Category Archives: humor

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 Travelogue

Y’all, Jack and I apologize for the sporadic nature of this blog lately but we’re getting slowly back into the saddle. Or out of it. He’s in Scotland, leading his annual tour exploring the delights of Orkney and Skye, and I’ve been everywhere but at the bookstore this month.

Today I’m in a Starbucks in Manchester, New Hampshire airport, waiting on a rescheduled flight. Could be worse; the Internet is free, and when I said to the lady behind the counter, “I just want a cup of coffee,” she smiled and helped me sort through the bewildering display of options. I had been wishing for my friend Cami, who speaks Seattle AND Coffee. Last week it was her place and the SeaTac airport. Much bigger than this sweet little place.

However, this airport does have a haunted bathroom. I availed myself of a stall and found to my chagrin that the door which swung so willingly open with a slight creak to invite me in as I entered, was now stuck. Just as I contemplated the plague risks associated with crawling out under the door (the place was clean, but hey, it’s a toilet) it swung open again with that air of mystery. As I stepped to the sink, all the hot air blowers started. At the sink, the soap squirted without invitation. I began to feel nervous and beat it outta there, relieved that a secret barrier didn’t slam down. In the regional airport bathroom at 6:30 am, no one can hear you scream.

I wonder how many people they lose that way?

Anyway, from here I go to Richmond for a two-day series of meetings, and then back home to the beloved bookstore, ably staffed by Erin Kay and her son Bryant. Bryant is Keeper of the Kittens while Erin minds the shop. They’re stuffing some tourism fun between serious bookselling and cat cuddling.

Me, I’m delighted my flight was delayed in this quiet little airport with ample tables and power sources, because I’ve got some writing on my mind.  As soon as this nice grande whacha call it kicks in.

Have a good day, everybody.

Old vintage typewriter

 

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

The Sweater

I came to Charlottesville for the VA Festival of the Book and enjoyed my day out, eating excellent foods from distinctive cooking traditions and haunting yarn shops. Yesterday I listened to three writers in two panels discuss their work and how it comes together, and it was good info. My panel is this morning, talking about Appalachia as stereotype and reality in economics, foster care, and history.

IMG_3588But I have been these last ten weeks in Fayetteville, West Virginia, a town with a different ethos. This is what I wore in Fayetteville quite a bit, and people would stop me and say, “I love that t-shirt, and your sweater is beautiful. Did you make it yourself?” I saw one woman cross the street to come talk to me, and the first thing she did was fondle my sweater.

Here in Charlottesville, the city of wealth, people are not lame or demeaning. Don’t get that idea. But they look at my sweater and avoid making eye contact. The night I pulled into the hotel at 11:30 pm, lugging my worldly goods in a laundry basket (didn’t have any luggage with me at the writing residency) the desk clerk said, “May I help you?” When I said “Welch,” she looked at me for a moment, then blinked.

“Oh, you have a reservation.” And her fingers flew. So it was only a second there that she wondered why this road-haggard woman with the dandelion fluff hair and the fuzzy sweater carrying a laundry basket was standing at the counter.

Friday, I went out with my sweater to see the world, Charlottesville style. On the Pedestrian Mall (socks $25, earrings $30) people glanced at my sweater and looked away again. I know what they were thinking, “Gee, I wish I had a sweater that pretty.”

:]

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

ELLEN KEY’S MONDAY BOOK


Dragon and Thief
Timothy Zahn
A Starscape Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
First Starscape edition published March 2004
248 pages
US $5.99
ISBN 0-765-34272-3

26754248_1710858812270915_1194046930_nJack has a secret that he’s been keeping for quite some time. If this secret gets out, he could be in a world of trouble. As it is, he’s already in that – on a whole different world. In a whole different galaxy.

Hiding out on the uninhabited planet of Iota Klestis, Jack and his Uncle Virgil are witnesses to an aerial battle in the sky above their concealed spaceship. As they watch, four little ships are firing on four large and lumbering spaceships. At the end of the short and deadly battle, one of the large ships has crashed on their hideaway planet. Uncle Virge urges Jack to go search for survivors or anything else worth salvaging.

This is when the story gets interesting. Jack comes face-to-face, or should I say, back-to-front, with an alien K’da dragon warrior named Draycos, who is like nothing that Jack has ever experienced before. Draycos changes from a three-dimensional dragon to a two-dimensional form that flows onto Jack’s body, and transforms himself into a living tattoo that wraps itself across Jack’s back, shoulders and arms.

Needless to say, Jack is freaked out! This book will keep you fully engaged in the adventures that Jack and Draycos encounter, while continuing to establish their relationship as host and symbiont. Draycos also teaches Jack about ethical behavior, as befitting a K’da dragon warrior.

This book is the first of six books in the Dragonback series, written by none other than Timothy Zahn, who is well known as the author of eighteen science fiction novels, among those two Star Wars© series.

I stumbled across this book (written for young adults aged 10+) at my local “used books” bookstore. Intrigued, I stood there reading it for a good 30 minutes, before finally putting it down; but not before I had taken a quick photo of the cover. A year later, I went back to find it. I had been so impressed by the creativity of the author that I just HAD to finish reading it! It’s a good 2-hour read from start to finish. You will enjoy it – if you are looking for the feeling of having finished something light and satisfying, when you turn the last page.

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Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

Bookstores – What are they Like?

A guest post from Jack on Friday because Wendy has more urgent requirements –

It’s time for me to talk about bookstores for a change!

This is traditionally our quietest time of the year, but not this time for some unfathomable reason. We’ve had the usual mixture of old stalwarts and out-of-towners despite the cold, rainy or snowy weather. Maybe Spring is close because we’ve also had lots of donations and traded books as well, which means a lot of pricing and shelving of course.

A couple of months ago our good friend David helped me to do a very deep clean of most of the front shop and that resulted in a significant culling of duplicates, battered and ‘never sell in a million years’ books. That freed up some space so now we have some shelf space (as well as half a garage full of boxes of duplicates and ‘never sells – -‘).

In between all this I’ve been checking emails and FaceBook where I’ve been seeing lots of reports of bookstores closing and others opening up – so the scene continues to be pretty dynamic. I haven’t had any time to try to analyze what’s going on but it would certainly be interesting. I’ve heard many reports of retirees buying existing bookstores as a kind of fun thing to do as a source of extra income (although there are only really certain ways of doing that – mainly – sell used books and live on the premises!).

Just to put the top hat on things, Wendy sent me the manuscript of one of the books she’s been working on while she’s been on her writing residency in WV and, lo and behold, there’s a mythical bookstore in it that seems strangely familiar! It’s quite disturbing to read a novel (yes, a novel) with so many recognizable places and characters in it. Being a novel, she allowed herself to mess with the characters as well as the bookstore which makes it even more odd. Our bookstore has had many adventures and strange happenings associated with it but none quite like this!

To finish – as I was writing this a tall and exceptionally beautiful woman came into the store and asked if we had any Dostoevskys – I directed her to the classics room and she volunteered that she was just waiting for her car to be serviced round the corner. “Where are you from” I ventured – “Michigan” she replied.

Wendy was born in Michigan – – –

 

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