Tag Archives: friends

Memories are made of – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

I recently received a ‘blast from the past’ in the mail. It was a CD of music by an old friend who had recently passed on. Alan MacDonald was a late new recruit to my old group Heritage and he brought a very different set of musical insights. He was a big fan of American music including mountain fiddle tunes and rags and we hit it off and recorded some stuff. To my delight the CD included some of these pieces with me providing back-up guitar.

So – many warm memories; which got me thinking!

As I approach the unbelievably ancient age of seventy five, I wonder if we enhance some memories and bury others? The last  twenty years of my life have been shared with Wendy and they are front and center along with the amazing folks I’ve met along the way. My life revolves around the bookstore and all the spin-offs from that, not to mention the more recent storytelling and musical friends.

The Little Bookstore book encapsulated much of that, but was written four years ago, so there are already more stories to be told.

But going back in the other direction, there’s an enormous part of my life that was neither shared with Wendy or written down to be shared more widely. Some of it she has stumbled across as old friends are re-encountered and once again become part of our circle. But there other parts that I seem to have just erased from my memory. They seemed important at the time, but are no longer. Is that normal?

I wonder if we re-write our history to suit ourselves?

When old half remembered or half forgotten times are suddenly dropped on our laps do they also chink open a door to a part of our life that we somehow erase?

No matter – Alan wasn’t just a fine musician, but a highly regarded educationist . A quirky guy who wound up as the Head of a small elementary school that pioneered child-centered learning when it was still possible to do such a thing. He was very highly regarded by his professional peers and I was happy to be his friend.

Maybe I’m just getting old – – –

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Uncategorized

Should Auld Acquaintance – –

 Jack standing in for Wendy with some reflections on the last few weeks.

The blog has been a bit quiet over the last few days as both Wendy and I have been dealing with a host of distractions including – cats, a Celtic festival, a medical conference, a Barbara Dickson concert and her father unexpectedly requiring open-heart surgery.

Her Dad is through the surgery and back home now, being his usual curmudgeonly self, which is a sure sign of rapid recovery. But Wendy is spending this week with them and providing support to her Mom.

Meanwhile I’m trying to catch up with the backlog of stuff that’s built up. Bills to pay, emails to answer and a blog post to write – –

We had my old singing partner Barbara and her husband Oliver staying with us for the last two weeks and that culminated in them joining us at Hungry Mother State Park where Wendy’s annual ‘Head for the Hills’ medical conference was taking place. Also joining us were our chef Kelley, her wife Sam and their two youngest kids, Asher and James. Barbara did a concert at the gorgeous Lincoln Theater in nearby Marion on Friday night when she excelled herself, got a standing ovation and a well deserved encore from an audience that mostly had never heard her before.

However the stand-out moments for me were seeing Oliver become the kindly uncle to Asher and James as he showed them how to throw horseshoes, swam with them in the lake and took them out in canoes as their joint birthday treat. Then there was the late evening bonfire on the area between our cabin and the lake when we all sat round and harmonized songs, told jokes and reminisced about the previous couple of weeks.

When Barbara and Oliver first visited with us two years ago they were the ones going through some family trauma and we were pleased to offer the opportunity to relax and get away from that. This time round it was us dealing with lots of stuff and they were the ones who rolled up their sleeves and waded in – shopping, cleaning and generally picking up the slack. We’re already missing the ritual of Oliver’s breakfast porridge.

So we are delighted to count them as part of the extended family of the bookstore and the cafe!

On the final evening before they left we were not completely surprised they were looking at houses for sale in Big Stone Gap – – – –


Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized


Jack’s guest post this week – delayed by his ripping out an old closet in the bookstore

We’ve been entertaining friends both old and new recently and it has gotten me thinking.


Old friends like fiddler Pete Clark, who played, like me, in the Scottish folk band Heritage from the mid 1970s through the early 1990s and comes originally also like me, from Dunfermline, help connect me to my roots. But I also have old friends now here in Appalachia and they connect me to this community and make me feel I have started to establish roots here.


Just last weekend Pete was here staying with us and playing a house concert on Saturday night. Of course we spent time reminiscing and laughing about adventures we had touring around Europe with the band. But Pete was over with an accordionist – Gregor Lowrie. I’d never met Gregor before but we hit it off famously and so – a new friend.


In attendance on Saturday was an old local friend, Ron Short – also a highly regarded musician. Now, both Pete and Gregor are very keen anglers and wanted advice on where they might go on Sunday. It turned out that Ron is also a keen fisherman and he agreed to take them out on the local lake, turning up shortly after lunch complete with a small boat and spent the rest of the day with them.


Of course the folk who came to the concert included folk we knew well and others who were complete strangers. By the end no-one was a stranger, however.


I suppose I’m a fairly gregarious creature but I love both the company of old friends, the making of new ones, and even acting as the catalyst for bringing both together at times.


Finally, there’s another great thing about friendship. There’s something special about re-making friendships. We break relationships either through distance, career diversion and even long forgotten disputes. I consider myself very fortunate despite being guilty of all these to have reconnected closely with old friends over the last few years.


So value your friends and look after your relationships.


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

Friends or strangers?

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog returns –

Now that there is some time and distance between us and our Istanbul jaunt, we’re beginning to analyze our experiences. Although we greatly enjoyed many things there were a few bumps along the road as well and that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Coming from a very small town to spend 12 days in one of the biggest cities in the world was always going to be a bit of a shock to the system and there’s no doubt that was a contributory factor, however there’s something else at play, I think. As tourists staying in a busy up-market hotel in the middle of a historic part of Istanbul surrounded by tourist oriented shops we were very conscious of being just part of a ‘passing trade’ and easily categorized as ‘rich pickings’. However we didn’t consider ourselves so easily pigeon-holed. We are ourselves shop-keepers who deal daily with customers (some of whom are tourists) and we like to think we treat them all as individuals and interesting people in their own right.

All of this got me thinking about the times we felt most comfortable during our Turkish adventure. Not surprisingly it was when we felt we were interacting with people as fellow human beings, talking about shared concerns. Mustafa the carpet seller in his shop across the street from our hotel; Okay and Samet who worked in our hotel; the manager of the tour office at Ephesus; the yarn shop owner who invited us in for tea after we’d bought from him and it didn’t matter anymore. Mustafa chatted happily with us about his family, hometown and world travels; Okay laughed when we named the local cats we’d photographed after hotel employees and took our concerns on board when we were fleeced by a restaurant; Samet talked of his ambition to study Sociology in the US; the office manager went from bland indifference when we arrived in the morning to real genuine concern when Wendy arrived back in the afternoon feeling unwell. It must be very hard to relate to strangers who cross your path fleetingly as customers when you are so dependent on them and very tempting to see them as ‘cash-cows’ to be milked and then forgotten about.

Maybe it’s because we live above the shop and the line between our personal lives and our business lives is fairly blurred, or maybe it’s because in a small town many of our customers are also personal friends, but we really appreciated those times when we seemed to emerge from the masses and be recognized as ourselves in the frenetic surroundings of Istanbul.

In the end these are the memories that will outweigh the blips – the counterfeit 100 Lira bill, the wayward hand in Wendy’s pocket in the Grand Bazaar, the heaving crowds and bizarre fashion show at Ephesus and the missed briefing when we arrived at the hotel – they will recede while the good bits remain.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Stories between the Shelves

Jack is away leading his annual tour to Scotland and Ireland. Every year he takes 10 people (max) to the Isles for a guided tour with ceilidhs and creekside walks and other not-seen-by-bus activities. He loves it, the people who go love it, and …. well, I love it.

Because while Jack is away, I hold minor revolutions in the bookstore. The first year he went, I demolished our downstairs kitchen so we could use it for books. (We live in a 1903 house, and it had an upstairs kitchen too. Since we live upstairs and the books live downstairs, it made sense. It’s not like the books cook for themselves.) Another year I moved our bedroom. A third year, I gave away some furniture.

Jack doesn’t mind. He gets two weeks conducting people around his homeland, telling stories and singing songs, and I get to organize, regroup, rethink how we do things and where we put stuff. It plays to both our strengths. It is An Arrangement.

So far this year nothing major has occurred to me. The walls are the same color. No furniture is missing–if you don’t count those ugly old end tables that have really needed to go for ages. And the changes I’ve made in where the shelves are located, and which genres are on them, well, trust me, they’re for the best.

As I’ve been cleaning and pushing and thinking and measuring, I keep encountering little items that have fallen amongst cracks and crevices,  into corners where only dust goes. In our bathroom, I found a plush frog from my friend Anne, pushed back against the Danielle Steel shelf and surrounded by books. (The fact that we keep Ms. Steel in the bathroom is not so much an editorial comment as a necessity born of space limitation.)

On the side of a shelf that other shelves had encroached against, I discovered the pewter angel my friend Cami gave me the year both our books were accepted for publication. She hung there, ignored and overlooked, still cheerfully blessing the house. I gave her a good shining before suspending her above “paranormal romances.”

Behind a classics shelf that we finally had to let cover a window, I discovered on the long-lost ledge a small resin cat, black with an elongated neck and a curious smile, that Teri brought me from a trip to Ireland some time back. It was during a troubled time for our shop, and the figure came with a small card which explained that, according to folklore, this little grinning cat had escaped many troubles and retained her lives through her own wit and ingenuity–and she would elude many more troubles yet.

On the card, Teri wrote, “Like someone else I know.”

It’s amazing, the stories we find buried between the shelves, forgotten bits of our own lives, when we stir up a little dust. And it’s lovely, absolutely, to have friends who marked those moments with artifacts, trinkets, little pieces of memory that tell the stories, not in the books, but of the humans who run the shop.

Thanks Teri. Thanks Cami. Thanks Paxton for the dancing lady and Heather for the feather thing and Jane for the ivy teapot and all the other people whose artifacts have brightened my cleaning. You make life sweeter.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for two Single Malts….

Okay, so yesterday was an angst-wallow. Today, we are back on the happy upbeat track–not least because my husband and I are caught up in yet another “only happens in small towns” funny story.

Most of you know that Jack recently became an American citizen. And of course a lot of people wanted to congratulate him. He’s one of those charismatic individuals.

And he’s pretty easy to buy for: just get him whiskey.

But here’s where the small town bit comes in. We have one liquor store in Big Stone Gap–conveniently located across the street from our bookstore. On sunny afternoons we amuse ourselves by sitting on the porch with a tally sheet, marking down Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Baptist, Baptist….

Jack and the ABC store manager are on a first-name, how’s-the-family, dude basis. They exchange Christmas and birthday cards. Jeff calls to see if Jack’s okay should he miss that weekly visit.

And Jeff orders a particular favorite for Jack, not a blend, but a single malt that is Scottish in make, expensive in price. I don’t complain; my husband doesn’t chase other women, like televised sports, or expect me to do all the laundry.

It’s an unusual whiskey, and Jeff had never even heard of it before Jack introduced him to its finer qualities. So it’s the only single malt in town–not to mention the only ABC store. Jeff started ordering one case per year, 12 bottles which Jack purchases once a month, interspersed between his cheaper weekly stock-ups.

Jack hauls out the single malt for special occasions–like rainy Monday evenings when a friend drops by unexpectedly, or Saturday jam sessions,  or days ending in “y”–and he’s introduced several people about town to his favorite.In fact, he became quite the evangelist for this particular brew.

Which means he now has competition.

Jack discovered what a good salesman he was about three months ago, when he went across for his monthly treat and Jeff said, “Oh, sorry, Jack! Your friend Bill was in here and bought four bottles. Said he loved it at your house. The case is empty. I’ll order more. Be here in about a week.”

Galumphing home, Jack thought dark thoughts about Bill.

But when that case came in,  Jack got only three bottles. (He figured maybe it was time to stock up.) The other nine had already been purchased by friends and bookstore customers who had heard Jack, over the course of his single-malt-less week, extol its virtues and lament its rarity.

Again, Jeff ordered more–and suggested Jack write the company explaining the circumstances and requesting a commission.

This time the whole case was empty before Jack even darkened the ABC store’s door. But the funniest part was yet to come. That was about the time that people knew Jack would soon become an American citizen. Over the next two weeks, friends dropped by, bearing gifts. Tall, thin gifts that sloshed. Jack racked up eight bottles of his favorite elixir, none of which he bought for himself, because his friends had beaten him to it.

We don’t know who’s got the other four bottles.

Jack figures, the next time he heads over to see Jeff, there will be less competition for the water of life. But then, you never know. We have an anniversary coming up.


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


So the blog was quiet this week because it was the Final Push. St. Martin’s Press wanted the manuscript “as close to finished as possible” by the Friday just past. My friend Cami Ostman (author of the running memoir Second Wind) comes out from Seattle every year for a writing retreat, and this visit coincided with the big editing job.

Just so we’re clear, this isn’t the last time I’ll see the ms. before it’s published, just the last time any big edits can be done. From here on out, it’s tweaking, typos and punctuation debates. The galleys will arrive soon.

Knowing it was the last time to make anything creative in a big way,  Cami and I disappeared to my cabin in the woods (it’s where I lived while in graduate school, and I managed to buy it once I graduated) and wrote our little asses off, our hearts out, and our fingers to numb stumps. (Insert additional cliches here.) Cami, my friend since high school, was working on a novel, and very kindly told me, “Stop me at any point you need a reader.” I wrote two additional chapters and edited one that was a dog’s breakfast, plus read the entire work through again for flow, continuity, timeline, and–yes–the dreaded Narrative Arc.

It’s funny to read something for the last time before you can’t change it. I’ve enjoyed every minute of the editing process–well, okay, except for that horrible week with chapter five that my friends had to basically haul me out of. (Thanks, Elissa, Pamela, Nichole, Jodi, Cami, Kathy, Heather and anyone else I am momentarily forgetting.) I’m not the kind of writer who gets writer’s block so much as writer’s box.

In my attempt to explain everything clearly but in a pithy way and without pissing anyone off, I create walls of words that climb ever higher; ignoring every writer’s good advice about brevity and simplicity, I keep trundling down the canyon until I reach the death-trap end, have to admit the whole thing is a wash, and call in the ‘dozers to tear down the walls and dig me out. I wind up ripping the whole thing out. It wastes time in terms of actual production, but even those blind canyons are kind of fun–and useful–in the writing process.

If you have time.

But that’s what we no longer had, that week in the cabin. Instead, a deadline loomed. A dead line. A marker in the chronological pattern after which “this” could no longer be “that.” What was written would stay written. No more “I could just revamp Chapter 12 a little…”

And for the first time in my writing life, I panicked. After this, nothing could change! After this, it HAD to be perfect! After this, the sky would turn green and the grass would grow purple and fish would carry hand guns ….

Not. After this, life would go on as normal. I would need to do the dishes and catch up on the week of work waiting at my day job while I was on “holiday.” After this, friends would call and we would go out to eat, or keep each other company doing household chores.

Life doesn’t change that much, the day after “this” becomes “that” permanently. As Anne Lamott says (paraphrased here) whatever you’re expecting after you write what you meant to say and turn it in, don’t. Just move on.

We write what we mean to say, as well as we can, with sincerity and adjectives and perhaps a sense of humor, and then we go on living. I’ve got a bookstore to run, and a bunch of friends to hang with, and some laundry that is long overdue. My husband is still a sweetheart and our upstairs kitchen is still overrun with foster kittens waiting to be adopted. I can go back to practicing my harp, which I’ve missed.

79,116 words and two loads of towels later, life still looks sweet.


Filed under humor, Uncategorized