snuggle.

As for my certain GGG, I will be in her wedding one year to the day of my life saving surgery. Ironic? No. It’s exactly as it should be. That day will be a sweet reminder of the blessing of friendship and second chances to say what needs to be said

Paul Simon has some very appropriate lyrics for my new lease on life.

“I’ve been working on my rewrite, that’s right. I’m gonna change the ending, gonna throw away the title, and toss it in the trash.”

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m working on my rewrite. I guarantee my storybook will end with, “She lived happily ever after.”

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Calm Amid the Craziness

Jack’s guest blog from Istanbul -

Istanbul is a city of 22 million people, and most of them seemed to be in the Spice Market and Topkapi Palace the same days we were. On day  three amid jostling crowds, avoiding shopkeepers accosting in six languages, dodging buses and taxis as they honked insults while dueling for supremacy on the narrow Old City streets, we booked tickets to see the Whirling Dervishes.

Not knowing quite what to expect, we arrived at what appeared to be a sophisticated ‘theater in the round,’ complete with colored lights and set in an old mosque. My heart sank as I got the feeling that we were in for a typical ‘folklorique’ experience. When the four musicians appeared, dressed in identical costumes and playing tambur, whistle, psaltery and various drums, my first impression seemed correct, but as the music started I realized that this sounded like the real thing–a strange alternating major and minor key piece based on an oddly exotic scale.

Gradually the music set a mood. Then the dervishes appeared and the audience—until then restless and clearly waiting for something to happen—settled in as, without leaving our seats, we were moved to another place. A feeling not unlike the gathered silence of a Quaker Meeting enveloped the space as these five men in high hats and white garments inclined their heads, raised their hands (left palm down, right palm up) and took turns to lead the others in their ancient stately whirling dance of Sufi worship.

Seemingly oblivious to the 200 or so observers in the circle of tiered seats around them, they whirled, white coats billowing, with eyes half closed, whispering the words of prayer. It was elegant, dignified, reverent.

When it was all over we wandered back to our hotel through jostling crowds, city traffic and accosting stall keepers. But we couldn’t get the image of the dervishes out of our thoughts. A sense of calm suffused the night.

Cynically, Wendy and I joked that these men got up this morning and went to their jobs as taxi drivers, stall keepers, and tourist boat operators–but so what if they did? Calm is calm, worship is worship, and moments of honesty about loving God in a busy life are worth clinging to.

dervishes

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized

A Thing I Look Forward to All Year

This Sunday will be the Epiphany service at the Methodist church the next town over. “Lessons and Carols” is a collection of just about every musician for three counties ’round packing out the big, beautiful, Norman-esque Norton church to do Christmas music. (No, the Normans didn’t reach Wise County in the Middle Ages, but some architects apparently sent missionaries.)

I look forward to this event–held the third Sunday in January–all year. Maybe it’s because it comes after the crush is over; most of the tinsel and glitter are out of the floorboard cracks; lawn decorations sit in boxes at the base of attic stairs. It’s January: cold, bleak, emotionally exhausted and financially drained January. We may as well sing together as face Winter alone.

And there’s just something about Christmas carols, when you don’t have to think about all the other stuff surrounding the holidays, that goes straight into your veins. When you can really hear them, their messages are exhilarating.

Musicians dust off sheet music and embrace hastily-cobbled partnerships–bluegrass trio, classical harpist, brass ensemble, unaccompanied folk singers and all. The music at Lessons and Carols doesn’t change much. Sometimes the strolling guitar team does Joy to the World instead of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The violin quartet moves between Handel and Mendelssohn.  There aren’t many surprises.

So few that, in the four years Jack and I have been singing at this event, I’ve developed trigger points. When our neighbor David–his wife Heather works at our store and he heads the college music department–leads his choir into Little Drummer Boy, no matter how I steel myself, I go to mush. The thrumming, sobbing, opening bass notes, followed by all those black-clad quiet voices in blended harmony, “Come, they told me….”

A little boy soprano always sings the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City, before the congregation joins in. One pure small voice soaring through that high-ceilinged church, then everyone rumbling forward more-or-less together with “Jesus is our childhood pattern….”

I’ve learned to wear something with pockets and pack them with tissues.

Jack wonders why I like this event so much.  Musically,  it’s all over the place. It’s predictable, and long–now grown to two and a half hours PLUS prelude music. The benches are uncomfortable. We even do that hackneyed candle thing with the lights out.

Ah, but “come, they told me…..”

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Nothing Else to Say

Rachel

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December 15, 2012 · 7:53 am