Tag Archives: friends

The Grand Tours – –

Jack gets to do a weekend blog post to get Wendy off the hook

I’ve often said to folk over here that I have never gotten used to long road trips, but that’s not entirely true. Every year I conduct a small group of Americans around Scotland for almost two weeks. We stay in various hotels along the way and drive for anything up to six hours each day.

So you’d think that something similar here wouldn’t be all that different!

Just this last two weeks Wendy and I did just that– mixture of author promotions and business meetings Wendy had to do, and she dragged me along for fun. From here in Big Stone Gap all the way up to DC and down to Knoxville with lots of ups and downs along I-81 just to make life interesting. Part of that involved choosing our next house!

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/550-Tazewell-St-Wytheville-VA-24382/108105878_zpid/

Earlier this year Wendy and I took our Scottish (and English) friends Barbara and Oliver on a three week road trip up to South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and all points in between and had a great time. But it did involve some serious planning!

I think what makes the difference is that you never feel very far from anywhere in Scotland – it’s a small country. Whereas the US is really enormous, so there’s more of a sense that you are setting off on a real journey here. You think about meal breaks and plan much more about where to stay along the way.

Maybe also another difference is that in Scotland I’m never very far from one friend or another. On the recent road trip here we were lucky to be able to stay with a new friend in DC. Amelia Townsend (originally from Big Stone) runs the Shoestring Theater Company and had asked me to provide some music for her upcoming new play. We took the pieces on a CD and zip-drive with us and she was gracious in providing us with accommodation for a couple of nights.

But the journey finished in a very American way – Thanksgiving with Wendy’s family in Knoxville.

Family meals in Appalachia usually tend to be somewhat Northern European – a bit like filling up at the gas station. But there are exceptions and Thanksgiving is one. So this is one of those occasions when I’m reminded of meals I’ve shared in Southern Europe – Italy, Spain or France, with a social gathering around a big table that’s as much about sharing stories as sharing food. I doubt I will ever forget Wendy’s mom’s story of how, as a young nurse (and lifelong abstainer) she got drunk on rum filled chocolates and had to be persuaded to lie down for a while!

If you knew her mother, you’d know how funny this story is. Look up “lady” and it’s her picture you see with the definition.

Still and all, with us moving in the New Year – one of the first stops on this madcap tour was to procure our new place in Wytheville—there is nothing quite like coming home to one’s own little bed again. Wendy and I are looking forward to the next adventure, while enjoying the last of the summer wine from this one. The bookstore has been grand to us, and we know it will be great for the next team.

Onward—adventure awaits!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Why do we do it?!

Jack’s on time again – Musht be shome mishtake – – –

Ah! – the aftermath of our annual Celtic festival! The post-mortems and memories; what went right and what went wrong.

Actually not much went wrong, but I’m always a nervous wreck in the run-up thinking what might. This year our hard working chairperson Darinda moved home out of the area so the rest of us had to regroup and strategize. We had already had to accept that we couldn’t avoid a calendar clash with another big, but non Celtic, music festival just a couple of hours away. The weather forecast began to look more and more ominous right up to the night before.

In the end the forecast of all day thunderstorms didn’t materialize, the bike race was well supported, the parade wasn’t rained on, the vendors were happy, the sheepdogs starred, the music venues worked well and everyone had the opportunity to sample haggis, Cornish pasties, cock-a-leekie soup and apple crumble.

We probably did lose some attendance to the other festival, but not as much as I feared. We probably also lost folk due to the terrible weather forecast. But we still provided custom to the local B&B and the local hotels from folks who came from a distance and that’s partly what it’s all about.

Another perennial worry is whether we’d raise enough financial support to run the festival to our projected budget. Some regular supporting businesses and organizations had to cut back a bit this time but we got there in the end.

For me, the icing on the cake are the late night sessions back in the bookstore on Friday and Saturday. This year they were exceptional, in no small part because our good friends Tim and Eileen were over from North Carolina. Friday night saw great instrumental music while on Saturday I was transported back to the wonderful experience of being in the company of exceptional singers and harmonizers that I remember from years gone by.

I’ve helped organize many festivals and folksong clubs over the years and there’s always a constant tension between the satisfaction and pleasure when things work out and the worry that things will fall apart.

This time it mostly worked –

pipes

bikes

caber

sheepdogsigean

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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, VA, Wendy Welch

The Hardest Thing!

Jack’s blog post is on time for a change

I’ve had many dogs over the years, but Bert is the only dog that chose clearly and exclusively me as his human.

bert

He chose me by licking my hand. We’d lost a dog and put up signs offering a reward for his return, and someone called. “I think I have your dog.” It wasn’t him, but Bert looked a lot like our missing Rabbie. The guy who’d found him, a dog lover, sensed he was onto a good thing here. He gave me a $10 and said, “Would you mind taking him to the pound? Here’s the entrance fee. I can’t keep him; I have seven dogs.” Bert looked at me from his one good eye, and licked my hand.

That was it. He came home with me.

The vet said he had only one eye because he’d met “Something meaner than he was” at a young age,  and we discovered he also had serious heart-worm infestation, which required much rest after the debilitating treatment.

But he wasn’t having any of that rest nonsense because he had his best buddy Zora, our other rescue, to chase around with in the back yard. Saint Beth’s (our vet’s) staff even said “Good luck” as they told us to try and have him rest.

Zora taught him all her favorite tricks and feints as they raced around but they had another shared habit. They loved escaping out the front door when someone inadvertently left it open just too long. They’d be off and out and up the street!

Usually Bert was recaptured first, but on one famous occasion he couldn’t be seen. Eventually Wendy found him wandering nonchalantly down the middle of the main street with an enormous coal truck right behind matching his pace. The driver must have been a dog lover to do that five miles per hour thing.

His exploits were legendary and he made many, many good friends among our regulars in the bookstore. Long suffering with kids and always willing to guide folk to the best books.

Just over a year ago Zora headed over the rainbow bridge and Bert never really got over that. We think he was always waiting for her to come back and he went from an outdoor dog to an indoor one. As he developed his own health issues he found another friend. Tooth is a kitten that was dumped over our yard fence while we were in Scotland two years ago and when she saw Bert she immediately assumed the role of nurse and companion. She led him around, pointed him to his food as his eyesight failed and made sure he knew where he should be in the back yard, then leading him back.

It’s so hard to know the point between keeping them for you and letting them go as the kindest thing for them.

But we picture Bert, gazing into the mists at the bridge, and saying, “Zora, ZORA, is that really you?”

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

Surprise, Surprise!

Jack’s Wednesday post limps in on Friday this time – –

Well – what a week it’s been and it isn’t over yet!

First of all we had a phone call from California from folk who have read ‘The Little Bookstore’ and intend to visit Big Stone Gap, then we had another call from a couple in Charlotteville who will be celebrating their 51st wedding anniversary by doing the same thing next week (having read Wendy’s book when it first came out five years ago). This is great for the town as they will stay in a local hotel and shop locally while they are here.

(BTW – Wendy and I celebrate our 20th anniversary next Tuesday.)

Meanwhile a radio station in Scotland has agreed to air my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’, so it will now be broadcast in Tennessee, Virginia and Scotland.

But the icing on the cake happened yesterday afternoon when a group of folk came in the door and explained that they had driven down from Toronto. They were all from Korea originally and included a friend who was just visiting for a short time. He was the real reason they came to the shop because he works at the publisher in Seoul who put out the Korean language version of ‘The Little Bookstore’. He had brought both an English language and Korean copy of the book to have Wendy sign them. They spent some time with us and luckily Wendy was here to socialize and chat. To say we were gob-smacked would be putting it mildly!

book-cover-korea

koreans

That’s Mr Young-Eun Goh of Danielstone Publishing on the left.

We had some fun describing the convoluted email conversation Wendy had with the Korean translator back when that edition was being prepared and we proudly showed the copy we still have.

We actually received six copies from the publisher when it came out and sold five of them here in the bookshop. We thought that was pretty amazing, but getting a visit from the publisher was something else entirely!

We look forward to visits from the Polish, Portuguese and Chinese publishers – – –

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

A Cat Tail of Two Lives – –

Oh dear it’s Thursday and Jack’s guest post is late again – –

The inimitable Owen Meanie, our bookstore greeter cat is rather unwell and in the animal hospital being cosseted by St Beth and her excellent staff.

While we wait for the results of his bloodwork the first indications are that he may have Feline Leukemia despite having been vaccinated against it as a kitten and receiving regular boosters. The good news is that after not eating for a few days and losing a pound in weight, he is now wolfing down everything offered to him and is much more engaged with his surroundings.

owen

And he’s home again and wondering what happened!

Of course he has been moonlighting as greeter cat at the next door tax office and they have been calling regularly for progress reports.

We discovered his two-timing by accident when I popped in to thank the tax office staff for a favor they had done for us. Lo and behold – they had a bed set up for him in their window and food and water bowls! He knows when his favorite arrives and what car she drives, waiting on the sidewalk and escorting her into his second place of work.

He used to range far and wide around downtown and I always worried about him crossing streets until I watched him a few times and was most impressed with his road-sense. However, now that his days are shared between us and next door he seems to have reduced his territory and is happy to simply observe the further reaches – either from his favorite chair on the bookstore porch or from the tax office window.

How he came by his name is another story involving Wendy’s NY editor, a book by a Mr Irving and a negotiated compromise.

 

 

 

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A Notable Occasion!

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post appears on Wednesday again – amazing!
Wendy and I have been so busy with other stuff the last couple of years that we haven’t been running as many events in the bookstore as we used to. But we still do from time to time and usually at the instigation of someone else who just thinks it’s a cool place to stage something.
Which is how we ended up with an amazing and wonderful house-concert on Sunday evening.
But this story really starts about seven years ago when I was contacted by a woman in North Carolina, who’s daughter had just won the junior section of the US Scottish fiddling championships. She asked if I’d like to interview her on my weekly Celtic music radio show – so I did. The daughter, Maura Shawn Scanlin, was fifteen years old and quite shy, until she started playing!
A couple of years later her mother again contacted me as Maura Shawn had now won the senior championship. So, once again she was in the studios of WETS in Johnson City and was now a much more confident young woman. The next thing, she was invited to compete in the Glenfiddich World Championships in Scotland – which she won! Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/YL0GCNsuEJE
Finally, a couple of months ago Maura Shawn, who now lives and studies music in Boston, herself emailed me to say she’d be in the area and would we be able to host a concert in the bookstore. The only problem was that it would have to be on a Sunday, which isn’t a normal day for us to run events. But we decided to take a chance and I also decided to record the concert for a future radio show.
I now record my shows at the home studio of a very expert friend who lives close by, so Dirk was up for giving it a go. Except he was short of some essential mics and stands, which is where another couple of friends, Mark and Alan, stepped in.
Maura Shawn, like most professional musicians can only survive financially by playing in various bands and line-ups and for this she would be half of a duo with a guitarist called Connor Hearn, who I’d never heard or heard of. I was a little nervous but shouldn’t have been! I was also very nervous whether we’d get an audience at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon!!
Maura Connor
I set out fifteen chairs, then added a couple more – and more, as they all started arriving until we were completely full.
The concert was wonderful, with a tremendous rapport between Maura Shawn and Connor, who’s guitar playing was magnificent. Everyone who attended was completely enthralled (including our dog Bert who was surprisingly well behaved). The next day Dirk sent me a recording of one of the music sets and it was also magnificent!
So maybe we should get back to doing more of this sort of thing! It felt very soul-restoring.

 

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

Strollin’ down the Highway – –

It’s funny the dreams we have. One of my more colorful ones concerns hitch-hiking.

Back when I was a carefree and somewhat trusting teenager hitch-hiking was much more common than it is now and I did a lot of it.

My older sister was living in Yorkshire in the 1960s and I frequently thumbed a ride down there for a visit. Truck drivers were very accommodating and wanted company so I rarely had any problem getting rides.

There was the time I hitched to Lanark racecourse in the west of Scotland for a model plane competition, though. A truck stopped to pick me up and could take me all the way to my destination. I climbed aboard and slammed the door shut – on my thumb! There’s a good Scots word – beelin’ – (throbbing) which is what my thumb did all day long. I remember going to the family doctor a few days later when he drilled a hole in my thumbnail to relieve the pressure!

But the most memorable journey was all the way from my hometown of Dunfermline to the exotica of Paris. Yes – Paris, France. I traveled with a friend and my guitar, because we were determined to busk on the Champs Elysees. A very illustrious Scottish folksinger called Alex Campbell gave me a slip of paper with a name and phone number (which I found many years later to be completely false) that sealed the deal. He had blazed a trail all around Europe before anyone else did and was my hero!

My friend and I got down to the midlands of England fairly easily but then got stuck. As it was getting dark we pitched our wee tent beside a hedge in a field and settled down for the night. We were wakened early next morning by sounds of machinery and found we were in the middle of roadworks. We packed up, started thumbing and were picked up by a very elderly truck. It had no air-conditioning, the sun was bright and the engine was under our feet. Every time I dozed off the driver elbowed me in the ribs and demanded I talk to keep him awake, but somehow we got to Dover and the ferry to France.

When we arrived in Calais we got a ride from an English salesman heading to Paris in his ‘Deux Chevaux’ Citreon which almost rolled over on every corner. He finally got to the infamous roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe and we went round it in ever decreasing circles until he found a way out and dropped us off. From there we headed to the Boise de Boulogne and pitched our trusty tent again.

deux chevaux

Un Deux Chevaux avec deux chevaux! Quatre chevaux?

Next morning we walked to the Champs Elysees with my guitar and prepared to live our dream. Before I could hit the first chord a hand descended on my shoulder. “You can’t start here” our assailant said, “you start in the suburbs and work your way in to here”. So I never ever busked in Paris, although we did eat well and I learned a lot!

I have a friend who has lived all his life in a mining village in Fife and who restores motorbikes as well as writing hilarious poetry. One of his most famous poems is entitled ‘What’s a Laddie frae Kelty daein in a place like St Tropez?’, which is all about his memorable journey by motorbike to his particular dream.

Ah – dreams. Which takes me to the Everly Brothers, but that’s another story – – –

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized