Category Archives: small town USA

C’est La Vie NOT

Attending the Appalachian Regional Commission meeting on “Transforming Appalachia” was a mixed bag. More respectful than I remember urban do-gooder conferences being, it was still painful.

The chirpy moderator who opened the panel on opioids couldn’t pronounce Appalachia as natives do, nor understand why her question “how can we bring hope to such a despairing region” brought a hiss of breath intake from half the crowd.

But then at lunch Gerry Roll, a foundation director out of Hazard, KY, said that we own our problems without allowing them to define us. Some of the ARC staff looked startled.

This isn’t a rural-specific conference, but Gerry also said even at her most despairing and poor in Kentucky, she’d never felt as lonely as she did living in poverty in an urban center. And part of the new respect I’m seeing for Appalachia is recognizing that Central Appalachia in particular has social networks and pathways that create community cohesion in ways other places can only imagine. A lot of heads nodded.

One of the parts I loved/hated was the “Brights Spots in Health” segment. The ARC had put out a study call a couple of years ago, for places that defied the odds with better health outcomes than their social determinants suggested they should have. A big takeaway from this presentation is that ARC now recognizes and factors into its policies that Appalachia has at least three distinct cultural regions: Southern, Central Coalfields, and Northern.

Southern Appalachia tends to have a lot of bright spots, defying the odds more than Central or Northern. In fact, Mississippi is confounding everyone. While the rest of us might even count it good if we just don’t get worse at the same rate as last year, Ol’ Miss down there is getting BETTER. Not just getting worse slower: getting BETTER.

Is it the water? No one knows, but there’s a study headed to find out.

If I had to guess, they’re going to found that Southern Social Cohesion is a barrier to more than just people who don’t fit in. Maybe it keeps out germs. Yeah, no. But maybe it applies its forces for good as well as evil, encouraging church members to exercise together, teaching kids to plant gardens and eat the fruit thereof….

Whatever it is, I’ll all for it, because the hate part of that “Bright Spots” event was when I started crying as the project director outlined the stats for “diseases of despair”: alcoholism, drugs, and suicide. I pulled up a picture of our friend Jessee on my phone, and held it through the rest of the presentation. When the ARC presenter said “and we have to keep in mind these are people, not stats, and how do these surroundings affect the lives of those living in them” I thought about Jessee’s wife Destiny giving away a kidney, and cried quietly there in my seat, watching the stats roll by.

C’est la vie, as we say in Wise County. Except maybe not. The past doesn’t have to control the future. One of the points the presentation hammered was that all the bright spots had a few commonalities: someone who started an internal catalyst of organizations coming together; a coalition; resilience; and some recognition of/fighting against substance abuse issues. The internal part was key; they may have brought in experts, and they certainly brought in funding, but they started within the community and identified their own assets. jessee

This is different from other places I’ve heard do-gooders talk about Appalachia. They are listening. This is good. We were listening too. Working together is something we’re pretty good at, here in Wise County.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Contact – Chocks Away!

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually something of a book review –

The History of The Pound (Rhonda Robertson, Nancy Clark Brown)

Pound is a small town to the north of Big Stone Gap and is sometimes referred to as ‘The Pound’. It’s believed to have gotten its name from one of the surveyors who first mapped the area.

We often receive donations of books into Tales of the Lonesome Pine and this book came in one such box. As I gave it a cursory glance through I realized that it was not only very well written and researched for a privately published book, but it covered a wider area than just the town of Pound.

As I began to check it out more thoroughly I came to a section called ‘aviation in Wise County’. As many of you will know, I’m a sucker for anything to do with airplanes so I was mightily intrigued!

I already knew that one of the streets here in Big Stone Gap is called aviation road and had heard rumors of an airstrip out that way at one time. Here finally was the whole story, and it really is a fascinating one!

The first flight was on 4th July 1913 but the pilot failed to clear trees at the end of the ball park being used and the plane was damaged beyond repair. The first completely successful flight was on June 21st 1915 and was followed by more a week or so later. These also took place at the ball park. It was 1920 before there were more demonstration flights – first at the ball park and then from a farm near East Stone Gap.

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Curtiss Jenny

It was in 1923 that a dedicated permanent airfield was finally established at Big Stone Gap across the river from the ball park, which is exactly where aviation road is today. Once the airfield was operational quite few local people purchased planes – mostly war-surplus ‘Curtiss Jennies’ and British ‘Avros’. Among these owners were some based in the town of Appalachia and they established ‘Cumberland Airways Inc’, buying and refurbishing Jennies and Avros and then re-selling them after testing at the Big Stone Gap airfield. It seems that following this burst of activity the use of the field tapered off and it fell into disrepair and finally was bought by a gentleman who lived close by and didn’t want planes near his house. He required anyone wishing to fly there to get permission from him and there’s no evidence he ever gave it.

In 1938 a completely new airfield called The Powell Valley Airport was built at Crackers Neck just outside Big Stone Gap and a flying school was established there, closing in 1942 and re-opening in 1945. Following a fire in 1948 it closed for good and flying in the area moved to the town of Wise with the establishment of Lonesome Pine Airport which continues to operate successfully up to the present day.

1972_LonePineAirport-550x331

I wonder if there any traces of the three Big Stone Gap airfields still to be found – – –

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

The Monday Book: THE DARK SIDE OF THE WOODS by Willie Dalton

darksidecoverMany thanks to Wendy for inviting me to guest blog and promote myself, well, my new book that is. I’ve been working on this book for about a year and a half, which seems crazy since I wrote my first book in three months
“The Dark Side of the Woods”, takes me a little step closer to writing the genre nearest to my heart, horror. I’ve always loved creepy books, much more so than creepy movies and at some point it might be the majority of the stories I tell. This book isn’t too scary, just enough to keep you wondering what’s coming next. Perfect for this time of year!
The inspiration came when my husband and I were hiking in Cumberland Gap, Tn. We walked by an unusual stretch of path that was a bright and sunny meadow on one side and a dark forest on the other with great rocks peeking through the trees. My imagination immediately jumped to shadows hiding behind the rocks and running through the woods. I knew the story I wanted to tell and even kept the setting in Cumberland Gap.
The story centers around a young woman named Sadie and her love interest, Rob. The closer they get, the more mysterious things start happening in town. Meanwhile, a small stretch of road that Sadie has always walked by becomes dark and menacing. No sunlight touches the dark side of the woods, no animals will pass through it and nothing that goes in there, comes back out.  Sadie learns she and Rob are both tied to the events going on through long forgotten family secrets that date back to the settlement of the town. It’s up to them to make things right, but that means going into the dark woods. 22281604_906572242823586_7535788090923277310_n
It was such a fun book to write and so far all the feedback I’ve gotten has been great. “The Dark Side of the Woods” is available in all the usual places (like that online company we don’t mention in front of Wendy)–or even better: request it in your local bookstore!
To keep up with my work you can follow me on Facebook or through my website.

And yes, I do love tattoos. Why do you ask?

authorwilliedalton.com
facebook.com/threewitchesinasmalltown

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King’s Mountain?

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is, OF COURSE, late again –

A Dance called America – James Hunter

This isn’t really a book review, but I thought I’d better head this post that way, as much of what will come next is from my reading of this excellent and informative book.

The Battle of King’s Mountain is seen in this area and taught in US schools as a pivotal event in the American War of Independence. While that is certainly true, there is another way of seeing it that has a lot to do with centuries of Scottish history.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the ‘Scotch Irish’ and their settling in Southern Appalachia. These were the children of lowland Scots who themselves had moved to the north of Ireland and established plantations there. These children grew up to find they were unpopular in Ireland and with little economic prospects. So they moved to the ‘New World’ and specifically to Appalachia.

However Gaelic speaking highlanders from Scotland had already emigrated to the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia earlier. These were relatively wealthy ‘tack men’ very high in the clan pecking order and just below the level of clan chief. Once in the Americas they established cotton and tobacco plantations (which is why Glasgow and Paisley became the tobacco and cotton ‘capitals’ of Europe).

The forces that met at King’s Mountain in 1780 comprised a loyalist army led by a professional British soldier – Major Patrick Ferguson, who was a Scots highlander, and a contingent of patriots who were mostly drawn from the Scotch-Irish immigrant population. On the British side, apart from Ferguson, the army was all volunteer, and they were mainly Gaelic speaking highlanders from the coast. The patriots were all volunteers and their leaders included many with Scots names.

Patrick_Ferguson

Patrick Ferguson

It should be noted here that back in Scotland there had been centuries of clashes between the northern clans and the southern folk – a fault line between two distinctly different cultures!

I could never understand, however, why two lots of Scots that had been, effectively, forced out of Scotland would end up on opposing sides in what was at that time pretty much an English colony. It seemed odd to me.

