Category Archives: small town USA

Baby Wins the Internet this Month

Sometimes the Internet gets it right. Watch this, y’all.

This is Baby. She was owner surrendered at age 18 to our local shelter. Amy, an independent cat rescuer, sent a picture of her out on FB and asked for help. Appalachian Feline Friends (the rescue I work with) said to pull her the next day and we’d take her. All accomplished with ease and grace.

The next day, Erin from AFF posted in a closed cat group online that while she understood sometimes cat parents had no good choices, she was incensed at Baby being taken to the shelter so late in life. Several people agreed.*

One of those who agreed was a lady named Laura, who used to live in this area but since moved to Raleigh, NC. Laura got on her own FB timeline and shared a video of Baby exploring her temporary digs at our bookstore, and again railed against an 18-year-old cat ending up at a shelter.

Meanwhile, Appalachian Feline Friends posted Baby’s video and attracted the attention of the lovely Jeff and Christina, also residents of Raleigh. Christina and Jeff adore eldercats and had just lost two of their own. They messaged to ask about Baby, and within the week AFF volunteer Maria Jane was meeting Christina in Boone to deliver Baby to her new furrever home.

All very nice, but wait for the denouement. Laura had meanwhile decided she was going to tell friends of hers about Baby, since they had recently lost their cats. She showed up at Christina and Jeff’s for a pre-arranged dinner, sat down on the sofa and started to tell the story….

….and Baby sauntered past.

Recognizing her from the video, Laura sat, mouth agape, as Christina said, “Go on, what cat?”

By the time the friends had sorted out what happened, Baby had walked back through, given Laura the once-over, and declared she could stay. It’s Baby’s house now. Here she is with a food flight, sampling so Christina and Jeff can record her preferences. Her new housekeeping staff are eager to make sure Baby’s final years are golden ones.

*The lady who surrendered Baby has been in touch to scream about the family getting dragged through the mud on Facebook. I don’t think that happened, but if it did, AFF didn’t do it. Actions have consequences. We recognize that sometimes people can’t help the tough choices they have to make and we’ve seen too much of poverty mixed with love to ever judge someone for that. We’ve also seen plenty of times when someone chose convenience over caring and then got embarrassed for it. We’re not saying which one this looks like, just saying Baby won the Internet this month.

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

– – You don’t know what you’ve got ’til – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

I consider myself lucky for having had a comfortable and relatively untroubled life. A happy childhood unmarred by any obvious parental disputes, although I’m sure there were some. An adolescence troubled by the usual small matters of growing into oneself and not getting anyone pregnant, but nothing more.

Wendy’s latest book ‘Fall or Fly’ is about fostering and adoption in Appalachia and got me to thinking about the contrast between my life, growing up, and the stories she unearthed during her many interviews that informed the final draft. As usual I was her initial ‘reviewer’ and I have to admit I was by turns shocked and inspired.

There’s a real problem around here with prescription drugs and that’s mainly down to one company that makes a painkiller they swore wasn’t habit-forming but is now proven so. It is also widely available both above and below the counter. Big profits for them of course – – –

I never had any exposure to drugs growing up and never had any interest in them. Once I tried marijuana but it had no effect whatsoever. I even listened carefully to the lyrics of ‘Mellow Yellow’ and like many others tried everything with bananas—which I loathed then and loath now–to no effect!

So, I think of myself as one of these balls that drops down through a game machine and just keeps going in the right direction, although I’ve little doubt there’s always the equal chance it can go the other way (I once studied probability factors).

I’m telling you this on behalf of the young people we come across who haven’t been as lucky as me or maybe even you. One of them is close to breaking my heart right now, and I don’t know if I can do anything for the child.

So, what can I say? This lovely young person, so intelligent, so competent, so lost. What to do, how to help, where the line between enabling and assistance?

Who to blame for taking away what never got used? The drug companies, the high school seller, the “friend” at the party who said, “C’mon, just try it?”

What to say, what to do? With other friends, we make sure the Temporarily Misplaced Youth has enough to eat, and eventually the wherewithal to see through the fog to the Light. And we pray, and we wait and, perhaps, sometimes, we weep.

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

…And Then You Sneeze

For weeks, I have been writing on Little Cathouse (the working title of the next fun book) finishing up edits on Fall or Fly (the foster care and adoption journalism storytelling book with Ohio University Press, less fun than intense) and moving offices at the college, where the Graduate Medical Education Consortium I run is headed to the local hospital to operate as an independent 501c3. All good stuff, but busy.

So I had kind of set my clock that the second week of April, as soon as the big conferences were over and I’d sent the final edits of Fly and the working draft of Cathouse, I would get to putter around the bookstore. The Classics room looks like someone threw a keg party. The Mystery room appears to have been the scene of a crime. And the Children’s room looks . . . well, as though kids were in there.

They all need straightening. It’s good Zen. I like to have my hands on the bookstore even when other things call me away. So I was so looking forward to this weekend….

….and then the sneezing started. I’ve gone done with one of those “I don’t care what happens next” illnesses, where your hair hurts and your brain curls in on itself and you can hear the blood in your ears. What isn’t flowing is waiting for its chance, and there isn’t much in the universe of interest.

So the shelves will wait another week. Right now, the shop could tumble around my ears, the books start their own major league baseball teams and head out on a bus, and the cats take over the cooking–and I wouldn’t notice.

I’m going back to bed. Next week.

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

A Surge of Protective Love

So wearing my other hat I travel from time to time on behalf of Southwest Virginia, representing as a business owner and a healthcare worker its many complexities and subtleties.

Those complex subtle bits tend to flatten out like mountains blasted for coal when you get into posh hotels full of suits and go-getters, but at this two-day event, regional break-out sessions brought rooms of despairing people together, and the Phoenix emerged.

Phoenixes rise from their own ashes, you know, and I’ve always thought that was a great metaphor for hope. Hope is born when despair leads to combustion. When you have nothing left to lose, you start over.

That’s where a lot of us feel we are in our little rural areas, trying to keep the population healthy, the younger generation at home, the older generation from having to raise yet another one on their own. And it all comes down to drugs.

Yet it comes down to something more, we agreed, as the law enforcement officers, social workers, doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, and administrators sat around looking at lists. It comes down to those of us willing and able to be part of the change we want to see in the world.

We talked about the need for recovering addicts to have clean housing, a place where they won’t be confronted with others using as they try to stay clean. One doctor said she thought rather than opening a halfway house, people in churches could open their homes and take in one person, one at a time, to better effect.

The city people in the room giggled, but those from rural areas nodded. Because we get it. Plenty of changes have come from outside to make it worse – hi, TVA and Big Pharma and a few others. But who makes it better?

That comes down to an incredible surge of protective love for the place we call home. Because the facts of life in our region are, nothing has ever changed for the better except when those who live here changed it.

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

The Farmer Feeds us All

The Monday book (on Tuesday) isn’t a book – it’s a recording – –

Jack is standing in for Wendy as she is ‘on the road’.

Into the Purple Valley – Ry Cooder

I got this back in the early 1970s when it first appeared as an LP and was completely blown away. We all have certain albums that constitute ‘milestones’ in our musical lives and this is definitely one of mine. I had never heard of Ry Cooder until a friend who already had this played it for me. I immediately got a copy of my own, I still have it and I still listen to it from time to time. But nothing can re-capture hearing it for the first time.

purple valley

The singing has a world-weary quality that perfectly suits the songs and the choice of songs conjures up rural America dealing with hard times. They come from a wide variety of sources ranging from Woody Guthrie to Leadbelly and Joseph Spence and all have been performed and recorded by lots of other people.  However, Ry Cooder through this wonderful album established ‘ownership’ of all these songs.

In the end, though it’s not the singing that makes this such a stand-out – it’s the arrangements and Cooder’s fabulous guitar playing.

My favorite tracks are Vigilante Man, The Farmer Feeds us All and Denomination Blues, but that’s just me – there’s not a dud on here!

Of course other albums followed this and there are great performances from concerts and TV shows on YouTube, but this was the beginning.

To get the full experience you should search out the original LP in good condition but failing that it’s been re-issued as a CD.

(Wendy will be surprised at my choice as the next Ry Cooder album after this has an Airstream on the cover!).

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Filed under between books, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, small town USA, Uncategorized

Cat-mint Juleps on the Screened-in Veranda

Hazel House, the sojourning spot for rescued cats awaiting furrever homes, is getting its porch screened in this week. Yeah, I know, that sounds soooooo sexy and interesting, but this means the house will have three fully operational rooms for cats without the danger of them slipping out the door as we bring in fellow sojourners. And that the kitties can sip cat-mint juleps on the screened-in veranda.

Thanks to the kindness of friends (Jon and Beth and Cheryl, specifically) it is also beginning to look downright snazzy. The neighbors like the updo, and no one has complained about the hammering or creative swearing emanating from the property. We have a pileated woodpecker to the south and a retired miner to the north, both of whom have been very pleasant.

So here are the photos of the team, gettin’ er done, along with a few of the fuzzballs for whom we do  it.

Marla loads yard sale stuff. Come out to the Little Bookstore of Big Stone on March 31 and April 1 to snag some bargains!

I’ve always liked Jack’s bum.

Again, that bum thing…. oh, but doesn’t the porch look good?!

Maeve is adoptable, and has four equally adorable siblings also available.

Insert screwing joke here….

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

Nellie Flies Away

nellie-1When you start rescuing animals, you know the day is going to come when they break your heart by leaving you. It is a clock that ticks through the background of the 10 or so years you get, measuring sweetness.

Our friends Joe and Elissa are in mourning this week for the loss of Nellie, a dachshund of such meanness, elegance, and grace that to try and confine her with words is as difficult as holding her still in real life proved to be.

nellie-2Nellie had a spinal problem common to many dachshunds, resulting in paralysis of her back legs, but Joe and Elissa are not common dachshund parents. With years of fostering experience behind them, they never considered putting Nellie down. In fact, they adopted her a cart sister, a little girl named Hope.

Not that Nellie wanted company, or challenges for her preferential treatment. Queen of the realm, Nellie never let anybody forget she was not Crippled, but In Charge. Nor did she let them believe that inconvenience was reason enough to release a dog to the Rainbow Bridge. Passionate about her status as Poster Wiener for the disabled dog community, Nellie rode her little pink cart through the streets of many a town delivering her message: Live life to the fullest and if it’s on wheels instead of legs, go faster!nellie-4

My husband Jack painted her cart pink when the high tech metal version first delivered to Joe and Elissa didn’t suit The Nelligator’s sense of feminine command. He would have added flames if there had been enough space; Nellie was Hell on Wheels canine-ified.

Nellie crossed the Bridge due in part to a bad drug response, and it is fitting that her final days on Earth were yet more instruction to the rest of us on how to take care of ourselves. She was given Flagyl, a common antibiotic for “gut issues,” and had an adverse reaction. Turns out, many people and dogs have such complications, but it’s not widely recognized. Nellie’s story, posted by her faithful Mama online, helped other people on Flagyl recognize the symptoms and switch.nellie-3

Now it might be sweet to think of the Nelligator trundling her pink hotwheels across the Rainbow Bridge, but no, this never would be Queen Nellie’s style. Rather, she will unstrap her cart, adjust the butterfly wings she wore for her photo shoot on disabled dogs, and lift off. She will fly straight and true to the other side, notice the cats crossing, and turn back to dive bomb them. (Our sweet Nellie could be a real arsehole when she wanted to, and she wanted to pretty often.)

Then she will point her nose toward the sun, a doggy Icarus sans fall, gaining power with each flap. At full height, she will execute a corkscrew dive straight toward the nearest Great Dane. Size only matters to a dachshund when you’re measuring chutzpah.

nellie-5Once the Dane is cowering in terror, Nellie will be satisfied that her power has been recognized, her rule established, and she will flap off to the Dachshund Shoals in search of the Blue Bell Ice Cream Van. They will have added extra cups of her favorite flavor, vanilla bean, in anticipation of her arrival.

Joe and Elissa will miss their girl, but they will continue to show the same love and conscientious care to their herd of eleven other special needs babies. When they think of Nellie, they will accept the new normal of her departure, and smile at the image of her somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge, surveying her new kingdom from a benevolent six feet above. The animals there will also accept the new normal, and wave up to their Queen. They’ll have to. She won’t have it any other way.

nellie-6

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