Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

Branching Out – –

Jack hits the ground running and meets the deadline – for once – –

Regular readers may recall that I’m no fan of gardening. This goes back to my earlier life in West Fife, where the earth tends towards solid clay. So solid, in fact that I once fashioned a frog from it, let it dry in the sun (it does shine occasionally in Scotland) and couldn’t break it with a hammer! The soil was near impossible to dig and the only things that grew were weeds –

In profusion – – –

The odd thing is that my childhood hero was my Grandad, who was an enthusiastic and successful gardener. He grew vegetables and fruit for our table and roses in the front yard. But I do recall he had to dig an awful lot of horse manure in to get the ground into condition.

When Wendy and I married and moved to East Fife I was astonished at how easy it was to dig our back yard and plant potatoes. But it didn’t turn me into a gardener – the non-gardener seed had been sown long before. I grew up thinking that trying to grow stuff was some kind of Calvinist punishment for past or future sins.

But there are some outdoor chores you simply can’t get away from and for me that has been trees and grass. When we moved to Big Stone Gap we found we’d inherited three heirloom apple trees, a pear tree and a peach tree. I managed to allow one apple tree and the peach tree to die and then tried to trim one of the other apple trees, nearly killing it as well. The grass became less of a problem when I purchased a used riding mower (that’s also when I really became an American!).

Our new dwelling here in Wytheville has a big backyard with four enormous walnut trees and more equally big but more nondescript ones. The walnuts aren’t near enough to pose a danger but some of the others definitely did. One was looming over our house and the garage and the trusty odd-job man we inherited with the house took care of that. But maybe it’s just because I have a rechargeable cordless chainsaw that I eyed the smaller one that was, nevertheless, encroaching on the power line feeding the house. Or maybe I just can’t see a tree without wanting to trim it!

tree

The last branch’s last stand!

tree2

Et voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, everywhere from New Gilston to Wytheville, Wendy and I have gotten quite good at growing tomatoes from seed, so maybe there’s still hope?

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Tae see Oorsels as Ithers see Us, Y’all!

Will wonders never cease? Jack posts on time – – –

My good friend Dirk is the expert technical guru who records my radio shows at his excellent home recording studio. But his real expertise is in making videos and although officially retired, he continues to do that for his previous employer as an external contractor.

In the process of working on the radio programs he became fascinated by the background information on the music that I provide and that got him sucked into an idea.

So a few months ago he announced that he wanted to make a video documentary about my life with a core focus on me as an immigrant who chose to become an American. Running alongside that will be my professional career(s) and my musical life.

Scotland_American_flag

He started the project by videoing a series of interviews with me and that was quite intimidating! Almost from the start I decided to treat this like one of these personality tests where you answer questions without thinking too hard. The questions were mostly short and open, and my answers were usually lengthy. However, because I didn’t have any pre-warning of what the questions would be, I did occasionally have to ponder a bit.

The next stage is for Dirk to video interviews with Wendy and some of my friends, both here in the US and in Scotland.

Luckily he was recently in Scotland visiting his son Trevor who is studying at St Andrews University in my home county of Fife, so he could interview folk there. Equally luckily our musical buddy Alan Reid was passing through this way recently and Dirk was able to ambush him too.

The next stage is continuing to interview folk including a central figure to the story – Wayne Bean who first got me to the US back in the 1980s and then to WETSfm where the story continues.

I think I’ve learned a lot about myself during all this and have a clearer understanding of what brought me here. Despite all the practical and principled explanations I usually give (all perfectly true) I think underneath it all I was just ready for a completely new life!

But is that really possible?

I have been organizing small group tours of Scotland annually for the last twelve years. The first couple of times I had a definite sense of ‘going home’. However around year three I suddenly realized that boarding the plane to come back at the end I really was ‘going home’.

I think I have finally arrived at the point where I feel equally Scottish and American – not an American Scot or a Scottish American, but a US Citizen who will always be Scottish.

I’m waiting to see the finished documentary with both anticipation and trepidation – – –

 

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

Elwyn (by James Ryan)

As reported earlier, the short story competition was a close run thing. James Ryan’s was the first entry to arrive –

“Ahhhhhhhhhh….free at last.” How many seasons have I been lying under that bush? I hope it’s been long enough so that damned cat is dead. I don’t mean to sound like an animal hater but, it’s hard not to hate someone who buries you under a bush after peeing in your face. Don’t laugh. It was not funny at all. I’m not sure how many seasons went by before the smell left. I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t do the other thing on me. If he had, I would probably still be stinking. Yuck!

I know you’re wondering what and who I am. My name is Elwyn and I am a Sylvan. Sylvans are associated with trees and bushes. We can be found in any woodland of any size. Our job is to keep the forest in good working order. It was my misfortune to be caught by the cat that day. Normally, I stayed high enough in the trees not to be in any danger. That day I was on the ground straightening an oak seedling that had been stepped on by a large bear the night before. It was a tiring job and when I finished, I leaned against a rock to rest from my labors. The sun was warm and the leaves were so comfortable that I fell asleep almost immediately.

The next thing I knew I was in the cat’s mouth and being carried towards the house in the distance. Talk about being scared. I was sure I was going to be eaten alive. He carried me to the bush in the yard where he played with me as if I were a ball. He batted me around and every time I tried to get away, he would let me get far enough to get my hopes up, then he would pounce on me again. He finally grew tired and went to sleep. Unfortunately for me, he went to sleep with his paw on my chest. I was just glad he had stopped throwing me around. After a while I started thinking about getting free.

The problem was that his foot was rather large and heavy. And every time I tried to move, his claws would extend and keep me where I was. I’m not quite sure how long he lay there sleeping, but it must have been several hours. I didn’t really mind because it gave me time to rest and begin to feel better about the whole thing. So far, I wasn’t dead or crippled up beyond recovery. So, I spent the time thinking of ways to escape. However, as hard as I tried, nothing came to mind.

The cat suddenly sat up, yawned, picked me up and carried me further under the bush where he dug a hole threw me in it and pissed in my face. Then he covered me up and there I stayed until the lady found me.  NOW PUT ME BACK INTO THE WOODS!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, writing

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

cookiesDear Ashley–

We meant well. I just want you to remember that….

You know how your college roommate Beth and I are the best of buds, and sometimes we rope you into schemes from the edge? Being a people doctor we get how busy you are, community dignity needs and such, so we try not to involve you in every hairbrained scheme. 5% seems about right.

I cracked my next percentile down in weight, the three-digit scale number ending in 0 finally ending in 9. SUCCESS! CELEBRATE! Yeah yeah, 11 more pounds to go but after losing the same three for six months, it felt GOOOOOOOOD.

And I knew you’d be happy for me because 1) you’re my doc and 2) anytime a patient in SWVA gets out of the pre-diabetes diagnosis, where the cheapest-available potatoes and biscuits like Grandma used to make are the worst thing we can eat, there will be popping of corks.

Which is what Beth and I did, of course, because she makes wine. She is, in fact, the reason my HDL cholesterol is superhuman high: reds got the goods on that fat stuff.  We have discussed this.

Now Beth and I know you can’t tell us about each other’s health, that hippo in the room, but we talk to each other about our hypochondria and what you said about it all the time. Like most of your patients, we respect your advanced learning, etc. etc. but take advice from each other, because, SWVA. Right? Yes, just nod. We know you know.

Beth had her own reasons to celebrate, you and she negating the stress connection to her physical prowess, so we figured what more American way to mark weight loss and harm reduction than cookies and alcohol? The only reason we didn’t call you is, we know you have small children and buggering off to get drunk with us would have raised questions in the home.

Instead, we figured on giving you some of the cookies. After all, you helped make us what we are today: thinner and pain-free. Plus, we could show off the wonder of chemical sugar replacements posing as plant extracts, and ricotta. The cheese made them the perfect pairing for a pinot.

To add extra burn (in the GOOD sense) we did aerobic dance while baking, aided by shouting at Alexa anytime a song crossed our minds that had a great beat and you could stir to it. There was a sipping game involving the resolution of jazz triad chords, I seem to recall….

Several dozen cookies later, the products of conceptual baking appeared flatter than we expected because we had confused three cups of red wine with four cups of almond flour, but hey when has reducing carbs ever hurt anyone?

And the cookies were really soft and they fell apart as we tried to spatula them off the pans but once we discovered how good they were rolled up and mashed into balls, that didn’t matter. Cookie count went from like five dozen to three, and we like to think they honored Beth’s profession cutting testicles off cats. Still, we resisted the urge to name the cookies after any medical procedure; we were thinking of you on this point, dear Ashley.

Except, next day, after Beth duly labeled a Tupperware container with her return address a la Southern Baptist women everywhere, and we shoveled some of the flat and balled cookies into it, I forgot to deliver it to your office. See, I had a slight headache, and there was this tinnitus ghost music in my ears…..

So Jack will bring the now-frozen cookies to you next week, dropping them by your office Monday, and we just wanted you to know, we had such fun and hope you did too, being the third party at our party. Let’s do it again sometime soon!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, crafting, home improvements, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

East, West, Hame’s Best!

550 tazewell

Jack gets his Wednesday guest post out on Wednesday for once – –

I’ve written earlier about how much I hate moving!

It’s partly just the hassle but also the fear of the unknown. We mainly moved for strategic reasons to do with Wendy’s job and didn’t really know much about Wytheville at all.

But I needn’t have worried. The first thing was that we were taken in hand by Jim and Pattie who were friends of the previous owner of the house. They have kept an eye on the house and our cats while we’ve been away nights and ‘lent’ us the wonderful Paul, who has already built us a turning bay in the driveway and trimmed the bushes that were cutting out the light.

The first day we were here we found that a used-book store had just opened (so we don’t need to), and the owners, Randy and Lisa turned out to be real nice folk too!

The upshot is that we ended up with a houseful of folk last Saturday for our housewarming party. Five from Big Stone, one from Blacksburg, two from NC, Jim and Pattie and their friends plus Randy and Lisa.

The house dealt with the incursion well and I felt like I was at home.

Of course, we’re still dealing with the complications of address and bank changes, but I feel we’ve arrived finally.

As an added bonus, the party proved that we’re not so far away that old friends can’t get here fairly easily.

Meanwhile Haley is running the bookstore back in Big Stone and has all sorts of innovative ideas for it. So we’re pleased that it will continue, and the changes she is introducing make it more hers and less ours, which is good for her, for us and for Big Stone Gap!

 

 

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

GUY HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

guy 3Guy has left the building. And he did it his way—by falling off the bed in his sleep, resulting in a dizzying wake-up lurching motion that sent his mama racing to the emergency clinic, Guy in her lap.

Turned out, Guy was telling his people something with that fall. He was gravely ill with a silent killer and entering the doggie equivalent of dementia.

Let me tell you, if love could protect a dog from harm, Guy would still be with us now. Because love saved him from active harm in the first place. He arrived at Joe and Elissa’s house a bundle of bones and needs, neglected to near-death by owners who had no business claiming ownership of anything with a heartbeat. His name, Guy, came from Joe calling him “a cheerful little guy for all he’s been through.”

That was our Guy: whatever you did, whatever was happening, however it turned out, it was all good, man. Here, rub mah belleh and you’ll feel better. Just, chill, dude. That was Guy’s philosophy of life.

While you were chilling, though, Guy could get his nose down your waistband faster than any dog—human or canine—I’d ever met. Little fuzzy Guy was something of a predator when it came to women’s clothing. He pushed in, and you just didn’t have the heart to push back, because what could one little Guy do? Until his nose was in your crotch, inside your trousers. Far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but Guy, you were pushing it big time, buddy. I think you left some lawsuits behind.

guy 2Guy crossed the Rainbow Bridge this morning. More correctly, Guy left the building, but whether he’s crossed the Bridge by now, well… you had to know our Guy. He could turn a two-minute walk into a twenty-minute discovery adventure. He never met a turtle he wouldn’t race. Never saw a puddle he didn’t want to splash in. Nor a pillow he didn’t want to test for softness, and then you could come back later…

So Guy is probably about halfway across the Bridge by now, meandering with a sniff here, a lifted leg there, perhaps a nap in one of the sunbeams before proceeding. He will pause several times to admire his reflection in the water. Guy had eyelashes that supermodels would kill for, this baby, fringing molten pools of liquid black gold. Little plump thing could melt you with his eyes.

And if there are humans on the Bridge, he will be leaning against their legs, giving them the limpid black eyes treatment, and, when they bend to say “What a sweet little guy,” he will be ramming his needle nose down their trousers. It was a practiced move and he will see no reason to stop now he’s in Doggie Heaven. Heck, that IS his Doggie Heaven.

When he finally reaches the far shore, Guy will be greeted by his foster brother Black Jack, who will try to entice him to use the trampoline, go to the steak luau, maybe even watch the movie (you wouldn’t have heard of it. They have their own canine producers across The Bridge). And Black Jack will, in the end, and with a sigh, show Guy to the soft plush pillows near the Heat Vents, and Guy will settle in, with a happy sigh, and dream of turtles.

guy

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized

A River runs through it – –

As we continue with our house move, Jack writes – –

Every now and then a strange and magical figure enters your life. Such was the case when River came down here from New York State to live with her brother Mark Cooperstein and his wife Elizabeth a couple of years ago.

river

River wasn’t her birth name, of course. She adopted the name River Lightwomoon many years ago, and if I tell you that she also lived in Woodstock then I think you probably begin to get the picture.

She was the archetypal hippy and also a wonderful musician, specializing in percussion, and any adjacent surface was a drum for her.

She told me the amazing story of how she was already beginning to play drums and went to a club where the world-famous Jack DeJohnette was appearing. At some point one of his drum sticks ended up at her foot and she returned it to him. She met him some time later and asked about lessons, but they were going to be far too expensive her. However he remembered her and the returned stick, they got chatting and he found out she was expert at tax forms. So, in return for handling his tax stuff she got her lessons!

I was intrigued by the complex rhythms she’d set up whenever she drummed and she explained that she had worked with a mainly female group that played South American influenced original music. A short bit of on-line research and there she was listed on a number of albums!

When our good friend and wonderful singer Barbara Dickson came here to perform, she was completely entranced by River and they shared many a musical moment. But more than that – Barbara also experienced what I had – a very rare and special connection!

RIP River – you will definitely be remembered.

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized