Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

Memories are made of – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

I recently received a ‘blast from the past’ in the mail. It was a CD of music by an old friend who had recently passed on. Alan MacDonald was a late new recruit to my old group Heritage and he brought a very different set of musical insights. He was a big fan of American music including mountain fiddle tunes and rags and we hit it off and recorded some stuff. To my delight the CD included some of these pieces with me providing back-up guitar.

So – many warm memories; which got me thinking!

As I approach the unbelievably ancient age of seventy five, I wonder if we enhance some memories and bury others? The last  twenty years of my life have been shared with Wendy and they are front and center along with the amazing folks I’ve met along the way. My life revolves around the bookstore and all the spin-offs from that, not to mention the more recent storytelling and musical friends.

The Little Bookstore book encapsulated much of that, but was written four years ago, so there are already more stories to be told.

But going back in the other direction, there’s an enormous part of my life that was neither shared with Wendy or written down to be shared more widely. Some of it she has stumbled across as old friends are re-encountered and once again become part of our circle. But there other parts that I seem to have just erased from my memory. They seemed important at the time, but are no longer. Is that normal?

I wonder if we re-write our history to suit ourselves?

When old half remembered or half forgotten times are suddenly dropped on our laps do they also chink open a door to a part of our life that we somehow erase?

No matter – Alan wasn’t just a fine musician, but a highly regarded educationist . A quirky guy who wound up as the Head of a small elementary school that pioneered child-centered learning when it was still possible to do such a thing. He was very highly regarded by his professional peers and I was happy to be his friend.

Maybe I’m just getting old – – –

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION by Jessamyn West

You know how you start thinking about an old friend, and then look them up, and find they were thinking of you? This book is like that.

west-persuasionWest wrote it (and its companion volume Except for Me and Thee) more than 75 years ago, but it’s still just as funny and sweet, mostly because it’s about humans. Just humans, and how they interact, living on a farm in the Midwest as Quakers.

Well, there’s that Civil War bit, and their brush with the Underground Railroad, which is somehow more intense now reading it in these troubled years. So much should have changed by now…..

Not much has changed in human courtship, either, and the stories around love affairs (would be or actual) are as hysterical as they are accurate. If you want to just escape into a world that pre-dates Jan Karon but echoes our own modern troubles, this is a good one.

The author was a woman ahead of her time. She wrote two of my all-time favorite quotes about writing: “Talent is helpful in writing but guts are absolutely essential” and “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.”

That kinda sums up The Friendly Persuasion. One of the reasons people will still be reading it years from now is its poignant accuracy in describing human interactions.




Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

Wesley Tells His Tail – Er, Tale

Today’s guest blog is from Wesley and his foster mom Willie Dalton. Willie is the author of THREE WITCHES IN A SMALL TOWN, from which the “dumpster six” take their names: Wesley, Steven, Cerulean, Agatha, Mabry, and Maeve. (Maeve is now of blessed memory). You’d love the book as much as the names. It’s available from Mountain Girl Press.

Take it away, Wesley!!!

wesleyHi, I’m Wesley. My five siblings and I had a rough start. Someone taped us up inside a box and dropped us in a dumpster when we were only a few weeks old. Can you believe it? We didn’t do nothin’ to nobody.

Luckily, a nice lady found us and helped us get the food and medicine we really needed. One of my sisters didn’t make it, and we all miss her. But the rest of us are happy and healthy now. I’m getting bigger and stronger every day!

And I sure am happy I can eat on my own now without having to wait for my foster mom to bring me a bottle and feed all my siblings too. I’m not very patient when I’m hungry. But who is, am I right?

My foster mom is great but I think I’m ready for a furever home. There’s a lot of other cats here and I’d appreciate a little more personal attention. Every time I find a nice warm lap to curl up in, my sister Cerulean comes along and hogs all the cuddles. She’s a bit of a diva.

ceruleanI guess I wouldn’t mind another cat or two to play with if the right family comes along but one I thing I definitely need is toys with feathers, lots of feathers, they’re really great.

Everyone who sees me says how handsome I am with my little white face and pink nose but so far no one has taken me home. Maybe it’s because I snore sometimes. I don’t know what else it could be! I’m cute, playful, cuddly and I have have very tidy litter box habits. I’m a real catch.

Mom says the right family will find me soon and fall in love with me, that sounds really nice. But until then I’ll just be napping on the softy blanket on the couch, ya know, until Cerulean tries to steal it from me.

To adopt Wesley, Cerulean, or any of the “dumpster six,” message Appalachian Feline Friends via Facebook.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Non-Book: THE KEY to LIFE

cat-swimOkay, here’s the truth. I haven’t read a book in three weeks. Yep. Revoke my bookselling license.

