What do you do?

 Jack’s weekly post –

 

In a previous post I spoke about my visit to the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody, Wyoming a few weeks ago.

I felt I needed to put that into much more of a personal context, so here goes –

As I said previously my Grandad went to see the Wild West Show in Dunfermline in 1904, which was part of the last European tour by Buffalo Bill’s show and was augmented by additional subcontracted acts such as Zulu warriors as well as Cossack and Japanese horsemen.

I had always been intrigued by the notion of the cobbled streets of my historic old hometown being clattered by Native Americans and the Deadwood Stage, not to mention Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley!

bb

Buffalo Bill Cody himself!

But back in the early 2000s I was roped into collaborating on a CD featuring my friend and folk music mentor, the late John Watt. John was a wonderful and very individual songwriter and most of his songs were written from a very ‘Fife’ point of view. The CD was titled ‘Heroes’ and one of these accorded this honor was Buffalo Bill. I discovered that John’s father had also witnessed that 1904 performance in my (and his) hometown.

We talked about this shared family history and it turned out that John had written a number of songs about that occasion, and two of them were to be on the album. One was a quirky and very funny one called ‘The day that Billy Cody played the auld grey toon*’ while the other was much more thoughtful – ‘The Wild West Show’.

The ‘Wild West Show’ describes the mix of acts, but also points out that the massacre of Wounded Knee had happened just a few years earlier and suggests that the answer to the ‘Indian Problem’ was to turn them into cheap entertainment, playing a parody of themselves in front of European heads of state.

John very rarely wrote ‘message’ songs, but this one, with a great tune and a very sing-able chorus has been covered by many other performers and is one my own favorites.

Shortly after we left Cody we deliberately drove to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre where we met a number of descendents of the survivors staffing tables by the side of the road. They weren’t selling trinkets or souvenirs; nor were they asking for money; they were just there to tell their story.

I felt very guilty that many of the Scots that were ‘cleared’ from the highlands and survived the coffin ships to reach America, then proceeded to ‘clear’ the indigenous folk they found there in turn.

The irony is that because this was the last tour, some of the Indians decided to stay on in Glasgow. A ‘ghost shirt’ they had brought with them ended up in a local museum and was finally returned to the US five years ago – quite a circular tale!

“The red man rides for the white man’s fee,
Better than a grave at Wounded Knee,
I better he never thought he’d see,
The spires of the auld grey toon*.

“Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill, my daddy saw you comin’ down the hill.

A big success for soldier blue, with the last brave dead in the snow,

What do you do with the Cheyenne and the Sioux?

You put them in a wild west show”

 

*The auld grey toon is an affectionate nickname for Dunfermline.

1 Comment

Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: SOME GIRLS SOME HATS AND HITLER by Trudi Kanter

This first-person memoir came into our bookstore and I thought the title was intriguing, so took it on holiday with me. It turns out to be a self-published book from the 1950s that went out of print. Someone who worked for a publisher bought it in a second-hand bookstore, and the rest is reprint history.

Girls Hats Hitler is fascinating, because it’s pretty much the first person memories of a woman who expected to have a very normal life–and a fairly vapid one at that. Velvets and dances and moonlight, oh my – but she was Jewish and her husband was Jewish, and in 1930 Austria that changed everything.

What’s so interesting about the book is its sense of play by play, the feeling of wondering “What would I have done” as Trudi has the opportunity to stay in Paris and be safe, then to get out but not take anyone with her, and then to decide how to get out. She isn’t equipped for this kind of decision making, but she learns fast. Being rich helped, too, but more than that, she took seriously what was happening around her. Many of her friends and extended family didn’t.

Perhaps the most devastating part of the book is she’ll recall what happened at a particular party or event, the gestures and looks and petty jealousies, and then she’ll say “He died in Auschwitz. She took poison.” That kind of thing.

The book is frustrating, because there are some parts where she only says “And then we got visas,” not how they got them, who they bribed, what it took, etc. Sometimes, when you think the story is about to get deep, it just stops. She self-published this, and I can kind of see why an editor didn’t want to work with her. On the other hand, when she does let go and tell what happened, you see so clearly what it was like to be just one person caught up in and trying to survive one of the worst things in living memory.

Including the moment when as a Jewish emigree, her husband is interred as a German enemy combatant in London. It’s just plain crazy sometimes, the world in which they lived.

I highly recommend the book, but be prepared to be in parts frustrated, in parts confused, and in parts laughing at how someone in danger of imminent death can be jealous because her husband is flirting with the person who can save their lives. It’s a very honest book when it’s telling the whole story.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, Wendy Welch

Porter Sculpture Garden

porter sculpture garden 011Coming across South Dakota, we saved a couple of things to do on the way home so we’d enjoy the drive back as much as going out. Going out we did a lot of detouring and blue highway-ing, but coming back we went straight across I-90 in order to catch a few fun things.

We stopped at Wall Drug – AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! The only reason to stop at Wall Drug is to say you’ve stopped at Wall Drug. And to get donuts. Best donuts ever but we were so freaked at all those people after a week in the wildernesses of Wyoming, a sympathetic shop assistant took one look at us and asked what we wanted to buy. Then she led us through the whole place cutting a swathe through the bodies with her uniform and air of authority, until she found the buffalo jerky we’d stopped for. (To be hauled out at the next CAH game at the bookstore.) We thanked her profusely, purchased, and fled. (Please note Oxford comma.)

From there we stopped at Chamberlain for a picnic at the rest area and some photos of the gorgeous Missouri River. And then we went to Porter Sculpture Garden. This place is so much fun. From Bambino the Guard Dog to Charles P to the chocolate-spoiled gophers (they sit outside his hut during the day and he tosses them Hershey Kisses) we had a blast. Here’s a few of our favorites.

porter sculpture garden 018 porter sculpture garden 021 porter sculpture garden 025 porter sculpture garden 029 porter sculpture garden 037 porter sculpture garden 055 porter sculpture garden 066 porter sculpture garden 077 porter sculpture garden 078 porter sculpture garden 080 porter sculpture garden 084

Leave a comment

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

Unexpected pleasures

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

We continue to stumble across delightful jewels on each day of this road-trip. Today we re-visited Galesburg on our meandering way back home from Wyoming and South Dakota. This was the place where we stayed on the way out and where we visited Carl Sandburg’s birthplace.

This time we stayed in the same rather seedy downtown hotel and it was even seedier –cue dead cockroach in the bath. We vowed never to return!

However, Wendy had done some research and had discovered that there was a bakery nearby that opened early for breakfast (the seedy hotel didn’t offer breakfast at all). To our delight and surprise it was situated in a really lovely historic downtown and was attached to a wonderful grocery and health-food store.

Not only that but we were greeted by a couple of lovely old local geezers who were obviously regular members of the ‘breakfast club’ and were un-threateningly curious about us and where we had come from.

For a small main street store it had an amazing inventory of goods and when I say ‘goods’ I also mean very high quality. And the prices were equally amazing! We spent a happy hour and about a hundred bucks there before tearing off down the road to Cincinnati, our final stop. Wendy wanted to see the famous book fountain in front of the public library.

It’s much smaller in person, but we also ate Lebanese food (which is hard to come by in Southwest Virginia) and indulged in the hotels’ elegant outdoor pool.

In actual fact, everywhere we’ve stayed (including the tent) has been absolutely fine, with that one exception. We are determined to repeat this adventure, with friends next time, and we’ll have no hesitation in including Galesburg in the itinerary again – just a different hotel!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Life reflections, small town USA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book

Jack’s Guest post – The Swan Thieves

Wendy and I listened to Elizabeth Kostova’s 17-disc novel as a recorded book to entertain us from Big Stone Gap all the way to western Wyoming and part of the way back. We like big books for big drives, and we cannot lie. Actually, I believe that the voices made a big difference and held our attention well.

As for the story – I thoroughly enjoyed it. The format is the tried and trusted multi-strings that begin as if they are completely unrelated, seem to develop without any obvious connection, and then finally resolve with all loose ends satisfactorily tied up.

The tale opens with a successful artist being arrested for attempting to damage a painting in a New York art gallery and continues through the voices of him, his ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, a 19th C. French artist and her uncle, and mainly the opening artist’s psychiatrist.

I’ve often found that this style of book loses me as I try to keep up with the different strands, but this time I had no problem and I felt gripped all the way to the end. The story is set mainly in New York, Maine, N. Carolina and Paris as well as 19th C. Normandy. Among other elements of enjoyment, the author really describes them well.

I suppose if I have any quibble at all it’s that the different threads of the story were rather abruptly brought together at the end, almost as if Kostova. got fed up and decided she’d had enough. I would have preferred a gentler landing perhaps. Then again, a book that entertains for 17 hours of driving is holding its own.

1 Comment

Filed under book reviews, reading, what's on your bedside table

Where it Hurts and where it Heals

Medicine wheel 075The place where I made Jack sleep in a tent was about a mile and a half from a Japanese internment camp from World War II. Lightly advertised, the place, and if Rod our Air B&B host hadn’t said something about what it was, we might have misunderstood and dismissed the Heart Mountain Historic Site sign.

But he did, and we went. We are used to touring painful places in American history. We went to the Minuteman Missile site. I’ve backpacked through Dresden. Jack went to Vietnam. We get that the “never again” resolve coincides with tourism and there’s something a little too soothing, too white privilege in the mix. Sometimes I think that George Satanyana guy got it wrong. History doesn’t repeat itself when it’s forgotten, but when it’s spun into information overload that numbs and soothes. If you see it enough, you become inured.

photography was at first forbidden in the camp, but as the time stretched, the regulation went lax. Which is why some of what happened and how it looked is now documented. Fear the camera, fear the journalist. Good.

photography was at first forbidden in the camp, but as the time stretched, the regulation went lax. Which is why some of what happened and how it looked is now documented. Fear the camera, fear the journalist. Good.

I don’t do politics publicly, so I’m only going to say that reading the information, written by people who were in the camp, was surreal in today’s American political climate of economic fear hidden behind anything we can think of to hide it behind. Creepy is a childish word. The edge of terror? Sick to the stomach? Too much drama. Surreal will have to do.

After we toured the Camp, we drove on to the Medicine Wheel in the pass off Highway 14a. The Medicine Wheel is still used, and  several signs at the beginning of the mile-and-a-half hike to it said, in essence, if someone of indigenous heritage is using the site, you’re going to wait, respectfully, without taking pictures. Accept this before you walk up there, because some of the prayers and ceremonies may take awhile.Medicine wheel 125

Medicine wheel 132 Medicine wheel 127 Medicine wheel 139No one was, so we walked widdershins around the circle, looking at objects left.

One place where the world hurts, one where it heals. Neither about white people like me. Except maybe that white people could have stopped one, and can honor the other. “The Courts Failed Us” interpretive sign was one of the most moving at the Camp. Another was the unexpected Dr. Seuss cartoon, anti-Japanese people. And how very reminiscent it is of certain attitudes in America today. At another site we visited more than a week ago, the Laura Ingalls Wilder birthplace, I remembered “Ma” and her favorite saying “A body makes its own luck.” Do we make our own enemies? Or was that Pogo the cartoon possum comic strip right: the enemy is us.

 

Theodore Geisel's unexpected contribution to the cause

Theodore Geisel’s unexpected contribution to the cause

Medicine wheel 027

 

One of several artworks on display in the textile storytelling exhibit, from local women who created story quilts based on the camp. All were from Wyoming. None of the camp residents were allowed to remain in Wyoming after the camp closed. Adults were given $25 (equals $330ish today) and a bus or train ticket to the destination of their choosing. Some went back to LA or the Pacific Northwest, where they found their stored items stolen or vandalized. Many went East for work. Medicine wheel 049

There was one white woman at Heart Mountain, Estelle. She was married to a man who had to report to the camp. Estelle made $19 per day sketching scenes for newspapers. After the camp closed the sketches that didn’t make the newspapers began to circulate.Medicine wheel 018

Medicine wheel 014

The question of the century

Medicine wheel 013

One of the stalls in the ladies’ bathroom was fitted with mirrors and a warning sign. It said this stall was set up so you could see what the camp bathrooms were like – the toilets and showers had no doors. Communal or not at all.

Medicine wheel 012

One of the things the museum makes clear is that the Japanese Americans ordered to report were confused, angry, yet compliant. Among all the weird things – including that at least one person was shot and killed at Heart Mountain for getting too close to the barbed wire fence, and some children were arrested when their homemade sled went past it on a back road – were that boys who turned 18 in the camp were required to register for the draft. Some went into the Armed Forces. 68 refused unless granted their freedom first, and they went to federal prison for 3 years.

The camp organized things for the kids to do because family life was chaotic, family units not eating together in the mess halls, children running about bored getting into mischief. Community leaders set up Boy and Girl Scout troups, and every day the Boy Scouts raised and lowered the flag in the camp where they were held prisoner by order of the American government.

Medicine wheel 072

 

Medicine wheel 114There were many prayers at the Medicine Wheel. I’m not a fey person, but you could feel some of them capturing bad, some of them releasing good. We’re all praying for something.

8 Comments

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

Scots in Tents

Wyoming 048When Jack and I were courting he assured me he loved nothing more than to go for long hikes in the wilderness and view the charms o’ nature.

Men say all sorts of things while they’re courting.

He did take me on a nice trip to Skye where we slept in the car and dipped our toothbrushes in the nearby running burn (that’s a creek to you and me). Just above the fossilized sheep shit, that brush dipping. But still, it seemed very rustic and a fun portent of things to come.

After we were married, we slept in motels and hotels and the houses of friends. When I talked him into hiking the West Highland Way, we walked off the trail every night to stay in trailside hotels.

So when Jack said to me, “You plan the accommodations for our trip to Wyoming, and I’ll be happy,” I saw my chance.

camp 1I’d always wanted to do more with Air B&B in America, having had fun with it in Chile and Portugal. So I hopped on and discovered that Wyoming in July is a popular destination and people start planning early. Eventually I stumbled across a site in Powell that offered some unique alternatives. Permanent tents.

Jack has a sad history with tents. His last time was as a cub scout, when he got puked on by his tent mate who had discovered the joys of picking wild berries and eaten too many of them that day. Rather puts one off the experience. He never wanted to go tent camping again, and that was sixty-five years ago.

So I booked a tent with wifely sneakiness, but forgot that the confirmations went to Jack’s email. Half an hour later Jack phoned me. “There’s a picture of a Confederate encampment with teepees on my emails. It says we’re staying there?”

camp 2Well, Rod and Lynn Morrison’s Quiet Rest Campground features some teepees and some tents and a sheep herder wagon. And when we arrived, it featured two sweet Border Collies named Lily and Dragon, and a running creek behind the tent that lulled us to sleep.

Which Jack did pretty well with. We enjoyed a tour with Lynn and settled in with books to listen to the running stream and sip libations, cooked supper on the camp stove, and snuggled into the duvets we’d brought instead of sleeping bags. All quite comfy.

I got up in the middle of the night to view the stars, and they were glorious. The Big and Little Dippers, Draco, and Cassiopia I could spot quickly. I went back to bed thinking I’d get up and look again in an hour, but when I did the moon was so full and bright it cast shadows. I shook Jack awake to view the glories of the night sky with me. This did not go well.camp 3

The next morning, as the hosts served the camp community beer-batter pancakes and delicious camp stove coffee, I asked Jack what he thought of the experience, and whether we might look into similar ones for the future.

Jack looked me in the eye. “I’m very glad we did this, and I never want to do it again.”

Translation? My Scot-in-tent has no intent of repeating the intense experience of being a Scot in a tent.

2 Comments

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