Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

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

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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Scotch on the Rocks – – –

Breaking News – –

Wendy and I have a double cancellation for this year’s Scottish tour. The dates are Sunday June 17th – Friday June 29th. The original price was $3500 per person (excluding airfare) but is discounted to $3000 per person, with room for a total of four. That’s $2K discount if a family takes it! If you are interested full details can be found on the ‘Scottish Tour’ page at www.scottishsongandstory.co.uk . We will be visiting Skye, Lewis, the North 500 road, Orkney, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Fife. Time is short so first come first served! Space for four people in two rooms available. Price covers dinner, bed and breakfast in good mostly traditional hotels, after dinner music on some nights, ferry fares and entry to historic sites. All you need is spending money, and if you want it, lunch money. Most people find Scottish breakfasts keep them going all day.

We will visit castles and mountains, see Hielan coos, the Neolithic sites on Lewis and Orkney, stay in a hotel that used to be a Templar castle, eat the best fish n’ chips in Britain and meander the fishing villages of Fife. With luck at least one of our ferry voyages will have porpoise accompaniment and of course there will be haggis aplenty!

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Skara Brae on Orkney

The maximum number that I set for the group is ten as that fits easily in the minivan we use and the reason I don’t include airfare is because folk tend to come from various parts of the US and some want to use specific airlines. Although the tour starts at Edinburgh on the morning of Sunday June 17th I always advise folk to arrive a day before just in case of delays or missed connections. We deliver everyone back to one of the Edinburgh airport hotels ready to depart on the morning of Friday June 29th.

We are happy to answer any questions you have – jbeck69087@aol.com or 276-523-5097.

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Here, There and Everywhere

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post is a day late –

I continue to be somewhat amazed at how small the world has become, and it’s not just the number of people from far afield who visit our wee bookstore in rural Appalachia – even this week when it was snowing.

Just yesterday I had an email conversation with a gentleman in Rome, Italy called Massimo. It started first thing in the morning with a request for the words of a song I recorded with my old group Heritage on our second album back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued and in a subsequent message he explained he was a big fan and had spent years collecting all the available recordings that I and the group had made over the years. As of this morning there are two CDs he didn’t know about winging their way to him via the USPS and Poste Italiane!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the presenter of a folk music show that airs on a radio station based in SW Scotland and we have begun to exchange programs. The ones I’m sending him are mostly digitized copies of cassettes that were made of a live show that I did back in the 1990s on a different (and now defunct) station in Scotland. But these cassettes were stored here at WETS which is the station where ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ is based, because back then I sent them over to be re-broadcast here. So a show that originally went out live to rural Perthshire has gone through a series of different technologies, traveled the Atlantic twice and is being heard by listeners of Folk n’ Stuff over the internet in (among other places) Tallahassee where there are, apparently, a loyal group of fans!

Sticking with the radio theme, I had the great pleasure of interviewing a lovely Irishman called Liam at the WETS studios on Monday morning, who is a visiting professor at ETSU just now, and made a good friend in the process. We concentrated on two themes that are part of his research focus and will also be the subjects of presentations he will make here. One was the importance of the culture of small geographical areas and the other was the challenge of Brexit for Ireland (North and South).

On Tuesday Wendy and I had our guest blog post for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum published and that also has a transatlantic theme.

https://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/follow-ballad-scotlands-lord-gregory-carter-familys-storms-ocean/

Meanwhile I continue to fine tune the arrangements for my annual small group tour of Scotland at the end of June, which also entails a fair amount of international communication.

It’s all a mad gay whirl I tell you – – –

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Just the Right Note – –

Jack doesn’t quite make it with his Wednesday guest post –

This was going to be a post about my birthday on Monday and I suppose it still can be.

Yes – it was yet another one and I had a great night in the local-ish Indian restaurant with a group of close friends. I was also amazed at how many folk felt connected enough to wish me the best via Facebook, which has its good and bad points but keeps us all in touch if we can ignore all the crazy stuff.

party

Good friends, good company and excellent curries on Monday evening

But my present to myself has been a year in the preparation. In a recent post I mentioned a guitar that was being repaired and put back in the condition (in fact better than) it was when I first bought it some years ago. So here’s the story –

I had been traveling back and forward between Scotland and the US and was very nervous about my big guitar having to travel in the hold of the planes, so I started researching ‘parlor guitars’ as they can fit in the overhead bins. I was searching online and found a guy in California who found parlor guitars at house clearances and had a whole lot for sale. I took a chance and bought one from him. A bit like folk buying a tour of Scotland from someone they’ve never met!

When it arrived it turned out to be a Lyon and Healy Lakeside. L&H still exist but haven’t made guitars for a long time. Based in Chicago they are known now for their pianos and harps. The Lakeside was their second top quality guitar – the top one was called the Washburn (the middle name of one of the partners). They sold the Washburn brand and that’s a whole other story.

DSCN4549

When my Lakeside arrived I was completely charmed and impressed. It is the only guitar I’ve seen with back and sides made from oak, and how anyone could have bent these sides is beyond me. It had a bright and punchy sound and was incredibly easy to play. These instruments were popular with mountain music groups of the 1920s and 30s because they were both cheap and could be heard alongside the banjo and fiddle. Sadly my guitar quickly began to deteriorate with a split on the top, a split in the heel of the neck and internal braces loosening.

Enter two new and good friends who made an introduction to an excellent guitar luthier in Nashville and organized transport of my beloved Lakeside to and from that wonderful craftsman. I really thought I’d get a quick response saying it was beyond help, but didn’t hear anything at all!

I had been told it would probably take a year as he had to fit it in between his own much sought after bespoke instruments and that’s exactly how long it took.

DSCN4551

This morning I finally got her back and I’m completely astonished. He deliberately didn’t try to make her look like new, but simply made everything just how it was when I first got her. But much, much better. She looks pretty much the same but sounds and plays like a dream. The big thing I found when I first got her was that the neck was narrow and had a distinct ‘D’ cross section which really suits my hand. When I sat down this afternoon to play her I knew all the trouble and expense was completely worth it!

So to all 400 of you who wished me happy birthday in various ways – I’m amazed I have that many folk who care. To those of you who made it to Sahib’s on Monday evening, I just finished my tandoori prawn tonight. To the love of my life who traveled down from WV to make sure I survived – hang on – we have a 20th anniversary approaching.

To Paul, Bill and especially Chris Bozung – thanks for giving me back the Lakeside (not to mention the anonymous original makers who’s instrument sold for the first time for $6 in 1906 in a Sears Roebuck catalogue).

 

 

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The Train that I Ride – –

Jack is jumping in here so Wendy can write something else –

I had the great pleasure of visiting with Wendy up in Fayetteville WV a few days ago and found it to be a charming place, about the same size as Big Stone Gap. The biggest difference was the group of writers and artists I met who are re-inventing the place and promoting it as a welcoming haven for such folk (but that’s for another blog post).

On Thursday we drove out into the surrounding area and explored out of the way places. We stumbled on the most amazing thing. We had heard there was an old abandoned coal-town that you could wander round called Thurmond. My goodness!

We traveled along a narrow winding road and came to what might have been the place, but there wasn’t much to see. So we carried on just out of curiosity to see where we’d end up. A few miles further on we came to a scary narrow bridge and essayed across gingerly and found ourselves at an abandoned railroad station with a sign saying Thurmond. The depot had been restored as a visitor center by the National Park Service and there was a street of empty impressive looking buildings. The buildings had big posters mounted inside explaining their history and that of the town.

thurmond 3

As we wandered round we stumbled across a very modern Amtrack signboard and discovered to our amazement that the station was on the main line from New York to Chicago and a train stopped once a day in each direction.

thurmond 4

It turned out that the nearby New River Gorge area is a big tourist destination in Summer, so we suppose that people come there by train then, although how they get any further can only be on foot as I doubt there’s any bus or taxi service.

 

That said, it is a destination worth getting to, especially for outdoorsy types into hiking, biking, and kayaking. Wendy and I can watch people like that for hours.

While we were there, a train came through, hauling empty coal cars. The L&M may not stop there anymore, but at least in the summer, people do.

 

 

 

thurmond 5

thurmond 1

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