Tag Archives: friendship

Old World, New World, My World

It’s often only when you’re pulled away at short notice, with many loose ends left dangling, that you realize how many real friends you have. When my sister’s funeral summoned me to Scotland, I was worried that even with Internet availability and my trusty laptop, there were chores that folk at home just wouldn’t know needed to be dealt with, things the bookstore required that wouldn’t get done.

With the evidence of over a hundred messages of condolence and many more FaceBook ‘likes’, and with a high proportion from around here, I should have known better. It’s a guy thing, I guess.

Of course Wendy bore the brunt of it and cheerfully juggled duties while also dealing with a writing deadline and the current exceptional stress of her day job at GMEC–not to mention grabbing the opportunity to ‘launder’ a fourteen count kitten rescue through the store while I was away. I could also depend on the usual emergency cover by the heroic James, Kelley, Kody, Elizabeth and Mark and my exceptional ‘soul-mates’ Tony and Anne.

This core group of people that are a kind of loyal bookstore family (Wendy is family, of course, but you catch my drift) each rallied round and in whatever way they could. This reduced my panic to a bearable level and let me concentrate on family and friends at a time that, although predicated on sadness, also involved a lot of reconnecting with family and friends.

My final evening in Scotland before returning home was an invite for dinner with one of my oldest friends. My former singing partner Barbara had asked me to her and her husband Oliver’s new apartment in Edinburgh along with another couple of friends and her son Archie, who did the catering. Despite having just moved in and with only half the rooms habitable, we all sat down to a relaxed and memorable meal, punctuated with lots of memories of the folk and jazz scenes in Dunfermline, where we had all grown up. In the middle of the evening Barbara began to describe her visit to Big Stone Gap two years ago with her husband Oliver when she headlined our Celtic festival. She spoke of Kelley and Sam and their kids, describing Kelley as “a kind of female rugby character, someone you felt you should not mess with but who has a kind heart.” She depicted life in the bookstore (“kittens everywhere, all adorable”) and reminisced on their visit to Carter Fold (“the dancing, such a community”) I realized that I’m exceptionally lucky. Because I have another extended family back in Scotland, some of whom have visited here and made the connection. I consider myself doubly blessed!

My dearest wish would have been for ‘Big Sis’ Margaret to come over, visit with us and become part of that bigger family, just like my niece Vicki and her daughter Elle.

I had been plotting, but it wasn’t to be – – – Time waits for nothing. Enjoy your family, biological and chosen, while you have them. They are a blessing.


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Fifteen Adults Laughing very hard Together

We’d been plotting the Cards Against Humanity game for a long time. Susan and David Hamrick, some of our favorite people on Earth, had recently lost Hazel, the beloved eldercat who sparked public outrage in Southwest Virginia when her owner surrendered her to the shelter at the age of 20; Hazel’s plight birthed a webpage for eldercat advocacy.

David and Susan also adopted Mal, the high-expense, high-care kitten with the cleft palate who crossed the bookstore lawn about a month before. So planning the CaH game was a chance for Hazel’s ashes to return to her hometown, Mal to see his adoring public now his feeding tube was out, and us to see David and Susan.

The participant list grew. Local doctors looking for a fun weekend (I work with regional medical recruitment); our sainted vet Beth, who diagnosed both Mal and Hazel free of charge; her husband TNB (we call Brandon That Nice Boy Beth Married, TNB for short); and a plethora of others, most of whom have adopted a cat from us. Being adult professionals, we had salad and vegetarian curry, black bean chili, and – in honor of Beth’s recent birthday – Peanut Butter Chocolate Reese Butterfingers Eight-Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Health care professionals know how to party.

And then the CaH came out, with the expander pack. Beth put bottles of her homemade Merlot on the table, and David set out his carefully hoarded Ben Nevis single malt.

But the fun started before the drinking, because the first card out of the gate was something like “How do you get laid?”

After Brandon won with a card that suggested certain specific activities in very precise anatomical locations, I turned to him and said, “I’m never calling you ‘That Nice Boy’ again.”

It all kinda took off from there.

There is something wonderfully healing about 15 adults sitting around a table acting like adolescents who have a deep background in politics. People literally snorted whisky out their noses, we laughed so hard.

And about every 15 minutes, someone shouted “Kid!” and the room went silent as the four young boys hanging out downstairs in the children’s room, playing with kittens under the supervision of a teen, came up and helped themselves to soda.

(Susan and I sent David and Jack to the store for children’s drinks before the party. They returned with a bottle of Mountain Dew. We sent them back for ginger ale.)

In the silence of an early “not in front of the children” moment, David said, “Did everyone enjoy the lovely weather today?” and we all died laughing again.

And again a minute later, when the winning response to “What are Jack and Leroy doing in the basement?” (there are blank cards for making up your own question) turned out to be “Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II.”

Jack’s praying for Scottish Independence, come September. He and Leroy were downstairs sorting a quick plumbing problem before joining the game.

Yeah, it’s raucous and raunchy and irreverent, but CaH is such good steam-valve-release fun. We play by the “everybody gets one veto” rule. Donald refused to play a Holocaust card; I put back “The Blood of Christ”; Kelley doesn’t allow the one about a pool of children’s tears. Everybody has limits.

But few and far between, for the most part, and sitting there watching 15 adults return to high school in their brains while eating vegetables and drinking responsibly, laughing themselves silly in good company, I couldn’t help thinking, “This is why Jack and I started a bookstore.”

Sitting around that table: two cancer patients, the mother of another, a cancer survivor, three medical professionals who make life-and-death decisions every day, a government employee, two professors, a couple trying to get pregnant, four people who lost parents this year, and two newly-fledged adults launching into the world. This world.

To have these moments, this place, where you can stop being the Responsible Adult, cut loose, and enjoy life is a rare and wonderful thing. We’re so lucky to be able to do this.


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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Celtic Connections

Jack’s weekly guest blog ruminates on the connective threads of here, there, then, and now

Now that we’re back from Wisconsin, things are beginning to get busy around here. And they appear to be taking on a British Isles tinge, I might add.

Yesterday I started teaching a series of five weekly classes on Scottish ballads and folk songs at the Higher Ed Center in Abingdon. This is always enjoyable and I’ve been doing it semi-annually for a few years now.

At the same time I am gearing up for the annual small group tour that I conduct around Scotland every year at the end of June. Everything is pretty much in place as I write this. The tour is another ‘labor of love’ – something I enjoy doing that ends up introducing me to a most interesting and diverse group of people. Since I always go over a few days before the tour starts, I get to catch up with friends and family. This year Wendy will finally be joining me after it ends, something we’ve been hoping for since I started this crazy venture eight years ago.

On top of that, as one of the group that organizes Big Stone Celtic (Sept 26 and 27, so mark your calendars!) I’m beginning to put together the program. For the first time we have an internationally famous headliner, Barbara Dickson, making her debut this side of the Atlantic, so I’m in the throes of applying for her work visa – a steep learning curve! Who knew the American government would require so much paperwork?

Just in case that isn’t enough I continue to put together my weekly radio show Celtic Clanjamphry (known affectionately now as ‘ClanJam’). Now in its sixth year (whoda thunk it, as they say in Southwest Virginia) my ongoing quest is to cover as many of the Celtic Nations as possible via music ancient and modern.

And finally, of course there are our regular bookstore events. Irish storyteller (and our good friend) Liz Weir will be the centerpiece of our evening of Irish stories and food tonight. Second Story Cafe owner Kelley is preparing Beef and Guinness pie, Colcannon and Apple Crumble to complete the Irish feast.

