Roberta Shares Her Thoughts

19756347_1656566294354428_9082852733039553025_nHello. My name is Roberta and I am senior kitten in residence at the Little Bookstore of Big Stone. I am in charge of four other kittens waiting here with me for Love to find us. They are Wybie and Gaiman, who are brothers that came from the shelter; Mayflower, who was an orphan at three days old; and Tooth.

Nobody knows very much about Tooth. He was here when Foster Mom and Dad got home from their vacation, and none of the humans who work at the bookstore or cafe are admitting anything. Me, I think it best not to tell what I know, so I’m playing dumb.

Not that I am. Dumb, that is. I’ve been reading a lot of the Math books after dark here (they leave a flashlight by the ac unit) and doing the geometry on jingle ball trajectories. I may be smaller than the other kittens here, but I have the advantage of knowing exactly where to push the ball for maximum torque. It makes the rest mad, because they’ve all got like eight ounces on me, but brain over brawn. And I admit, victory is sweet. Silly boys.

I have also worked out how to get the largest share of wet breakfast each morning. Foster Mom divides one can among six of us, so I wait until she’s on about bowl three, and I leap across the counter onto her back. Even though I do this almost every morning, it never fails to startle her, and she drops an extra spoonful into dish three. Then I just eat that, because the boys have already got the first two, and Mayflower and Tooth don’t mind waiting.

See, you just have to apply a little logic, a little book learning, and there’s no problem can’t be solved. I’m looking for a book here about how to get adopted, but so far the closest I’ve found is one called “Finding Forever Love… and Keeping It.” It didn’t really seem to apply. I don’t “dress for success” because I have fur, and I can’t cook because Foster Mom hides the matches because of the staff cat Hadley. Something about her being a pyro. And the second half of the book, it was… well, humans and cats have different ideas about sex, is all. Let’s just leave it there.

But hopefully no one will be leaving me here, because as much as I’m enjoying the bookstore and my long nights of reading, I really want to get started on training my forever humans. I’ve read a lot of the books from Career Building, about how to get people to do what you want, and I feel fully ready. So, c’mon down and let’s get this show started, shall we? I’m waiting.

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

Gone but not Forgotten

It’s Jack’s Wednesday guest post on a Wednesday – wonders will never cease!

Most bookstores have a cat or a dog and we’re no exception. Actually, we have two dogs and three cats plus however many foster kitties are sojourning with us at any one time.

But this post isn’t about one of our owners. A couple of days ago our good friends Mark and Elizabeth lost their lovable wee dog Suzie. Suzie owned them, their house and every piece of their yard, including the dirt road that passes by it. She clearly regarded that section of road as part of her domain and that it had to be defended against anyone and anything that traveled along it. Our friends went to great lengths to stop her running out after cars, bikes and quads. Despite their efforts it was maybe inevitable that this is how she’d meet her end, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

suzie

Our dogs are escape artists of the seventh water and we have to be ever vigilant when they have access to our front door. There have been many times we’ve had to chase them all over our fairly busy downtown and there’s an irony in that. So far (fingers crossed) our two have survived busy intersections and even wandering down the middle of the street ahead of an enormous coal truck, yet poor Suzie got hit by a car on a mostly quiet country road.

Our bookstore greeter cat Owen had a very narrow escape about eighteen months ago. He now looks both ways before crossing the road and uses the cross-walk (he really does!)

At the best of times we only have them for a relatively short time, so if we are pet owned there will be many times that we will have to deal with situations like this. It’s never easy and there are many times I’ve had a spade in my hand with tears streaming down my face.

Our beloved 14 year old Zora, our black Lab, is showing definite signs of dementia and is losing strength in her back legs, so it could be that we will have the worst decision in the world ahead of us in a few months. Of course as long as she isn’t in pain we are happy to make her ever diminishing world as comfortable and easy as we can. She doesn’t know who we are but she thinks the staff at this home are very nice.

Why do we do it? Subject ourselves to this?

Well – that’s easy. It’s because they give us their unconditional love (well, the dogs do – the cats not so much).

Suzie gave and received much love – she will be long remembered – RIP Suzie. And God Bless Us, each and every pet-owned human out there.

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

The Monday Book: JESUS LAND by Julia Scheeres

Scheeres was the bio child of a white family that adopted two black boys, one older than her, one three months younger. So if Mommy Dearest met Hell House, their love child would be her memoir.

She chronicles growing up in an uber-Christian family where hymns were blasted into bedrooms to wake them up, but at night her older foster brother snuck into her room and made her have sex. That kind of thing.

The details in the book are not salacious, rather sparse and that makes them all the more impactful. When Julia and her little brother David (whom she adores) get sent to an Evangelical reform school, her depictions of what’s happening are heartbreakingly hysterical. I found myself laughing out loud, closing my mouth again on a sob. She’s ruthless and without self-pity in describing the place, but she’s also very good at passing up the easy joke to get to the core of the matter.

For instance, when she writes about the kids being given a week off school to lay the foundation for a baseball diamond, the result is pure comedic gold as well as a deep insight into human nature. It’s hot, shirts are sticking, water is pouring over t-shirts, boys are stripping down…. And the staff realize too late they’ve got a lust pit accompanied by Christian rock music.

Even though she’s merciless about what it was like to be in her home and that school, Scheeres isn’t dissing Christianity. She doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about “true Christianity is this,” she just writes out what happened and moves on. Readers can figure it out for themselves pretty easily. Her acknowledgements leave out her mom and dad (whose names are never used in the book, either) but in her book group questions at the end, she refers to her two older sisters as “powerful examples of laudable Christians.” She’s not out to get Christianity, or even her parents, and her story is even stronger because she just tells it without saying “You know this means my parents were hypocrites, right?”

No easy punchlines, and the reading vibrates between easy and intense, but the underlying humor and love between brother and sister come through. So do the racist and Christianity-over-kindness mixed-up overtones.

This book was written before the country divided into Trump as What’s Wrong with American Christianity Today versus God’s Chosen Man for the Hour. But it really makes the points one might be considering along those lines.

What does Christianity look like when it’s about saving souls no matter how bad it hurts, when it’s about preserving a way of life that allows Othering, when it ignores what doesn’t fit into its prescribed boxes as unable to be happening? Scheeres has written her memoir about these questions, by never overtly stating them.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

It’s Writing Retreat Weekend!!!

Once a year, thanks to the American NewMedia Foundation, two writers and I embark on a journey. The program asks the writers to set goals for the next year in terms of what project them want to work on, and what they want the outcome to be.writing-a-research-plan

And then we work. Hard.

We always start with a writing retreat, a kickoff to a year of wordsmithing and prioritizing and crafting. Not all the fellows have been women, but I think it is harder for women to make time for our own writing. It’s a “hobby” that produces less tangible objects than knitting or crocheting, and it’s something we can’t “prove” we have a “right” to be doing by the standards of return on investment.

Sod that for a game of soldiers. We write for fun, for mental health, because we have something to say, because it’s satisfying, or just because we friggin’ want to. Why women have to justify time spent in this way, I don’t know. But never mind. Tonight the words will start flowing, faster than the wine, and we three will dive deep, down into the waters of creativity.

It is like diving. What feels cool and clean one minute as you slice in with surgical precision can become deep and suffocating and murky the next, and that glorious feeling of control disappears into something approaching panic. It’s dark in the creative spaces. That can be good or bad.

What it never is, is boring. This year promises to be as challenging and invigorating as the previous ones have been, me learning from the fellows, the fellows learning from me. It’s kind of a full circle of growth return.

And so we start, late this afternoon, down the path toward the sea of words. Wish us luck!

 

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

Across the Great Divide – –

It appears to be Thursday – so time for Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

Among the things I love about bookstores are the quirky things that are often displayed on high shelves, or hanging from ceilings or just pinned to any spare wall spaces. We’re no exception – we have paintings and posters, tea towels and even a bag from a Chicago Borders branch the day they closed for good. Hanging from the ceiling of our ‘Mystery and detective room’ are model planes I’ve built over the years.

Mingled in are family photographs, including two of my Granpa, Peter Ferguson, and they are very frequently the subject of conversation with customers. Because he was a coalminer from the time he left school (aged fourteen) until his mid-twenties. This is a coalmining area and so is the place I come from – just one of the many connections and parallels between Scotland and Appalachia.

Granpa worked in a number of deep mines in my home county of Fife in the late 1800s and early 1900s, going down a deep shaft in a cage then walking, often for over a mile before crawling on hands and knees to the coalface. Eventually he had some kind of accident and decided he’d had enough. He got a job delivering lemonade to corner shops around the area and continued to do that until he retired. First of all he used a horse and cart, then an early truck with an open cab and solid tires before finally graduating to something more modern.

grandpa young

That’s Granpa kneeling on the left being trained for the mine rescue team in 1900.

When his wife died just before I was born at the beginning of WW2 he moved in with us, as my Dad had joined the RAF and had been posted to Egypt. So he was my father figure for the first years of my life and I remember him with great affection. He walked me to and from elementary school, supplied us with fresh vegetables and made great oatcakes and scones. He provided our first TV and first washing machine.

