Category Archives: small town USA

A Poem for Bert

Our friend James watches the bookshop fairly often when we run about for this or that. James is a gifted poet and he sent us this in honor of our fuzzy guy. (His loss is why there have been no blogs this week. It’s just hard right now.)

So here, from James Ryan, is the poem

BERT

Bert the bookstore Terrier was really quite a guy

He did his job with great aplomb although he’d lost an eye

He inspected all the corners of the bookstore every day

Then he’d take the time to watch the kittens at their play

He greeted each customer as they came through the door

Unless, of course, he was asleep then you’d hear him snore

Watching the bookstore was a fun but never-ending task

The loving he received for this was all that he could ask

He knew his job and did it well whenever there was need

When there wasn’t he would sit and watch the kittens feed

To them he was their Uncle Bert a kind and gentle soul

Who watched them play and laughed when they’d trip and roll

He loved them all and treated them as if they were his own

And celebrated every time one got a furrever home

Now he’s crossed the rainbow bridge with a leap and run

Where his friend Zora is waiting to play and have some fun

He’s in a happy place now where he’ll never take a hurt

So, we celebrate the life of the Bookstore Terrier called BERTBert fostering

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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

The Times they are a Changin’

It’s Thursday so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday post –

Well – it’s finally really real.

The bookstore is up and listed for sale and the for-sale sign is prominent out front.

It’s kind of strange to have reached this point after much to-ing and fro-ing, debating and soul-searching. Many people have asked us where we are going and are we taking the bookstore somewhere else? Right now we have no idea where we’ll end up but we both feel that it’s time for another chapter in our shared story and an as yet undefined further adventure. We would much prefer to sell to someone who will continue to run it as the ‘the little bookstore that could’, but if it has to go back to a big old house then so be it.

bennett

Part of the decision was about getting back to a simpler and less complicated life in a more manageable sized house. Of course it’s also just that sometimes a voice in your head says “it’s time’.

In the twenty years Wendy and I have been married we have lived in Fife, Scotland, Padiham, England, White Springs, Florida and here in Big Stone Gap. The longest we’ve been anywhere is here in Virginia.

I should admit right away that I absolutely hate moving house. The physical effort, the decisions about what to keep, the legalities around house sale and purchase and all the change of address stuff involved.

However, despite all that, we remain the same people and we don’t abandon friends. Social media can be a real pain but it is an excellent way to stay in touch with folk regardless of where we might physically be.

Some people have asked what will happen to my radio show and I’ve assured them that, through the wonders of the internet there’s no reason it shouldn’t keep on going as long as WETS wants it.

My tours of Scotland will also continue for two more years, although the 2019 one is fully subscribed at the moment.

A final thought – our time running the bookstore has been delightful and we’ve made many good and loyal friends along the way. Whoever takes it over will be part of a supportive community and a town that is now waking up to its true potential. The town council is bringing forward lots of good ideas to take advantage of the wonderful architecture, history and surrounding beautiful mountain countryside. Big Stone Gap is known for its local authors and famous books and the local outdoor drama based on ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine’ has gotten a new lease of life. All of this will continue to pull people in and the bookstore has great potential to take advantage of that and go on to build on its reputation as one of the ‘places not to miss’ for the increasing number of visitors.

 

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

Onwards and Upwards – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to Thursday again –

It’s certainly no secret anymore that we are actively looking to pass along Tales of the Lonesome Pine to as yet unidentified new owners. The building/business should be listed very shortly.

bookstore

One of the interesting things has been producing a briefing sheet showing the financial information over the twelve years since we opened, as well as a narrative describing the things that worked/didn’t work to promote the business.

The financial report was relatively easy as we have kept careful records, could consult bank statements and sales tax returns as well as saved card sales. Of course running a bookstore in a small rural town in an economically challenged area isn’t easy. But what was obvious when I ran the figures was two things. Opening the Second Story Café had a significant impact and so did the publication of ‘The Little Bookstore’. There was a big trade-off between the bookstore and the café, and the book continues to bring folk from all over the country and even from around the world.

We wanted to pass along to any potential new owners all the insights we had gained and experiences that had ‘educated’ us. We also wanted to try to share our enthusiasm for the place – not just the business but the town and the community as well.

‘The Little Bookstore’ is almost a working manual in itself, but it’s now six years old and life moves on. Things that worked then don’t necessarily work now and lots of different opportunities have presented themselves.

Our fondest hope is that ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ will continue to operate and flourish as a bookstore and hub of this community, and doesn’t end up being sold as simply the house we stumbled on twelve years ago – but that’s in the hands of fate!

Where we, personally, end up next is anyone’s guess right now but there comes a time when you just know it’s time to move on. The world’s a much smaller place now so you never lose touch with friends and we might not be too far away anyway.

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

“It was Twenty Years ago Today”

Jack’s post is a day early for once – –

Twenty years ago today Wendy and I tied the knot. We had known each other just two years and when I asked ‘the question’ I immediately said “take time to think about it’! After all, I was foreign and older and she wasn’t as impulsive as me. Actually that’s not true – time has proved that she’s the impulsive one and I’m much more resistant to change.

But when we were introduced by our mutual friends, Wayne and Jean Bean, in Greeneville Tennessee I was the impulsive one for once.

wedding

We were married in the beautiful old stone house of Aileen Carr in Auchtermuchty in Fife. August 14th 1998 was a Friday (you can check) and was the day before the annual traditional music festival. That was an incentive for our storytelling and singing friends to come from ‘a’ the airts’ and come they did. Some of them have passed on now, but most are still around and in particular – Aileen Carr who provided the house, George Haig who was best man, Donna-Marie Emert who was best maid and Linda Bandelier who officiated as well as Jean Lockhart who laid on the wonderful food.

invite

I marvel at the last twenty years, starting with Wendy’s ‘run of the arrow’ as an American interloper into the Scottish storytelling scene and then our move to Lancashire in England where we were both a bit out of place, then Florida where we were VERY out of place and finally here to Big Stone Gap where we’ve made our home for twelve years, running Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore and becoming part of a real community.

It’s sometimes been difficult and there have been times when she has had to ‘explain things to me properly’, but that’s probably true of every meaningful relationship. We’ve been lucky and fortunate to have each other and to have so many good friends to help us along the way.

biltmore

She watches after me and makes sure I’m OK in every way – –

I loved her the first minute I saw her and still do!

 

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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, Wendy Welch

Surprise, Surprise!

Jack’s Wednesday post limps in on Friday this time – –

Well – what a week it’s been and it isn’t over yet!

First of all we had a phone call from California from folk who have read ‘The Little Bookstore’ and intend to visit Big Stone Gap, then we had another call from a couple in Charlotteville who will be celebrating their 51st wedding anniversary by doing the same thing next week (having read Wendy’s book when it first came out five years ago). This is great for the town as they will stay in a local hotel and shop locally while they are here.

(BTW – Wendy and I celebrate our 20th anniversary next Tuesday.)

Meanwhile a radio station in Scotland has agreed to air my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’, so it will now be broadcast in Tennessee, Virginia and Scotland.

But the icing on the cake happened yesterday afternoon when a group of folk came in the door and explained that they had driven down from Toronto. They were all from Korea originally and included a friend who was just visiting for a short time. He was the real reason they came to the shop because he works at the publisher in Seoul who put out the Korean language version of ‘The Little Bookstore’. He had brought both an English language and Korean copy of the book to have Wendy sign them. They spent some time with us and luckily Wendy was here to socialize and chat. To say we were gob-smacked would be putting it mildly!

book-cover-korea

koreans

That’s Mr Young-Eun Goh of Danielstone Publishing on the left.

We had some fun describing the convoluted email conversation Wendy had with the Korean translator back when that edition was being prepared and we proudly showed the copy we still have.

We actually received six copies from the publisher when it came out and sold five of them here in the bookshop. We thought that was pretty amazing, but getting a visit from the publisher was something else entirely!

We look forward to visits from the Polish, Portuguese and Chinese publishers – – –

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: THE SOUND OF HOLDING YOUR BREATH by Natalie Sypolt

breathThis book is out from West Virginia Press and I received a review copy for the Journal of Appalachian Studies. (I’m their book editor.) If anyone would like to review it for the Journal, please drop me an email or PM.

The short stories in Sypolt’s fiction debut are engrossing character studies. Most have wonderful characters who drive the plots around them. Siblings who see through each other’s deepest weaknesses. Young people who find reasons to stay or go. Nasty and nice Christians. In many ways, it’s like Sypolt took a classic Appalachian problem and wrote a “what if” story about it: what if you were gay and couldn’t tell your parents, but your elder sister knew because you fancied her husband? What if you were young enough to leave home and old enough to know you’d take your upbringing with you wherever you went?

Although you might be able to read the slim volume in a couple of hours, I recommend savoring. The prose is well-crafted, the words backlit with mountain sunsets. If it sounds like these are bib overall hayseed stories, think again. Stereotypes exist to be played with not to make the stories go. For instance, in one story of summer lake holidays, a boy aware of his beloved elder brother’s proclivities to violence suddenly finds himself seduced by the girl he thinks is pure. These are not easy straw characters. A preacher’s daughter finds nothing redeeming in her dad, but the way the story goes down gets complicated. Nobody gets off easy in a Sypolt short story.

If you are interested in Appalachian politics, culture, and families, you will find much to chew on here. If you like short stories that are well-written and character driven, you’ll love Sypolt’s debut. And remember, order it from your favorite local bookstore, not Amazon.

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

Takuwe, Wounded Knee, Little Bighorn

Early in the trip, we went to Takuwe (translates as “why”) which is a temporary art and narrative exhibit in South Dakota dedicated to helping people understand what happened at Wounded Knee (the first time mostly, although the second is mentioned). Then we went to the actual site. This is an intense thing, because the exhibit is beautiful and full of recordings and written words from survivors and eyewitnesses. The site itself has only what the indigenous people put up because the US government keeps reneging on a promise to build a national monument and park there. Graffiti told white people to stay out of the cemetery until promises about the land were kept, and sage had been burned and left in a bundle at the entrance.

At Little Bighorn (aka Greasy Grass, aka Custer’s Last Stand) an actual battle took place in which a WHOLE lot of white people died, whereas Wounded Knee was a full-on massacre with soldiers shooting into a ravine full of unarmed women and kids.

Both started with the the kids, though, because when Custer was sent to round up the Indians who had decided to not move to a reservation, he was expecting about 500 people; he didn’t realize the riverbank camp held more than 7,000, many of them Cheyenne Warriors because they and the Sioux were camped together as allies.

Also, the cavalry troop sent around to the South was probably drunk, because the commander (Marcus Reno) pretty much started the whole thing by ordering his men to form a skirmish line and rush the South end of the camp mowing down little kids and elders. Which went really badly for the soldiers because it set the torch paper to the dry wood of fury among the people who already felt crowded out and endangered. You hit someone else’s kid, you get what you deserve, and several of Reno’s men died badly.

It’s a site you should visit in person or online, because the whole story is too hard to tell, but there were two very poignant things to me. One is that the government eventually put up tombstones of red granite for natives and white marble for incomers  wherever they found bodies. Many of the white tombstones only say “a soldier of the seventh cavalry fell here.” And they start in a clump in fortifications on top of hills or behind valleys, and they end in pairs, backing up the hill. Which means that the guys killed their horses and used them as barricades in a circle, then when they ran out of ammo, they paired off and stood back to back fighting with their hands.

Custer went into the battle not thinking it would be a fight; he would round up the Indians who had refused to go to the reservations, and the Black Hills they had been promised, which held gold, would be sold by the elders to the US Government and opened for settlement. How far into the battle was he before he realized several mistakes meant he’d killed not only himself but  more than 250 men? Most of these were immigrants, about 40% Irish, a handful of Poles and others alongside. They’d come to the West to get rich. But the Indians had always been in the West, and the killing of the seventh cavalry became a symbol as well as an actual victory.

Those tombstones in pairs on the hills made me swallow hard.

After the battle Sitting Bull took everyone who wanted to go North into Canada. They lasted five years before harsh winters forced their surrender-versus-starvation to the US government.

In the battlefield museum was a picture of a Lakota woman taken in 1880, four years after Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass and ten years before Wounded Knee. She’s kneeling, holding a baby at the entrance to a teepee, the baby looking out with happiness and excitement at something unseen in the distance. The woman is looking at the baby, and in her face is captured every mother’s wish for her child: to grow up safe and happy, to have a sweet life doing things with their dad and grandparents; to become someone who does good while walking softly through the world. And underneath it, fear: what was her child’s life going to be now?

That was when I started crying.

You can see much better pictures online than these. I was in the moment and didn’t take many or very good ones. The guy in the bright shirt is Leland, our battle site guide.

 

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