Strangers in the day

 Jack’s Wednesday (just) guest post –

For some reason that I can’t fathom we’re getting a lot of out of town (and out of State) visitors to the bookstore and the cafe just now. It’s not the season for school reunions or vacations, and although some folk have deliberately detoured this way because of reading ‘The Little Bookstore’ many of them haven’t.

It seems to be a completely random thing – just passing through or maybe here for a funeral or family visit.

Quite apart from the welcome business, it adds to the busyness! I love it when strangers come in when we have local loyal friends of the place just hanging out and everyone ends up swapping stories.

Two examples from today –

1) A couple drove for five hours from Elkins in WV yesterday because they had read the book. They visited yesterday afternoon then came back this morning as soon as we opened and stayed on for lunch. As they were leaving they said they’d be back soon. Of course they had dinner in town last night then stayed overnight in a local hotel and had breakfast before heading back here and encountering the hanging out crowd.

2) A gentleman drove up from Johnson City simply because he heard a repeat broadcast on the local NPR station of an interview with Wendy about the store. As soon as he heard my voice he said “you’re the guy on WETSfm that has the Celtic show”. I’ve been presenting Celtic Clanjamphry every week for almost ten years as an unpaid volunteer and, in return they now count that as sponsorship by Tales of the Lonesome Pine, so we get a mention on air as well.


Nobody can spell Clanjamphry!

Just two examples of how new customers arrive at the door. Of course they are, for different reasons, already pretty well primed to be ‘on side’. The challenge for anyone who runs this kind of shop is to try to read the personality of the completely ‘cold callers’ and respond appropriately. As I said at the beginning we had a good few of them as well. One couple were quiet and focused and I simply responded to their occasional request while another guy started like that, then encountered a kitten and became much more engaged. On the one hand you have to like people to do this job, but on the other hand you have to be able to quickly read people too.

It’s still great fun!

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Filed under bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky

The Monday Book falls on a Tuesday this week due to Celtic Festivals and kitten spays.

suiteIrene Nemirovsky was a Ukranian-born Jewish woman who lived in Paris and enjoyed a successful writing  career. She planned five short novels to be part of a book titled Suite Francaise, but she had only written two and drafted the third when she was rounded up, deported, and murdered.

What’s amazing about the first novel “Storm in June” is how accurately it describes something ongoing. Nemirovsky never got the luxury of time to contemplate what she saw, so her characterizations of the upper class family, the pompous writer, the sweet middle-class couple, and the nasty antiques dealer fleeing (or trying to flee) Paris sprang almost fully formed as she watched it unfold in front of her. I wonder who (or how many) of her colleagues she skewered in the darkly hysterical portrait of the famous author and his mistress as they flee, first in pomp and style, then with whatever diminishing wits they can gather about them.

Then there’s “Dolce,” from which a film is/has been made. It’s more of an expected war story: women whose husbands are prisoners in Germany house German officers as occupiers; add community sentiment and stir. It’s fairly predictable. But “Storm in June” is amazing in its details of what human hearts turn into when combined with fear, breakdown of social order, and a few sudden chances to change everything. Nemirovsky saw through a lot of veneers.

The manuscripts were finally published in this century, when her daughter opened the suitcase and read them, realized they were novels rather than journals, and sent them to Denoel, a large publishing house. “Storm in June” is pretty much genius, making you laugh and sob at the same time.

How many people did we lose in that storm, who would have made us laugh or cry today?


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Filed under book reviews, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

The People in 306

Every year, Jack and I emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, in gratitude of which they give us a small stipend and a big room in a grand hotel.

For the past four years it’s been the Carnegie, a nice place in JC that features huge bathrooms, glorious hallway chandeliers, and paper-thin walls. Last night Jack and I settled into our room with the requisite Indian take-out meal from Sahib’s, mid-term grading for me and Scottish political sites for Jack.

About half an hour later, we glanced at each other. Strange noises were coming from the hallway. It sounded as though a child were throwing up.

“No, that’s the room beside us,” Jack said, as I started to open the door leading to the hall. He indicated the wall with a flick of his head.

I stood at the point where the noise seemed loudest and listened again. The soft, ah-ah-ah gasps escalated to something like crying.

“This kid is in pain,” I said to Jack. “Do you hear an adult in the room? Should we knock?”

At that moment a male voice said, “Good girl, do it again” and my whole assessment of the situation shifted. Jack and I shot back from the wall as though, well, shot.

The voices continued, rumbling, mumbling, giggling, and that high, heated shrieking the gasps had turned into. There were sounds of spanking, and choking. “Are you all right?” “Oh yeah, that was amazing!”

Jack and I glanced at each other, at the clock by our bed (10:45), at our empty, neatly made bed, and busted up laughing. At some point marriages turn into “Let’s get a good night’s sleep” instead of “I’ll have what she’s having.”

And that’s okay. Don’t get the wrong idea; sex shared with the right person has no equal. But it also has no need of broadcasting. Sex just doesn’t sound like much fun at all when you’re not the one having it. Erotic asphyxiation is definitely off my list. She sounded like a poodle with asthma.

So is the Carnegie Hotel, perhaps. Next year we’re asking for the Comfort Inn. Fare-thee-well, paper thin walls that bring more than someone else’s TV into your life.


Filed under humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Memories are made of – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

I recently received a ‘blast from the past’ in the mail. It was a CD of music by an old friend who had recently passed on. Alan MacDonald was a late new recruit to my old group Heritage and he brought a very different set of musical insights. He was a big fan of American music including mountain fiddle tunes and rags and we hit it off and recorded some stuff. To my delight the CD included some of these pieces with me providing back-up guitar.

So – many warm memories; which got me thinking!

As I approach the unbelievably ancient age of seventy five, I wonder if we enhance some memories and bury others? The last  twenty years of my life have been shared with Wendy and they are front and center along with the amazing folks I’ve met along the way. My life revolves around the bookstore and all the spin-offs from that, not to mention the more recent storytelling and musical friends.

The Little Bookstore book encapsulated much of that, but was written four years ago, so there are already more stories to be told.

But going back in the other direction, there’s an enormous part of my life that was neither shared with Wendy or written down to be shared more widely. Some of it she has stumbled across as old friends are re-encountered and once again become part of our circle. But there other parts that I seem to have just erased from my memory. They seemed important at the time, but are no longer. Is that normal?

I wonder if we re-write our history to suit ourselves?

When old half remembered or half forgotten times are suddenly dropped on our laps do they also chink open a door to a part of our life that we somehow erase?

No matter – Alan wasn’t just a fine musician, but a highly regarded educationist . A quirky guy who wound up as the Head of a small elementary school that pioneered child-centered learning when it was still possible to do such a thing. He was very highly regarded by his professional peers and I was happy to be his friend.

Maybe I’m just getting old – – –

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The Monday Book: THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION by Jessamyn West

You know how you start thinking about an old friend, and then look them up, and find they were thinking of you? This book is like that.

west-persuasionWest wrote it (and its companion volume Except for Me and Thee) more than 75 years ago, but it’s still just as funny and sweet, mostly because it’s about humans. Just humans, and how they interact, living on a farm in the Midwest as Quakers.

Well, there’s that Civil War bit, and their brush with the Underground Railroad, which is somehow more intense now reading it in these troubled years. So much should have changed by now…..

Not much has changed in human courtship, either, and the stories around love affairs (would be or actual) are as hysterical as they are accurate. If you want to just escape into a world that pre-dates Jan Karon but echoes our own modern troubles, this is a good one.

The author was a woman ahead of her time. She wrote two of my all-time favorite quotes about writing: “Talent is helpful in writing but guts are absolutely essential” and “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.”

That kinda sums up The Friendly Persuasion. One of the reasons people will still be reading it years from now is its poignant accuracy in describing human interactions.




Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

Wesley Tells His Tail – Er, Tale

Today’s guest blog is from Wesley and his foster mom Willie Dalton. Willie is the author of THREE WITCHES IN A SMALL TOWN, from which the “dumpster six” take their names: Wesley, Steven, Cerulean, Agatha, Mabry, and Maeve. (Maeve is now of blessed memory). You’d love the book as much as the names. It’s available from Mountain Girl Press.

Take it away, Wesley!!!

wesleyHi, I’m Wesley. My five siblings and I had a rough start. Someone taped us up inside a box and dropped us in a dumpster when we were only a few weeks old. Can you believe it? We didn’t do nothin’ to nobody.

Luckily, a nice lady found us and helped us get the food and medicine we really needed. One of my sisters didn’t make it, and we all miss her. But the rest of us are happy and healthy now. I’m getting bigger and stronger every day!

And I sure am happy I can eat on my own now without having to wait for my foster mom to bring me a bottle and feed all my siblings too. I’m not very patient when I’m hungry. But who is, am I right?

My foster mom is great but I think I’m ready for a furever home. There’s a lot of other cats here and I’d appreciate a little more personal attention. Every time I find a nice warm lap to curl up in, my sister Cerulean comes along and hogs all the cuddles. She’s a bit of a diva.

ceruleanI guess I wouldn’t mind another cat or two to play with if the right family comes along but one I thing I definitely need is toys with feathers, lots of feathers, they’re really great.

Everyone who sees me says how handsome I am with my little white face and pink nose but so far no one has taken me home. Maybe it’s because I snore sometimes. I don’t know what else it could be! I’m cute, playful, cuddly and I have have very tidy litter box habits. I’m a real catch.

Mom says the right family will find me soon and fall in love with me, that sounds really nice. But until then I’ll just be napping on the softy blanket on the couch, ya know, until Cerulean tries to steal it from me.

To adopt Wesley, Cerulean, or any of the “dumpster six,” message Appalachian Feline Friends via Facebook.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Numberless Blessings – –

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post finally managed to get out on Wednesday –

I used to joke that I must have been frightened by a math teacher as a child, because I’ve all my life had a problem with numbers. Not basic arithmetic, I hasten to add; I’ve never had a problem with that and it has been enough for me to get by – mostly.

I left primary school at the age of eleven with a perfectly confident attitude to numbers based on my excellent score in the ‘qualifying exam’ that put me straight into the top class at the local high school.

That’s when the problem started. Algebra raised its ugly head and each year I dropped further down the range of classes. It was math that was skewing everything else I was doing and I finally left school at the age of sixteen with no qualifications at all, despite enjoying English, French, Art and History.

During the ensuing five years of a painting and decorating apprenticeship I attended the local college, where I found that I could attend evening classes to get the qualifications I’d missed out on at high school. So I finally got Higher English and – wait for it – Arithmetic.

Skipping along a good few years, I went on to teach construction calculation to generations of painting apprentices, which only required facility in arithmetic. I developed a particular ability to ‘connect’ with students who had also experienced the same difficulties as I had. All went well until a few years before I retired, when I was prevailed upon by the college Principal to study for an MBA. Because I had no previous degree level qualification I had to sit two entrance tests – one in verbal reasoning and the other in math. I got the highest score they had ever recorded in verbal reasoning and a measly 30% in math! They allowed me in, but with misgivings about my ability to handle the math.

There I met my old enemy algebra again. Worse, his obsessive-compulsive second cousin dominated the course: Statistics – STATISTICS!!

I finished the whole program in time to retire (taking Stats twice along the way) and then Wendy and I moved to the States and opened a bookstore.

So now I do percentages, and tax equations and amortizations and – wait for it – market share statistics for the bookstore, our Celtic Festival, Wendy’s cat rescue, and other fun life events. It’s different, somehow, when it’s about real life. Not just numbers in a classroom. That’s precisely how I taught calculation to my painting students, come to think of it.

What were the odds that I would end up using all that math I learned? Actually, I know how to calculate that….




Filed under bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized