Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

A Poem for Bert

Our friend James watches the bookshop fairly often when we run about for this or that. James is a gifted poet and he sent us this in honor of our fuzzy guy. (His loss is why there have been no blogs this week. It’s just hard right now.)

So here, from James Ryan, is the poem

BERT

Bert the bookstore Terrier was really quite a guy

He did his job with great aplomb although he’d lost an eye

He inspected all the corners of the bookstore every day

Then he’d take the time to watch the kittens at their play

He greeted each customer as they came through the door

Unless, of course, he was asleep then you’d hear him snore

Watching the bookstore was a fun but never-ending task

The loving he received for this was all that he could ask

He knew his job and did it well whenever there was need

When there wasn’t he would sit and watch the kittens feed

To them he was their Uncle Bert a kind and gentle soul

Who watched them play and laughed when they’d trip and roll

He loved them all and treated them as if they were his own

And celebrated every time one got a furrever home

Now he’s crossed the rainbow bridge with a leap and run

Where his friend Zora is waiting to play and have some fun

He’s in a happy place now where he’ll never take a hurt

So, we celebrate the life of the Bookstore Terrier called BERTBert fostering

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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

The Hardest Thing!

Jack’s blog post is on time for a change

I’ve had many dogs over the years, but Bert is the only dog that chose clearly and exclusively me as his human.

bert

He chose me by licking my hand. We’d lost a dog and put up signs offering a reward for his return, and someone called. “I think I have your dog.” It wasn’t him, but Bert looked a lot like our missing Rabbie. The guy who’d found him, a dog lover, sensed he was onto a good thing here. He gave me a $10 and said, “Would you mind taking him to the pound? Here’s the entrance fee. I can’t keep him; I have seven dogs.” Bert looked at me from his one good eye, and licked my hand.

That was it. He came home with me.

The vet said he had only one eye because he’d met “Something meaner than he was” at a young age,  and we discovered he also had serious heart-worm infestation, which required much rest after the debilitating treatment.

But he wasn’t having any of that rest nonsense because he had his best buddy Zora, our other rescue, to chase around with in the back yard. Saint Beth’s (our vet’s) staff even said “Good luck” as they told us to try and have him rest.

Zora taught him all her favorite tricks and feints as they raced around but they had another shared habit. They loved escaping out the front door when someone inadvertently left it open just too long. They’d be off and out and up the street!

Usually Bert was recaptured first, but on one famous occasion he couldn’t be seen. Eventually Wendy found him wandering nonchalantly down the middle of the main street with an enormous coal truck right behind matching his pace. The driver must have been a dog lover to do that five miles per hour thing.

His exploits were legendary and he made many, many good friends among our regulars in the bookstore. Long suffering with kids and always willing to guide folk to the best books.

Just over a year ago Zora headed over the rainbow bridge and Bert never really got over that. We think he was always waiting for her to come back and he went from an outdoor dog to an indoor one. As he developed his own health issues he found another friend. Tooth is a kitten that was dumped over our yard fence while we were in Scotland two years ago and when she saw Bert she immediately assumed the role of nurse and companion. She led him around, pointed him to his food as his eyesight failed and made sure he knew where he should be in the back yard, then leading him back.

It’s so hard to know the point between keeping them for you and letting them go as the kindest thing for them.

But we picture Bert, gazing into the mists at the bridge, and saying, “Zora, ZORA, is that really you?”

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

This is your Brain on Blue Cheese

blue cheeseI’m not gonna say I’m stressed. No, I choose this life of writing and cat rescue and advocacy for Appalachia. When the writing leads to a whirlwind schedule of book promotion, this is definitely a first world problem. No complaints. When the cat rescue is super-busy with special opportunities to make a difference, that’s what we’re there for. When Appalachia takes center stage in a national debate, step up to the plate and swing hard.

If all three are happening at the same time, ride the wave, answer the e-mails, smile pretty when you feel like strangling someone, and get a little sleep and some fresh green veggies in there someplace.

That leads me to my current problem…..

Because it’s been a busy time, I have been eating lunch while driving or at my desk. This is not a bad thing, but my office at the hospital (whence most of the advocacy stuff is plotted) is so small I have to step outside to change my mind. No room for fridge or microwave, which means I mostly grab things in Tupperware and eat them cold, or bring things in bags from Trader Joe’s and munch them piece by piece.

One of my favorite comfort foods is those little round Tamarind crackers and a nice blue cheese. One morning about two weeks ago, knowing the day would be long and diverse, I grabbed the leftovers of a bag of crackers and a wedge of cheese and threw them in my office desk drawer. About 2 p.m. I hauled out these delectables, ravenous, and devoured half of each. I put the rest of the crackers back in the drawer and the cheese into my bag.

That’s the last I’ve seen of that blue cheese.

Believe me, I’ve looked for it. I figured at some point it would be more easily found through smell. But the stuff has disappeared. Is it in my bookstore where a customer has run screaming after discovering the elusive bag fallen behind a shelf? Is it in the basement flat I am rumored to share with my husband, that I haven’t seen for 8 days because of the traveling? Is it in my car, which has become a large purse that I drive? Is it somewhere in my hospital office, crushed under stacks of files yet to be filed, waiting its chance?

The cheese is gone. I mourn its loss because it was the good stuff. But more, I mourn the symbolism of losing it. Because I never really wanted blue cheese to become the metaphor for my brain. Swiss cheese, maybe, but not the blue stuff. The jokes are too cheap and easy.

So there it is. If you see my lost mind anywhere, please round it up and keep it safe until you can gently shepherd it back to me. It’s far too small and defenseless to be left out there on its own. As for the cheese, if you find it, please keep it. No, really. Please.

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

The Times they are a Changin’

It’s Thursday so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday post –

Well – it’s finally really real.

The bookstore is up and listed for sale and the for-sale sign is prominent out front.

It’s kind of strange to have reached this point after much to-ing and fro-ing, debating and soul-searching. Many people have asked us where we are going and are we taking the bookstore somewhere else? Right now we have no idea where we’ll end up but we both feel that it’s time for another chapter in our shared story and an as yet undefined further adventure. We would much prefer to sell to someone who will continue to run it as the ‘the little bookstore that could’, but if it has to go back to a big old house then so be it.

bennett

Part of the decision was about getting back to a simpler and less complicated life in a more manageable sized house. Of course it’s also just that sometimes a voice in your head says “it’s time’.

In the twenty years Wendy and I have been married we have lived in Fife, Scotland, Padiham, England, White Springs, Florida and here in Big Stone Gap. The longest we’ve been anywhere is here in Virginia.

I should admit right away that I absolutely hate moving house. The physical effort, the decisions about what to keep, the legalities around house sale and purchase and all the change of address stuff involved.

However, despite all that, we remain the same people and we don’t abandon friends. Social media can be a real pain but it is an excellent way to stay in touch with folk regardless of where we might physically be.

Some people have asked what will happen to my radio show and I’ve assured them that, through the wonders of the internet there’s no reason it shouldn’t keep on going as long as WETS wants it.

My tours of Scotland will also continue for two more years, although the 2019 one is fully subscribed at the moment.

A final thought – our time running the bookstore has been delightful and we’ve made many good and loyal friends along the way. Whoever takes it over will be part of a supportive community and a town that is now waking up to its true potential. The town council is bringing forward lots of good ideas to take advantage of the wonderful architecture, history and surrounding beautiful mountain countryside. Big Stone Gap is known for its local authors and famous books and the local outdoor drama based on ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine’ has gotten a new lease of life. All of this will continue to pull people in and the bookstore has great potential to take advantage of that and go on to build on its reputation as one of the ‘places not to miss’ for the increasing number of visitors.

 

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

BIRDIE SPEAKS HER MIND

birdie 2

I wasn’t feeling so great, had a kitty cold or something, so I went to get a drink from the puddle. It’s by the road and I’m drinking and WOOSH everything goes dark. I come to and this lady’s got me in her lap and she’s stroking me and crying, “It’s gonna be okay, sweetie, gonna be okay.”

The stroking was nice but the moving, I’d never been INSIDE a car before. The other cats always said to avoid them. But these nice people, they took me to this place full of white light and barking dogs and I thought, Nonono, but it was true. This was that VET CLINIC I’d heard about.

They’re poking and prodding and I’m still not feeling so great, but nothing hurts, the car went over me and I passed out. Gave me a fright. Don’t tell anyone.

And while that vet’s looking, I give a mighty sneeze an’ damn if she don’t start talking about Youth Nation Services. I don’t know what this is but the people what brung me, they start crying harder. And I’m racking my brains for what the other cats back there in the woods said about Youth Nation, and it hits me….

Oh Hell No, honey, not this little black cat. I start meowing and going crazy and one of ‘em from the clinic speaks Cat. Kendra’s her name, and I’m pleading with her and she says, let her take care of me for the weekend and come Monday they can “reassess.”birdie 1

Reassess my ass, kiddos. I’m getting outta here, but Kendra, she puts me in a cage and it’s got a soft bed and all I want to eat, and a private toilet, and, well, I get some shuteye and she’s standing there with some nasty stuff I gotta swallow. Bitter, ick, but she’s nice about it and you know after a day I’m feeling a little better. Kendra learns quickly how I like my food served and where to fluff my pillow so it’s working out.

Come Monday I’m showing ‘em every trick I got, the cute belly roll, the pathetic meow, the “PLEASE DON’T EUTH ME” big green eyes, and it works! The little one says to my new best friend Kendra, “Call Wendy.”

Great.  I gotta break in another human? But this chick comes and then I’m in a moving cage, and another car ride, but there’s no mention of Youth Nation, so I figure I got this.

BOY HOWDY do I! You shoulda seen the place we went to: ceilings to the sky, everywhere I looked a cat toy, and there were THREE places to eat and TWO toilets!

So I’m thinking I landed on all four paws when around the corner comes this tiny kitten. Really cute. Cuter than me. We can’t have that, so I go to take care of it, and this Wendy woman acts like I’m an ax murderer. What, this place doesn’t operate on the law of the jungle? Is there a sign anywhere that says, “Please do not take out the competition?” There is not.

But she explains it properly so I leave the little brat alone, and here come two more kittens! One’s got stitches in her neck and she’s real pretty, so I call her Frankenkitty. It’s hard on us black cats. The other one’s black like me, but turns out he’s the baby’s brother, so he’s kinda cautious about my motivations. He explains we’re all here to get dropped; we get a family that looks after us forever and a place to live like this one, and staff to do our bidding.

I cuff him once in thanks and we play a little. He’s a nice kid but he has to get dropped with his sister, so he’s still competition. Frankenkitty bursts into tears if I so much as look at her; she says her name is Andromeda and could I please call her that. As if. COMPETITION puddy tat, that’s what you are.

So now I’m waiting for the right sucker to walk through the door, someone who understands my sensibilities and special needs. I’m in charge. Don’t mind if it’s dogs or cats, don’t mind how many people live in the house, but if you got little kids who are scared of having their knuckles chewed, maybe I’m not the kitty for you. I never break skin, but chewing, it’s like my signature way of saying I love you. Some people use flowers, I’m told. That’s just weird.

Come visit me. I’ll bite your knuckle and see if you taste like forever. Pay no attention to the cute brats under the bed.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Onwards and Upwards – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to Thursday again –

It’s certainly no secret anymore that we are actively looking to pass along Tales of the Lonesome Pine to as yet unidentified new owners. The building/business should be listed very shortly.

bookstore

One of the interesting things has been producing a briefing sheet showing the financial information over the twelve years since we opened, as well as a narrative describing the things that worked/didn’t work to promote the business.

The financial report was relatively easy as we have kept careful records, could consult bank statements and sales tax returns as well as saved card sales. Of course running a bookstore in a small rural town in an economically challenged area isn’t easy. But what was obvious when I ran the figures was two things. Opening the Second Story Café had a significant impact and so did the publication of ‘The Little Bookstore’. There was a big trade-off between the bookstore and the café, and the book continues to bring folk from all over the country and even from around the world.

We wanted to pass along to any potential new owners all the insights we had gained and experiences that had ‘educated’ us. We also wanted to try to share our enthusiasm for the place – not just the business but the town and the community as well.

‘The Little Bookstore’ is almost a working manual in itself, but it’s now six years old and life moves on. Things that worked then don’t necessarily work now and lots of different opportunities have presented themselves.

Our fondest hope is that ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ will continue to operate and flourish as a bookstore and hub of this community, and doesn’t end up being sold as simply the house we stumbled on twelve years ago – but that’s in the hands of fate!

Where we, personally, end up next is anyone’s guess right now but there comes a time when you just know it’s time to move on. The world’s a much smaller place now so you never lose touch with friends and we might not be too far away anyway.

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

“It was Twenty Years ago Today”

Jack’s post is a day early for once – –

Twenty years ago today Wendy and I tied the knot. We had known each other just two years and when I asked ‘the question’ I immediately said “take time to think about it’! After all, I was foreign and older and she wasn’t as impulsive as me. Actually that’s not true – time has proved that she’s the impulsive one and I’m much more resistant to change.

But when we were introduced by our mutual friends, Wayne and Jean Bean, in Greeneville Tennessee I was the impulsive one for once.

wedding

We were married in the beautiful old stone house of Aileen Carr in Auchtermuchty in Fife. August 14th 1998 was a Friday (you can check) and was the day before the annual traditional music festival. That was an incentive for our storytelling and singing friends to come from ‘a’ the airts’ and come they did. Some of them have passed on now, but most are still around and in particular – Aileen Carr who provided the house, George Haig who was best man, Donna-Marie Emert who was best maid and Linda Bandelier who officiated as well as Jean Lockhart who laid on the wonderful food.

invite

I marvel at the last twenty years, starting with Wendy’s ‘run of the arrow’ as an American interloper into the Scottish storytelling scene and then our move to Lancashire in England where we were both a bit out of place, then Florida where we were VERY out of place and finally here to Big Stone Gap where we’ve made our home for twelve years, running Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore and becoming part of a real community.

It’s sometimes been difficult and there have been times when she has had to ‘explain things to me properly’, but that’s probably true of every meaningful relationship. We’ve been lucky and fortunate to have each other and to have so many good friends to help us along the way.

biltmore

She watches after me and makes sure I’m OK in every way – –

I loved her the first minute I saw her and still do!

 

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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, Wendy Welch