Category Archives: small town USA

GUY HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

guy 3Guy has left the building. And he did it his way—by falling off the bed in his sleep, resulting in a dizzying wake-up lurching motion that sent his mama racing to the emergency clinic, Guy in her lap.

Turned out, Guy was telling his people something with that fall. He was gravely ill with a silent killer and entering the doggie equivalent of dementia.

Let me tell you, if love could protect a dog from harm, Guy would still be with us now. Because love saved him from active harm in the first place. He arrived at Joe and Elissa’s house a bundle of bones and needs, neglected to near-death by owners who had no business claiming ownership of anything with a heartbeat. His name, Guy, came from Joe calling him “a cheerful little guy for all he’s been through.”

That was our Guy: whatever you did, whatever was happening, however it turned out, it was all good, man. Here, rub mah belleh and you’ll feel better. Just, chill, dude. That was Guy’s philosophy of life.

While you were chilling, though, Guy could get his nose down your waistband faster than any dog—human or canine—I’d ever met. Little fuzzy Guy was something of a predator when it came to women’s clothing. He pushed in, and you just didn’t have the heart to push back, because what could one little Guy do? Until his nose was in your crotch, inside your trousers. Far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but Guy, you were pushing it big time, buddy. I think you left some lawsuits behind.

guy 2Guy crossed the Rainbow Bridge this morning. More correctly, Guy left the building, but whether he’s crossed the Bridge by now, well… you had to know our Guy. He could turn a two-minute walk into a twenty-minute discovery adventure. He never met a turtle he wouldn’t race. Never saw a puddle he didn’t want to splash in. Nor a pillow he didn’t want to test for softness, and then you could come back later…

So Guy is probably about halfway across the Bridge by now, meandering with a sniff here, a lifted leg there, perhaps a nap in one of the sunbeams before proceeding. He will pause several times to admire his reflection in the water. Guy had eyelashes that supermodels would kill for, this baby, fringing molten pools of liquid black gold. Little plump thing could melt you with his eyes.

And if there are humans on the Bridge, he will be leaning against their legs, giving them the limpid black eyes treatment, and, when they bend to say “What a sweet little guy,” he will be ramming his needle nose down their trousers. It was a practiced move and he will see no reason to stop now he’s in Doggie Heaven. Heck, that IS his Doggie Heaven.

When he finally reaches the far shore, Guy will be greeted by his foster brother Black Jack, who will try to entice him to use the trampoline, go to the steak luau, maybe even watch the movie (you wouldn’t have heard of it. They have their own canine producers across The Bridge). And Black Jack will, in the end, and with a sigh, show Guy to the soft plush pillows near the Heat Vents, and Guy will settle in, with a happy sigh, and dream of turtles.

guy

 

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

A River runs through it – –

As we continue with our house move, Jack writes – –

Every now and then a strange and magical figure enters your life. Such was the case when River came down here from New York State to live with her brother Mark Cooperstein and his wife Elizabeth a couple of years ago.

river

River wasn’t her birth name, of course. She adopted the name River Lightwomoon many years ago, and if I tell you that she also lived in Woodstock then I think you probably begin to get the picture.

She was the archetypal hippy and also a wonderful musician, specializing in percussion, and any adjacent surface was a drum for her.

She told me the amazing story of how she was already beginning to play drums and went to a club where the world-famous Jack DeJohnette was appearing. At some point one of his drum sticks ended up at her foot and she returned it to him. She met him some time later and asked about lessons, but they were going to be far too expensive her. However he remembered her and the returned stick, they got chatting and he found out she was expert at tax forms. So, in return for handling his tax stuff she got her lessons!

I was intrigued by the complex rhythms she’d set up whenever she drummed and she explained that she had worked with a mainly female group that played South American influenced original music. A short bit of on-line research and there she was listed on a number of albums!

When our good friend and wonderful singer Barbara Dickson came here to perform, she was completely entranced by River and they shared many a musical moment. But more than that – Barbara also experienced what I had – a very rare and special connection!

RIP River – you will definitely be remembered.

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized

Quart into a Pint Pot

We apologize for the sparse amount of blog posts but we are in the process of moving to Wytheville and haven’t sorted our internet service there yet.

Moving house is a fraught business which I have always hated and since we are down-sizing it’s doubly challenging. We have been running up and down the road with our car and truck loaded up with boxes and crates. The odd thing is that we still visited numerous thrift stores to pick up various items of furniture despite going to a smaller house, because the bookstore needed so little furniture.

550 tazewell

Why are we moving?

Two reasons really – the bookstore is becoming just to big for us to look after, and Wendy’s job at GMEC is expanding geographically and will require much driving up and down I-81.

What of the bookstore?

We have very good reason to believe that it will continue under new ownership. We spent the last thirteen years taking it from nothing to being a ‘go to’ place for visitors from around the country and even from abroad. It has contributed to the economy and community spirit of Big Stone Gap and we have high hopes it will continue to be the cheerful, welcoming gathering place it became.