But, as Hunter points out, the highlanders considered themselves ‘upper class’ and aristocratic before all else and saw the patriots as lower-class peasants who needed to be put in their place. So they aligned themselves with their ‘peers’ in London rather than their fellow countrymen. In doing so they inadvertently simply continued a long tradition of Scottish history – albeit in a foreign land.

Footnotes –

When the war ended with victory for the patriots, a great many of the highlanders who had been captured didn’t return to the Carolinas and Georgia. Instead they made new lives in Canada. At the present time there are more native Gaelic speakers in Canada than in Scotland.

The last native Gaelic speaker in North Carolina died in the late 1800s. He was a Presbyterian Pastor and an African-American!

Shortly after these events the highlands of Scotland suffered ‘The Clearances’, and this resulted in a much stronger feeling of solidarity between the Gaelic and Scots cultures, which has continued to strengthen down to the present.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

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Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

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

Zora Left Us

zoraOur baby girl Zora has left us. Jack took her this afternoon to her last vet appointment, where we ended the dark confusion and debilitating pain advancing years had brought.

Zora didn’t know anyone these last few days; not her veterinarian Beth, not Our Good Chef Kelly, not always Jack and me. We gave her a bowl of milk and a chewy stick, two of her favorite things in the world, before assisting her into the car.

She came to us fourteen years ago when she ran out in front of my car on a busy street near a suburban neighborhood. I got out, looked around for where she might have come from, and then invited her to ride shotgun. We stopped at CVS and got a collar on the way home.

We know she got her mind and her legs back at the Crossing. I’d like to imagine she got the Teak Throne carried by four Maine Coons, but our Zora was a Quaker girl. She would never allow such fuss and pomp.

No, our Earth Mother dog, who snuggled so many foster kittens through the years, would be met halfway through her plodding amble to the other side by a great cloud of witnesses to her loving nature – those whom love couldn’t save, who have been waiting for a chance to show Auntie Zora around.

These would be the kittens Zora helped up the stairs in our bookstore, nudging them with her nose, even lifting them gently with her carefully covered teeth, dropping them on the landing or the lowest branch of the cat tree. The babies she kept warm, nuzzling them through the night.

Sometimes we asked her to nurse one, but more often they commandeered her bed. You knew when a kitten was with Zora for the night; a soft little growl that turned into a gurgle, followed by licking sounds. In the morning, Zora’s tiny puffball would be tucked between her paws, head cradled on her nose or cheek, both snoring softly.

So I know the little guys have been waiting this last week, watching for the time to meet her and return the hospitality. They will lead Zora to the swimming pond, show her the Milkbone Forest, probably try to talk her into playing with them on the Kitty Trampoline. She won’t go in for that. A dignified lady with all four paws on the ground, that’s our Zora.

But she probably will sneak in a round or two of jingle ball golf with les enfants, before trotting off to the nightly Steak Grill in the Dog Park. She always enjoyed being goalie for their soccer games.

Enjoy your retirement, baby girl Zora. You earned it with your sweetness and kind disposition. I wish the world still had you in it, but even if you had to leave us, it was worth it for knowing you, sweetheart.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Bumps in the Road

Jack’s guest post slips in the back door, hoping no-one notices he’s late –

I’ve been thinking about the things that lift us up or drag us down.

Wendy and I have both had a few downs recently – sicknesses, work pressures, unexpected slap-downs and news of the deaths of friends. It’s easy to let that stuff get to you – too easy.

But then something good happens and lifts you up again.

Someone you hardly know intervenes in an ugly confrontation to calm things down, a sickness departs and you feel great, and an old friend gets back in touch and reminds you of great memories.

So this is really all about that thing that makes us feel suddenly ‘up’! It is, in my experience, quite a sudden feeling but doesn’t actually have to be all that dramatic.

Is it just chemicals in the brain? Or is it the much wider network of subtle interactions between people who share a set of basic needs and common values?

Just last Saturday I had helped organize a live radio show to celebrate ten years of Celtic Clanjamphry (my weekly program on WETS.fm}. In the run up I was heavily in ‘down’ territory and had enormous worries that it just wouldn’t work. In the event, all twelve participants had worked their socks off to make sure it did. So, in the space of an hour I went from a serious down to an extreme up.

There are much more serious things in the world than an obscure Celtic music show in the depths of Appalachia, but I still think that everything that drags us down has to work slowly and hard, whereas the things that lift us up seem to be much more instant.

So – the ups have it!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized