Tag Archives: aging

Who knows where the time goes –

Once again Jack misses his deadline and the Wednesday guest post appears on Thursday –

This is the title of a great song by Sandy Denny, who died far too young after falling down stairs once too often.

I find myself humming it over and over, here in Edinburgh once again, at the age of 75, after not falling down stairs very much at all—or at least not hurting myself when I did.

Edinburgh gives me a funny feeling, one I imagine must be felt by anyone of advancing years who experiences a less and less familiar place over a lifetime.


I first came here as a teenager to attend a jazz club on Tuesday nights–a 30-minute train journey on a pal’s “borrowed” student pass. It was glamorous and hippy. Outside of the August arts festival the place was mostly gloomy back in the Fifties, and if you missed the last train back you were stuck. Later I could borrow my dad’s car and the road bridge over the Forth opened – much more convenient and by then the folk scene had started. Gloom moved from buildings to music, one might say.


The entrance to the jazz club is still the same (later the Howff folk-club)

The weird mix of nostalgia and alienation are exacerbated because Wendy and I are staying with my old singing partner of that folk scene. Barbara Dickson and I are both originally from Dunfermline, on the other side of the river Forth. We traveled that road to the big city morning, noon, and night to do gigs of every description, and every time I cross it, I remember something else from those fun, silly, earnest times.

And yet, as I return each year now leading a Scottish tour, the place seems more and more alien. The traffic is terrible, the good shops have gone, ghost tours and pub crawls advertised everywhere, every tiny corner has been turned into yet another marketing opportunity. Not that I can complain about marketing leading a tour, but a part of me longs to show Americans the way it was when it was a proud city bent on being rather than selling itself.

For all the tartan tat, Edinburgh manages to retain a certain grandeur – I’m really not sure how it does it. The 16th Century John Knox’s house in the old High Street is surrounded by awful opportunistic chain outlets – ‘kilt outfits for 100 pounds’ etc. (I wouldn’t advise buying one, or washing it if you do). That ancient house seems to just draw in its skirts and shrug them off, like many other historic buildings in the area.

Maybe we’re all destined to become curmudgeons as we age, lauding a golden past that never was. Or perhaps we all understand that commerce is driving the world now, not history, culture, tradition. Not that those ever did. If people remembered history we wouldn’t keep circling in the same paths.

So despite my curmudgeonly misgivings, Edinburgh retains a dignity and an allure beneath the shouts of tour leaders and vendors. There is more to Scotland than buying a plush Nessie in the High Street. Always has been, always will be.



Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: NO I DON’T WANT TO JOIN A BOOK CLUB by Virginia Ironside

I found this at one of the Philly bookstores I visited and loved the title. The novel is about a woman turning sixty with some enthusiasm, dealing with all the things that turning sixty entails.

She is a sassy curmudgeon, the protagonist, with a lot of common sense and a few blind spots. I always say character drives plot, so this book has a great plot. It is written in diary form, which is not my favorite kind of book but does let the writer get in all sorts of silliness for extra laughs.

It’s a gentle read, kind of  haha-ouch stuff if you’re someone headed toward those years, probably a haha, I remember that if it’s behind you. There’s something affirming about finding you’re not alone in the things that happen to us all, yes?

This isn’t a book for everyone; it’s a gentle, light-hearted story, kind of “aga saga for the senior set” or for those who just love character-driven books. Because Marie (the diary writer) really is a character. If this book were food, it would be pudding in a cloud, vitamin-fortified, because there are just enough “stop and think” moments in the fun romp to add savory to the sweetness.


Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

So Happy Together

Don’t forget the Author Humiliation contest ends Sunday, June 29. Send entries to jbeck69087@aol.com. Scroll back to Monday’s blog for the rules, and have fun!

I have arrived in Scotland, with many thanks to Kelly and Rachel Saderholm, the mother-daughter team minding our bookshop while Jack and I are making holiday.

First thing Jack and I did was make a bee-line for Jean and Davy’s place. Jean and Davy served as second parents to me during the seven years (and a day) we lived in Scotland, and I was so delighted to see her again.Digital Camera Jean is the woman who advised me, “Be yourself in Scotland. People here will be seeing ‘an American.’ Just be Wendy, and let them figure it out.”

Time has taken its payments; Jean is moving with difficulty and the aid of wheeled things. Her husband Davy has left behind this mortal coil in all but body; an artist whose paintings were exhibited internationally, Davy’s mind is now living in some of the abstract worlds he brought to canvas.

As Jean and I joked, talking to him now isn’t that different than talking to him then.

Skipping the part where one pontificates or waxes philosphical on the ravages of time, or the lasting bonds of friendship – it was just ever so lovely to see Jean again. I look forward to the rest of our holiday, but when your best day is the first, because it mattered most, well, icing on the cake is very sweet.Digital Camera


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Filed under Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

The Sweetest Moments

A lady walked into the bookstore the other day, cane in hand, adult daughter at her side, and announced, “My name is ‘Mary Elizabeth Mullins’ and I have $190 in credit.”

Jack hauled out our big blue ledger and thumbed through ‘M’. “Indeed you do, Ms. Mullins. Would you like a box for your selections?”

She smiled a regal smile. “Yes, please. And point me to your Christian fiction.”

Ms. Mullins picked out the life-among-the-Amish novels she wanted, chatting all the while with Jack. A retired teacher born, schooled, married and widowed in Big Stone Gap, she’d recently celebrated her 90th birthday, and was moving in with her daughter’s family. The family home had been sold, the wagon packed. The only task Ms. Mullins had left was to blow her rather hefty, three-year-old credit with us. Then they were getting into the car and driving  straight to Michigan.

“I saved this for last. I knew I had credit,” she said, “but I wanted to wait until we were actually leaving. I knew I’d want some reading to get me settled in, take my mind off the old home place, not drown in memories.” Her voice was firm and brisk as they selected titles, but her daughter glanced over at the “drown in memories” line, and a look of affection passed between them.

“No,” Mother Mullins continued, “no point in ruing what can’t be helped. Besides–” she rolled her eyes toward the woman at her side. “My daughter’s a lot of fun.”

The younger woman snorted. “By the look of this haul, Mom, you won’t come out of your room for the first month. Just don’t expect breakfast in bed.”

Mom patted her on the shoulder. “Only the first week.”

An hour and two boxes later, our entire collection of Amish romances, along with several other literary selections, were headed out the door. Jack and the daughter had their arms full, so Ms. Mullins with her four-point cane stared at the porch steps a moment, then raised her voice to the pest control men working in the bookstore yard.

“Excuse me, could one of you young men assist me?”

Immediately a flurry of activity ensued; one gave her his arm, one waited at the bottom of the steps, and the third ran for the car door. Ms. Mullins was soon enthroned in the passenger seat, the books shoehorned between sacks and suitcases in the back.

As Jack prepared to close the door, Ms. Mullins reached out and grabbed his hand. Tears brimmed in her eyes.

“I won’t forget you, or this place,” she said, voice shaking.

Jack bent his head and kissed her hand. “Nor will any of us forget you, madam.”

She looked forward and dropped his hand. “Now close the door.”

And away they drove.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, small town USA