Joey Lightens Things Up

Joey and InkyYo, I’m Joey. (That’s me on the right, the white and grey guy.) I got here to the orphanage – the bookstore, I mean – about a month ago, and right away I could see things were not good. All the people were tired, they were talking about politics and festival stuff and needing doctors in the area, and they walked around like zombies.

So I asked some of the other guys who’d been here longer what was going on, and they said as near as they could tell, Jack and Wendy, the people who own the bookstore and run the place, were really tired. They had a lot to do and although a lot of people were trying to help them get stuff done, it took a lot of time to manage stuff. And they didn’t seem really happy. When the others first got here, Heathcliff and Hareton and Orange and Ginger and Simba, and little Harvey the baby, and Tooth, the only girl at our frat house, they said the people were fun and liked to play with them. But they just got grumpier and more tired as August wore on.

Well, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s cheering people up, so I started right in.

First, I climbed on Wendy’s lap while she was frowning at her computer. She kept telling me “Get off” and “My edits were due yesterday!” and fussing about some “dark” book about foster care in the Coalfields, but I could see what she needed, so I danced around in her keyboard, changed the settings on her laptop to Spanish, turned the screen sideways, activated voice commands and then meowed until tech support came on and asked what I needed.

Sometimes it’s kinda hard to tell if a human is laughing or crying, but at least it got that scowl off her face. And she did get up from the computer. Which she hadn’t done all day. And I got tuna treats.Joey 2

Usually, I can get people calm just by snuggling with them. I have perfected looking innocent and adorable while asleep. But these two, they needed more.

One morning I walked in after breakfast to find Jack on the phone trying to figure out why some business in town had refused to support the festival a group was pulling together just because he was one of the people running it. Somebody even called him a “dirty foreigner,” which made him REALLY mad. And I can attest, for a human, he’s pretty clean.

He never did figure out what their problem was, but hey, the politics of humans are beyond even cat brains, and I could see he was fussing himself into a corner, so I pulled out one of my emergency go-to tricks. I stuck my head in their little ceramic milk jug and pretended to get it stuck, careening around the place bouncing off stuff. Jack had to hang up the phone and help me, and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.

Mission accomplished.

It wasn’t long after that, when all of us cats found out the real reason they were so sad. They had an old, old dog, a really sweet lady named Zora. She’d welcomed all of us to the orphanage, but you could tell she was kinda… loopy, y’know? She’d wander off mid-sentence. The guys who’d been here longer said she had doggie Alzheimer’s, and you could see from the way she walked that her legs hurt her really bad. And one day, she went away and didn’t come back, and Jack and Wendy just sat around the house crying and crying.

Well, grief is important, so we left them alone for a little bit, but I got the boys together and showed them what to do. When the time was right, we formed a parade. It’s my best party trick ever. I led them, leaping from the top of one bookshelf to another like lions in a circus, yelling, “And a ONE anna TWO anna …” It worked great, ‘specially when little Harvey fell to the floor on his second round. (He wasn’t hurt, I made him take the lowest shelves. There were enough of us to do two layers.)

Jack and Wendy rushed over and just watched in amazement as we fosters went four rounds. By then they were laughing so hard, I figured it was safe to stop.

Now I’ve done that “lions in the circus” routine a thousand times, but you know how it is working with amateurs. Heathcliff took out half a CD shelf trying to stop himself. I would’ve helped the humans clean up, but opposable thumbs, you know. I figured it best to take my team upstairs for a snack, and maybe practice some other routines.

Well a couple of days ago, the bookstore was full of people all day long, and lotsa noise, and some guy playing some bag and stick thing that sounded like a cat in heat, and yesterday Jack and Wendy just seemed to come back into their own bodies. They looked younger, they walked around faster, they seemed lighter.

Happier. Like they belonged to themselves again and not everybody else. Wendy is still working at her computer a lot, but Jack says she’s writing again, and that always makes her happier. He kinda took me aside for a guy-to-guy talk and said he appreciated my cheer up routines with her but now I really should leave the laptop alone, she was doing happy writing instead of deadline stuff.

I can respect that, so I just jumped in her lap and got her blood pressure down a bit while she stroked my head. Win-win.

Looks like my time here might be coming to an end, as I’m not needed to cheer up the sad humans anymore. Wendy says she’s going to get back into writing her blog and working on her next book, and Jack says he’s got some plans to get the bookstore tidied up, so I’d say I need to find someplace else that wants my special brand of cheering up.

It’s my calling. I don’t let on, but I like it. Who’s next?joey

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

Jack of All Trades and – – –

Jack just scrapes in under the wire – –

I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, so here goes again, Probably – –

Not too long before I retired from a twenty-year career in the community college in my home town I was ‘persuaded’ by my Principal (Chancellor) at the third time of asking, to embark on a MBA. I had been teaching management programs and so I suppose that made sense. I had free choice about which program and didn’t know that there was a ‘pecking order’ out there in terms of difficulty and/or credibility in the wider world. So, I opted for Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. I chose it simply because of proximity and the flexibility of the timetable. I didn’t know it was notoriously rigorous, difficult and high in the pecking order!

I quickly found that there two clearly different groups of subjects – half were ‘soft skills’ – team dynamics, leadership, marketing – that sort of thing. I loved that, understood it and found it very self-affirming. Then there were the math focused ones – finance, statistics etc. I hated them because I’m completely useless at math. But I struggled through and finally got there!

What on earth has this to do with a bookstore in a small Southern town?

One of the things I clearly remember from my studies and research was this. The most loyal customers any business can have are the ones that have a problem that you manage to fix.

Yesterday morning a young lady came into our store to see if a book she had ordered had arrived. I didn’t recognize her and asked if I’d done the ordering. “No” she said – I think it was your wife and it was a couple of weeks ago. I searched through all the email confirmations of the orders we’d done and there was no trace of it. As panic set in I phoned Wendy.

It turned out that she had made the order at the exact moment that E-Bay shut down their Half Dot Com subsidiary. She honestly thought she’d ordered the book but it hadn’t gone through. I’m absolutely certain we aren’t the only ones to have gotten caught by this.

The customer was most understanding when I explained what had happened, but she needed it for a class starting on Monday and needed to read it before then. I immediately went to an alternative site and found a seller that could get it to me overnight.

It came in today, I phoned her and she got it with four days to spare. It cost her just the $6 she’d paid when ordered and us another $6 to get it for her, so we made nothing – but – I’m completely certain that she will sing our praises much, much more than if it had just come when it was expected.

The lesson?

You don’t need an MBA to make a customer happy – – –

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Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

CELTICLOGO2small

Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

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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, Uncategorized, VA

Zora Left Us

zoraOur baby girl Zora has left us. Jack took her this afternoon to her last vet appointment, where we ended the dark confusion and debilitating pain advancing years had brought.

Zora didn’t know anyone these last few days; not her veterinarian Beth, not Our Good Chef Kelly, not always Jack and me. We gave her a bowl of milk and a chewy stick, two of her favorite things in the world, before assisting her into the car.

She came to us fourteen years ago when she ran out in front of my car on a busy street near a suburban neighborhood. I got out, looked around for where she might have come from, and then invited her to ride shotgun. We stopped at CVS and got a collar on the way home.

We know she got her mind and her legs back at the Crossing. I’d like to imagine she got the Teak Throne carried by four Maine Coons, but our Zora was a Quaker girl. She would never allow such fuss and pomp.

No, our Earth Mother dog, who snuggled so many foster kittens through the years, would be met halfway through her plodding amble to the other side by a great cloud of witnesses to her loving nature – those whom love couldn’t save, who have been waiting for a chance to show Auntie Zora around.

These would be the kittens Zora helped up the stairs in our bookstore, nudging them with her nose, even lifting them gently with her carefully covered teeth, dropping them on the landing or the lowest branch of the cat tree. The babies she kept warm, nuzzling them through the night.

Sometimes we asked her to nurse one, but more often they commandeered her bed. You knew when a kitten was with Zora for the night; a soft little growl that turned into a gurgle, followed by licking sounds. In the morning, Zora’s tiny puffball would be tucked between her paws, head cradled on her nose or cheek, both snoring softly.

So I know the little guys have been waiting this last week, watching for the time to meet her and return the hospitality. They will lead Zora to the swimming pond, show her the Milkbone Forest, probably try to talk her into playing with them on the Kitty Trampoline. She won’t go in for that. A dignified lady with all four paws on the ground, that’s our Zora.

But she probably will sneak in a round or two of jingle ball golf with les enfants, before trotting off to the nightly Steak Grill in the Dog Park. She always enjoyed being goalie for their soccer games.

Enjoy your retirement, baby girl Zora. You earned it with your sweetness and kind disposition. I wish the world still had you in it, but even if you had to leave us, it was worth it for knowing you, sweetheart.

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The Bumps in the Road

Jack’s guest post slips in the back door, hoping no-one notices he’s late –

I’ve been thinking about the things that lift us up or drag us down.

Wendy and I have both had a few downs recently – sicknesses, work pressures, unexpected slap-downs and news of the deaths of friends. It’s easy to let that stuff get to you – too easy.

But then something good happens and lifts you up again.

Someone you hardly know intervenes in an ugly confrontation to calm things down, a sickness departs and you feel great, and an old friend gets back in touch and reminds you of great memories.

So this is really all about that thing that makes us feel suddenly ‘up’! It is, in my experience, quite a sudden feeling but doesn’t actually have to be all that dramatic.

Is it just chemicals in the brain? Or is it the much wider network of subtle interactions between people who share a set of basic needs and common values?

Just last Saturday I had helped organize a live radio show to celebrate ten years of Celtic Clanjamphry (my weekly program on WETS.fm}. In the run up I was heavily in ‘down’ territory and had enormous worries that it just wouldn’t work. In the event, all twelve participants had worked their socks off to make sure it did. So, in the space of an hour I went from a serious down to an extreme up.

There are much more serious things in the world than an obscure Celtic music show in the depths of Appalachia, but I still think that everything that drags us down has to work slowly and hard, whereas the things that lift us up seem to be much more instant.

So – the ups have it!

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Ho Hum – –

Jack just managed to get in under the wire this week for his Wednesday guest post –

 

Some days are just ‘normal’ – here’s one – –

Start with a run to the grocery store for the makings of shepherd’s pie (supper with our good friends Beth and Brandon tonight – plus a guitar lesson with Brandon).

Medicate the dogs and feed the three garage cats.

Clean out the cat litter trays.

Another good friend Teri arrives and hangs out until the shop opens.

Order six new Celtic flags for our annual festival coming up in a month’s time.

Tidy the bookstore kitchen and mop the floor.

Get the festival banners out of the shed and paint out the ‘4’ in the date ready to be re-painted as ‘3’.

A couple arrive to collect their winnings in the bookstore auction of surplus stuff.

Two elderly and very frail ladies arrive with a bag of Christian romances to exchange for more of the same. But they also spend some money on more books – they are lovely and we chat at length.

A young woman arrives for more (bulky and heavy) auction items. She is carrying an infant and is on her own. The items are upstairs.

A regular and very interesting customer comes in and browses and spends money on lots of books.

Start making the afore-mentioned shepherd’s pie.

Two folk who’ve never been before arrive and I give them a quick tour – they buy some books and come back to get Wendy’s ‘Little Bookstore’ book after they go for money. (We do take cards, btw.)

Continue preparing the shepherd’s pie.

A lady from a not-so-very-close book-club that read ‘Little Bookstore’ phones to arrange a visit next week. Sadly, on a day when Wendy will be out of town, but they will be happy to see me!

Package a book we had sold on-line and Wendy gets it over to the post office.

Get a message asking if I can guest lecture to a class at UVA Wise on Scottish-Appalachian connections in a couple of weeks’ time.

We can’t find two small hand-carved statuettes that were sold in the auction. They were hiding in Science Fiction!

Finish the shepherd’s pie.

Another couple arrive to collect auction items – from upstairs. We carry down the desk, avoiding kittens.

Medicate kittens.

Friends arriving for dinner at 6:30 to eat the shepherd’s pie.

Guitar lesson with one of the friends.

Pick apples from our apple tree so Wendy can freeze them.

Drink heavily.

Sleep.

 

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

“Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light – – -“

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

The great Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson  was a product of the European ‘Enlightenment’ led by thinkers and scientists based in Edinburgh. The word ‘enlightenment’, of course, plays to my Quaker beliefs as it suggests shining light into the darkness. That movement was very much about lining up rational thought and empirical evidence against superstition and ignorance.

Stevenson expressed his understanding of the battle between these forces wonderfully in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, where darkness and light are taken to extremes within the same body.

Like many others of the Quaker persuasion, I have a very questioning  faith that probably comes down at bottom to this: we each have the capability for extreme evil and extreme good within us. There’s a continual battle going on between our Jekyll and Hyde and we aren’t in complete control of that battle. Paul said something like that in the Bible in Romans: ‘we hate what we do and know what we should do, but still do the wrong things’.

What I’m getting to, loyal readers is, Charlottesville and everything surrounding it. Like you didn’t see that coming?

Most of us believe that we want to strive toward good, but sometimes  when the stars align (so much for the enlightenment)  our bad side gets a severe nudge. That’s usually powered by feelings of insecurity (think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

There are large segments of the population in the US (and England) that feel very insecure right now because they see their standard of living threatened and need to blame someone for that. They also feel they need to retreat back to a more comfortable set of circumstances. Hence – ‘Make America great again’ and Brexit (Make England great again).

The enemy, therefore (and as usual) becomes anyone not like we who have the power. The difference can be nationality, color, religion, denomination – anything convenient.

So back to my beliefs and faith – My faith is that light will ultimately prevail, as it’s a living thing and is at the beginning of everything. But the darkness is also powerful and we are the ones who feed it.

Finally – Quakers believe in non-violence and the peaceful challenging of violent behavior. I have absolutely no doubt there were many Quakers in Charlottesville and I’ve no doubt which side they were on – the side of the Light. It may become increasingly confusing to decide who gets to say what is light and what darkness. But it can never be said that genuine seekers of God’s guidance don’t find it. I am holding you, and all of us, in the Light.

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