A Cat Tail of Two Lives – –

Oh dear it’s Thursday and Jack’s guest post is late again – –

The inimitable Owen Meanie, our bookstore greeter cat is rather unwell and in the animal hospital being cosseted by St Beth and her excellent staff.

While we wait for the results of his bloodwork the first indications are that he may have Feline Leukemia despite having been vaccinated against it as a kitten and receiving regular boosters. The good news is that after not eating for a few days and losing a pound in weight, he is now wolfing down everything offered to him and is much more engaged with his surroundings.

owen

And he’s home again and wondering what happened!

Of course he has been moonlighting as greeter cat at the next door tax office and they have been calling regularly for progress reports.

We discovered his two-timing by accident when I popped in to thank the tax office staff for a favor they had done for us. Lo and behold – they had a bed set up for him in their window and food and water bowls! He knows when his favorite arrives and what car she drives, waiting on the sidewalk and escorting her into his second place of work.

He used to range far and wide around downtown and I always worried about him crossing streets until I watched him a few times and was most impressed with his road-sense. However, now that his days are shared between us and next door he seems to have reduced his territory and is happy to simply observe the further reaches – either from his favorite chair on the bookstore porch or from the tax office window.

How he came by his name is another story involving Wendy’s NY editor, a book by a Mr Irving and a negotiated compromise.

 

 

 

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The Bookstore is Quiet

The bookstore has just passed out of the Eye of Calm between school letting out and the Return of the Natives. Big Stone reserves its biggest tourism influx for Fall, when the mountains explode with color. Right now, we have The Grandchildren. Families who moved away in search of work return (or send the kids) to their roots. It is a time-honored cycle: come back to see Mom and Dad, leave the kids a week or five and go get some work done or have a vacation.

You can see the Grandparents parading their newly acquired temporary children proudly through the grocery store, dressed in clothing that would put Toddlers and Tiaras to shame, little girls who will not hurt themselves if they fall because the skirts will cushion them. Boys dressed as exact copies of grandpa, work boots, denim overalls, and cap.

It is adorable.

The bookstore’s part in all this is to clean the children’s room every day after the cyclone is over. We sell more kids’ books mid-May to mid-July than we do the rest of the year combined. Because the bookstore is where Grampa and Gramma go when they’ve Had It.

Exhausted elderly couples arrive on our porch, the children clambering up the stairs, over the railings, around our reading animal statues. Grandparents haul themselves up the railing of the side ramp, waving the kids: go on, go on, we’ll catch up.

If they can reach the handle, the children work in teams to haul open our heavy screen door – it takes two kindergartners to move – and break for the nearest kittens. The smarter kittens scatter.

Grandpa will plunk himself on our front porch and light up a pipe or cigarette. He sits, looking off into the distance at the cool green and blue layers of the mountains, as Grandma either heaves herself into the bookstore with a sigh, or plunks down next to him and says, “Gimme one.”

We think this means cigarette…..

The children destroy the place, hunting hiding kittens. Occasionally they actually hunt books themselves, but usually this waits until Gran has her soul restored and hears the thudding books and shrieking children. We usually have the front porch window open. I have found that, should other sounds fail, recalcitrant summer guardians can be motivated by saying “Yes, dear, you can have that kitten” quite loudly just behind Grandmother’s head.

It’s summer: the kinder garden blooms. We love it. We clean up after they leave. We wink at the grandparents. We sell a lot of children’s books to straining budget people who are relieved to find they’re getting five books for $3.15.

mother-child-reading-1941526And we love the two most repeated requests the grandparents make: “Could you sell me the biggest chapter book you have? He likes to read and I need him quiet this afternoon for my nap.” Or “She can’t read so have you got one with enough pictures to keep her occupied for five minutes?”

There’s nothing quite like the rhythms of a bookstore.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

My Life of Spice

Aargh – It’s Thursday already – – – Jack’s Wednesday guest post

When I left school at the age of sixteen I commenced a five year apprenticeship as a painter, decorator and sign-writer and then continued to ply my trade until in my late thirties I started teaching these skills in the local community college. Nowadays most of the materials used back then have been phased out or outright banned for health and safety reasons but I worked with lots of highly volatile and toxic stuff. Over time I gradually lost my sense of smell and now have none at all, although strangely I occasionally have smell ‘memories’ that are triggered by particular sights or sounds, or family stories.

All this is to lead in to the reason why I love to both cook and eat spicy food – particularly Indian curries. Back in the 1970s I had enjoyed visiting Chinese restaurants which could be found all over Scotland, discovered curry on their menus and was instantly ‘hooked’! Not long after that Indian restaurants began to appear and are now more numerous than the Chinese ones.