I went from Boston to the Tidewater to attend back to back conferences and do my rural schtick. Meanwhile Jack and his team ran the Celtic Festival without me and the bookstore turned into command central. I STILL don’t know the names of the guys who slept in the Science Fiction section. But they had towels, and that’s the important thing.

My dad’s heart scare turned into open heart surgery which started the day the conference I actually run started, two days after the conference in Tidewater ended. No pressure. With the excellent assistance of my friend Beth and her minion Mindy-the-amazing, we pulled that off. We even managed a really nice tie-in featuring Barbara Dickson, from our Celtic festival, as the entertainment at the historic Lincoln Theatre for the conference attendees.

Holding my annual board retreat three hours after the conference ended, in the same resort, was one of those ideas that seemed good at the time. I had even pre-packaged folders for each board member and left them in a box in my car. With a couple of hours of down time between the attendees leaving and the board convening I figured I’d move the folders to the meeting site, then have a nice leisurely lake swim. I’d be headed to my parents’ after the board meeting, so a chance to relax sounded good.

Arriving at the lake behind the rest of the leisure-seekers post-conference, I found mhy husband Jack sunbathing on the pier and asked him where our car was parked. “Oh,” he says, “Barbara and Oliver took it to the boat docks so they could rent a canoe. They’ll be out on the water by now. And the car will be locked. They said they’d be gone all afternoon. Why? Did you need something from it?”

I stared at him. Looked out at the lake. And saw Barbara and Oliver stroking into view, headed upriver to the Great Unknown.

Without hesitation I dove off the pier, leaving Jack somewhat startled behind me. And wet.

Making for the canoe with all the speed a lifetime of lifeguarding had taught me, I shouted “I need the car key!” (I was doing breast stroke by then so shouting didn’t make me drown.)

A bit nonplussed, the pair heaved to alongside a floating dock in the middle of the lake. Oliver hauled out the electronic key and gave me a dubious look.

“We can’t bring the canoe to shore in the swim area, and you can’t get this wet. How are you–?”

I opened my mouth. He sighed and placed the key. I fought the urge to cough as I swam back to shore, bobbing above the waves, not thinking about 20 feet of dark water below me and what would happened if I sneezed.

As I reached shore, the onlookers clapped. I handed the key to Jack, who trotted off to fetch the board folders. I swam for another hour, threw my blazer, blouse, and fresh black trousers on over the damp suit, and dashed around the front of the restaurant to meet the first of my board members. We had a lovely time setting strategy for the coming year, and ended in a timely manner with good vibes all around. No one commented on the fact that my clothes were slowly showing dark patches of water.

So no, I haven’t read a book in three weeks. I rather look forward to getting back to it. Meanwhile, let the Stupid Key Swim of 2016 stand as a metaphor for all the moments when we act with desperation rather than thought–and it works.


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

Should Auld Acquaintance – –

 Jack standing in for Wendy with some reflections on the last few weeks.

The blog has been a bit quiet over the last few days as both Wendy and I have been dealing with a host of distractions including – cats, a Celtic festival, a medical conference, a Barbara Dickson concert and her father unexpectedly requiring open-heart surgery.

Her Dad is through the surgery and back home now, being his usual curmudgeonly self, which is a sure sign of rapid recovery. But Wendy is spending this week with them and providing support to her Mom.

Meanwhile I’m trying to catch up with the backlog of stuff that’s built up. Bills to pay, emails to answer and a blog post to write – –

We had my old singing partner Barbara and her husband Oliver staying with us for the last two weeks and that culminated in them joining us at Hungry Mother State Park where Wendy’s annual ‘Head for the Hills’ medical conference was taking place. Also joining us were our chef Kelley, her wife Sam and their two youngest kids, Asher and James. Barbara did a concert at the gorgeous Lincoln Theater in nearby Marion on Friday night when she excelled herself, got a standing ovation and a well deserved encore from an audience that mostly had never heard her before.

However the stand-out moments for me were seeing Oliver become the kindly uncle to Asher and James as he showed them how to throw horseshoes, swam with them in the lake and took them out in canoes as their joint birthday treat. Then there was the late evening bonfire on the area between our cabin and the lake when we all sat round and harmonized songs, told jokes and reminisced about the previous couple of weeks.

When Barbara and Oliver first visited with us two years ago they were the ones going through some family trauma and we were pleased to offer the opportunity to relax and get away from that. This time round it was us dealing with lots of stuff and they were the ones who rolled up their sleeves and waded in – shopping, cleaning and generally picking up the slack. We’re already missing the ritual of Oliver’s breakfast porridge.