What of us?

Our new house in Wytheville is actually older than the bookstore and has the original 1866 log cabin county jail in the backyard. Wendy has claimed this for her writing studio. She says it’s ironic since thought is freeing. Yes,dear….

It’s very close to the interstate for Wendy’s work and I will be able to continue with my radio show. It has a music room that can handle house concerts and a couple of guest rooms for visitors. We’ll be just two hours from our friends in Wise County, so not too far away. In other words, we’ll be just fine and look forward to the next chapter in our life together. Come join us for a ceilidh night!

Normal blogging will resume from January 7th 2019.

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

Miss McLeod, meet Uncle Joe

Jack missed his Wednesday deadline again – –

We have a pretty disparate group of friends that have many different interests, some of which I share. One of these, of course, is music. Every now and again some of us find some overlapping time when we can get together and can do some picking and singing.

Today was one of these days, and it was glorious!

For a couple of hours all the cares of the world disappeared and three of us threw everything else aside, forgot our cares and lost ourselves in bringing together our very different music to a common ground.

Tony had just heard that his brother had suffered a heart attack (but was recovering), while Leroy is still dealing with the death of his beloved Jenny and Tyler is trying to balance the life of a professional musician with balancing his budget. Me? I’m just juggling all the logistics of buying a new house and moving there while keeping my marriage on an even keel!

Tony is our guitar playing Presbyterian Pastor buddy who is seriously into ‘middle-of-the-road’ anything goes kind of music. Tyler is our local deep down traditional and very well informed banjo playing expert on the local music. I sing Scottish songs and ballads and play a pretty odd guitar style.

But the dark horse in all this is Leroy.

He’s very capable at playing everything from Simon and Garfunkel to James Taylor and everything in between – and he does it very well. He talks about things like diminished minor 7ths and such like.

So, for two hours we shared songs and did our best to follow each other as we sang, and every so often really got it together. We chatted about our musical preferences and veered off into lots of other things. We laughed and got more serious sometimes. And we got some renewed energy for life’s challenges.

I have to admit that I wondered if getting together at eleven on a weekday morning in the bookstore with a group of folk I’d never played music all together with before was such a great idea. But in the end it was just what we each and all needed.

One of the customers that came into the bookstore as we were getting started spent a long time “browsing” and finally said he expected to pay extra for the excellent entertainment.

Nah—we got more out of it than we put in, and that’s worth everything. Take a look here.

 

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

Letters, Boxes, Words–Tomatoes

hidden roomThis time next month Jack and I should be finding places to put things in our new house. It’s 550 Tazewell St, Wytheville if you want to look up the rooms and stuff. People have already observed (correctly) that it is a half-size version of our current bookstore home.

No, we won’t be running a bookstore. Yes, the blog will continue. Yes, I’m still writing, working on my fourth book and oh glory the joy when I can stop packing boxes and start using the time for writing instead. No, I won’t be working with Appalachian Feline Friends in any significant capacity, just driving transports and running an online craft store for fundraising. I’m retiring and turning it over to younger people with more fresh ideas: no strategizing. I need the brain space.

The joys of the new house include: a hidden bedroom. Halfway up the staircase is a small hobbit-shaped door, with no stairs into it. You have to hop. This reveals a slope-sided attic space in which any self-respecting hobbit or child would delight. I revel in the prospect of filling it with my yarn, lining the sides in visible boxes, waiting for me to pluck it out and make it into things that will assist the cats or surprise and terrify friends at Christmas (2019, I hasten to add).

A small greenhouse. My heirloom tomato nerd side is already planning. If you have heirloom tomato seeds you’d like to send me, please do. Oh, the happiness of growing baby tomatoes from seeds. I’m going to pipe in classical music to help them along.

The old jail. Seriously, we inherited the 1866 Wytheville jail as part of the property. It has heat and light and it’s the perfect size for a 9-months-of-the-year writing studio. A small table, my laptop, and NOTHING ELSE! I haven’t had a designated writing room since I finished the writing residency in Fayetteville last March. Jack is the one who called it, too. As soon as he saw the room, he said, “Well, you got your studio back.” Yep.

The tiny balcony. Despite his best efforts and mine, Jack still smokes. Not in the house. It’s a deal-breaker. But on the lee side sheltered by the roof and some trees sits a small patio on the second floor, just big enough for two chairs and an ashtray. My beloved can do his bad thing out there and I won’t have to smell it and he won’t be cold in winter. Little portable heater’s chord fits under the glass door.

The big ceilidh room. The house is 1890, so it has an original and an added bit. The original has big wooden timbers framing it, exposed for aesthetic pleasure. It’s a big room, and even with two sets of double doors leading to the front and back gardens, it gets less light than the rest of the house. And it has the fireplace. This will be our music room and where we hold ceilidhs and house concerts. No furniture, just folding chairs, instruments, and the bookshelves at the far end holding our collection of rounds and songs to sing together. Already we are looking forward to meeting the Wytheville musical crowd. Debra Preese, the lady we bought the house from, knows several, and our realtor Tyler Hughes knows more. They’re rumored to be happy to have a Celtic music couple arriving.

There’s still a twinge at letting go of the bookstore, but it’s thriving and we have high hopes the next owner will continue its community service. Jack and me, we are ready for our next adventure, in a smaller house with a big heart.

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

The Grand Tours – –

Jack gets to do a weekend blog post to get Wendy off the hook

I’ve often said to folk over here that I have never gotten used to long road trips, but that’s not entirely true. Every year I conduct a small group of Americans around Scotland for almost two weeks. We stay in various hotels along the way and drive for anything up to six hours each day.

So you’d think that something similar here wouldn’t be all that different!

Just this last two weeks Wendy and I did just that– mixture of author promotions and business meetings Wendy had to do, and she dragged me along for fun. From here in Big Stone Gap all the way up to DC and down to Knoxville with lots of ups and downs along I-81 just to make life interesting. Part of that involved choosing our next house!

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/550-Tazewell-St-Wytheville-VA-24382/108105878_zpid/

Earlier this year Wendy and I took our Scottish (and English) friends Barbara and Oliver on a three week road trip up to South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and all points in between and had a great time. But it did involve some serious planning!

I think what makes the difference is that you never feel very far from anywhere in Scotland – it’s a small country. Whereas the US is really enormous, so there’s more of a sense that you are setting off on a real journey here. You think about meal breaks and plan much more about where to stay along the way.

Maybe also another difference is that in Scotland I’m never very far from one friend or another. On the recent road trip here we were lucky to be able to stay with a new friend in DC. Amelia Townsend (originally from Big Stone) runs the Shoestring Theater Company and had asked me to provide some music for her upcoming new play. We took the pieces on a CD and zip-drive with us and she was gracious in providing us with accommodation for a couple of nights.

But the journey finished in a very American way – Thanksgiving with Wendy’s family in Knoxville.

Family meals in Appalachia usually tend to be somewhat Northern European – a bit like filling up at the gas station. But there are exceptions and Thanksgiving is one. So this is one of those occasions when I’m reminded of meals I’ve shared in Southern Europe – Italy, Spain or France, with a social gathering around a big table that’s as much about sharing stories as sharing food. I doubt I will ever forget Wendy’s mom’s story of how, as a young nurse (and lifelong abstainer) she got drunk on rum filled chocolates and had to be persuaded to lie down for a while!

If you knew her mother, you’d know how funny this story is. Look up “lady” and it’s her picture you see with the definition.

Still and all, with us moving in the New Year – one of the first stops on this madcap tour was to procure our new place in Wytheville—there is nothing quite like coming home to one’s own little bed again. Wendy and I are looking forward to the next adventure, while enjoying the last of the summer wine from this one. The bookstore has been grand to us, and we know it will be great for the next team.

Onward—adventure awaits!

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

That Moment When….

Last night Deborah and I did our book talk at Arlington Central Library, DC. We’ve done these many times; her memoir Counting Down is a deep dive into a personal adoption story, while my book Fall or Fly is journalism storytelling about the system as it operates in rural Appalachia. cover

We’ve fielded many questions during our 20+ talks together, and at almost every venue–library, bookstore, adoption expo, whatever it was–foster parents have been part of the audience. In Asheville’s Malaprops, a newly licensed couple sat on the front row, hoping their phone would go off during our time together. (It did, but it was a sales call. You never saw so many disappointed audience members.) At Quail Books in NC, parents asked about how to help their 11-year-old daughter communicate in safety with her birth mom.

Last night, two foster parents who had already read Fall or Fly expressed appreciation for its straight talk about two subjects the prep classes and society in general tend to avoid: love and money. One woman talked about how, the first time she held her first foster son in the middle of the night as he cried, she had a “freak out” moment because, “I had no idea who this kid was. He didn’t smell like my birth children, he didn’t react the way my birth children did, he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, but here I am with him in his onesie and me in my robe, trying to tell him it’s okay and he can sleep safe. There’s nothing about those classes that can get you ready for this. Finally, I don’t feel like a failure. I know other people had this feeling too.”counting cover

Another foster mom was struggling with the fact that the adoption agency had presented her with a “perfect match,” but she and the teen girl were struggling to know one another. “No click, I guess, is the best way to put it. She was perfect on paper, everything I wanted. And like the woman in your book says, ‘You don’t get to choose your bio kids for the qualities you want most. They are yours, and your responsibility.’ So I don’t know, do I take it as a job now for a future of love, or will love never come?” She paused, then turned to me. “You have no idea how grateful I am that someone has talked about this in print.”

As a writer, there is nothing in the world so rewarding as hearing someone say that. That a person has found themselves in your words, identified and no longer alone, is the most energizing thing an author can hear. I’m glad you don’t feel so isolated any more, that the stories are out there, and that people are hearing them at last.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction