Category Archives: Big Stone Gap

The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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The Unsung Bookstore Heroes!

Jack makes it over the bar with the Wednesday guest post – –

This place is BIG! The odd thing is that it’s gotten bigger over the last fourteen years, as we’ve made less livable spaces more so –

It takes a bit of looking after and keeping clean, and we’ve tried various strategies to deal with that over the years. To begin with we tried to keep on top of things ourselves but later we realized that wasn’t too practicable. So we had a couple of good friends who stepped up to help. The first was Heather, who can be seen in this video jokingly using our cat Owen Meanie as a duster. Heather was an awesome cleaner, thorough, efficient, and with a wicked sense of humor.

But she moved to Colorado so then we had Anne, who not only cleaned but brought posters and knick knacks and little colored baskets to make the shop more cheerful. Eventually health issues meant she had to retire (she’s also in the video as ‘Becky’ in the needlework group). Both of them were painstaking and highly skilled and we missed them—even more as we tried others with mixed results and also went back to trying to handle things ourselves. It was clear that we needed to find someone to take the place on –

Enter Judy!

She already cleaned for our vet friend, the sainted Beth and we had heard some stories that seemed pretty far-fetched. For instance, we were told she only would agree to clean for folk she approved of, and also she did all sorts of stuff that wouldn’t normally be considered ‘cleaning’. Seemed a bit odd, but we sent out a feeler to see if she was interested.

We’re not sure how she assessed our suitability but apparently we passed the test!

Judy is absolutely amazing – she has taken us on as her extended family. She really DOES do far more than we’d expected. Just recently I asked her to mop the front porch deck – she turned up with a power washer and did the deck, the railings and the furniture! Then there was the time she dug up an overgrown bush in the back yard and then brought here truck into the yard and hauled the roots out with a chain. She loves the cats as Heather and Anne did before her, and she once used her mop to physically repel a man trying to dump kittens in the bookstore.

Do not mess with Judy. She is the stuff of which mountain families are made. Also, don’t leave your coffee cup on untreated wood without a coaster. She’ll take you out.

 

 

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

Old Soldiers Never Die – – –

It’s Wednesday so it’s Jack’s turn again, but a painful one – –

It’s always sad when a dedicated customer passes away. Bill Peace was one of our beloved regulars. Those of you who have read The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap would find him in its pages as the guy with the bearlike shuffle and precision military corners.

Bill and Brenda

He was a true supporter of the bookstore from its earliest days and it was always a pleasure to see him. Early on he would come striding up the steps in front, then later he needed to use the ramp at the side. Either way, once in the front door he would very slowly traverse every corner of every room. His reading tastes were wide and included everything from US history to mystery novels. He never missed a shelf.

He never said very much, either, but it was clear that he valued having a bookstore in the town. Some customers chat while browsing, but not Bill. He kept his thoughts contained inside the omnipresent ex-military cap he wore, the emblem of his unit decorating its dark red. Mostly he would just ask if we had anything on ‘such and such’ or by ‘so and so’.

Eventually his health deteriorated and it was harder for him to get here. His devoted wife Brenda would drive him over to the side of the building and help him up the ramp. When that got to be too much, we’d get phone calls from him asking about particular authors or books, and organize pick-up from Brenda or his son David.

We knew that things were getting to be more serious from reports by David and his wife Felicia (another staunch pair of bookshop supports) who’d come to collect the books Bill had ordered over the phone.

Back when we started ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ thirteen years ago we needed the support of established locals and we are very grateful to the ones who stepped up and showed their public support. Bill Peace was one of them and he helped enormously to make us feel part of the community.

RIP Bill – we will never forget you!

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

Cole Tells it Like it Is

cole 1Yo. My name’s Cole. Yeah, black cat, people think it’s C-O-A-L but it’s Cole after Cole Porter. ‘Cause I sing as good as he did. Yeah, like that.

So I’m here at this bookstore with some other cats. Didn’t know any of them before we got here, but I recognize some from that shelter. It was crowded, man, and people were saying things like “cull” and “today.” Made me nervous.

Anyway, in walks this bald guy and then I’m in a carrier, and there’s a vet, which was unpleasant but not awful, couple of sharps and I had to swallow something bitter, and then it all got kinda woozy there for awhile, and I woke up unable to father children.

This doesn’t bother me. Never cared about getting sued for palimony and all that jazz. Now I can tomcat around all I want. There’s a door in the basement here where we can go out in the backyard. Sometimes I sits out on the rail of the porch back there, and thinks about my life so far. It ain’t been bad, but I think it’s on the upswing. Meals regular, plenty of jingle balls and soft surfaces, couple nice cat trees positioned well to see out the window. A guy could get used to spoiling, y’know?

cole 3The people here tell me I’m waiting for my “furrever home.” Cute, the way they spell that. They asked me what I wanted, and I had to think a little bit. Don’t know that I’ve expected much so far, but if I was designing the purrfect—er sorry, perfect—cathouse, it would have places to sit and look out the window. There’d just be a few of us, me and one or two other friendly cats. I like cats that like me. Maybe a kitten to raise, y’know, teach the kid to play ball and stuff. That’d be fun.

Regular meals. That’s a given. And when I want to jump in your lap, you’re okay with that. I’m not the biggest carry-me guy in the world, but I does like a lap snuggle couple times a day. I keep it hidden, had to all that time on the streets, but there’s a sensitive side to me.

Yeah, that’d do it. Nothing fancy. Just a home with the basics and a few frills. That’d do me just fine.

The people here say I might get adopted by Christmas. They talk about this holiday called Halloween and how regular punters out there are scared of black cats. Never heard anything so crazy in my whole life. I was on death row after a year on the streets dodging crazy people trying to hurt me, and YOU are scared of ME? Get real! What’m I gonna do, cuddle you to death?

cole 2Uh yeah, forgot to mention, at night, I like to sleep on the bed with you, if you don’t mind. Like above your head, or in that curve behind your knees. I ain’t fussy. And I promise not to smother you while you sleep. Sheesh. Who’d work the canopener? People got no common sense these days.

Anyway, come down and visit the bookstore and say hi. We can talk, have a cup of milk, maybe play a round of cards, see how we like each other’s company. Ask me nice and I’ll even sing for ya.

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Hands, Knees and Boomps – a- Daisy

This time Jack meets the deadline – –

I suffer from Nail Patella Syndrome (NPS) but didn’t even know what it was until I was into my fifties. It’s hereditary and can affect people very differently. For me it’s quite mild – my elbows won’t straighten and my knee caps swivel to the side; also my thumb nails and toe nails twist and split. The worst, when I was a child and teenager, was my teeth. NPS means your teeth are soft, with twisted roots and very subject to cavities. So you can probably imagine what dentist visits were like for me in the 1950s and 60s! I still have nightmares about that now – – – but no teeth I’m happy to say!

In other words, for me it is mainly a skeletal thing – bones, joints and suchlike.

IMG_3602

Knees, elbows and Owen!

But I’m lucky compared to other members of my extended family. NPS can, in its more severe forms, affect your kidneys and liver which I’m glad to say it never has for me.

One of the first people in the US to be officially approved to use cannabis as a medical treatment was a man suffering from a severe case of NPS. So we’re trailblazers too!

I’ve always wondered, though, if various health episodes during my life had any connection to NPS? There haven’t been all that many, but you can’t help wondering. My tonsils were removed when I was three years old, an ingrowing toenail was cut out when I was six. Much, much later my small intestine (hah!) tied itself in a double knot, I almost died and it took a year to recover.

About eighteen years ago a doctor from Liverpool in England was doing her post-doctoral research on the condition and I was honored to receive a copy of her final thesis – there I could immediately see pictures of my knee and toenails and descriptions of my family members (all anonymous of course).

But let’s get to the point of all this –

If you suspect that you or someone you know may suffer from this condition here are a couple of useful links – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nail%E2%80%93patella_syndrome

http://www.npsw.org/

 

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Will ye no Come Back Again – –

Jack gets in under the wire with his Wednesday guest post –

I’ve been helping a group of local high school kids prepare for a ‘one act play’ competition, by coaching them in their Scottish accents. The play is called ‘The Women of Lockerbie’ by Deborah Brevoort, and is set in the aftermath of the downing of Pan-Am 103 on December 21st 1988, with the loss of everyone on board and a good few residents of the town too.

women of lockerbie

I decided that for our first meeting I would revisit my memories of that terrible day to give them a bit of context and also to put me back into the same space they would be occupying.

This is a bit like remembering where you were when Kennedy was shot, or on 9/11!

I remember very clearly the unrolling news during that day. In late afternoon all the TV stations were reporting what seemed to be two unrelated incidents. The first was a plane mysteriously disappearing from radar as it crossed the border from England to Scotland. The second was an explosion in Lockerbie and thought to be in a gas station. As the afternoon wore on and by the time of the 6pm news, the Lockerbie explosion was turning out be much bigger than first thought and it was obvious that the newsreaders were beginning to connect the two stories. By the time of the late evening news there were camera crews in the town and the images were horrific! I clearly remember seeing a man still strapped in his seat and fully clothed on the roof of a house – and that piece of video was never re-shown as far I know.

Thirty-five of the passengers who died were students of Syracuse University returning home for Christmas, and the mother of one of them is a main character in the play.

The play focuses on the bond that quickly became established between the women of Lockerbie and the those from the US who came to find where their sons and daughters had died. Both sets of women are feisty and willing to take on both the British and US authorities. The play finishes with the women insisting that they wash all the recovered clothing and return it to their American friends. As they wash the clothes they sing ‘Will ye no Come Back Again’ and I was close to tears by then.

I’m tremendously impressed at how these young kids have researched and got under the skin of this story – something that happened far away and long before they were born. If you get the chance to see their performance you should – Central High School in Wise VA.

As for me – I’ll never forget that day or these young folk!

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

The Monday Book: TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt

wolvesThis is a complicated book. Its central character is 14 and has that bouncy back-and-forthness of wisdom and childhood coming out in lovely sentences like “That’s what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth.”

The book is about June, her older sister Greta, their late Uncle Finn, and Finn’s partner Toby. Finn is June and Greta’s mother’s brother, and both adults are talented artists. But one is doing taxes and one is dying of AIDS. Like I said, it’s complicated.

The writing is beautiful. Some of the main points are kind of unbelievable–like two girls from Westchester can get up in the middle of the night and drive to Bellevue without their parents noticing, etc. But overall the emotional range of the characters and the plot driven by their needs, angers, and hopes holds up well. Everybody wants something. Not everybody can say what they want, or why they don’t want some of their other family members not to get what they want. That’s the point around which the action rotates.

If you like character-driven drama, you will love this book. If you remember ’80s AIDS–ignoring, exploring, deploring–you will love this book. If you have no patience with unresolved plot points, you might not. There are some loose threads left dangling, but as Stephen King says, “Life has a lot of those. Why shouldn’t writing?”

The weirdest part for me, but the part that many reviewers liked the most, is how the sisters used a painting their uncle had done of them to communicate with each other. Worth a lot on the art market, the girls deface it to send coded messages when words fail them. It was an intriguing take on the art book genre.

Overall, I love the way Brunt writes, and how intensely she draws her main characters. One paintbrush up for TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME.

 

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