Now, the great thing about all these happenings are the connections between them. Liz attended our wedding in Scotland, and she hosts my tour group every second year. Folk who listen to ClanJam come on the tour and folk who have been on the tour drop into the bookstore and come to our events. Others who attend my classes come to the bookstore, listen to the radio show and will be on this year’s tour. Big Stone Celtic fits right into all that and brings hundreds of visitors to our small town every year. It’s a nice circle, on a background of plaid and emerald green!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA


Jack’s guest blog today is on the soothing powers of music and bookstores.

I’m always struck by how quickly the bookstore makes a space for people, embracing, accommodating, enfolding, even harmonizing….

Today I had a phone call from my old and dear friend, Greg Fields – one of the folk I met when I first visited Appalachia back around 1991, long before I ever dreamed of being a permanent resident.

Greg was calling to see if I’d be in the bookstore today as he wanted to visit. He had been once before, not too long after we opened, but not since, and Wendy and I have been traveling a fair bit lately. We’ve actually missed the peace and enfolding embrace of our shop, ourselves.

An excellent singer, Greg is a banjoist and guitarist specializing in old-time and bluegrass; he teaches music at ETSU in Johnson City TN. When we first met he got intrigued with my Scots songs and my finger-picking guitar style; each time we’ve met since then (all too rarely) I find his repertoire has more Scots songs in it. He has a sympathetic approach to these songs, not attempting a false Scots accent and choosing those that ‘chimed’ with his own culture.

When Greg arrived today, everything else (read: all the projects and cleaning in the bookstore that had accumulated while Wendy and I were in New York City for a week) went on the back-burner for a few hours as we caught up and exchanged our latest guitar licks and songs. It was delightful to start singing an old Scots song and suddenly hear a bottle-neck second guitar part harmonizing along, just as it was equally wonderful to play a second guitar part to Greg’s fine rendition of ‘Trouble in Mind’!

But this is how the bookstore works: back burner or no, it rumbles forward. As we were playing and singing, one of our regulars arrived. He is mentioned in Wendy’s book, a man with schizophrenia fixated on guitars. He has had many guitar lessons from me over the years here in the bookstore. As he sat down with a cup of coffee and began quietly listening, the expression on his face turned to pure bliss.

No trouble in mind…..

So an old friend I rarely see brought a very special gift to another friend I sometimes feel guilty about not paying enough attention too on the many times I see him. And the bookstore offers the space to make them each feel important, even as their friendship makes me feel important to them. Now that’s a real gift!


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA

A Little Help from our Friends

gutted buildingEvery year in September Jack and I trot happily off to emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Tennessee. This year the chaos of getting away from a busy time at the shop and in my new book prep had us flying out the door Friday at 5 pm, shouting “and don’t forget to give Bert his pill” to Thom, the poor lad we’d sucked in at 10 that morning to shopsit the rest of the day. Since we’d be back Sunday and the animals have feeders and water jugs, and the yard is fenced, we weren’t worried. We got to our luxury hotel, bounced on the king sized sleigh bed a few times, and went out to grab an Indian meal.burning 2

When we awoke next morning to Facebook postings from home about the building downtown that had burned, you can imagine the luxuriated, lazy blood in my veins turning to jelly.

The building was a block away; no one was in it; all is as well as it can be. But I panicked, thinking about our three staff cats (one of whom resides by choice outside) two staff dogs (Bert the Terrier is terrified of loud noises) and three foster cats, sojourning with us until their forever families find them. Would Bert have dug under the fence to get away from an event so reminiscent of the dreaded thunderstorm? Would Beulah (outside greeter) be run over in the chaos of downtown fire traffic? Ernest Hemingway, our newest foster, landed with us Friday morning. He’d never even spent a night in our house; we took him straight from the shelter to have his balls cut off, thence home to abandon him for two days, and the firetrucks came. burning 1

(“Call this a rescue?” I could hear Ernie thinking. “Take me back to the shelter! I’ll take my chances!”)

So I did what any modern American woman panicking does: got on Facebook and begged our Saturday shopsitters Wes and Rachael to let me know as soon as they got there if everything was okay. And here’s what happened


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

3,2,1 LUNCH–er, Launch

So Tuesday past was the launch day of my book. A memorable day in so many ways; I spent it throwing up.

Nah, not nerves: flu. Apparently it’s come early to rural Virginia this year.

Between visits to the toilet and “just take me now Lord” prayers, I checked Facebook. It’s what one does on these occasions….

And my friends, the ones from the midnight opening of the bookstore (for those who didn’t know, we opened at 12:01 Tuesday morning so a half dozen of our most loyal customers could get their copies) were sending notes.

“On chapter 14, and laughing myself silly!”

“You are describing just what it was like for me when I came to Big Stone.”

“Ha! This is so accurate!” (which didn’t have any additional information attached to it, and has kind of become a catch phrase for me now. It’s just so succinct and yet so… wide-ranging.)

And emails and facebook likes and comments were coming from people I didn’t know, who’d bought the book that day in their local bookshops in various locations across the States. That was fun, to hear from those reading in Vermont and California. (And thanks to Jennifer Gough at Ebenezer Books who put it on her “staff picks” shelf!) And there were people who won the book in promotional giveaways from St. Martin’s Press; some were posting reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, others sending notes and comments–nice comments!

But the funniest moment came when Jack gave a shout of laughter from behind his computer screen. “You’re not gonna believe this! We’re in Walmart!”

Sure enough, he showed me the link. Walmart’s offerings include a book that extols the virtues of shopping small in local communities. And what do you wanna bet the Walmart up the hill behind us will sell the book that’s about the bookstore below them?

It’s a mad, mad, crazy world out there, so I did what any sensible person would do under those circumstances: crawled back into bed with the basin beside me. Go by, mad world.


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

So Un-Necessary

Right after Jack became an American citizen, we bought a pick-up truck. It was the natural next step.

Plus, we’d made several trips to haul books from assorted locations, buy lumber for Jack to build new shelves. I’d spotted a couple of really great chairs at a yard sale but had no way to get them home, etc. A pick-up truck, we reasoned, was Necessary.

So when I spotted a cool blue Chevy on the intranet at my college, Jack called the person selling it, and a deal was struck. But the truck showed up with an AS IS sticker on the window.

Turns out, the person selling it was not the owner, but a dealer … with a certain reputation.

You have heard the phrase “He’d steal the dimes from a dead man’s eyes?” Yes, such behavior may be Un-Just, even Un-Necessary, but it is not unknown–unfortunately.

We bought the blue lemon, drove it five miles, and had to have it towed to a repair shop. The Auto Repair Order says they installed: 1 engine, 6 spark plugs, 1 thermostat, 1 water pump, 1 throttle cable, 1 tranny cable, 1 tranny front pump seal, 2 motor mounts, 1 oil filter adapter gasket, 1 air filter, 1 alternator, 1 temperature sensor, 1 battery.

In short, we got took. Un-Just-in so many ways, and Un-Necessary, yes, but not illegal, because the man not representing the dealership who sold it to us said “as is” and shook hands with Jack.

Do you know something? I would a thousand times rather be married to a man like Jack, who gets taken because he believes someone who shakes on a deal would not deliberately be trying to get as much money for as little as possible, than be married to a man who would commit such an act and then go whistling home to his bed. And I would give ten times what we paid to repair that blue lemon to know that such men would not legally be able to do such things to someone who truly can’t afford it.

Since we can’t have that guarantee, we did the next best thing: invited a handful of friends over for a Blessing of the Truck ceremony. Each friend, representing a different religious tradition, said a prayer and sprinkled the truck bed with water. (We had watering cans for the Presbyterians and buckets for the Baptists, so as to be properly ecumenical.) With much hilarity, we dedicated our little blue lemon (now named Blue Bubba) to the glory of God and the good of humanity, and for communal borrowing among friends, erasing its past as the pawn of people more interested in money and screwing others than good workmanship and happy living.

And we had a lot of fun splashing each other, too.

If you want to see the rest of the Blessing of the Truck pictures, they are on



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