The Banks are made of Marble

Jack’s weekly blog hits close to home.

I learned something new this past week.

The banks are only interested in you now when they’re making money from loaning you money!

Growing up in a Presbyterian household in Scotland, my Mother’s rule was “you don’t buy anything until you have the money to buy it”. So nothing was bought on credit! In those days a bank was where you saved your money. Wendy comes from a similar background, so we were very happy when we found ourselves ‘free and clear’ a few years ago and not owing anyone for anything.

Scottish banks, like Quaker saving societies have a reputation for simple, basic service and not speculating with your money overnight!

Fast forward to last week and we found that not buying anything on credit means our credit rating has gone from 800+ to zero. We have banked with Regions for so long it goes back to when they were called AmSouth, but that makes no difference apparently – regulations, don’t you know!

Their ‘work around’ was for us to get at least four letters from within a list of eligible types of companies attesting to our good standing. None of them were local and I have no idea how we’d have done that within our timescale.

Eighteen years ago that same bank were happy to finance our purchase of the bookstore. We paid that off early, which probably didn’t suit them either.

So Wendy went to BB&T, which is the bank her organization works with. Her contact there said “my goodness, that’s crazy – we can do this”. A wasted week later I get phone call from their guy in Winston-Salem – “I need some details so I can check your credit ratings – – – – “

When we bought our first house together in Scotland, twenty years, ago I was invited into the manager’s office for tea and biscuits simply on the basis of our salaries, and he was very happy to approve the loan.

Now we’re in the very fortunate position of having investments we can convert into money but even that is proving time consuming and complicated, because I’m absolutely certain that every gate-keeper along the road is getting their pound of flesh!

Luckily we have investments we can call on, which we will to pay for our new house, but what’s the world come to? Perhaps this: https://youtu.be/x-o3CJytIPE (It’s Pete Seeger – go ahead and click the link.)

550 tazewell

 

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Miss McLeod, meet Uncle Joe

Jack missed his Wednesday deadline again – –

We have a pretty disparate group of friends that have many different interests, some of which I share. One of these, of course, is music. Every now and again some of us find some overlapping time when we can get together and can do some picking and singing.

Today was one of these days, and it was glorious!

For a couple of hours all the cares of the world disappeared and three of us threw everything else aside, forgot our cares and lost ourselves in bringing together our very different music to a common ground.

Tony had just heard that his brother had suffered a heart attack (but was recovering), while Leroy is still dealing with the death of his beloved Jenny and Tyler is trying to balance the life of a professional musician with balancing his budget. Me? I’m just juggling all the logistics of buying a new house and moving there while keeping my marriage on an even keel!

Tony is our guitar playing Presbyterian Pastor buddy who is seriously into ‘middle-of-the-road’ anything goes kind of music. Tyler is our local deep down traditional and very well informed banjo playing expert on the local music. I sing Scottish songs and ballads and play a pretty odd guitar style.

But the dark horse in all this is Leroy.

He’s very capable at playing everything from Simon and Garfunkel to James Taylor and everything in between – and he does it very well. He talks about things like diminished minor 7ths and such like.

So, for two hours we shared songs and did our best to follow each other as we sang, and every so often really got it together. We chatted about our musical preferences and veered off into lots of other things. We laughed and got more serious sometimes. And we got some renewed energy for life’s challenges.

I have to admit that I wondered if getting together at eleven on a weekday morning in the bookstore with a group of folk I’d never played music all together with before was such a great idea. But in the end it was just what we each and all needed.

One of the customers that came into the bookstore as we were getting started spent a long time “browsing” and finally said he expected to pay extra for the excellent entertainment.

Nah—we got more out of it than we put in, and that’s worth everything. Take a look here.

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Letters, Boxes, Words–Tomatoes

hidden roomThis time next month Jack and I should be finding places to put things in our new house. It’s 550 Tazewell St, Wytheville if you want to look up the rooms and stuff. People have already observed (correctly) that it is a half-size version of our current bookstore home.

No, we won’t be running a bookstore. Yes, the blog will continue. Yes, I’m still writing, working on my fourth book and oh glory the joy when I can stop packing boxes and start using the time for writing instead. No, I won’t be working with Appalachian Feline Friends in any significant capacity, just driving transports and running an online craft store for fundraising. I’m retiring and turning it over to younger people with more fresh ideas: no strategizing. I need the brain space.

The joys of the new house include: a hidden bedroom. Halfway up the staircase is a small hobbit-shaped door, with no stairs into it. You have to hop. This reveals a slope-sided attic space in which any self-respecting hobbit or child would delight. I revel in the prospect of filling it with my yarn, lining the sides in visible boxes, waiting for me to pluck it out and make it into things that will assist the cats or surprise and terrify friends at Christmas (2019, I hasten to add).

A small greenhouse. My heirloom tomato nerd side is already planning. If you have heirloom tomato seeds you’d like to send me, please do. Oh, the happiness of growing baby tomatoes from seeds. I’m going to pipe in classical music to help them along.

The old jail. Seriously, we inherited the 1866 Wytheville jail as part of the property. It has heat and light and it’s the perfect size for a 9-months-of-the-year writing studio. A small table, my laptop, and NOTHING ELSE! I haven’t had a designated writing room since I finished the writing residency in Fayetteville last March. Jack is the one who called it, too. As soon as he saw the room, he said, “Well, you got your studio back.” Yep.

The tiny balcony. Despite his best efforts and mine, Jack still smokes. Not in the house. It’s a deal-breaker. But on the lee side sheltered by the roof and some trees sits a small patio on the second floor, just big enough for two chairs and an ashtray. My beloved can do his bad thing out there and I won’t have to smell it and he won’t be cold in winter. Little portable heater’s chord fits under the glass door.

The big ceilidh room. The house is 1890, so it has an original and an added bit. The original has big wooden timbers framing it, exposed for aesthetic pleasure. It’s a big room, and even with two sets of double doors leading to the front and back gardens, it gets less light than the rest of the house. And it has the fireplace. This will be our music room and where we hold ceilidhs and house concerts. No furniture, just folding chairs, instruments, and the bookshelves at the far end holding our collection of rounds and songs to sing together. Already we are looking forward to meeting the Wytheville musical crowd. Debra Preese, the lady we bought the house from, knows several, and our realtor Tyler Hughes knows more. They’re rumored to be happy to have a Celtic music couple arriving.

There’s still a twinge at letting go of the bookstore, but it’s thriving and we have high hopes the next owner will continue its community service. Jack and me, we are ready for our next adventure, in a smaller house with a big heart.

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

The Grand Tours – –

Jack gets to do a weekend blog post to get Wendy off the hook

I’ve often said to folk over here that I have never gotten used to long road trips, but that’s not entirely true. Every year I conduct a small group of Americans around Scotland for almost two weeks. We stay in various hotels along the way and drive for anything up to six hours each day.

So you’d think that something similar here wouldn’t be all that different!

Just this last two weeks Wendy and I did just that– mixture of author promotions and business meetings Wendy had to do, and she dragged me along for fun. From here in Big Stone Gap all the way up to DC and down to Knoxville with lots of ups and downs along I-81 just to make life interesting. Part of that involved choosing our next house!

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/550-Tazewell-St-Wytheville-VA-24382/108105878_zpid/

Earlier this year Wendy and I took our Scottish (and English) friends Barbara and Oliver on a three week road trip up to South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and all points in between and had a great time. But it did involve some serious planning!

I think what makes the difference is that you never feel very far from anywhere in Scotland – it’s a small country. Whereas the US is really enormous, so there’s more of a sense that you are setting off on a real journey here. You think about meal breaks and plan much more about where to stay along the way.

Maybe also another difference is that in Scotland I’m never very far from one friend or another. On the recent road trip here we were lucky to be able to stay with a new friend in DC. Amelia Townsend (originally from Big Stone) runs the Shoestring Theater Company and had asked me to provide some music for her upcoming new play. We took the pieces on a CD and zip-drive with us and she was gracious in providing us with accommodation for a couple of nights.

But the journey finished in a very American way – Thanksgiving with Wendy’s family in Knoxville.

Family meals in Appalachia usually tend to be somewhat Northern European – a bit like filling up at the gas station. But there are exceptions and Thanksgiving is one. So this is one of those occasions when I’m reminded of meals I’ve shared in Southern Europe – Italy, Spain or France, with a social gathering around a big table that’s as much about sharing stories as sharing food. I doubt I will ever forget Wendy’s mom’s story of how, as a young nurse (and lifelong abstainer) she got drunk on rum filled chocolates and had to be persuaded to lie down for a while!

If you knew her mother, you’d know how funny this story is. Look up “lady” and it’s her picture you see with the definition.

Still and all, with us moving in the New Year – one of the first stops on this madcap tour was to procure our new place in Wytheville—there is nothing quite like coming home to one’s own little bed again. Wendy and I are looking forward to the next adventure, while enjoying the last of the summer wine from this one. The bookstore has been grand to us, and we know it will be great for the next team.

Onward—adventure awaits!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

That Moment When….

Last night Deborah and I did our book talk at Arlington Central Library, DC. We’ve done these many times; her memoir Counting Down is a deep dive into a personal adoption story, while my book Fall or Fly is journalism storytelling about the system as it operates in rural Appalachia. cover

We’ve fielded many questions during our 20+ talks together, and at almost every venue–library, bookstore, adoption expo, whatever it was–foster parents have been part of the audience. In Asheville’s Malaprops, a newly licensed couple sat on the front row, hoping their phone would go off during our time together. (It did, but it was a sales call. You never saw so many disappointed audience members.) At Quail Books in NC, parents asked about how to help their 11-year-old daughter communicate in safety with her birth mom.

Last night, two foster parents who had already read Fall or Fly expressed appreciation for its straight talk about two subjects the prep classes and society in general tend to avoid: love and money. One woman talked about how, the first time she held her first foster son in the middle of the night as he cried, she had a “freak out” moment because, “I had no idea who this kid was. He didn’t smell like my birth children, he didn’t react the way my birth children did, he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, but here I am with him in his onesie and me in my robe, trying to tell him it’s okay and he can sleep safe. There’s nothing about those classes that can get you ready for this. Finally, I don’t feel like a failure. I know other people had this feeling too.”counting cover

Another foster mom was struggling with the fact that the adoption agency had presented her with a “perfect match,” but she and the teen girl were struggling to know one another. “No click, I guess, is the best way to put it. She was perfect on paper, everything I wanted. And like the woman in your book says, ‘You don’t get to choose your bio kids for the qualities you want most. They are yours, and your responsibility.’ So I don’t know, do I take it as a job now for a future of love, or will love never come?” She paused, then turned to me. “You have no idea how grateful I am that someone has talked about this in print.”

As a writer, there is nothing in the world so rewarding as hearing someone say that. That a person has found themselves in your words, identified and no longer alone, is the most energizing thing an author can hear. I’m glad you don’t feel so isolated any more, that the stories are out there, and that people are hearing them at last.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

strong-women-quotes-entity-3-800x720Jack and I arrived in Nameless Small City HANGRY. A breakfast bar each had sustained us through a fraught day of meeting deadlines progressing up the I-81 corridor.

Next door to the hotel sat a Ruby Tuesday. While we prefer more adventurous local eating, opportunity overcame adventure. We left bag and baggage in the car and went to eat before checking in. A nice relaxing meal would see us back to cheeriness.

Ever walk into a place and just SENSE that something was going wrong? We stood at the podium for a few minutes as red shirts (that’s what they wear, just so you know) went around, past, perhaps even over us. But never near us. We grew… annoyed. Meanwhile, the podium phone never stopped ringing.

Finally a little waitress with enormous glasses and a red ponytail came from the back and saw us. With a slightly guilty look, she picked up the phone, dropped it back into the cradle, asked if we’d been helped.

“No.”

With a sad little nod she turned to another waitress and said, “Get a manager so I can get this computer open.” Then she picked up the ringing phone, said “stop” into the mouthpiece, and dropped it again.

We must have looked startled, because she gave an apologetic smile. “It’s an Ex. He won’t quit calling one of our waitresses.” She led us through to the bar and seated us in a booth near an emergency exit, filling us in on the angry ex as we walked.

She’d broken up with him but let him stay because he had nowhere to go, and he’d just told her he got another girl pregnant. His landlady girlfriend walked away from the conversation, all the way to work–with the keys to her truck in her pocket and he wanted the keys, as well as to talk to her. She didn’t understand, he was a nice guy, what was wrong with her not understanding him? Etc.

We rolled our eyes and pointed to the emergency exit. “He comes in, you let us know, ’cause we’re going out this door.”

Red (as we came to think of her) smiled as she handed us our menus. “Nah. We called the cops. They’ll arrest him if he shows up.” She glanced out the window. “Her mom’s out there now, too. Even though she threw Pam out of their home and that’s why she and this guy hooked up in the first place. Guess Pam’s mom feels guilty now. Finally.”

Off she went to fetch our drinks. We were beginning to think we’d need them.

At the bar sat two hipsters, one in grey, one in neon green. Our first awareness of them was when Neon leaned across and belly surfed the bar, pointing out the next bottle he wanted. The bartender, about the same age as Red, rolled her eyes–and scratched her breast in a strategic location. Her shirt rode lower. Neon got off the bar and sat back down, entranced and compliant.

Hey, don’t judge. It worked for her.

Our food came, and with it more of the story. Ex was aggressive. Could we use the word abusive, I asked Red? She waggled her head. “Well, Pam has bruises sometimes. I told her she could come stay with me if her mom didn’t take her back in.”

Beside us the hipster brothers began yelling loudly at the game onscreen, something about who did and didn’t have balls. The patrons along the row of booths behind us began disappearing. Red noticed us noticing.

“They keep asking to get moved. Y’all are the only ones who haven’t complained about them.” Her eyes flicked behind her. I’ve never seen anyone point with a pony tail before, but Red could. I had the impression this kid could do a lot of things besides run Ruby Tuesday single-handed.

Despite her subterfuge, the boys seemed to sense they were now part of our conversation, because they began yelling for Red to come serve them something.

The scratching bartender appeared. This time, as she bared all in an effort to reach that pesky itch, there was no mistaking the offer being made. Even Neon Drunk got it. The pair headed for the parking lot.

Red smiled at us. “Dessert?”

Something in the way she stood, brave and vulnerable, made me reach out my hand and place it on her arm. “Are you okay? You seem awfully sensible. Do you know what to do if your friend needs help?”

Her answer: “I live out in the country, but I have a knife. If he shows up at my place, I’ll gut him.”

Yes, okay, but I’d been thinking more about women’s shelters and how to get baby formula, etc. Oh, that. No she didn’t know anything in the area.

I’m a member of an amazing group of non-profit directors working on everything from ending gerrymandering to safe housing. I got online and typed, “Long story short, our waitress needs a women’s shelter in Nameless Small City. I’ll google but what else do I need to know?” Five minutes later I had the name of the shelter and its director, plus a list of questions they would ask at intake.

These were passed to Red, who put the info into her phone. She was profuse in her thanks. We smiled at her in turn as through the door at the far end of the room Neon and the Scratcher returned, both having apparently satisfied their itch. Red did not look, but that child had eyes in the back of her head. She rolled them in dismissal.

“Thank you for being so nice,” she said. “Everybody else asked to leave.” She indicated the now empty section in which we sat.

I had to confess. “Just so you know, I’m a writer. And this is so going into a book or blog. No names, promise!” This I added as her eyes flew wide, then went to her name badge. “No one will know it was you, but thanks for helping your friend.”

“Thanks for helping me help her,” Red answered, and went into the kitchen. We never saw her again. The next night we visited Ruby Tuesday, but only Scratch was working. She laughed when she saw us.

“Figured we ran you off for good between those drunk boys and the boyfriend,” she said.

Nah, honey. Life is life. We all have ways of coping. Just don’t let yours land you in Red’s kitchen, looking for baby formula.

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

The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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