Category Archives: small town USA

Stop the World – –

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post finally gets back to Wednesday – –

My goodness, this has been a real roller-coaster!

I mean the last few weeks when we’ve been juggling our annual festival, my radio show, the upcoming concert at the beautiful Lincoln Theater in Marion VA, and Wendy’s annual ‘Head for the Hills’ medical conference, plus her dad’s recent heart scare.

Having our good friend Barbara staying with us has not added to the stress however. She and her husband Oliver have ‘mucked in’ in the most amazing and helpful ways. Strictly speaking they are working here, fulfilling singing engagements. They might even have been treating it as a vacation, or staying in our guest room as simply part of the ‘deal’.

But, no! They make porridge for everyone each morning, they cleaned the cafe kitchen when successive festival events reduced it to a shambles, Barbara helped Wendy clean the ‘cat haven’ and Oliver put out festival yard-signs and gathered them in again, and they both ran to the store for emergency supplies whenever they were needed. After their first visit two years ago they opined that they had felt a real part of the community here and they said last night that this visit had only confirmed that.

Yesterday was Barbara’s birthday and tonight we will celebrate that when our cafe owner, chef Kelley will prepare a family meal. I know that Barbara and Oliver feel part of our extended family now and we all know that this is just one of many visits.

Of course there are many people here, now, who also consider themselves part of the bookstore family and who also see Barbara and Oliver as part of their circle of friends – including Josh, who moved to the town recently, wandered in and immediately volunteered and joined up along with his friend Dawn – that’s something that makes Wendy and me very happy indeed.

Finally – last night was one of these occasions when old friends sit around a table and discuss the happenings of the day. For us, of course, that inevitably centered on Wendy’s forward plans following a recent job interview. It’s a sure sign for me that Barbara and Oliver are confident of their membership of this family that they could offer thoughtful and sincere insights.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized

Not Quite a Diva

So the Celtic Festival is upon us, which explains why neither Jack nor Wendy can get a blog post out between getting the flags and signs to each venue, handing out towels to musicians overflowing the bookstore – I don’t even know the names of the guys sleeping in the Science Fiction section – and feeding the foster cats. dickson

Actually, herding the cats and herding the musicians is much of a muchness……

It’s all bedlam and bagpipes right now, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but the cat rescue  still needs to be looked after. Appalachian Feline Friends is primarily a foster organization, but has a small place where we hold cats between leaving the local shelter and entering foster or forever families. AFF had an unexpected and urgent opportunity to empty four cages from the shelter, so in the midst of all the musical mayhem, when a fellow cat lover was able to pull them, I needed to figure out how to get the kitties into the holding tank by myself, since Jack was up to his eyebrows in parade plans.

Enter Barbara Dickson, singer-guitarist extraordinaire and this year’s festival headliner. She and Jack are old friends, from their shared hometown of Dunfermline, Fife. When I called the bookstore from the vet’s office to see if anyone had ten minutes to spare, I was told “Barbara will meet you out front.” She marched herself into the car, settled one of the carriers on her lap, and said, “Right, we’re off.”

At the holding tank, I warned her that there might be a certain catishness to the place, and she waved a hand. When I opened the door, she took a sniff and said, “Right. Where’s the broom and the mop bucket?”

For the next hour and a half, as I fed and watered and cuddled kitties, Barbara swept, mopped, and cleaned up suspicious stains. We had a blast. When I thanked her profusely, she said, “Pff. I love cats.”

And the next day, Barbara put on a dress, put up her hair, and delivered a standing ovation concert to open the Big Stone Celtic Festival.

She’s a woman like that.

You can hear one of Barbara’s Friday night songs here: Big Stone Celtic Day.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

It’s that time of Year Again

pipersThere are certain events that mark the calendar year for our bookshop, a literary liturgical year. We have the Epiphany Service gathering community churches in January, followed by the annual Burns Supper, the February Dreadful Date (ghostly love stories) and the St. Patrick’s Day Ceilidh Dance. Then we set aside events as the summer season picks up. Throughout those “quiet” (ha!) summer months, we’re in planning mode for the Celtic Festival, always the fourth Friday evening and all day Saturday in September.

As summer progresses, planning increases, and now we are in full final get-er-done mode. Jack has barricaded himself behind book boxes to finalize the parade planning, while our ever-faithful chairwoman Darinda makes a final round with the indefatigable Rhonda, who heads the merchants association. Elizabeth is figuring out where to put the many vendors who will be selling stuff with us, and Randy has the bagpipe band tuning.

It takes awhile to tune bagpipes. :]

A lot of work, a lot of stress, but every year when the band strikes up and the seven Celtic Nation flags fly, and the Breton association at the school dance in their black and white costumes, it’s worth it. I get a lump in my throat as the people on the sidewalk wave at the people in the parade. Because it’s more than a festival. It’s a town, coming to together to celebrate its past and its future. It’s a whole lot of cooperation and believing in a world that’s short on both. It’s a small town that’s proud of itself.

And that’s no small thing.

For a schedule of events Sept. 23 and 24, visit Big Stone Celtic Day on Facebook. The sheepdogs and Barbara Dickson’s concert are not to be missed!

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

Breaking in to Change the Locks

Mollydooker 2012 Carnival of Love Shiraz 2014 Winestate #1 Wine and #1 Shiraz in AUS & NZ (PRNewsFoto/Mollydooker Wines)

Mollydooker 2012 Carnival of Love Shiraz 2014 Winestate #1 Wine and #1 Shiraz in AUS & NZ (PRNewsFoto/Mollydooker Wines)

Many of you know that I own a nice little cabin tucked into a hillside in Tennessee. It is the Writer’s Retreat. About a month ago, thanks to the American NewMedia Education Foundation, I started a six-month mentoring program with two writers in SW VA. We went to the cabin and had a fun time writing and retreating (and eating) and left refreshed. One of the writers asked about going back out to the cabin from time to time. I explained where we hid the key and wished her well.

Last week another friend and I went to the cabin because it was nicer than the hotel offered by a conference we were attending. When I unlocked the door, it was evident someone had been staying there. A moldering cup of coffee on the table, pillows piled on the bed. Lots of canned food gone. A cigarette in an ashtray; I don’t allow smoking inside.

And in a sudden horrific downturn of discovery, the soap in the shower was wet.

“Someone’s been squatting,” said my friend Beth. “This is hobo living.” The peanut butter had been half-consumed by spoonfuls, the canned soups eaten, but in something between a funny and a poignant turn, the Indian ready meals of Saag Paneer and Tikka Masala were lying next to ripped-open boxes, unopened in their pouches.

“He can’t read,” Beth said. “He couldn’t follow the cooking directions.”

Indeed, the guy had used the microwave and coffepot but not the stove, and had in many ways indicated that life needed to be simple. I began to feel protective toward him.

“Maybe we should just leave the door unlocked when we leave. He’s not going to walk in while we’re here. He doesn’t want any trouble, hasn’t taken anything except the food.” As I spoke, Beth looked at me as if I’d grown two heads.

“You’re crazy, and not in a good way,” she replied.

We went back down the hill until we had Internet connection (about a mile from the cabin) to inform Jack of the break-in, in case our bodies were never found. Despite his urging, we stayed the night, and I still thought with sadness of the poor guy who just needed a place to crash. But I also shot a quick question to my writing friend who’d used the cabin last, just in case this was all made up in my head and they’d left things a little untidy.

The next day as the conference wound down, I had a reply from Lizbeth. Nope, it wasn’t them. Did that mean the bottle of New Zealand special vintage she’d left me was gone?

I scoured the cupboards. Nowhere waited a special bottle of Pinot Noir.

“Bastard! I hope he dies!” I shrieked to Beth. “We’re changing the locks tomorrow!”

There’s sharing with those in need, and there’s rare vintage. No more squatters in the Writer’s Retreat. But the funniest part of the story came when we went back yesterday to make good on changing those locks–

–and realized we hadn’t brought a key to get in. So Jack broke in so we could change them to break-in-proof ones. We will be the last people able to B&E my little writing retreat. That will make me feel safe when I’m out there writing.

And drinking good Pinot.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Time for a Change

porter sculpture garden 011Do you ever just feel it, that change is coming? You’re not even sure what it is yet, but the air vibrates with it. You raise your head and sniff into the wind, like an excited hound about to hunt.

My husband pointed out you could also be a rabbit sniffing danger, but he doesn’t like change.

Anyway, it’s not just my sporty new short haircut. It’s not that our town is getting a new manager and a few of the paradigms that boxed small businesses in may have shifted. Something big is on the wind. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve owned a bookstore long enough to know when the books are restless. They sense it too.

You think this is fey jesting? Surely you’ve read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series with its amazing live libraries and orangutan librarian. L-space: where things are bigger inside than out, and hide more secrets than Horatio ever dreamed of ignoring.

Days of Awe and Wonder are seasonal for Jewish people, but an unexamined life at any time is not worth living. Maybe I’m just taking stock of what works and what doesn’t, how many simultaneous thirsty threads are sucking from the 24 allocated hours of the given day, and which ones need to go.

I don’t know. But on this first day of the autumnal months, the books are restless, and so am I.

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

Tell me Story – –

 Jack’s Wednesday guest blog on Thursday –

One of my favorite bloggers is Andrew Tickell (Lallans Peat Worrier), who’s normal subject is the oddity of Scotland and the rest of the UK having completely separate and different legal systems. His posts are always interesting and frequently hilariously funny.

But a few days ago he wrote a guest column for The National – a Scottish daily newspaper, that was completely different. It was a tribute to his Great Grandfather who had been a family doctor on the West coast of Scotland and who had been diligent in making sure that little trace of his great humanity and service to his community would be recognized after his death (even insisting on being buried in an unmarked grave).

I was very moved by Andrew’s tribute and also by his plea for family stories to be guarded and passed on.

When Wendy and I first met she was working as a community storyteller in Kingsport TN with folk living in a housing project using the power of stories to help them deal with a range of personal issues. After we married she continued  with this use of storytelling, both in Scotland and England, and with groups as diverse as single mothers, school-kids, relatives of terminally ill children, refugees and asylum-seekers.

During that time I became more familiar with storytelling as a specific tool and also as a popular entertainment. That’s where I begin to have difficulties, though – –

My first experience of story as a ‘cousin’ of songs and music was in a domestic setting. The home of the famous ‘Stewarts of Blair’ was the place and the family were famous as tradition-bearers and much recorded by folklorists. Despite their popularity at festivals and concerts they were always at their best in small intimate settings. Much later I would accompany Wendy to storytelling festivals, in Ireland, England, Scotland and the US. The biggest, of course, is the famous one in Jonesborough TN, with lots of marquees and thousands of attendees.

What I take from this?

I definitely do believe that family stories should be preserved and passed on. I also believe that there’s a real skill in telling stories and that they can serve a powerful educational purpose. As entertainment on a big stage? Maybe not so much.

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Ariel Chats with the Crowd

arielHi! I’m Ariel! I’m an Appalachian Feline Friends foster cat, which means I have a safe place to stay while my furrever family finds me.

I’m really glad to be an AFF cat, but I’m getting kinda bored, y’know? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know good and well what COULDA happened – don’t think I don’t. It’s just that I’ve been waiting about six weeks now and I only get out to play once a day and it’s just flat boring.

Peggotty, the cat in the pen next to mine, she’s a good conversationalist and sometimes we talk. About the places we’ve been, the hard times we’ve seen, the kinda homes we’re hoping to have. She wants a big place where she can run around up and down stairs, and a nice soft bed to sleep on indoors at night.

Come to think of it, so do I. I’m a real sporty girl, love to run and play, and when I do get my paws on that jingle ball, baby, it’s mine. But I also have a warm side. Shoulder rides are kinda… you know, nice.

What I really wish is I could be captain of a volleyball team, really a beach volleyball team, but the people who work here say they don’t give those jobs to cats. Which is a shame. We’d have won those Olympic thingees for y’all.

But okay, so I have to do cat jobs. I’ll take care of your mice, and I’ll keep my litter box and my bed neat as a pin, and if you have other cats around I’ll play nice with ’em. I’m not too familiar with dogs, but hey, they should be easy for me to train. Never had any trouble teaching the kittens right from wrong, and they’re smarter than dogs. No kittens for me, though. I’m spayed.

Not that I’m prejudiced, mind. Live and let live, that’s my motto. Except for mice. That’s different.

So if you’re looking for a sporty girl with some high energy love to give who would just love to curl up against your shoulder at night for some quality cuddle-n-purr time, look no further. Call AFF and ask for Ariel.

Oh, and yeah, Peggotty’s here too. She says hi.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch