Category Archives: VA

What You Wish For – – –

Jack is off the hook this week as Chelsie Dubay takes on the guest post –

I decided when I was eight years old that I was going to be a chemist. I asked for a chemistry set for Christmas that year. I hung a massive copy of the periodic table of elements on the back of my bedroom door, right next to the posters I’d ripped out of the latest Tiger Beat magazine. After about a week of trying to sift through that chemistry set I realized that sodium bi-whatever-it-was did not inspire me like I thought it would. So, I boxed up the test tubes, experiment manual, and mortar and pestle and stuffed it in the back of my closet along with all of the other hobbies I’d abandoned over the years. Then, in high school, I accepted my fate and resolved that I was destined to be a mathematician. I really don’t know why I felt so certain about that career path but I knew how to solve for X and use a graphing calculator so I accepted that math would then be my destiny.

I’m notorious for that – building unfounded dreams in the sky and then letting them sink down to the ground.

It’s taken me almost thirty-five years to discover my passion. I can remember the first day I realized what it was that I truly loved. I was an undergraduate student at UVa-Wise. College was the first time I’d ever really been around people who weren’t from my tiny town in Lee County, Virginia. We were given a writing prompt in one of my classes. We were told to write about something that we had experienced during our first few days as college students. Most people wrote about how terrible the cafeteria food was or how far away student parking was from the dorms and classroom buildings. I wrote about how surprised and fascinated I was with how students from other parts of Virginia didn’t talk like I talked and how different our worldviews were. Needless to say, my essay was a bit heavier than some of the other submissions the instructor received in class.

From that day forward I charged myself with being an advocate for the region I called home. I was flooded with emotions – mostly regret. I had taken years of amazing memories, stories, and people for granted. I wanted to rewind time so that I could go back and appreciate the days I spent at my Mamaw and Papaw’s old general store in Hubbard Springs. Instead of complaining about Mamaw and Papaw not having MTV, I should have been relishing in all of the things that made my childhood and this area great. I needed to bottle the quirky way my Mamaw refers to herself in the third person, “Lord, Chels. Don’t look at Mamaw. Mamaw’s been weedeatin’.” I wanted to record the way my Papaw, with an eighth grade education, worked out complex math problems aloud, ending each solution with, “why, hell, Chels. At’s simple math!”

I can’t go back so I choose to go forward and to be thankful for the opportunity to reflect on those memories and relive those moments I’m afforded through the cannon that is Appalachian literature.

This semester I have the distinct pleasure and honor of teaching my all-time favorite class, Appalachian Literature, for the local community college, Mountain Empire Community College. The chain of events that landed me here is as poetic as the literature my students will enjoy over the course of the semester. Together, we’ll laugh and we’ll cry but most of all, we’ll reflect. I hope to expose each of my students to the beauty of the things they, like me, may have ignored or underappreciated. My hope is that, at the end of the semester, each student will walk away inspired to go out and capture the beauty that surrounds them – through oral history collection, through participant-observation, but most of all, through just being present in the things that make this area, these people, and this body of literature great.

Won’t you join us?

This course will be a great way to expose yourself to works of and about our region, as well as to build a solid foundation in some of the significant historical movements that have impacted and continue to impact this body of work.

During this course we will read works (both fiction and non-fiction) set in or about the Appalachian region. The works will range from ballads to novels and hit almost everything in between.

This course is not exhaustive; it’s a sampling. Also sprinkled throughout the 15 weeks we’ll talk a little about history, culture, religion, and the land itself. This course is discussion heavy, which means that your participation in the discussion board, contributing to our conversation, is crucial for the course’s success.

In addition to weekly discussions, the class will require 2 major projects and 2 short essays. Remember, too, that senior residents of Virginia may be eligible to audit the class for free!

Apply here: http://www.mecc.edu/step1/

Questions? Contact Chelsie Dubay, cdubay@mecc.edu

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Packing for Residency

quote-the-first-thing-a-writer-should-be-is-excited-he-should-be-a-thing-of-fevers-and-enthusiasms-ray-bradbury-82-52-80In just over a week, I will be installed as resident writer in Lafayette Flats, a luxury apartment by the New River Gorge National Park in WV. It is a writing rather than a teaching residency, three months all expenses paid (sans food) in the top floor by myself, writing. Just writing.

I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this time.

In preparation to which, I have begun to pack:

1 case wine (one bottle per week, including two good bottles for sharing if WV writers want to get together, the rest cheap-and-cheerful for a glass with dinner most weeknights)

2 cases fizzy water (club soda and seltzer with flavors, the stuff of daily consumption, because burping helps ideas rise)

1 large box Trader Joe’s boil-in-bag or heat-n-serve vegetarian fare – cooking up ideas, not food

8 pair pajama bottoms, sweats, or scrubs with assorted non-t-shirts and five fuzzy cardigans – I ain’t going out except daily walks. Heck, I may not even pack a hairbrush. 3 MONTHS OF WRITING TIME!!!!!

1 box work papers, because even though they gave me a leave of absence, there is one project I have to keep an eye on. That’s okay – they gave me a leave of absence!

9 books to read, all Appalachian Studies Association’s Weatherford Award nominees

6 pair fuzzy ballerina slippers; if we’re playing truth or consequences, some days I’ll cop to not exiting pjs

1 CD of funny cat songs and 1 cat coloring book with markers, to lighten up once in awhile

All the underwear I own – because doing laundry is a time sink and it will sour in the washer anyway if the ideas are going well, and get meticulously folded should things go badly; don’t give that kind of avoidance space

My new Himalayan salt lamp I got from Beth and Brandon for Christmas – because I’ve always wanted one and it will glow in the dark during quiet nights

The card Jack gave me the day we got married, because Jack won’t be there but once a month.

My underheated mattress pad, because Jack won’t be there but once a month….

The lacy red cup stolen from a summer arts camp I taught in years ago, which I intend to leave in the flat as karmic retribution. (Actually, I did pay for the mug. Just after the swiping. It’s okay; that director knows. And I’m not stealing anything from Lafayette Flats, Amy and Shawn, I swear! Tell you the mug story sometime.)

1 nice outfit, which I will wear repeatedly to church until they assume it’s the only clothing I own, and will wear to any writing events and the reception for when I get there and such.

My harp, for when writing isn’t going well

My 8-pack of crochet hooks and a basket of yarn, for when writing isn’t going well

My plaid Wellington winter snow boots, for when writing isn’t going well

1 bottle port, for when writing is going well

My computer and back-up zip drive, because writing is going to go well

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

A Lad o’ Pairts – –

Jack’s Wednesday post is on time for a change –

I suppose everyone, when they reach my advanced age, looks back and is surprised (even amazed) at where their life has taken them.

Here I am in southern Appalachia, in the midst of a glorious and so important region in the history of American traditional music.

When I first got interested in folk music when I was in my late teens and early twenties back in Scotland, I was singing mostly American songs and it wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered my Scottish musical roots.

But I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would end up living here, where many of the songs I was singing back then originated.

Yesterday was pretty crazy in many ways. It was election day here and I was standing for county supervisor (regional councillor in Scotland) and then it finished with Wendy and I performing at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol Tennessee. Of course, I was roundly defeated in the election, but that gig – – –

BCM-Museum-Full-Screen_Malcom-Wilson

I actually thought that appearing on a CD along with Pete Seeger, Doc Watson and Dolly Parton might be the highlight of my musical journey, but perhaps last night might just equal that.

The concert was well attended by a very enthusiastic crowd and I got to sing The Carter Family’s song ‘The Storms are on the Ocean’ which was recorded close by in 1927 and has fascinated me for years, not least because it contains two verses straight from an ancient Scottish ballad and another that has a strong similarity to one by Robert Burns in ‘Red, Red Rose’.

But, really – the idea of a guy from Dunfermline playing that venue – whodathunkit!!

Wendy and I were very worried beforehand how the audience would react to a program of Scottish songs and ballads, particularly as the promoters were a local arts organization more usually concerned with chamber music, opera and the like. But, we needn’t have been concerned – they were engaged and enthusiastic from start to finish and (not surprisingly) the sound system was really excellent.

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The Monday Book: REQUIEM BY FIRE, a novel by Wayne Caldwell

requiemSorry so many Mondays have slipped past. I have started many books that didn’t make me want to finish them, this past month. And then came REQUIEM, a story so enticing it makes me go to bed early just so I can read.

The book is set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and focuses on what the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park did to the people it bumped.

I know these people – Jim the local boy who wants to return home and work, the successful man; his wife Nell who wants to follow in the footsteps of her overbearing mother and get the hell outta there to a place with electricity and running water; Silas the contrarian who will be carried off the mountain feet-first, one way or another; the lawyer who turns on his own people and gets over his regret. They sound like stereotypes, but these folk walk, eat, and most definitely talk like real North Carolinians.

The tension between the people who live on (and off of) the land, and the government officials, some clueless, some very clued up indeed, flows under the rest of the action. Actually, this book is less action than scene by scene contacts between people, dialogue sent against lightly descriptive background. I am a sucker for well-drawn characters having pithy, realistic conversations, and this book is that in spades. Not a fan of a lot of description myself, I nevertheless was hooked by the opening scene of the novel, depicting an act of benevolent arson.

The ending will not be given away in a spoiler because I haven’t finished it yet. This is a book to savor. I’m so glad to have found something that restores my faith in Appalachian fiction!

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Up, Up and Away – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post sets a new record for lateness –

So, we’re beginning to get fairly close to election time here in Virginia – it’s November 7th just in case anyone has forgotten!

To be a wee bit more specific – I am one of three candidates for the position of County Supervisor in district 3 of Wise County.

While up in the dizzy heights of the State level campaigns party allegiance may be an important consideration, I don’t believe that’s greatly significant at county level. In fact I’m certain that all three of us standing here have a good understanding of the issues facing this part of the Commonwealth and would be conscientious in addressing them.

At this point, for my many Scottish friends who read this blog, I should do a quick translation. County Supervisor would be the equivalent of a regional councillor in Scotland and a district would be the same as a ward.

Now, why should my neighbors vote for me? Well, probably there are three very big and interlinked issues facing Wise County right now. The first is a declining working population, partly because of increasing unemployment in the coal industry and partly because young people ‘get the h**ll out of Dodge’ at the first opportunity. The second is an economy that for too long has been over-dependent on the aforementioned coal industry and needs to urgently diversify. The third is a very significant problem with drugs – particularly prescribed opioid pain medications.

Regular readers will know that Wendy and I lost a friend recently, who took his own life, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the intersection of these three issues had a bearing on what he did.

So let’s look up instead of down and try to chart a way forward. We should no longer be sitting back and waiting for someone else, somewhere else to solve our problems. We need to give ourselves a good shake and then – –

Wendy attended a rural health conference recently where one of the presenters spoke about ‘Bright Sparks’ around the country; places that were doing much better than all the evidence suggested they should. Why was that? It seemed to bear out what we had observed a few years ago as we did our trip through the backroads of nine rural states around here. Some towns were obviously doing well while others were nothing more than ghost-towns. The secret seemed to be one of two things – either a respected locally born individual or community group that just ‘did it’ instead of waiting for others to do it for them!

I might be standing for office, but I’m very clear that office holders, at town, county or state level can’t do this. Not at all! What they can do, though, is smooth the way for the individuals and groups that can just ‘do it’. Over the last 12 years Wendy and I, along with like-minded friends, have fought our way through interminable minefields of policy documents, vested interests and many folk who just want things to roll along as they are. First was the bookstore, then the farmers’ market and then the Celtic festival. It’s easy to just roll over and give in – but each time we found that it was possible with like-minded locals to create a buzz and get things done.

That’s what I want to do – help get things done!

A final note – Virginia is actually a Commonwealth. That translates in various ways – common wealth; common wellbeing; common good (in Scotland – commonweal). That suggests to me that the rural areas of the State should share equally in the benefits that are enjoyed by the urban north. Even better – let’s help the rural south west become a bright spark!

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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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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.

jenny

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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