Tag Archives: friends

Worth their Salt

 Jack’s guest post is actually on Wednesday

My last guest post was about the satisfaction of completing work that I’d spent five years learning as an apprentice painter and decorator.

This one is about the importance of leaving some tasks to other professionals –

The last time we had heavy rain here, which is almost two months ago, we noticed we had a couple of roof leaks. They were in complicated corners of our main roof which had been completely re-shingled about five years ago. This is not my specialty at all, and I no longer have the head for heights that I used to, so it was time to call in the expert. I have the good fortune to be friends with the owner of the biggest construction company around here and he had previously put me in touch with his preferred roofing guy. He came promptly, explained that he was in the middle of a big contract but checked the problem areas and promised to take care of them as soon as possible. Lo and behold, he arrived yesterday, carried out work with no fuss and today it has rained heavily all day with no signs of leaks. The rain is welcome, of course, as it was needed to douse the wild fires over in Tennessee.

This past weekend we spent with Wendy’s parents in Knoxville, where her brother in law Dennis was working most of the time trying to diagnose and fix a long-standing problem with the heat pump (he knows about this stuff). When we got back here on Monday evening we discovered that our heat pump was acting up. I phoned the local company who had installed it three years ago and their engineer came this morning, established the problem and had it working again within an hour.

In both cases the communication ahead of the work was first class, which is something else that I consider a very good sign. I was taught, during my training, as much about customer care as I was about the techniques of applying paint, hanging wallpaper or working safely at heights.

What’s the ‘take-away’ from this?

Know your limitations, trust professionals and don’t grudge paying them their worth, take advice where you can on the reputation of these professionals and treat them with respect. They will have earned your respect and loyalty.

Here’s to my fellow professionals whoever and wherever they are!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

Strangers in the day

 Jack’s Wednesday (just) guest post –

For some reason that I can’t fathom we’re getting a lot of out of town (and out of State) visitors to the bookstore and the cafe just now. It’s not the season for school reunions or vacations, and although some folk have deliberately detoured this way because of reading ‘The Little Bookstore’ many of them haven’t.

It seems to be a completely random thing – just passing through or maybe here for a funeral or family visit.

Quite apart from the welcome business, it adds to the busyness! I love it when strangers come in when we have local loyal friends of the place just hanging out and everyone ends up swapping stories.

Two examples from today –

1) A couple drove for five hours from Elkins in WV yesterday because they had read the book. They visited yesterday afternoon then came back this morning as soon as we opened and stayed on for lunch. As they were leaving they said they’d be back soon. Of course they had dinner in town last night then stayed overnight in a local hotel and had breakfast before heading back here and encountering the hanging out crowd.

2) A gentleman drove up from Johnson City simply because he heard a repeat broadcast on the local NPR station of an interview with Wendy about the store. As soon as he heard my voice he said “you’re the guy on WETSfm that has the Celtic show”. I’ve been presenting Celtic Clanjamphry every week for almost ten years as an unpaid volunteer and, in return they now count that as sponsorship by Tales of the Lonesome Pine, so we get a mention on air as well.

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Nobody can spell Clanjamphry!

Just two examples of how new customers arrive at the door. Of course they are, for different reasons, already pretty well primed to be ‘on side’. The challenge for anyone who runs this kind of shop is to try to read the personality of the completely ‘cold callers’ and respond appropriately. As I said at the beginning we had a good few of them as well. One couple were quiet and focused and I simply responded to their occasional request while another guy started like that, then encountered a kitten and became much more engaged. On the one hand you have to like people to do this job, but on the other hand you have to be able to quickly read people too.

It’s still great fun!

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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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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 – – – –

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FRIENDS

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.

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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.

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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.

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