Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

Erin the Shopsitter’s Guest Post

IMG_2868About a month ago I received a response to an email, which I had actually forgotten sending.  Sometime in the craziness of spring semester (probably while my 7th grade students were completing their STAR reading test) I had responded to an online blurb for a bookshop sitter in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  I do remember thinking, Oh that would be fun but in that theoretical I will probably never hear back or my husband would never go for it way.  Yet here in my inbox was the response: asking if I were available in June.

My initial reaction was to say no.  I say no a lot when theoretical becomes reality.  Then I thought about a book gifted to me by a fellow teacher friend. The book, which I confess that I haven’t actually read, is Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I used to be a yes girl. When had I become such a party pooper? After clearing it with my husband and making sure it was ok to bring my son Bryant with me, I said yes.

IMG_2924So here I sit, in an area of the country where I have never visited feeling occasional wafts of homesickness, but rediscovering parts of me that I had long forgotten existed.  I signed up to shop sit without actually knowing what that entailed.   No, I hadn’t read Wendy’s book The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap before arriving.  My only preconception of the town was a glamorized love story later made into a film starring Ashley Judd.

I pictured rolling green mountains and babbling brooks, which do exist and are every bit as breathtaking as I imagined.  I imagined hikes in the woods and finally starting to write again.  I imagined browsing and reading the endless titles of books available to me.  I envisioned Bryant and I going on scenic morning runs.

IMG_2894A lot of these things have happened and many have exceeded my expectations.  For example, the morning runs on the greenbelt are amazing. Bryant and I even entered a 5K to support the local football team, and for the first time in a long time I was able to beat him. Browsing titles in the bookshop and adding more and more books to my to read list is cathartic.  Tidying the kid’s room allows me to discover titles from my own youth that I had long forgotten.

The kindness and friendliness of the people of Big Stone Gap and its surrounding communities is more than I could have imagined.  The people associated with the Appalachian Feline Friends are so helpful because, let’s face it, I take care of one cat at home. Here, I take care of 1 dog (with more meds than my grandmother), 3 adult cats, and as many as 9 kittens give or take those adopted out and new arrivals.

IMG_2908The lady who cleans the shop obviously recognized my poor culinary skills, probably by the burned scrambled egg pan soaking in the sink, so brought me a delicious vegetarian meal. The patrons that visit the shop, whether to buy books or adopt a cat, stay and share so much more have taught me to value each individual’s story. Most importantly, I am learning to sit still and enjoy spending time with myself again, and who knows maybe this will lead to writing again.

 

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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, writing

The Tuesday Confession

As everyone knows, we rescue cats in our bookstore, part of a large operation called bertAppalachian Feline Friends. We took in six kittens around the same time our cat Owen was diagnosed with a serious health concern. Owen is used to going out when he pleases, but now he has to stay inside for a month while he convalesces. Owen does not like this. He lets us know he does not like it with subtle things like statement poops just outside the litter box and yowling at doors.

Owen has a brother, Bert the Elder, who is going for 16. Bert can’t see or hear, except the pop tops of cat food cans. These he can hear from two floors away even if I muffle it in a towel. Bert loves to lick out the cans after the cats have had their wet breakfast. (He gets wet supper, so don’t be feeling sorry for him.) Like all elderly men, Bert sometimes has a narrow window for personal dignity when it comes time to use the toilet. Bert has a dog flap in the basement, so all we have to do is keep the ManCave door open, and he goes in and out as he pleases.

Except, now Owen can’t go out so we keep the ManCave door shut, which confuses Bert. Isn’t this the way to the toilet? It was yesterday….

Then there’s Tooth, the two-year old spry little tabby who considers Bert her personal patient; she covers him with blankets when he lies down, cleans his ears, and actually helps redirect him when he walks the wrong direction by getting in front and turning him; Bert shouldn’t climb stairs for no reason but he likes to go upstairs because Owen’s special “get better” kitty food is up there, and when he can, Bert will clean out the bowl. And because Bert is getting up there in years, we decided we’d confine him to the basement while Owen was convalescing upstairs, so he wouldn’t be embarrassed continence-wise by the closed ManCave door.

owenTooth isn’t much used to going outside; she came to us as a street kitten and she’s seen enough of Out There to last a lifetime. Nope, she’ll stand at the flap and watch Bert to make sure he does the needful and gets safely back inside, but that’s about it. So her, we left in the middle section of the bookstore, greeting guests and lounging in sunbeams.

And to make life simpler for Owen during his confinement, we built a catio off the classics room, basically a screened-in sunporch where he could soak up some rays but not wander off. To recap: Owen upstairs, Bert downstairs, Tooth in the middle: what could be simpler?

Ha.

Who knew that forgetting to close the ManCave door, just once, could produce such vaudevillian theatre? ZIP! went a shadow sprinting for the door, moving so fast, I thought it was Tooth. But as I headed downstairs to find the elusive cat, Bert chugged past me going up. Since it’s hard to turn him mid-stair I called for Jack to grab him at the top and continued pursuing Mystery Cat.

Attracted by my cries, Jack arrived in time to see Owen dashing through the open door into the ManCave. He tried to pursue, but wound up closing the door to prevent Bert from turning around and going back down the stairs. Now Jack, two cats, and I were on the downstairs side of the door, Bert on the other. So far so good, we just need to catch the cats.

Unaware that both cats were now in the basement, I heard the dog flap go and rushed toward it–in time to see Owen sprint through just as I opened the outside basement door for humans. Concussed but unstoppable, Owen darted through the flap as Jack puffed into view yelling, “Stop him!”

This startled Tooth who shot out from under the bed into Jack’s path, causing him to fall across the bed. Shaken, Tooth followed Owen out just as I tried to close the human door. Her ribs will be fine; it only knocked the wind out of her.

tooth

Holding Tooth and fearing internal injuries, I said with my back to Jack, “We may need to take her to the vet.”

“You don’t say,” I heard, and turned to find my husband trying to right himself, having banged his knee off the side of the bed. As Jack limp-hopped toward the stairs, Tooth wriggled from my grasp and ran past him, knocking him sideways into the wall.

“You can go to the vet, too,” I offered, pushing past to check on Tooth. Behind me I heard muttered cursing.

Upstairs, Tooth was fine, but there was no sign of Bert. Shuffling into view behind me, Jack had just light bruising so we began a systematic hunt, opening doors and calling his name. Bert can get stuck in corners because he can’t see well enough to find the door out of a room he enters.

From upstairs came crunching. Yep, Bert had gone straight up and helped himself to Owen’s $5-a-bowl cat food. I hauled him back down the stairs, where Tooth began a thorough perusal to assess whether he’d been damaged, or had anything on his mouth she could lick off.

jack sat down and picked up his morning coffee. The phone rang. It was the tax office next door. Owen had knocked on their door and settled into his usual bed in the corner. They were happy to keep him for the morning, but wasn’t he supposed to not be going outside?

I sat down next to Jack–and felt something run across my foot. Looking down, I beheld fuzzy kittens careening in every direction. Jack followed my gaze.

“It’s an old house. When we were looking for Bert, I thought I closed the mystery room door back, but it must’ve popped open,” he mumbled. For good measure, he clutched his side. “I’m injured, you know.”

Kittens rounded up and returned to their nursery, Tooth and Bert piled into their bed together (no more separation; Bert could bark when he wanted to go out) and Owen next door doing his usual shift, we opened the bookstore. When a couple with a daughter wandered in, they admired Bert and Tooth snoring in the basket, then went into the mystery room. I heard delighted exclaiming over the fur babies.

A minute later the mother emerged and gave a contented sigh. “These two asleep here, the kitties in that cat tree, it’s like something from a storybook,” she said. ” A little peaceable kingdom.”

 

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

A Cat Tail of Two Lives – –

Oh dear it’s Thursday and Jack’s guest post is late again – –

The inimitable Owen Meanie, our bookstore greeter cat is rather unwell and in the animal hospital being cosseted by St Beth and her excellent staff.

While we wait for the results of his bloodwork the first indications are that he may have Feline Leukemia despite having been vaccinated against it as a kitten and receiving regular boosters. The good news is that after not eating for a few days and losing a pound in weight, he is now wolfing down everything offered to him and is much more engaged with his surroundings.

owen

And he’s home again and wondering what happened!

Of course he has been moonlighting as greeter cat at the next door tax office and they have been calling regularly for progress reports.

We discovered his two-timing by accident when I popped in to thank the tax office staff for a favor they had done for us. Lo and behold – they had a bed set up for him in their window and food and water bowls! He knows when his favorite arrives and what car she drives, waiting on the sidewalk and escorting her into his second place of work.

He used to range far and wide around downtown and I always worried about him crossing streets until I watched him a few times and was most impressed with his road-sense. However, now that his days are shared between us and next door he seems to have reduced his territory and is happy to simply observe the further reaches – either from his favorite chair on the bookstore porch or from the tax office window.

How he came by his name is another story involving Wendy’s NY editor, a book by a Mr Irving and a negotiated compromise.

 

 

 

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The Bookstore is Quiet

The bookstore has just passed out of the Eye of Calm between school letting out and the Return of the Natives. Big Stone reserves its biggest tourism influx for Fall, when the mountains explode with color. Right now, we have The Grandchildren. Families who moved away in search of work return (or send the kids) to their roots. It is a time-honored cycle: come back to see Mom and Dad, leave the kids a week or five and go get some work done or have a vacation.

You can see the Grandparents parading their newly acquired temporary children proudly through the grocery store, dressed in clothing that would put Toddlers and Tiaras to shame, little girls who will not hurt themselves if they fall because the skirts will cushion them. Boys dressed as exact copies of grandpa, work boots, denim overalls, and cap.

It is adorable.

The bookstore’s part in all this is to clean the children’s room every day after the cyclone is over. We sell more kids’ books mid-May to mid-July than we do the rest of the year combined. Because the bookstore is where Grampa and Gramma go when they’ve Had It.

Exhausted elderly couples arrive on our porch, the children clambering up the stairs, over the railings, around our reading animal statues. Grandparents haul themselves up the railing of the side ramp, waving the kids: go on, go on, we’ll catch up.

If they can reach the handle, the children work in teams to haul open our heavy screen door – it takes two kindergartners to move – and break for the nearest kittens. The smarter kittens scatter.

Grandpa will plunk himself on our front porch and light up a pipe or cigarette. He sits, looking off into the distance at the cool green and blue layers of the mountains, as Grandma either heaves herself into the bookstore with a sigh, or plunks down next to him and says, “Gimme one.”

We think this means cigarette…..

The children destroy the place, hunting hiding kittens. Occasionally they actually hunt books themselves, but usually this waits until Gran has her soul restored and hears the thudding books and shrieking children. We usually have the front porch window open. I have found that, should other sounds fail, recalcitrant summer guardians can be motivated by saying “Yes, dear, you can have that kitten” quite loudly just behind Grandmother’s head.

It’s summer: the kinder garden blooms. We love it. We clean up after they leave. We wink at the grandparents. We sell a lot of children’s books to straining budget people who are relieved to find they’re getting five books for $3.15.

mother-child-reading-1941526And we love the two most repeated requests the grandparents make: “Could you sell me the biggest chapter book you have? He likes to read and I need him quiet this afternoon for my nap.” Or “She can’t read so have you got one with enough pictures to keep her occupied for five minutes?”

There’s nothing quite like the rhythms of a bookstore.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

My Life of Spice

Aargh – It’s Thursday already – – – Jack’s Wednesday guest post

When I left school at the age of sixteen I commenced a five year apprenticeship as a painter, decorator and sign-writer and then continued to ply my trade until in my late thirties I started teaching these skills in the local community college. Nowadays most of the materials used back then have been phased out or outright banned for health and safety reasons but I worked with lots of highly volatile and toxic stuff. Over time I gradually lost my sense of smell and now have none at all, although strangely I occasionally have smell ‘memories’ that are triggered by particular sights or sounds, or family stories.

All this is to lead in to the reason why I love to both cook and eat spicy food – particularly Indian curries. Back in the 1970s I had enjoyed visiting Chinese restaurants which could be found all over Scotland, discovered curry on their menus and was instantly ‘hooked’! Not long after that Indian restaurants began to appear and are now more numerous than the Chinese ones.

Curry

It was an obvious step from enjoying the professional offerings to attempting to make them myself, as did many of my friends. But I was always looking for the elusive and special taste of the restaurants, and it took a long time and the advent of the internet and my Google friend before I finally found their secret. It was all about preparing a basic sauce in bulk, then freezing it in handy sized bags, to be used later along with fresh veggies and meats and additional spices.

http://www.greatcurryrecipes.net/2011/06/24/how-to-make-restaurant-style-curry-sauce-for-use-in-many-different-curry-recipes/

Finally (or almost) Wendy and I attended week long courses at John C Campbell Folk School in S. Carolina some years ago. Wendy went for chair caning and I discovered a wonderful Indian woman called Ruby. She taught me and a zany group of folk all the finer points of making, not just curries, but samosas, pakoras, soups and desserts including balancing sugar and lemon juice and lots of other great tips. We cannot recommend enough checking out that wonderful Folk School and their offerings throughout the year!

Finally (really) – more recently Wendy and I found ourselves with time to spare in Cincinnati and discovered the wonderful Findlay Market, a year-round covered smorgasbord of international foods. It had a spice counter and we saw a spice mix called ‘Apocalypse’ that included ghost pepper along with all the usual curry spice blend.

So my procedure now is to heat some olive oil and butter in the electric griddle – fry a teaspoon of Apocalypse, a teaspoon of ground ginger and a teaspoon of minced garlic. Add coarsely chopped onion and fry until just browned. Then the defrosted bulk sauce and finally any additional veggies or meats. The last thing is to stir in a dessert spoon of Garam Masala as everything is simmering.

I believe I feel a smell memory coming on – – –

 

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A Notable Occasion!

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post appears on Wednesday again – amazing!
Wendy and I have been so busy with other stuff the last couple of years that we haven’t been running as many events in the bookstore as we used to. But we still do from time to time and usually at the instigation of someone else who just thinks it’s a cool place to stage something.
Which is how we ended up with an amazing and wonderful house-concert on Sunday evening.
But this story really starts about seven years ago when I was contacted by a woman in North Carolina, who’s daughter had just won the junior section of the US Scottish fiddling championships. She asked if I’d like to interview her on my weekly Celtic music radio show – so I did. The daughter, Maura Shawn Scanlin, was fifteen years old and quite shy, until she started playing!
A couple of years later her mother again contacted me as Maura Shawn had now won the senior championship. So, once again she was in the studios of WETS in Johnson City and was now a much more confident young woman. The next thing, she was invited to compete in the Glenfiddich World Championships in Scotland – which she won! Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/YL0GCNsuEJE
Finally, a couple of months ago Maura Shawn, who now lives and studies music in Boston, herself emailed me to say she’d be in the area and would we be able to host a concert in the bookstore. The only problem was that it would have to be on a Sunday, which isn’t a normal day for us to run events. But we decided to take a chance and I also decided to record the concert for a future radio show.
I now record my shows at the home studio of a very expert friend who lives close by, so Dirk was up for giving it a go. Except he was short of some essential mics and stands, which is where another couple of friends, Mark and Alan, stepped in.
Maura Shawn, like most professional musicians can only survive financially by playing in various bands and line-ups and for this she would be half of a duo with a guitarist called Connor Hearn, who I’d never heard or heard of. I was a little nervous but shouldn’t have been! I was also very nervous whether we’d get an audience at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon!!
Maura Connor
I set out fifteen chairs, then added a couple more – and more, as they all started arriving until we were completely full.
The concert was wonderful, with a tremendous rapport between Maura Shawn and Connor, who’s guitar playing was magnificent. Everyone who attended was completely enthralled (including our dog Bert who was surprisingly well behaved). The next day Dirk sent me a recording of one of the music sets and it was also magnificent!
So maybe we should get back to doing more of this sort of thing! It felt very soul-restoring.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Strollin’ down the Highway – –

It’s funny the dreams we have. One of my more colorful ones concerns hitch-hiking.

Back when I was a carefree and somewhat trusting teenager hitch-hiking was much more common than it is now and I did a lot of it.

My older sister was living in Yorkshire in the 1960s and I frequently thumbed a ride down there for a visit. Truck drivers were very accommodating and wanted company so I rarely had any problem getting rides.

There was the time I hitched to Lanark racecourse in the west of Scotland for a model plane competition, though. A truck stopped to pick me up and could take me all the way to my destination. I climbed aboard and slammed the door shut – on my thumb! There’s a good Scots word – beelin’ – (throbbing) which is what my thumb did all day long. I remember going to the family doctor a few days later when he drilled a hole in my thumbnail to relieve the pressure!

But the most memorable journey was all the way from my hometown of Dunfermline to the exotica of Paris. Yes – Paris, France. I traveled with a friend and my guitar, because we were determined to busk on the Champs Elysees. A very illustrious Scottish folksinger called Alex Campbell gave me a slip of paper with a name and phone number (which I found many years later to be completely false) that sealed the deal. He had blazed a trail all around Europe before anyone else did and was my hero!

My friend and I got down to the midlands of England fairly easily but then got stuck. As it was getting dark we pitched our wee tent beside a hedge in a field and settled down for the night. We were wakened early next morning by sounds of machinery and found we were in the middle of roadworks. We packed up, started thumbing and were picked up by a very elderly truck. It had no air-conditioning, the sun was bright and the engine was under our feet. Every time I dozed off the driver elbowed me in the ribs and demanded I talk to keep him awake, but somehow we got to Dover and the ferry to France.

When we arrived in Calais we got a ride from an English salesman heading to Paris in his ‘Deux Chevaux’ Citreon which almost rolled over on every corner. He finally got to the infamous roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe and we went round it in ever decreasing circles until he found a way out and dropped us off. From there we headed to the Boise de Boulogne and pitched our trusty tent again.

deux chevaux

Un Deux Chevaux avec deux chevaux! Quatre chevaux?

Next morning we walked to the Champs Elysees with my guitar and prepared to live our dream. Before I could hit the first chord a hand descended on my shoulder. “You can’t start here” our assailant said, “you start in the suburbs and work your way in to here”. So I never ever busked in Paris, although we did eat well and I learned a lot!

I have a friend who has lived all his life in a mining village in Fife and who restores motorbikes as well as writing hilarious poetry. One of his most famous poems is entitled ‘What’s a Laddie frae Kelty daein in a place like St Tropez?’, which is all about his memorable journey by motorbike to his particular dream.

Ah – dreams. Which takes me to the Everly Brothers, but that’s another story – – –

 

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