Tag Archives: history

“Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light – – -“

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

The great Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson  was a product of the European ‘Enlightenment’ led by thinkers and scientists based in Edinburgh. The word ‘enlightenment’, of course, plays to my Quaker beliefs as it suggests shining light into the darkness. That movement was very much about lining up rational thought and empirical evidence against superstition and ignorance.

Stevenson expressed his understanding of the battle between these forces wonderfully in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, where darkness and light are taken to extremes within the same body.

Like many others of the Quaker persuasion, I have a very questioning  faith that probably comes down at bottom to this: we each have the capability for extreme evil and extreme good within us. There’s a continual battle going on between our Jekyll and Hyde and we aren’t in complete control of that battle. Paul said something like that in the Bible in Romans: ‘we hate what we do and know what we should do, but still do the wrong things’.

What I’m getting to, loyal readers is, Charlottesville and everything surrounding it. Like you didn’t see that coming?

Most of us believe that we want to strive toward good, but sometimes  when the stars align (so much for the enlightenment)  our bad side gets a severe nudge. That’s usually powered by feelings of insecurity (think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

There are large segments of the population in the US (and England) that feel very insecure right now because they see their standard of living threatened and need to blame someone for that. They also feel they need to retreat back to a more comfortable set of circumstances. Hence – ‘Make America great again’ and Brexit (Make England great again).

The enemy, therefore (and as usual) becomes anyone not like we who have the power. The difference can be nationality, color, religion, denomination – anything convenient.

So back to my beliefs and faith – My faith is that light will ultimately prevail, as it’s a living thing and is at the beginning of everything. But the darkness is also powerful and we are the ones who feed it.

Finally – Quakers believe in non-violence and the peaceful challenging of violent behavior. I have absolutely no doubt there were many Quakers in Charlottesville and I’ve no doubt which side they were on – the side of the Light. It may become increasingly confusing to decide who gets to say what is light and what darkness. But it can never be said that genuine seekers of God’s guidance don’t find it. I am holding you, and all of us, in the Light.

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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

Erin Go Bragh – – –

When you get an email from an old friend saying they’re in New Orleans it wouldn’t normally be an occasion for puzzlement or surprise. But this was our good friend Erin, who is usually pretty much stuck here in town because of her medical condition. Erin has Marfan Syndrome and is also legally blind.

We first met Erin through her enthusiasm for amateur drama and our bookstore. She went on to be a stalwart of our weekly needlework night and eventually a great support to Chef Kelley’s ‘Second Story Cafe’. Many a time she slaved late into the night making desserts for the next day and then came in to help take orders, serve and clean up afterwards. She also makes hundreds of mini Cornish pasties for our annual Celtic festival!

Just a few years ago Erin, who trained as a classroom assistant, took on the local Presbyterian Church Sunday school and the kids love her. I love the idea that she is an example to them that not everyone is the same and that no matter the obstacles it’s possible to succeed in life.

However her greatest gift is with infant kittens. She has her own pets, of course, but she is also an expert with very young orphans. Because of her condition she doesn’t sleep well, so she can feed them at the required four hourly intervals. She carries the babies around close to her so they feel secure and even bought a special buggy to wheel them in when she’s out and about–frequently found parked outside our bookstore.

It’s not uncommon in a small rural town anywhere for folk who are seen as ‘different’ to be stigmatized, but Erin is the equal of anyone who looks at her the wrong way. She has kept us entertained many a time telling about the confrontations she has had on the highways and byways of Big Stone Gap.

nollins

A Spitfire and DC3 in D Day markings

The email she sent me this morning was from the WW2 museum in New Orleans and she included pictures of a number of historic aircraft of the period. She had remembered that I’m pretty crazy about classic airplanes. I replied asking her how on earth she had got there, and she explained that she had attended a Marfan conference in Atlanta and then got a Greyhound bus to ‘nollins’ because it wasn’t much further. She had an old friend there who was driving her around and would be back when she and the city were tired of each other- – –

Erin Go Bragh!

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

Socializing with Friends – – –

Jack’s guest Wednesday post –

There’s a favorite Scottish saying that goes – “we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns” (which roughly translates as “all human beings are part of the same big family of mankind”). When laid alongside Robert Burns’ famous song “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” it pretty much sums up my political views. I would therefore describe myself as a European style social democrat.

Scotland is an odd place in terms of its mix of entrepreneurship, inventiveness, canny financial acumen and sense of shared community. That last one perhaps stems from the highland clan system – the idea of extended family. Which neatly brings us back to Jock Tamson’s bairns.

I believe that there are certain things that any civilized community should provide to its members. That would include those that have health issues or just struggle to maintain an acceptable standard of living. That shouldn’t depend on the vagaries of charitable giving, but be organized, planned and paid for through progressive taxation. Of course this requires a healthy economy that can pay people sufficient to generate the tax income to pay for it. As a Quaker I have to also say that I believe far too much tax income is spent on making war!

Just twelve miles from my hometown is the one where Adam Smith, the father of economic theory was born. His famous book “The Wealth of Nations” is popular with lots of Neo-Liberal conservatives, however they always ignore the part where he says that market forces have to work alongside a safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society. So even good old Adam was a social democrat at heart! Of course he was part of the European Enlightenment of the early 19th century and Edinburgh was an important part of that through medical research, philosophy and political theory.

In case this sounds like an advertizing feature for the Scottish tourist industry, I should perhaps remind you that Jock Tamson’s Bairns are all of humanity – black, white and every color in between – all religions and none – – –

So there you have it. I guess some of my American friends will have had their worst fears confirmed now. I’m the socialist their parents warned them about!

Duck and cover – – –

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Across the Great Divide – –

It appears to be Thursday – so time for Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

Among the things I love about bookstores are the quirky things that are often displayed on high shelves, or hanging from ceilings or just pinned to any spare wall spaces. We’re no exception – we have paintings and posters, tea towels and even a bag from a Chicago Borders branch the day they closed for good. Hanging from the ceiling of our ‘Mystery and detective room’ are model planes I’ve built over the years.

Mingled in are family photographs, including two of my Granpa, Peter Ferguson, and they are very frequently the subject of conversation with customers. Because he was a coalminer from the time he left school (aged fourteen) until his mid-twenties. This is a coalmining area and so is the place I come from – just one of the many connections and parallels between Scotland and Appalachia.

Granpa worked in a number of deep mines in my home county of Fife in the late 1800s and early 1900s, going down a deep shaft in a cage then walking, often for over a mile before crawling on hands and knees to the coalface. Eventually he had some kind of accident and decided he’d had enough. He got a job delivering lemonade to corner shops around the area and continued to do that until he retired. First of all he used a horse and cart, then an early truck with an open cab and solid tires before finally graduating to something more modern.

grandpa young

That’s Granpa kneeling on the left being trained for the mine rescue team in 1900.

When his wife died just before I was born at the beginning of WW2 he moved in with us, as my Dad had joined the RAF and had been posted to Egypt. So he was my father figure for the first years of my life and I remember him with great affection. He walked me to and from elementary school, supplied us with fresh vegetables and made great oatcakes and scones. He provided our first TV and first washing machine.

One of the reasons he got us a TV was because he was an avid reader of western novels and had discovered that the lone ranger was a serial on this new-fangled thing. Later he upgraded us when the Virginian came along! I remember clearly him sitting in his favorite chair either reading or singing to himself. He had two special very traditional songs he rotated – The Wee Cooper o Fife and The Muckin o Geordie’s Byre. I’ve often said that his voice was in my head when I started to sing these kind of songs many years later.

Sadly towards the end of his life he developed a cough and was diagnosed with ‘black lung’ – a legacy that finally caught up with him and he died in the bedroom that we shared.

What I remember isn’t the sick old man but the friendly guy who had a lot of time for this kid. And that special bond that sometimes develops between those who skip a generation. He was my first best friend.

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book

Jack has the honor of the Monday book post (and just scraped through in time).

Portrait of a Legend – Spitfire, Leo McKinstry, 2007

I am a complete nut for airplanes (or aeroplanes as we Scots would say), so stumbling across this book in a thrift store in Oban in Scotland a couple of weeks ago was like discovering the holy grail (we also visited Roslyn Chapel on our trip).

I should say that as a Quaker I have very mixed feelings about warplanes, but the Spitfire seems to transcend that and can stand in its own right as a thing of beauty. Many of the pilot testimonies in the book talk of that beauty of the plane as distinct from the job it was designed to do.

Most books about the Spitfire paint a romantic picture of a machine that appeared just in time to ward off the Nazi menace and the winning of the ‘Battle of Britain’ in 1940. What I hadn’t realized until reading this one was what a struggle there had been from its maiden flight in 1936 to getting it into production. The company that designed it was a very small business specializing in seaplanes and had won a series of high speed races in the early 1930s with planes designed by R. J. Mitchell who went on to design the Spitfire. But the business was far too small to undertake the contract to build the numbers that were needed in the approach to WW2. Attempts to outsource production went disastrously wrong and the construction of a massive new factory went equally badly. Even after its acceptance by the public as the ‘icon’ of fighter command it continued to be mired in high level debate surrounding its suitability for a whole range of different and essential tasks.

spitfire

Despite all that it remained in service around the world from 1939 through the late 1950s in a wide variety of roles and still thrills crowds at air displays to this day.

I well remember seeing a Lancaster, a Hurricane and  Spitfire flying over our house near Leuchars RAF base in Scotland about 15 years ago at low altitude – six Rolls Royce Merlin engines making a wonderful sound!

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in the story of this gorgeous flying machine – a big thumbs up!

 

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A Tale of Three Kitties

It’s Thursday, so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday guest blog –

This is the story of three cats – Fang, Hillary and Delight.

Fang came to us by mistake, because we don’t take in ferals (it’s a long story), and she immediately disappeared into the bowels of the bookstore. We eventually discovered her hiding under the sink unit in our bathroom, only coming out at night to eat and drink – and the other thing, which she did fastidiously in the correct place, for all her feralness.

Hillary was another mistake and even more of a hermit – we hardly ever saw her.

Delight was not a feral, but she hated people from the minute she laid eyes on one, so after adopting out her adorable brothers and sisters, we gave up.

So they all got sent out to the garage where they immediately became their own gang: The Feral Sorority.

I went out every morning with their breakfast treats of individual little bowls of wet cat food and for the longest time only ever saw Delight. After some weeks of this, to my amazement, Fang appeared looking very suspicious and hanging way back. Over the next few weeks she began to approach close enough for me to give her a head scratch. After that she would wait behind the door with Delight each morning for me to deliver breakfast.

Soon both Delight and Fang were waiting for me each morning and getting pretty enthusiastic for head scratches and back rubs. Fang was also loudly calling if I were later than she expected. But Hillary was still nowhere to be seen – – –

Until –

The morning that she appeared after many weeks of nothing, and hung back watching the usual stuff with Fang and Delight. Hhmm she thought – that looks a bit interesting.

And that was pretty much that. Now they all welcome me (or maybe just the wet cat food) and shout loudly at me each morning. They all come for head and back scratches and Fang asks, even insists, to be lifted up onto my knee.

I suppose they might stay – – – after all, they’re not doing any harm out there in the garage….

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A Turkey Poke or a Pig in a Poke?

Wendy apologizes for the lack of Monday book this week (she’s in DC lobbying on behalf of rural health provision), but at least I got the Wednesday guest post out on time!

Our friend Amy teaches Appalachian Studies up the road at the local campus of UVA, but she has to attend a conference elsewhere today and on Friday. So I will be guest lecturing two different groups of students on the links between the Scots language and the Appalachian dialect.

I usually start with a brief geography lesson as it’s painfully true that the majority of folk over here, even many with a strong pride in their Scottish ancestry, really don’t know where Scotland is. Not only that but there’s a lot of confusion between The UK, Great Britain, England and Scotland (most Americans just say England regardless). Despite that, Scotland has a surprisingly strong ‘brand image’ around the world and most folk will readily come up with lots of examples of things they think of as peculiarly Scottish.

Then when it comes to the movement of the settlers to this area, most people don’t really know what is meant by the ‘Scotch-Irish’. So I cover a bit of history, explaining how lowland Scots were ‘encouraged’ to move to the north of Ireland, how their children (born in Ireland) then moved on to Pennsylvania and eventually to this neck of the woods. They are the ‘Scotch-Irish’ – also known as Ulster-Scots.

They brought with them their culture, including songs, ballads, fiddle tunes, food recipes, a strong suspicion of government power, as well as their language.

Of course I have to explain that Scots isn’t just a dialect of English, but a language in its own right but with obvious similarities; rather like the relationship between, say, Spanish and Portuguese, or Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

The legacy still to be heard in Appalachia involves vocabulary, sentence structure and pronunciation. However in Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia speaking anything other than standard English was historically frowned on and it’s only relatively recently that appreciation of these languages has been encouraged.

While family names and place names in Appalachia are a strong clue to where the settlers came from, there are many others strewn around and hiding in plain sight!

I find myself being asked more and more to give presentations like this and find it both enjoyable and stimulating. There are usually lots of questions at the end.

Finally – I have to try my best to avoid politics, but the current Scottish political scene is so volatile and fast moving that I find myself continually having to bite my tongue – and language is a political weapon in Scotland, Ireland and Appalachia.

Many tongues, many voices – – –

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA