Tag Archives: friends

Music hath Charms to soothe – – –

Jack’s Wednesday Blog Post on Thursday –

I’ve been teaching guitar for many years, off and on, mostly pretty informally although occasionally as part of an organized program.

But we do a fair bit of bartering around here, so that’s what I did when our friend Beth’s husband Brandon wanted lessons. He’s Wendy’s Chiropractor and Beth is our very long suffering Veterinarian. So in return for my guitar lessons Wendy gets adjusted!

It’s very interesting to re-live the traumas of tender fingertips and cramped fingers through the experience of pupils, and very hard to connect back to that time in your own life. It’s also so difficult to hold yourself back and try to keep to the pace of the student and not force them too far too quickly.

What helps in this case is that Brandon happens to have a very nice well set up guitar. There’s nothing more dispiriting than trying to learn on a hard to play instrument. Where Brandon’s existing knowledge departs from mine is that while he reads music he has taught himself to play piano by ear.

So, in this case it’s really just a case of memorizing a series of chord shapes then practicing until the fingers get used to their positions. I generally start people off with the A and E chords then pick a well known tune that only uses those chords, such as ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands’. The first exercise is just to slowly hum the tune while changing between the chords at the appropriate places. That’s a good way to get used to how the sound of the chords underpins the melody.

In between times and just add a bit of variety I like to do some work on posture and how the guitar should be held and positioned as well as checking the tuning of each string either with a tuner or using the ‘5th fret method’.

Of course the real work is being done by Brandon in between lessons – that’s how he will get the fingers toughened up, and trained to move easily between the chords. I always love to see the progress from one week to the next and that’s a great delight.

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Certainty amid Uncertainty

Jack’s Wednesday guest post almost made it – – –

Work continues apace on the Hazel House – the Little Cat-House – – –

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Hazel when we found her.

But there are, of course, frustrations. We want to get moving as fast as possible, but with no heat and no water that reduces the options (and that means no working toilets!). Three space heaters and two fan heaters raised the temperature from 28 degrees to 35, which doesn’t exactly encourage much meaningful work either.

However we did manage to sweep all the loose dirt up and away, establish that all the water pipes had been bust and arrange for them to be replaced (thanks Thom), get a very prompt response from Mid-Mountain Heating and their excellent Logan who is on the case, and got the two trees that were invading the front porch cut down. We replaced light-bulbs and made sure all the electrical switches and outlets worked.

We have established that two windows are broken, there’s missing guttering and rain water pipes, and the surrounding yard is an overgrown mess!

But we appear to have inherited a working fridge/freezer and a dishwasher (which we haven’t yet tried – because no water), a large stepladder and a two part aluminum ladder.

Wendy’s friend Beth’s husband in Blacksburg is overseeing the construction of the fenced in front porch, so we’ll have an ‘airlock’ as we transport our lodgers into the facility.

So things are looking good for a final launch sometime in February and we’re celebrating the fact that there are no cats in the local kill shelter in the approach to Christmas!

The various rooms and the house itself have been named for the feline friends we have rescued, looked after, fallen for and escorted over the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ over the last few years, not least our beloved Valkittie. The house is named for the wonderful Hazel, who captured hundreds of hearts as she moved from abandonment to the final happiest year of her life.

valkyttie-cover

Valkittie in charge.

We have a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers and I applaud them one and all – it’s great that folk, both local (who can do practical things) and further afield, who maybe just cheer us on or make a financial contribution feel so involved.

In an increasingly uncertain world this is a reminder that we all have a shared humanity – – –

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized

Friends and Fellow Travelers

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on Wednesday again – – –

Last night Wendy and I were the guests of an informal book group in Abingdon VA.

As we followed one of the members along the winding road to the house where they were meeting we passed more and more exceedingly imposing residencies and speculated on what might be awaiting us.

However any fears we had were quickly allayed as the rest of the members trickled in. We had forgotten that the group had visited the bookstore earlier in the year, had all bought copies of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and were very well versed in our adventures.

They all came in clutching their copies of the book – each copy with post-it notes sticking out from favorite pages and passages. We were among old friends!

We have often remarked upon how completely different these occasions tend to be. Of course there are book clubs, reading groups, friends of the library groups and writing clubs and they are each bound to have a different focus. We certainly never know exactly what to expect, which is why we tend to be a bit nervous of them. what’s interesting is that I see similarities to my singing career over the years – gigs were often like that too.

Whenever we attend an event we start off by trying to judge what folk want to hear. Will it be writing advice, getting an agent advice, finding a publisher advice, more about Big Stone Gap?

But this was close to being unique – a whole group who had already read the book and visited us in the bookstore. We proceeded to have a really great evening of personal stories, reminiscences, parallel experiences and our own continuing adventures beyond ‘the book’. Unusually, we were even able to open up a bit on some less happy things that were hinted at in ‘The Little Bookstore’ or followed on from its publication. That’s something we would definitely only do in the company of old friends!

To finish, I should say that the evening started with me as the only man in the room, but we were eventually joined by our host’s husband and his name is Moffat – and that’s also the name of a town in Scotland that I visit every two years on my group tour.

Oh – and we ended with some songs!

 

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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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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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Filed under bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

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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