Curry

It was an obvious step from enjoying the professional offerings to attempting to make them myself, as did many of my friends. But I was always looking for the elusive and special taste of the restaurants, and it took a long time and the advent of the internet and my Google friend before I finally found their secret. It was all about preparing a basic sauce in bulk, then freezing it in handy sized bags, to be used later along with fresh veggies and meats and additional spices.

http://www.greatcurryrecipes.net/2011/06/24/how-to-make-restaurant-style-curry-sauce-for-use-in-many-different-curry-recipes/

Finally (or almost) Wendy and I attended week long courses at John C Campbell Folk School in S. Carolina some years ago. Wendy went for chair caning and I discovered a wonderful Indian woman called Ruby. She taught me and a zany group of folk all the finer points of making, not just curries, but samosas, pakoras, soups and desserts including balancing sugar and lemon juice and lots of other great tips. We cannot recommend enough checking out that wonderful Folk School and their offerings throughout the year!

Finally (really) – more recently Wendy and I found ourselves with time to spare in Cincinnati and discovered the wonderful Findlay Market, a year-round covered smorgasbord of international foods. It had a spice counter and we saw a spice mix called ‘Apocalypse’ that included ghost pepper along with all the usual curry spice blend.

So my procedure now is to heat some olive oil and butter in the electric griddle – fry a teaspoon of Apocalypse, a teaspoon of ground ginger and a teaspoon of minced garlic. Add coarsely chopped onion and fry until just browned. Then the defrosted bulk sauce and finally any additional veggies or meats. The last thing is to stir in a dessert spoon of Garam Masala as everything is simmering.

I believe I feel a smell memory coming on – – –

 

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The Monday Book: RISE- how a house built a family by Cara Brookins

houseI heard about this house on Facebook long before the book came floating through our shop. Tiny houses and self-built places fascinate me, so I pulled it to read. It’s a quick read, not heavy on building details.

Cara was married to a succession of abusive men after being born into poverty and pretty much having a miserable time in school. She got herself into college and a good job, and began writing teen books, and things were looking up – except for the guys. It didn’t go well and she wound up married to someone who was certifiably insane in a kind of “could kill somebody” way.

So part of the book is about the safety needs of her four children, three of them old enough to participate in building a house, one of them a toddler. Part of the book is about her becoming a competent and confident enough woman to stride into a bank and come out with a builder’s loan–and then do the building. Part of it is about watching her children rise to the challenge.

I’m not sure this book would please everyone. I got bored with the parts about guided meditation and the places where she glossed over things — her childhood being so poor, she ate one meal a day, why her mom and dad are divorced, whether the abuse she accepted in marriage started at home, for instance. There are stories here she’s not telling.

For all that, I loved reading about how she kept the kids entertained and safe and fed while they were toting and lifting and literally bleeding their life’s blood into making a house. Two nails up for RISE

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

A Notable Occasion!

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post appears on Wednesday again – amazing!
Wendy and I have been so busy with other stuff the last couple of years that we haven’t been running as many events in the bookstore as we used to. But we still do from time to time and usually at the instigation of someone else who just thinks it’s a cool place to stage something.
Which is how we ended up with an amazing and wonderful house-concert on Sunday evening.
But this story really starts about seven years ago when I was contacted by a woman in North Carolina, who’s daughter had just won the junior section of the US Scottish fiddling championships. She asked if I’d like to interview her on my weekly Celtic music radio show – so I did. The daughter, Maura Shawn Scanlin, was fifteen years old and quite shy, until she started playing!
A couple of years later her mother again contacted me as Maura Shawn had now won the senior championship. So, once again she was in the studios of WETS in Johnson City and was now a much more confident young woman. The next thing, she was invited to compete in the Glenfiddich World Championships in Scotland – which she won! Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/YL0GCNsuEJE
Finally, a couple of months ago Maura Shawn, who now lives and studies music in Boston, herself emailed me to say she’d be in the area and would we be able to host a concert in the bookstore. The only problem was that it would have to be on a Sunday, which isn’t a normal day for us to run events. But we decided to take a chance and I also decided to record the concert for a future radio show.
I now record my shows at the home studio of a very expert friend who lives close by, so Dirk was up for giving it a go. Except he was short of some essential mics and stands, which is where another couple of friends, Mark and Alan, stepped in.
Maura Shawn, like most professional musicians can only survive financially by playing in various bands and line-ups and for this she would be half of a duo with a guitarist called Connor Hearn, who I’d never heard or heard of. I was a little nervous but shouldn’t have been! I was also very nervous whether we’d get an audience at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon!!
Maura Connor
I set out fifteen chairs, then added a couple more – and more, as they all started arriving until we were completely full.
The concert was wonderful, with a tremendous rapport between Maura Shawn and Connor, who’s guitar playing was magnificent. Everyone who attended was completely enthralled (including our dog Bert who was surprisingly well behaved). The next day Dirk sent me a recording of one of the music sets and it was also magnificent!
So maybe we should get back to doing more of this sort of thing! It felt very soul-restoring.

 

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Strollin’ down the Highway – –

It’s funny the dreams we have. One of my more colorful ones concerns hitch-hiking.

Back when I was a carefree and somewhat trusting teenager hitch-hiking was much more common than it is now and I did a lot of it.

My older sister was living in Yorkshire in the 1960s and I frequently thumbed a ride down there for a visit. Truck drivers were very accommodating and wanted company so I rarely had any problem getting rides.

There was the time I hitched to Lanark racecourse in the west of Scotland for a model plane competition, though. A truck stopped to pick me up and could take me all the way to my destination. I climbed aboard and slammed the door shut – on my thumb! There’s a good Scots word – beelin’ – (throbbing) which is what my thumb did all day long. I remember going to the family doctor a few days later when he drilled a hole in my thumbnail to relieve the pressure!

But the most memorable journey was all the way from my hometown of Dunfermline to the exotica of Paris. Yes – Paris, France. I traveled with a friend and my guitar, because we were determined to busk on the Champs Elysees. A very illustrious Scottish folksinger called Alex Campbell gave me a slip of paper with a name and phone number (which I found many years later to be completely false) that sealed the deal. He had blazed a trail all around Europe before anyone else did and was my hero!

My friend and I got down to the midlands of England fairly easily but then got stuck. As it was getting dark we pitched our wee tent beside a hedge in a field and settled down for the night. We were wakened early next morning by sounds of machinery and found we were in the middle of roadworks. We packed up, started thumbing and were picked up by a very elderly truck. It had no air-conditioning, the sun was bright and the engine was under our feet. Every time I dozed off the driver elbowed me in the ribs and demanded I talk to keep him awake, but somehow we got to Dover and the ferry to France.

When we arrived in Calais we got a ride from an English salesman heading to Paris in his ‘Deux Chevaux’ Citreon which almost rolled over on every corner. He finally got to the infamous roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe and we went round it in ever decreasing circles until he found a way out and dropped us off. From there we headed to the Boise de Boulogne and pitched our trusty tent again.

deux chevaux

Un Deux Chevaux avec deux chevaux! Quatre chevaux?

Next morning we walked to the Champs Elysees with my guitar and prepared to live our dream. Before I could hit the first chord a hand descended on my shoulder. “You can’t start here” our assailant said, “you start in the suburbs and work your way in to here”. So I never ever busked in Paris, although we did eat well and I learned a lot!

I have a friend who has lived all his life in a mining village in Fife and who restores motorbikes as well as writing hilarious poetry. One of his most famous poems is entitled ‘What’s a Laddie frae Kelty daein in a place like St Tropez?’, which is all about his memorable journey by motorbike to his particular dream.

Ah – dreams. Which takes me to the Everly Brothers, but that’s another story – – –

 

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An Intense Week for All the Wrong Reasons

I'm fed upHi Y’all – It’s been an intense week. Many things have made me busy and most of them have been driven around opioids and healthcare needs in SW VA. I don’t want to talk about most of them.

For those of you unaware, April 8 JD Vance (HILLBILLY ELEGY) and I went head-to-head in a discussion of “Are We Losing a Generation?” about opioids and KinCare. The fallout from this panel has been about whether the venue that invited us (Appalachian Studies Association) should have invited him. None of it has been about the topic of the debate. Moral: when asked to participate in a debate with a famous figure, be sure of the trap that’s being set before you enter it, and decide if the platform to get a message out is worth the lunacy of the fallout. I’m not sure it was. I’m knee-deep in people who want to talk about Elegy, not opioids. Screw that.

So here, in heart-breaking simplicity, is the reality of what drugs do to sweet, kind, smart people who are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. The message that was meant to be part of that debate. Please be warned, if you are tender-hearted, don’t watch this five-minute cartoon in a public place.

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUngLgGRJpo

And perhaps next week will be better. Or at least more honest.

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Filed under Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA