Category Archives: Little Bookstore of 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 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

Sunset, Sunrise

sea-sky-sunset-8101My friend Jenny got told she should go home and make peace with herself and God. Since she already was, she came home, opened her door, and said, “Come say goodbye.”

Jenny had the kind of cancer that made it dangerous for her to have visitors, but being a gregarious person, this rankled during her time. We sent a lot of FB messages while she was fighting off the body invaders. When she knew it wasn’t going to work, the invites went out, and we all went.

Jenny died while I was on a plane flying from East Coast to West. When I touched down in Seattle for a writing retreat, the first thing I got was a text from Jack saying she had left us.

And a reminder that he was going to our friend Destiny’s wedding reception that night. After living through a great deal of trauma, Destiny had found a guy who wanted to look after her and her two children; her life was about to turn, on the same day Jenny’s turned the other way.

Jenny was saying goodbye, ready to go, excited almost to think about what would happen when she met God and what her physical body and spiritual soul would turn into. On one of two visits I got in before the end came, Jenny took a sip of coffee and said, “I wonder what happens to us when we die? Do we disappear or turn into something?”

Her sisters froze. We looked at each other. All I could think was You’re about to find out, but you can’t tell us after you know. That’s part of the plan.

Destiny’s first husband’s death was a community gossip tragedy, but she’s the one who knows what it feels like to lose a guy who’d been fighting for years to reclaim his own life. And who knows what it feels like to love again. The community judgement she faces for either husband is irrelevant, and she knows it. She doesn’t say much.

Sunset, sunrise: two women with stories locked inside them, a story they can’t tell for different reasons. Unlocking the stories, giving voices to those whose stories are inconvenient, or indicting, or scary for the rest of us: that’s what I came to Seattle to be part of. It’s a writing retreat for women telling their stories, some in first person, some couched in fiction. The stories are inconvenient, indicting, and scary. And wonderful.

The world feels dimmer without Jenny in it, the world feels happier because Destiny and Ira got married. The world tilts at an incredible pace, and sometimes we can’t write fast enough to keep up with it.

Sometimes we can, though. And we should. Chronicle the sunsets, chronicle the sunrises. Find your voice and use it.

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Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, 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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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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