One of the reasons he got us a TV was because he was an avid reader of western novels and had discovered that the lone ranger was a serial on this new-fangled thing. Later he upgraded us when the Virginian came along! I remember clearly him sitting in his favorite chair either reading or singing to himself. He had two special very traditional songs he rotated – The Wee Cooper o Fife and The Muckin o Geordie’s Byre. I’ve often said that his voice was in my head when I started to sing these kind of songs many years later.

Sadly towards the end of his life he developed a cough and was diagnosed with ‘black lung’ – a legacy that finally caught up with him and he died in the bedroom that we shared.

What I remember isn’t the sick old man but the friendly guy who had a lot of time for this kid. And that special bond that sometimes develops between those who skip a generation. He was my first best friend.

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book Auction

Things are a bit busy around here these days. Jack and I are making room in the bookstore by holding a book auction online. We’re selling off some prolific authors, some mystery series, a few groups of “mindful living/hippie interest” foodie titles, and some odd lots ranging from a baker’s dozen to 100 fiction and non-fiction titles.

If you’re interested in being added to the auction, which started yesterday and closes this Sunday July 16, please go to LITTLE BOOKSTORE BOOK LOTS on Facebook and ask to be added. A description of how the auction works, plus how postage is handled if the books need to be mailed, is at the bottom of the page. Have fun!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!” — R Burns

I don’t write about politics. It’s a rule of mine – make some people mad and other people smug, for what purpose? BobDewardrawing

Jack and I just got back from his annual tour taking Americans to Scotland, my first return in a few years. When we lived there, I used my bi-annual trips to the States as yardsticks, measuring how things were progressing for me and for my country. Living in Scotland as an American back in the 2000s could be tricky. US-ers weren’t popular.

This year, taking nine guests across familiar territory, it was almost unfamiliar. Edinburgh’s High Street has become Myrtle Beach. The smaller towns and hidden gems we led the group through are still hidden and lovely, but the people in them went out of their way to speak to us, to ask where we were from, tell us of their relatives Stateside, wonder how we were enjoying the holiday. Warmth, not patronage. (Well, except in Edinburgh, but that’s expected in a tourism Mecca.)

The “puir wee souls, how ya gettin on there” attitude continued across the Southwest of Scotland, the edge of the Highlands, and even Ulster in N. Ireland. I said as much to Colin, the long-time family friend who is our driver, as we sat in the hotel bar one night.

He gave an eye-averted smile. “The Trump Effect, we calls it,” he said.

A lengthy conversation ensued I won’t bore you with, but the jist was that America had shifted in the minds of most Scots, from “country voted most likely to drag Britain into a war” to a thoughtful consideration that we had outed our true values with the result that your basic poor sod on the street was screwed.

Money. America was always a corporate raider in the minds of Scots, its embodiment less Lady Liberty than a sharp-eyed man in a tailored suit, legal brief in one pocket, gun in the other. A country that talked about Democracy and played shell games with cash.

Now we had voted, in the minds of others, for a guy we thought would make us rich again. But not two-chickens-in-every-pot rich, just get-us-out-of-this-grindinng-poverty rich. Honestly, I never put Scots down for having a lot of good insights into America, their views being largely shaped by Channel 5 TV. If you watch enough reruns of Dallas and The Wolf of Wall Street… but Scots were now explaining to me how sad it was that America’s middle class was shrinking, its wealth consolidating.

Brigitta, the hotel hostess, paused to listen to our conversation. Brigitta had become a hospitality diva in our eyes because of her sweet efficiency, non-stop motion, and natural kindness. A native of Poland who had married her Scottish chef husband twenty years before, she often spiked her English with metaphors to make her meanings clear.

“America, its roots are showing.”

We looked at her, inviting more. She set down the water pitchers in her never-still hands and gestured to the part in her hair.

“Women, you know, we hide the grey, we color, here. Sometimes you don’t have enough money, you don’t do it again, it grows, so. Then roots show you are not who you show you are.”

“America is such. Says one thing, is another. Wants money. But poor people, no blame, of course want money. NEED money. Desperate makes you hope rich man helps. Is mistake, thinking rich man get them money. No. Money from, not for. Why they think rich man wants help anyone get money?” She clicked her tongue, picked up her pitchers, and disappeared.

Colin, Jack, and I stared at one another.

Finally I said, “That is what I have been trying to get to grips with for some time now. It’s that Burns poem come to life, to see ourselves as others see us.”

Colin turned and gestured for the bartender. “Then you’re gonna need another drink, lassie,” he said.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch