Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

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Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Zora Left Us

zoraOur baby girl Zora has left us. Jack took her this afternoon to her last vet appointment, where we ended the dark confusion and debilitating pain advancing years had brought.

Zora didn’t know anyone these last few days; not her veterinarian Beth, not Our Good Chef Kelly, not always Jack and me. We gave her a bowl of milk and a chewy stick, two of her favorite things in the world, before assisting her into the car.

She came to us fourteen years ago when she ran out in front of my car on a busy street near a suburban neighborhood. I got out, looked around for where she might have come from, and then invited her to ride shotgun. We stopped at CVS and got a collar on the way home.

We know she got her mind and her legs back at the Crossing. I’d like to imagine she got the Teak Throne carried by four Maine Coons, but our Zora was a Quaker girl. She would never allow such fuss and pomp.

No, our Earth Mother dog, who snuggled so many foster kittens through the years, would be met halfway through her plodding amble to the other side by a great cloud of witnesses to her loving nature – those whom love couldn’t save, who have been waiting for a chance to show Auntie Zora around.

These would be the kittens Zora helped up the stairs in our bookstore, nudging them with her nose, even lifting them gently with her carefully covered teeth, dropping them on the landing or the lowest branch of the cat tree. The babies she kept warm, nuzzling them through the night.

Sometimes we asked her to nurse one, but more often they commandeered her bed. You knew when a kitten was with Zora for the night; a soft little growl that turned into a gurgle, followed by licking sounds. In the morning, Zora’s tiny puffball would be tucked between her paws, head cradled on her nose or cheek, both snoring softly.

So I know the little guys have been waiting this last week, watching for the time to meet her and return the hospitality. They will lead Zora to the swimming pond, show her the Milkbone Forest, probably try to talk her into playing with them on the Kitty Trampoline. She won’t go in for that. A dignified lady with all four paws on the ground, that’s our Zora.

But she probably will sneak in a round or two of jingle ball golf with les enfants, before trotting off to the nightly Steak Grill in the Dog Park. She always enjoyed being goalie for their soccer games.

Enjoy your retirement, baby girl Zora. You earned it with your sweetness and kind disposition. I wish the world still had you in it, but even if you had to leave us, it was worth it for knowing you, sweetheart.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Bumps in the Road

Jack’s guest post slips in the back door, hoping no-one notices he’s late –

I’ve been thinking about the things that lift us up or drag us down.

Wendy and I have both had a few downs recently – sicknesses, work pressures, unexpected slap-downs and news of the deaths of friends. It’s easy to let that stuff get to you – too easy.

But then something good happens and lifts you up again.

Someone you hardly know intervenes in an ugly confrontation to calm things down, a sickness departs and you feel great, and an old friend gets back in touch and reminds you of great memories.

So this is really all about that thing that makes us feel suddenly ‘up’! It is, in my experience, quite a sudden feeling but doesn’t actually have to be all that dramatic.

Is it just chemicals in the brain? Or is it the much wider network of subtle interactions between people who share a set of basic needs and common values?

Just last Saturday I had helped organize a live radio show to celebrate ten years of Celtic Clanjamphry (my weekly program on WETS.fm}. In the run up I was heavily in ‘down’ territory and had enormous worries that it just wouldn’t work. In the event, all twelve participants had worked their socks off to make sure it did. So, in the space of an hour I went from a serious down to an extreme up.

There are much more serious things in the world than an obscure Celtic music show in the depths of Appalachia, but I still think that everything that drags us down has to work slowly and hard, whereas the things that lift us up seem to be much more instant.

So – the ups have it!

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Ho Hum – –

Jack just managed to get in under the wire this week for his Wednesday guest post –

 

Some days are just ‘normal’ – here’s one – –

Start with a run to the grocery store for the makings of shepherd’s pie (supper with our good friends Beth and Brandon tonight – plus a guitar lesson with Brandon).

Medicate the dogs and feed the three garage cats.

Clean out the cat litter trays.

Another good friend Teri arrives and hangs out until the shop opens.

Order six new Celtic flags for our annual festival coming up in a month’s time.

Tidy the bookstore kitchen and mop the floor.

Get the festival banners out of the shed and paint out the ‘4’ in the date ready to be re-painted as ‘3’.

A couple arrive to collect their winnings in the bookstore auction of surplus stuff.

Two elderly and very frail ladies arrive with a bag of Christian romances to exchange for more of the same. But they also spend some money on more books – they are lovely and we chat at length.

A young woman arrives for more (bulky and heavy) auction items. She is carrying an infant and is on her own. The items are upstairs.

A regular and very interesting customer comes in and browses and spends money on lots of books.

Start making the afore-mentioned shepherd’s pie.

Two folk who’ve never been before arrive and I give them a quick tour – they buy some books and come back to get Wendy’s ‘Little Bookstore’ book after they go for money. (We do take cards, btw.)

Continue preparing the shepherd’s pie.

A lady from a not-so-very-close book-club that read ‘Little Bookstore’ phones to arrange a visit next week. Sadly, on a day when Wendy will be out of town, but they will be happy to see me!

Package a book we had sold on-line and Wendy gets it over to the post office.

Get a message asking if I can guest lecture to a class at UVA Wise on Scottish-Appalachian connections in a couple of weeks’ time.

We can’t find two small hand-carved statuettes that were sold in the auction. They were hiding in Science Fiction!

Finish the shepherd’s pie.

Another couple arrive to collect auction items – from upstairs. We carry down the desk, avoiding kittens.

Medicate kittens.

Friends arriving for dinner at 6:30 to eat the shepherd’s pie.

Guitar lesson with one of the friends.

Pick apples from our apple tree so Wendy can freeze them.

Drink heavily.

Sleep.

 

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

“Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light – – -“

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

The great Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson  was a product of the European ‘Enlightenment’ led by thinkers and scientists based in Edinburgh. The word ‘enlightenment’, of course, plays to my Quaker beliefs as it suggests shining light into the darkness. That movement was very much about lining up rational thought and empirical evidence against superstition and ignorance.

Stevenson expressed his understanding of the battle between these forces wonderfully in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, where darkness and light are taken to extremes within the same body.

Like many others of the Quaker persuasion, I have a very questioning  faith that probably comes down at bottom to this: we each have the capability for extreme evil and extreme good within us. There’s a continual battle going on between our Jekyll and Hyde and we aren’t in complete control of that battle. Paul said something like that in the Bible in Romans: ‘we hate what we do and know what we should do, but still do the wrong things’.

What I’m getting to, loyal readers is, Charlottesville and everything surrounding it. Like you didn’t see that coming?

Most of us believe that we want to strive toward good, but sometimes  when the stars align (so much for the enlightenment)  our bad side gets a severe nudge. That’s usually powered by feelings of insecurity (think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

There are large segments of the population in the US (and England) that feel very insecure right now because they see their standard of living threatened and need to blame someone for that. They also feel they need to retreat back to a more comfortable set of circumstances. Hence – ‘Make America great again’ and Brexit (Make England great again).

The enemy, therefore (and as usual) becomes anyone not like we who have the power. The difference can be nationality, color, religion, denomination – anything convenient.

So back to my beliefs and faith – My faith is that light will ultimately prevail, as it’s a living thing and is at the beginning of everything. But the darkness is also powerful and we are the ones who feed it.

Finally – Quakers believe in non-violence and the peaceful challenging of violent behavior. I have absolutely no doubt there were many Quakers in Charlottesville and I’ve no doubt which side they were on – the side of the Light. It may become increasingly confusing to decide who gets to say what is light and what darkness. But it can never be said that genuine seekers of God’s guidance don’t find it. I am holding you, and all of us, in the Light.

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The Monday Book-turned-Movie: CLOUD ATLAS

Cloud-Atlas-Actors-Different-Characters

I know, I know, you’re very disappointed in me. But I’m on a crochet deadline, and was  looking for Netflix background–less Netflix and chill than Netflix and hook, but there you go.

So I watched Cloud Atlas because the book by David Mitchell had intrigued me but we sold it before I could rad it. And three hours of movie lets one get a powerful lot of yarn moved into correct position.

The thing about this movie is it was able to add something the book wasn’t: jokes about who was playing what part.

For those unfamiliar, Cloud Atlas is pretty much based on the idea that no matter what century it is, people are behaving pretty much the same. There are good guys, bad guys, hustlers and altruists, and it all moves around in a big circle.

The funniest part is, the hunk hero from 2143 or so is the matron of an evil nursing home from 2012. That part cracked me up. Although the fact that “soylent green is people” was a funny line in 2012 and a real thing about food in 2143 was a bit sobering.

Cloud Atlas runs from the 1800s, when on ships running from Jamaica a bad guy is trying to poison a nice guy who saves another nice guy from getting beaten to death, through the 1970s when corruption in the oil industry is getting nice people killed, past 2012 when it’s the publishing industry and nursing homes that get the scrutiny, into ethical futurist questions in 2100 and 2300 (after the fall a few winters, if that tells you anything) when Earth is back to barbarism. If you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a good film. If you start to ask questions about how people know certain things or can gain access to certain places, forget it. This is a shallow, bright ride.

But it is a ride with some breadth, as the 2100s are shoot-em-up thriller, the 1970s are detective novel, 2012 centers around money, and 2300s is eat or be eaten with a few surprises thrown in. It was as bright and breezy as the afghan I was crocheting while watching, and less knotty if one didn’t ask too many questions.

For escapism or background noise, Cloud Atlas works well. For serious thought fodder, one doesn’t need two hours and 51 minutes of star-studded cast to know that everyone is pretty much after something, for good or ill, and that we recycle stock characters in the parade of our life. History repeats itself because we don’t learn the lesson the first time. Just ask Charlottesville.

 

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Erin Go Bragh – – –

When you get an email from an old friend saying they’re in New Orleans it wouldn’t normally be an occasion for puzzlement or surprise. But this was our good friend Erin, who is usually pretty much stuck here in town because of her medical condition. Erin has Marfan Syndrome and is also legally blind.

We first met Erin through her enthusiasm for amateur drama and our bookstore. She went on to be a stalwart of our weekly needlework night and eventually a great support to Chef Kelley’s ‘Second Story Cafe’. Many a time she slaved late into the night making desserts for the next day and then came in to help take orders, serve and clean up afterwards. She also makes hundreds of mini Cornish pasties for our annual Celtic festival!

Just a few years ago Erin, who trained as a classroom assistant, took on the local Presbyterian Church Sunday school and the kids love her. I love the idea that she is an example to them that not everyone is the same and that no matter the obstacles it’s possible to succeed in life.

However her greatest gift is with infant kittens. She has her own pets, of course, but she is also an expert with very young orphans. Because of her condition she doesn’t sleep well, so she can feed them at the required four hourly intervals. She carries the babies around close to her so they feel secure and even bought a special buggy to wheel them in when she’s out and about–frequently found parked outside our bookstore.

It’s not uncommon in a small rural town anywhere for folk who are seen as ‘different’ to be stigmatized, but Erin is the equal of anyone who looks at her the wrong way. She has kept us entertained many a time telling about the confrontations she has had on the highways and byways of Big Stone Gap.

nollins

A Spitfire and DC3 in D Day markings

The email she sent me this morning was from the WW2 museum in New Orleans and she included pictures of a number of historic aircraft of the period. She had remembered that I’m pretty crazy about classic airplanes. I replied asking her how on earth she had got there, and she explained that she had attended a Marfan conference in Atlanta and then got a Greyhound bus to ‘nollins’ because it wasn’t much further. She had an old friend there who was driving her around and would be back when she and the city were tired of each other- – –

Erin Go Bragh!

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