A Turkey Poke or a Pig in a Poke?

Wendy apologizes for the lack of Monday book this week (she’s in DC lobbying on behalf of rural health provision), but at least I got the Wednesday guest post out on time!

Our friend Amy teaches Appalachian Studies up the road at the local campus of UVA, but she has to attend a conference elsewhere today and on Friday. So I will be guest lecturing two different groups of students on the links between the Scots language and the Appalachian dialect.

I usually start with a brief geography lesson as it’s painfully true that the majority of folk over here, even many with a strong pride in their Scottish ancestry, really don’t know where Scotland is. Not only that but there’s a lot of confusion between The UK, Great Britain, England and Scotland (most Americans just say England regardless). Despite that, Scotland has a surprisingly strong ‘brand image’ around the world and most folk will readily come up with lots of examples of things they think of as peculiarly Scottish.

Then when it comes to the movement of the settlers to this area, most people don’t really know what is meant by the ‘Scotch-Irish’. So I cover a bit of history, explaining how lowland Scots were ‘encouraged’ to move to the north of Ireland, how their children (born in Ireland) then moved on to Pennsylvania and eventually to this neck of the woods. They are the ‘Scotch-Irish’ – also known as Ulster-Scots.

They brought with them their culture, including songs, ballads, fiddle tunes, food recipes, a strong suspicion of government power, as well as their language.

Of course I have to explain that Scots isn’t just a dialect of English, but a language in its own right but with obvious similarities; rather like the relationship between, say, Spanish and Portuguese, or Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

The legacy still to be heard in Appalachia involves vocabulary, sentence structure and pronunciation. However in Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia speaking anything other than standard English was historically frowned on and it’s only relatively recently that appreciation of these languages has been encouraged.

While family names and place names in Appalachia are a strong clue to where the settlers came from, there are many others strewn around and hiding in plain sight!

I find myself being asked more and more to give presentations like this and find it both enjoyable and stimulating. There are usually lots of questions at the end.

Finally – I have to try my best to avoid politics, but the current Scottish political scene is so volatile and fast moving that I find myself continually having to bite my tongue – and language is a political weapon in Scotland, Ireland and Appalachia.

Many tongues, many voices – – –


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

Mattie and Peggy

When I was a child, we lived next door to my paternal grandparents. Grandma Mattie was a hard woman. She kept her life small on purpose. Mattie had three beliefs: God was good, people who liked to read were prone to moral turpitude, and the family in the house across the street worked for the CIA and were spying on her.

Her church didn’t allow wedding rings, and glasses were for years suspect–until someone somewhere in the hierarchy needed them himself. Grandma Mattie didn’t like to wallow about in the shallows of arguments, either; I actually couldn’t tell you whether she was intelligent behind her lack of education, because her speech was confined to sharp instruction on how young ladies should behave (more sewing, less whistling, if you please) and injunctions to eat more at dinner, we’d hardly touched a bite. (She was an amazing cook.)

Among her barked commands of moral instruction was one to my mother that I ought not be allowed to play with the Catholic children who lived in the Polish-Irish family next door. When Catholics died, their family took them to the basement and put them in the coal chute, near as I could understand Mattie’s pragmatic theology on the subject; this saved time for the bad angels taking them straight to Hell.

I liked Coleen and her kind-hearted mom Peggy, whose curly red hair was as wild as her laugh. The family was always doing weird stuff like holding backyard barbecues and working in soup kitchens. Watching Coleen’s first communion was a real trip for this Evangelical Protestant girl, believe me. Mom decided I could go because it would be a good cultural experience, but I wasn’t to get any ideas about a dress and tiara of my own and DON’T tell Grandma.

When Grandpa got cancer Mattie didn’t waste time with questions about why this was happening, or what she could do about it. She and Grandpa sat in their front room and received family and church visitors for the six months or so it took him to die. About a week after he did, Peggy came to our house all dressed up, Coleen and her two younger siblings scrubbed like shiny new pennies and dressed in Sunday clothes, and asked me to walk her over to Grandma’s because she had a present for her.

This was unprecedented. Grandma wouldn’t even sit on the porch on hot summer nights, for fear the neighbors across the street might take the shot. To my knowledge, Peggy had never seen my grandmother face to face. But I gamely went to Grandma and asked if Peggy could come in.

I don’t know if it was shock or exhaustion or Southern upbringing (Grandma would have fed a wolf if it was hungry, lecturing it on table manners the whole time, most likely) but Mattie gave me a look I’d never seen before, marched past me, and opened the door for Peggy and her three children.

“Come right in, shame on Wendy for keeping you waiting on the porch, please sit down,” said my grandmother who mistrusted everyone and Catholics twice as hard.

Peggy didn’t waste a lot of time. She expressed sympathy and pulled from a bag at her side something between a folder and a photo frame, and showed it to Grandma.sacred-heart

“We paid our priest to say a special mass for your husband. He was a good Christian man, a strong moral person, and we enrolled him in the Sacred Heart Society in our parish. This is the highest honor anyone can give a good person in our church, short of making them a saint. We want you to have this.” She passed the certificate in its pretty little red frame to Mattie.

Grandma sat a moment, looking at the thing in her hands. Behind her in the doorway to the kitchen my aunts Edna and Lelah drew in back-stiffening breaths. No one moved.

Mattie said, “This is the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for us. Thank you. I’m gonna put it right here next to his chair.” She set the certificate on the bookshelf that held Grandpa’s glasses and Bible, next to his overstuffed recliner.

Peggy stood, kissed Mattie’s cheek, and ushered her three silent children out. Coleen and I exchanged just one look and we never spoke of that day again.

The day nothing happened, when two people of completely opposing views on how to be a Christian acknowledged each others’ goodness and went on with their lives. When Grandma Mattie went to a nursing home years later and we broke up her housekeeping, that certificate was still sitting on Grandpa’s bookshelf, next to his glasses and Bible.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Onwards and Upwards – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

By the time I write my next guest blog post I will have reached the age of 75 –

That’s quite a sobering thought, as when I was a kid most people didn’t even live that long! I’m told that that 75 is the new 65 – or maybe even the new 55 – –


I was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on February 5th 1942 (which explains why I can properly pronounce ‘February’) and that was at a time when the outcome of WW2 was hanging in the balance. Since then I’ve lived through the cold war, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the demise of the British Empire, The Suez crisis, the Falklands war, the first Iraq war, the second Iraq war, the invasion of Afghanistan and a host of other inglorious adventures.

I’ve also traveled the world and here’s a funny thing – the people I’ve met along the way have been a lot like myself. I’ve met very few folk I’d describe as seeming bad or dangerous and on the odd occasion I have, it usually only required a conversation to find common ground.

What have I learned along the way?

Well – not to accept unquestioningly what I see in newspapers and on TV; and also not to accept unquestioningly what I read on social media either. Most people are basically decent and want the same things in life for themselves and others. Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t be manipulated and influenced.

If I have to state one over-riding belief it would be that within us all there’s a dark side, but there’s also an awareness of ‘The Light’. It can be found in all religions and belief systems and I really think that we all have a desire to strive towards the light.

Am I optimistic for the future?

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky throughout my life so I tend towards the ‘glass half full’ point of view; in addition I naturally see the world from a Western position, which makes me privileged. But allowing for all that I do still think that, ever so tentatively, we are moving in the right direction. We have hiccups, of course (and never more than right now), but the light still beckons us on.


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The Monday Book: WAFFLE STREET by James Adams

True confession: I found this book from the movie. During my recent writing retreat in Florida, I was looking for “mindless entertainment” to fall asleep by. With my trusty laptop propped on my stomach, I surfed Netflix, and found that people who liked The Big Short tended to watch Waffle Street.

Fair enough; I wasn’t looking for much. What I got was way beyond expectations. The heartwarming story of white guys finding redemption in places they wouldn’t normally hang out (a la that Starbucks saved my life book and all) turned out to be something between a financial handbook for dummies and a quirky character sketchlist for small towns. I loved the film and the book.

A lot of the really good explanations of financial stuff (using chickens and waffles) fell out of the movie, but when you find out that James’ best friend at the restaurant was an ex-con grill cook, you have all the straight man set-up you need for the best lines ever about financial misconduct.

The book is heartwarming, sadly, but it’s also that wee bit unpredictable. Adams’ wife isn’t the sweet supportive pushover the movie makes her out to be. The restaurant owner isn’t a self-made down home boy. Throw in the crazy lady who keeps counting change to buy her favorite waffle, the evil midlevel manager who turns out to be human, and a few other stock characters who don’t quite fulfill their archtypes due to a few surprise moves, and pour syrup over the top – but lite syrup. Neither movie nor book are sticky with sentiment.

I did feel a twinge or two, reading the the book, that Adams was describing without solving. He isn’t saying “fight the system.” He’s saying “wow, look how funny the system is.”

He’s probably right about not wasting energy. Two pancake turners up for Waffle Street. waffle-street

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Dear American Airlines….

Arriving early at Knoxville McGhee-Tyson’s airport, I discovered a flight to Charlotte a full hour before the one I was scheduled on. But when I asked about getting on it, the smiling woman with the red ponytail told me a transfer would have cost $75. Not worth it, no bother, thanks.

Twenty minutes later an announcement appeared that my flight was delayed two hours due to mechanical failure. I went back to the counter and the smiling woman was busy with someone else. I spoke instead to the woman standing next to her, whose face suggested a hard say with little incentive to be pleasant.

She was in fact not unpleasant at first, just not helpful. She told me since my flight out of Charlotte was at 4, I’d be fine. I pointed out that the transfer time due to the delayed flight was about 30 minutes. She said, “Yep, fine.”

And walked away.

I walked away as well, swallowing anger in an attempt to understand this disinterest. Not two minutes later the announcement of my flight number was followed by a request that all ticketed passengers for this flight report to the counter where I had just been; we would be rerouted via the earlier flight since it was half-empty.

Smiling Woman with Red Ponytail laughed as she took my old ticket. “We tried to do this earlier, didn’t we?” She handed me the rescheduled flight. I paused a moment and she said, “Tell me, what?”

I felt a bit nit-picking asking, but explained what had happened, and she gave an apologetic shrug. “She must have been busy and not thinking. Anyway, we got you on.”

Yes, thank you smiling lady. Soon we were being called to board. The Diamond and Platinum and Teak Hardwood with Ruby Inlay passengers were invited to board, Smiling Woman taking and handing back their tickets. When they opened a second lane and announced the middle classers could now board, Unhappy Lady was there. Ignoring the line, her back to the customers. Smiling Woman tapped her, pointing.

“They’re ready.” Unhappy Lady shrugged, reached a reluctant hand for a ticket, swiped it, handed it back.

A minute later someone who had gone down the gangplank came back up. Someone was in his seat. Unhappy Lady hadn’t been checking the actual flight number, and a passenger from the later flight had boarded this one.

Smiling Woman rerouted him to the correct flight as Unhappy Lady watched, not seating others until that was taken care of by her colleague.

So I don’t know how to complain, really, American Airlines. Clearly you hire some good people who are kind and competent. And some real duds. All I can say is you might want to tighten your application process. Unhappy Lady wouldn’t have lasted the day in my bookstore.


Switching to Delta




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What’s your Monday Book?

Okay team, I’m on writing retreat. And as much as I had good intentions of putting up a Monday book anyway, we can all see that I didn’t.

So bear with me, gentle readers. In fact, cover for me. Comment here and tell us all what YOU have been reading, and how you’re liking itblank-page1. What’s your Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday book this week?


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Diet for Booksellers

porter sculpture garden 025Bookstore owners rarely eat out, given our economic circumstances, but these tips will help with your New Year resolutions for weight loss and money retention.

Shelving books burns calories on a sliding scale: the more you eat, the more shelving is worth.

Getting the bright idea to not use a dolly to carry boxes of trade-in books–thereby burning extra calories!–will actually reduce your weekly exercise total. On your second slog up the ramp carrying fifty pounds, your back will go out and you’ll have to sit around for a week while all those little squishy things in your spine return to their proper positions.

Cats are a big aid to calorie loss in a bookstore. The delicate ballet moves of carrying an armload of books and avoiding their game of jingle ball soccer is also good for limbering up. And, of course, the squat-and-recover position picking up the books that fly everywhere is good for the thighs. Go for the burn.

If you need to burn a lot of calories fast, now is an excellent time to rearrange the store’s displays. Haven’t you always intended to put a low shelf in front of that window, move the armchairs into a more cozy position? (Note: Remember, if your back goes out you’re going to lose exercise time; let your partner do the heavy stuff. He won’t mind; he wants to support you.)

Dreaming about exercising uses almost as many calories as planning to do it. After all, as booksellers we know ideas are powerful but need time to germinate.

On those days when you can’t find time to craft a salad, cottage cheese straight from the tub using an iced tea spoon is the busy bookseller’s best friend. Alas, the same cannot be said for the peanut butter jar. Hide it. Desperation makes rules easy to break.

Make your partner shelves cookbooks or food-based novels. Those front cover pictures take FOREVER to get out of your head. Opening a cookbook is twenty calories per browsed page. You don’t need food porn in your life right now.

And let us never forget: reading burns 30 calories per hour. (That’s if you use a real book and turn its pages. If you e-read, it’s only 20. *smirk*)






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