Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

We Found Three WWII Letters in a Book…

In honor of the Independence Day holiday, we offer the text of three letters we found in an old book. They were written in 1944, 1945, and January 1946 by a soldier deployed to France.

June 2, 1944

Mari Darling –

Sorry I haven’t written sooner darling but no time. Was out on a problem last night so I have this morning off. I thought of you all the time I was out last night. Once as I was laying on the ground looking up at the moon through the pine trees I actually forgot where I was. I was thinking how nice it would be if we were together looking up there. Of course not in Louisiana but somewhere far away from everybody and everything. We’ll do that someday though, darling.

I heard from Mike recently and he’s getting ready to go over. He is now taking his basic training again and then he’ll be ready. Quite a few of the boys have shipped out of here lately to other branches of the service. I’m still hoping and praying to get back in the air corps. Three of my pal (sic) went to artillery last week and I tried to get on the list myself but no soap. Starting this Monday I’m going to go to radio school every morning. It’s only supposed to last three weeks but that’s better than nothing.

I haven’t been doing too much walking lately. We’ve been going on the range about four days each week and firing all sorts of courses. That’s not bad ’cause I usually go off in the woods and play. Of course the boys give me a “bad time” then.

Have been into town the last few weekends with some of the boys. Not much to do there bit it’s better than staying around camp. However this Sunday is a regular duty day for us so no time off at all during the weekend. Isn’t that nice of them. I’ll finish his letter tonight honey, I have to go eat chow now.

Oh yes before I leave I’m still waiting for that picture and also a letter. I’ve practically read the writing of (sic) the pages of your last letter. In fact I almost have it memorized by now.

Here I am back from chow and still living. Not much more news from here, darling, so I’ll sign off. Do write soon I love you and always will and will go nuts if I don’t see you again real soon. Be a “gooder” and say hello to everyone for me.

All my love always,


March 3, 1945 (letter has a photo of a young girl)

Just a short note to let you know that everything is ok. This letter has been sent by a friend of mine who is in the merchant marines and on the ship with me now. He is going to mail it form the states when he gets in. This is the only way I can avoid censorship.

I’m now in Le Havre, France. We haven’t left the ship yet but will tonight after dark We’re going to a camp about forty five miles from here where we’ll stay a while. We’ve been in the harbor here for two days and all’s well. Sorry I couldn’t even get to talk to you from Boston.

We left California exactly three weeks ago today so you see how fast we got to France.

We had plenty of protection all the way across. From what I’ve seen of this town from the ship it’s a wreck. All the docks shipyards buildings etc. are ruined. The people in most of these French towns in this vicinity are hostile to our troops. We aren’t allowed to go anywhere by ourselves. If we go to town we can’t eat or drink anything for fear of being poisoned. Great spot eh! I’ll write as often as possible darling try and write more often yourself ha ha. All my mail will be censored so don’t be surprised if you don’t get much information.

Tell the family you heard from me and keep an eye on the kids. Don’t worry about me darling I’ll be home soon. I love you with all my heart darling and always will. I’m thinking of you all the time and miss you terribly. Be good and take care.

All my love,


January 6, 1946

Reimes, France

Mari Darling,

Yes I’m still alive but have been traveling around France for the last few days trying to found out which outfit I’ve been transferred to. Have been down to Nice again for a rest. Ha ha. Arrived there on the 22nd and left the 2nd. I guess it was as good a place as any to spend the holidays over here. The Christmas I’m looking forward to is the next one when you and I can be together again.

It was nice and warm at Nice – of course nothing like Christmas but better than being up here. It’s a little chilly up in this part of the country now. I wouldn’t mind it though if I had my love to keep me warm.

I was expecting to be home in March ’till I saw the paper today. According to that I’ll be lucky to make it by June. Looks like I’m officially in the “close out force” now. One thing for sure, darling – I’ll be home by Christmas. Ha Ha. Isn’t that encouraging? At least I should hear from you by then.

This outfit I’m in now is just sitting around doing nothing so I can’t complain about that. Don’t know what they’ll have me doing yet. We’re living in barracks which were built for the French. They aren’t too bad but a little crowded at present. The chow here is the best I’ve had since I left the 86th last May. We are about eight miles from Reimes now and have to take a truck into Reimes to take showers.

At present there are about five big arguments going on here in the barracks. All about the same thing – the point system. Men with fifty points and above are supposedly frozen from one to three months. Also the paper said the men would no longer be discharged by the point system. They say that they can’t get replacements from the States fat enough. It looks like things are rough all over. What really burned most of the guys up today was Paterson’s statements. According to him he didn’t even know the point system stopped as of Sept. 2. He thought the men were still getting points added on to their score each month. How are the GIs supposed to know what’s going on when the Sec. of War doesn’t even know himself.

Now if you’d break down and write a letter maybe you could give me a better outlook on life. In fact I know you would Hope you stayed sober on New Years but I suppose there were plenty of bug times on the first peace time New Year in five years. I can remember way back when I used to spend New Years with you. How long ago was that fifty years? You know sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve been kept away from you for so long.

Well, Darling, guess I’d better knock off. Take care of yourself for me and stop over to see the family often. You know I love you terribly and miss you even more. The truth is I’ve loved you so long now that I can’t remember when I didn’t. That’s been quite some time when we used to play hide and seek at Derkams. I used to hide with you so I could maybe put my arm around you and no one would notice me. You probably don’t even remember that far back do you?

Good night, darling, drop me a line and let me know if you still love me. I keep telling myself you do but I’ve much rather hear it from you.

All my Love Always,




Filed under Big Stone Gap, Downton Abbey, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap


Jack’s weekly guest blog comes from Scotland this time, as Jack finishes leading his annual tour of Scotland and Ireland.

doune-castleIt’s always interesting to be in Scotland with my annual tour group. The group almost always includes new folk, folk I already know, and ‘returnees’ from previous tours. This year is no exception – David and Susan are both old friends and returnees, while our newish friend Joe came with his fiancee Amy (who I hadn’t met and is delightful). The newbies in every sense are Phil and Wanda, who heard about the tour from my radio show.

The tour started strong, as what might have been a disaster was averted by our new booking agent. We found that there was going to be a ferry strike on the day we were booked to sail to Mull, where were booked to spend the night in Tobermory. At very late notice the redoubtable Irene, travel agent genius, got us booked into a hotel in Oban and our ferry booking moved to the next morning; all was well!

The weather proved kind and we had hardly any rain, even quite a few bright sunny days. We were able to see Castle Stalker and Doune Castle – both settings for ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (Doune is also the setting for ‘Outlander’) and then retire to fabulous hotel food at night.

I was able to find most of the requested items to bring back with me for friends back home, ranging from whisky to flat caps. My old friends Liz Weir and Pete Clark did us proud representing the music and story culture of Ireland and Scotland. As I write this another old friend, Doli McLennan, is preparing to welcome us to her home in Edinburgh on our last night, and waxing lyrically on Facebook about the prospect.

For logistical reasons, I had more opportunity to catch up with friends and relations before the tour started this year, about a week longer than usual. That was great, but I ended up feeling a bit homesick for Big Stone for the first time. Very strange!

But it’s great to see my homeland through other people’s eyes each year and be reminded what a beautiful and remarkable country I came from.

For information on Jack’s annual tours, contact him via Pictures from this year will be available later at a site yet to be named.

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

The Monday Book: ENTERING THE SILENCE by Thomas Merton

capI picked this up in Philly at Neighborhood Books, run by the kind colorful local character Curtis. I didn’t know at the time it was a near-famous book; I was writing about silence and thought it would be interesting as research. But it’s actually the second volume of Thomas Merton’s surprising bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton became a Cistercian (Trappist) monk and wrote a lot about his spiritual journey. In Silence, he wrote about visiting two other orders, and how he decided to join.

The book is in three sections, each dealing with an order. One is the hardworking Trappists, who Merton says pretty much consider prayer, work, and hardship as all under the umbrella of prayer. When he asks one of the monks what it feels like to be part of such an order, the monk asks, “Have you ever been in love?” When Merton affirms, the monk says, “Well, like that.”

The first description will speak to writers, because it’s as much about Merton–who has come to the silence of the monks to get away from distractions and allow himself to write–discovering he is distracted by the silence. He needs to fill it up, get away from it, silence it. He almost fears it. And it doesn’t help him write, not until he gets to a new idea of time and commitment and passion (which is very eloquently described).

The next two descriptions are more just depictions of the living Trappists and the deceased Capadocians, where he visits the little caves that used to be their homes and pretty much comes out of that description thanking God it isn’t a choice anymore, or he might have felt compelled to make it. (That’s them in the photo at the top.) This isn’t a book with a story, more like getting inside someone’s head for an hour. If you’ve ever read A Grief Observed, it kinda reads like that – completely different subject matter, but just “here, and that’s all I have to say.” Yet said with such thoughtful eloquence.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing


December folder 047Every year we hold WRITES COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, a one-day workshop focused on narrative writing (fiction or non). We talk about the mindset of making time for writing, techniques for getting the ideas formed, writing until the draft is done, editing, editing, editing, editing, editing – and tips for editing. And we have a great time.

The workshop is limited to five people, and this year as always scholarships are available from the American NewMedia Education Foundation, courtesy of their president Debra Lee Hallock’s generosity.

However, this year, two people who were taking the scholarships were teachers from Wisconsin, where I had done author visits last year. All set to come share the fun, one of the women discovered she was in stage 4 breast cancer. Her best friend wants to stay and help her through the next few months. Our prayers go out to them.

This means two scholarships are still available if you want to join the day. You need to be in the education field. If you’d like to talk to someone who has attended these in past years, Jim Wardell, Angelic Towe, Lizbeth Phillips, or Vicky Marcum Evans (all on Facebook) would be happy to describe their experiences.

It all happens Saturday, July 25. The morning is a bit of discussion, then writing exercises, half an hour for lunch (bring your own or eat at Our Good Chef Kelley’s Second Story Cafe and an afternoon of feedback, discussion on experiences and writing “issues” personal to the attendees, a little brainstorming, and some final discussion.

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS works well for those who have an idea or a page or two down on what they want to write about, or as a kick-starter for those who “are gonna get to it someday.” If you have any questions, drop me an email at; people who are not teachers, the day is $100. We start at 9 and finish at 4:30.

And there are kittens. :]

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

The Monday Book: WHERE TROUBLE SLEEPS by Clyde Edgerton

Edgerton’s books tend to circle a few themes; think of them as small circles that actually go down into the core of human beings. On the surface it looks like a simple, small concept, but the roots go into the fabric of what makes us tick.

Like when “rootless amorality meets deep-rooted morality” as he puts it – drifters come through, they do wrong, they’ve been doing wrong, they meet people who do right, and don’t you forget it. Little old ladies who sing in choirs. Churchgoers whose idea of sin is fishing in Sundays. And then this guy shows up driving a stolen car….

It’s kind of adorable, and symbol of Edgerton’s genius, that the Gypsy Man driving the stolen car takes a cabin at the Settle Inn.

It all kinda goes from there, in hilarious yet poignant directions. Gypsy man, the call to repent, the church goers, and life in small-town North Carolina in the 1950s. You laugh until you cry. E

Especially at the ending, which I won’t give away, but suffice it to say, never miss with a church-going little old lady who isn’t as old or as little as you think.



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

A Bittersweet Scottish Interlude

valkyttie cuddlingJack’s weekly guest blog

This week I fly to Scotland to lead my annual tour – usually a fairly carefree occasion. But there is an additional purpose this time. I am carrying the ashes of our beloved Valkyttie to spread along her favorite walk–around the perimeter of our tiny village of New Gilston, where she spent her happiest years. Like many of you, I’ve shed a great number of tears for departed pets – both dogs and cats. They teach us so much about how to really live! And Valkyttie did that for Wendy and me – our marriage cat.

We first saw Valkyttie in the cat and dog shelter in Leith near Edinburgh. The first few months of her life were spent near my home town of Dunfermline, where she quickly developed from a frightened little black powerpuff of a kitten into a confident territorial ‘Wha Daur Meddle Wi’ Me” cat. When we moved to New Gilston, near St. Andrews in Fife, she took over the village and the surrounding farmland and would often accompany us on our evening walks. She brought a live mouse into the house once and when I didn’t immediately dispatch it, realized she needed to lower her expectations. The next day, she brought me a moth to practice on.

The stories about her are legion and legend, not just in Scotland, but with her two years in Lancashire in England, and a further two years in Florida (where she preferred to be indoors because of the heat) and finally her halcyon days here at the bookstore. As long as there are copies of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap around she will live on; she’s on the cover of the large print edition here in the US from Center Point, and hiding on the front of the main US edition from St Martin’s Press–as well as the Korean, Polish and Portuguese language editions. Many’s the school author program we’ve done with “spot the kitty” featuring our own Vals.

I must finish (with a lump in my throat) by paying respect to the Sainted Beth (of Powell Valley Animal Hospital) who understood how much Valkyttie meant to us and went to extraordinary lengths to ease her final journey over the Rainbow Bridge. I’m very honored to have known Valkyttie and to be chosen to take her to her final resting place along her favorite ramble. And I’ll be crying my eyes out when I do.

Editor’s note: Jack scattered Valkyttie’s ashes yesterday. We waited to run the blog until then but left it in future tense because we cry every time we get near it. Thanks all!


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Wendy Welch

Do I have a Secret Admirer??!!!

Strange days here in the bookstore – stranger than usual, I mean.

Yesterday I opened my microwave and a wee box from Blackbird Bakery sat there. Inside I discovered the Mother of all Pink Cupcakes – tall icing, silver sugar sprinkles, wee flowers, the kind of thing Our Hadley would have picked out if she’d been taken to the bakery, shown the cakes, and told she could have any one she wanted.

tshirts 014It made a lovely breakfast. That’s how things go around here – you find a cupcake in the microwave still in the box, you check to see if it’s anyone else’s, and then you eat it. Delicious.

So  now the mystery remains to be digested: who left it there?

Was it the same person who, about four days before, left a bar of peppermint goat milk soap on the paranormal romances?

Ohhhh, the plot thickens, just like my waistline after eating the Pink Cupcake.

(I regret NOTHING.)

Anyway, if it was you, thank you. It’s lifted my spirits while Jack’s been away, and I smell of peppermint. Actually, I’m taking the soap back to the writing cabin this weekend to put in my sweater drawer, where it will keep mice away, plus counteract the hard water of northeast Tennessee.

So, random chaos abounds in a good way here at the bookstore. It could be elves, one supposes – but don’t they more often frequent shoe shops?

No, it’s probably a human or two. My friend Elissa guffawed when I said, “Yes, but only a few people have access to the microwave.”

“Everyone in Big Stone knows where the key is kept, plus half of Facebook, and you’re narrowing suspects by access? Stick to memoir writing; you have no future in crime novels.”

She has a point.


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