Tag Archives: Tales of the Lonesome Pine

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

The Monday Book is on Tuesday this Month….

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS is a busy weekend for all of us, so we’re just getting back on schedule with the Monday Book.

Yes, I know; it’s Tuesday.

cover_pierTHE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN’S PIER by Ann Packer is about a couple on the verge of breaking up, except he has a terrible accident that leaves him paralyzed.

And she still breaks up with him. Because she’s found someone else.

That’s pretty much it, but you can imagine the stuff going on around that. This is a book where most of the action takes place inside people’s hearts.

The details in the book – she loves to sew, doesn’t have a lot of money, carefully parses money to make herself a sexy dress that kind of isn’t because she’s broken up with her boyfriend, but still – are lovely, subtle, not overwhelming, all undergirding the plot and characters.

This is really a character-driven plot, and each person is fully etched. Here’s a random sample of the kind of thing I mean: “Kilroy gave Simon an amused nod, but he crossed his arms over his chest, and some kind of inner turbulence seeped out of him.”

She’s got a nice, almost journalistic, way with her words, and her use of big themes like wealth vs. want, or love vs. lust, is set in almost embossed relief against the small day-to-day details of the lives she’s describing.

It also has a surprisingly satisfying ending, for this kind of book where somebody’s heart is going to get broken, no matter what. Avoiding cliche, it still brings resolution.

 

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

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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The Monday Book: Big Box Swindle

The Monday book review this week is by guest poster Melissa Eisenmeier.

Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Retailers

- by a researcher from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance named Stacy Mitchell, makes a strong case for why small businesses are better than big box retailers and how, and why those retailers are changing America for the worse. In the book, she talks about how chains like Wal-mart, Target, and Home Depot have changed the American landscape, become the most corporations, and rapidly changed our communities and economies. Big Box Swindle also touches on how such chains affect global warming, why independent businesses are often better for the economy and communities than large corporations, and third places, like Wendy did in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

By and large, Wal-mart is the business most often discussed in the book, but small businesses around the nation, Lowe’s, Target, and K-Mart, among other nationally-recognized chains are also discussed.

Several parts from Big Box Swindle resonated with me. The first thing was a quote from a Nebraskan named Bob Allen, who owned a department store for 30 years. He asserted that “Wal-mart is destroying the free enterprise system.” While that might be a simplified version of things, I think it’s very true that Wal-Mart and similar big chain stores aren’t doing the country any good.

The thing that resonated the most with me, however, was Ms. Mitchell’s contention that Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and similar big box retailers create a vicious cycle of poverty, unemployment, and underemployment. She contends that they do this by destroying small businesses that pay living wages and health insurance, which means that the people who used at them can’t get jobs that pay as they used to. She also says that those people who go to Wal-Mart because they need to save a couple dollars are unintentionally furthering the cycle just by shopping there, because Wal-Mart pays their employees minimum wage, does not offer health insurance to employees, and surreptitiously deleted time from employees’ time cards to save money.

While Ms. Mitchell generally doesn’t apply this logic specifically to Amazon, I think Amazon also maintains the cycle of poverty by killing off independent businesses that pay living wages and offer health insurance.

I don’t think Big Box Swindle is an easy book to read, but I do think it is a book people need to read.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

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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Tails of Dogs and Cats

Jack’s weekly guest post -

I’m a bit of a fan of Alexander McCall Smith, ever since I stumbled across the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I also fell for his Scotland Street series as well – particularly for his very accurate depiction of a certain element of Edinburgh society with which I’m familiar. The slightly down at heel Georgian New Town intelligencia, complete with their locked private gardens!

One of the characters in the Scotland Street series is a dog called Cyril and McCall Smith manages to get inside his mind wonderfully. In many ways Cyril became one of my favorites.

But then along came the incredible Freddie De La Hay – one of the residents of Corduroy Mansions a new series set in the Pimlico neighborhood of London. Freddy is first introduced as an ex-drugsniffing dog made redundant from Heathrow Airport as a result of a campaign against sex discrimination (all the drugsniffers were male). Once again McCall Smith gets right inside the mind of a dog as it smells its way around its world, eating expensive shoes and catching Russian spies along the way. Despite a fascinating range of humans, it’s the dog that once again does it for me!

What got me thinking about this was an experience I had yesterday. We took in an older cat a few days ago that had initially been rescued by our friend Jessica. She was going to keep her, but her existing feline co-habitee didn’t approve at all. So Jessica paid to have Sweetie Pie spayed and then she came to us until we can find her a permanent home. All well and good!

Wendy left at lunchtime yesterday for a couple of days of business in Richmond and I was left keeping an eye on the lodger. Sweetie Pie seemed quite content relaxing on a stool in the mystery room. Then Kellie, our cafe chef, came in around 5 pm from a grocery run – “Sweetie Pie’s outside”, she said. “what?” I said – -

Sure enough – she was out in the front garden and when I went to pick her up she ran down onto the sidewalk. We both tried to catch her, but she kept running further off. eventually it got too dark to see where she was and I gave up. What on earth would I say to Wendy – and Jessica – how would we tell her that the cat she recued and paid to have spayed had run away on our watch? Wendy phoned later and I broke the news. We commiserated with each other and agreed that at least she had been spayed so there wouldn’t be exponential explosion of kittens.

Feeling disconsolate, I headed down to our basement bedroom and noted both dogs and our three indoor cats all in their favorite spots. Sitting on the edge of the bed to take of my shoes, I glanced up. Owen Meany had been lying beside Zora but now he was magically up on the window sill! No – wait – he’s still beside Zora – what?

Sweetie Pie holds court

Sweetie Pie holds court

There she sat, calmly licking her paw and preening herself. “What?” she meowed – “fine neighborhood you have here. Nice cats! What’s for dinner?”

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