So we are delighted to count them as part of the extended family of the bookstore and the cafe!

On the final evening before they left we were not completely surprised they were looking at houses for sale in Big Stone Gap – – – –


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

Stop the World – –

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post finally gets back to Wednesday – –

My goodness, this has been a real roller-coaster!

I mean the last few weeks when we’ve been juggling our annual festival, my radio show, the upcoming concert at the beautiful Lincoln Theater in Marion VA, and Wendy’s annual ‘Head for the Hills’ medical conference, plus her dad’s recent heart scare.

Having our good friend Barbara staying with us has not added to the stress however. She and her husband Oliver have ‘mucked in’ in the most amazing and helpful ways. Strictly speaking they are working here, fulfilling singing engagements. They might even have been treating it as a vacation, or staying in our guest room as simply part of the ‘deal’.

But, no! They make porridge for everyone each morning, they cleaned the cafe kitchen when successive festival events reduced it to a shambles, Barbara helped Wendy clean the ‘cat haven’ and Oliver put out festival yard-signs and gathered them in again, and they both ran to the store for emergency supplies whenever they were needed. After their first visit two years ago they opined that they had felt a real part of the community here and they said last night that this visit had only confirmed that.

Yesterday was Barbara’s birthday and tonight we will celebrate that when our cafe owner, chef Kelley will prepare a family meal. I know that Barbara and Oliver feel part of our extended family now and we all know that this is just one of many visits.

Of course there are many people here, now, who also consider themselves part of the bookstore family and who also see Barbara and Oliver as part of their circle of friends – including Josh, who moved to the town recently, wandered in and immediately volunteered and joined up along with his friend Dawn – that’s something that makes Wendy and me very happy indeed.

Finally – last night was one of these occasions when old friends sit around a table and discuss the happenings of the day. For us, of course, that inevitably centered on Wendy’s forward plans following a recent job interview. It’s a sure sign for me that Barbara and Oliver are confident of their membership of this family that they could offer thoughtful and sincere insights.


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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: TOGETHER TEA by Marjan Kamali

together-teaWhen this book came into the shop, I knew it would hit my reading list. I like books about Eastern culture, particularly latte lit. (Novels that have female protagonists dealing with general life, are smart, and don’t devolve into cooking lessons, is the best definition of latte lit I’ve heard.)

Kamali’s book has a couple of clunky bits where she just wants you to believe certain things about her characters without developing them. However. her sharp, sassy writing style makes up for it. She’s like a sweet cynic when she gets hold of words. The novel’s premise is that the mother and daughter in an Iranian family that fled after the Revolution decide to go back for a visit. They go because of love interests – Mom has picked up one she doesn’t one, and the daughter has rejected one Mom picked out for her.

At one point Mina (the daughter) describes herself as balanced on the hyphen between Iranian-American. It’s a lovely passage. In the course of the visit, the depiction of one mom dealing with her family’s everyday pressures compounded by a country flipping itself upside down in a near-civil-war is fascinating. This isn’t an intense political book; it’s one family’s experiences. And its power lies in the way Kamali writes more than the plot or characters.

Here are some examples of the little gems Kamali drops in her writing:

Explaining to her ten-year-old daughter why she now has to wear a hijab to school when a month ago the Shah’s guard were snatching scarves off women’s heads if they wore them:

It’s always through the women that the men express their agenda. Cover up so they can feel like they’re in power.

Iranian hospitality (which is Southern hospitality to the power of 10) requires you to beg the guest to eat and the guest swears it will kill them to do inconvenience you. On round three of one such exchange, Mina, returned to Iran after 15 years in the states, loses it in this gloriously subtle way:

Mina: Would you like some nuts.

Guests: Oh thank you, no, may your hands not ache.

Mina: Please take a nut.

Guests: No, No.

Mina: In God’s name, take a nut.

Her humor is understated like that.

When the family arrives in America, the mom, a quiet, sweet, simple woman by American standards, buys a box of red hair dye and colors herself. When  she comes out of the bathroom, her husband claps and then goes in and cleans up what looks like the scene of an ax murder. The mother turns to her daughter and says they’re going for a walk. Which they do, the daughter much cowed by Mom’s new hair. And Kamali writes this:

Was freedom just tiny movements like this? Simply knowing that no one cared if the sun shone on your hair? …. But dominating all the new colors was the jarring red of Darya’s hair, an unfamiliar defiance that screamed silently at the start of their American life.

And as the book comes to its predictable wedding conclusion, Darya (Mom) looks at the chaos of Iranian-American wedding traditions and messiness around her and reflects:

Real life was messy. It would never add up. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t need to be.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing