Tag Archives: inspiration

Trial and Punishment – and Life

 

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is bitter sweet – –

Regular readers will probably know that I visit once a month with inmates in the local Federal Penitentiary (what a strange word!). I started doing this four years ago as part of the Prison Visitation and Support organization (PVS).

When I started I inherited two inmates from my predecessor and continued to visit with them, as is PVS policy, until they were moved to a different facility, as is the Department of Prisons policy to discourage close relationships between prisoners.

One of my guys was Bryan (not his real name) who was originally from Oklahoma (except he wasn’t). I visited with him for three and a half years and we got on well and always had lots to talk about. He was in for life – a real life sentence with no parole. Like anyone in that situation he needed some hope and for him that was continual pursuit of a successful appeal against his sentence. Our monthly conversations always ended up with his latest attempts to conduct convoluted conversations with folk ‘outside’ about his latest appeal.

Out of curiosity I googled his name and easily found details of two previous unsuccessful appeals. I was horrified to learn the details of his case. He had been the ringleader of a drug gang that had gotten into an argument with another one and folk had been murdered in various particularly gruesome ways. He never denied that folk had been killed but always talked of how corrupt the courts and the state justice system was, and how he’d been ‘framed’.

Notwithstanding all this I still found him to be a straightforward and easy guy to talk with. He was part Native American who helped organize a sweat lodge in the penitentiary and went to great lengths to stay away from any trouble.

Just about six months ago I went to my regular visit with him and he was much more depressed than I’d ever seen him and assumed he’d had a ‘knock back’ on his latest appeal attempt. But it wasn’t that. He had been having some problems with his throat that affected his voice and it had been determined that he should go for tests and diagnoses to see if he had cancer.

A month later we met again and he was euphoric – he had just gotten back the day before from hospital where he had had the tests and shortly after had been given word that he was clear – just an infection!

Then I had a visit here at the bookstore from the local Native American who oversaw the sweat lodge at the penitentiary. He knew that I visited with Bryan and wanted me to know that the diagnosis was premature. He had been given wrong information and the tests had actually confirmed that he did have throat cancer and it was beyond effective treatment.

By the time I went back he had been moved to a prison hospital and I never saw him again, but there’s a website where you can track the whereabouts of any inmate in the system and I checked on Bryan regularly just to make sure he was still in the facility.

Yesterday I did that and read this – deceased 01/10/2018

I don’t understand why I should feel so sad about Bryan’s death when I have lost quite a few close friends and family over the last couple of years. Folk who lived pretty blameless lives and certainly were never responsible for killing anyone. I know Bryan had done wrong, that he wouldn’t be considered “deserving,” but perhaps everyone deserves someone to mourn them, or just someone to talk to, even though they cause others to mourn. There are many reasons why I visit for PVS, but the main one is because even the worst humans are still human after all.

Maybe there’s a kind of justice in the way Bryan was given real hope and then had it torn away, but I miss him and wish he was still battering away at yet another appeal. RIP.

 

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The Train that I Ride – –

Jack is jumping in here so Wendy can write something else –

I had the great pleasure of visiting with Wendy up in Fayetteville WV a few days ago and found it to be a charming place, about the same size as Big Stone Gap. The biggest difference was the group of writers and artists I met who are re-inventing the place and promoting it as a welcoming haven for such folk (but that’s for another blog post).

On Thursday we drove out into the surrounding area and explored out of the way places. We stumbled on the most amazing thing. We had heard there was an old abandoned coal-town that you could wander round called Thurmond. My goodness!

We traveled along a narrow winding road and came to what might have been the place, but there wasn’t much to see. So we carried on just out of curiosity to see where we’d end up. A few miles further on we came to a scary narrow bridge and essayed across gingerly and found ourselves at an abandoned railroad station with a sign saying Thurmond. The depot had been restored as a visitor center by the National Park Service and there was a street of empty impressive looking buildings. The buildings had big posters mounted inside explaining their history and that of the town.

thurmond 3

As we wandered round we stumbled across a very modern Amtrack signboard and discovered to our amazement that the station was on the main line from New York to Chicago and a train stopped once a day in each direction.

thurmond 4

It turned out that the nearby New River Gorge area is a big tourist destination in Summer, so we suppose that people come there by train then, although how they get any further can only be on foot as I doubt there’s any bus or taxi service.

 

That said, it is a destination worth getting to, especially for outdoorsy types into hiking, biking, and kayaking. Wendy and I can watch people like that for hours.

While we were there, a train came through, hauling empty coal cars. The L&M may not stop there anymore, but at least in the summer, people do.

 

 

 

thurmond 5

thurmond 1

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What You Wish For – – –

Jack is off the hook this week as Chelsie Dubay takes on the guest post –

I decided when I was eight years old that I was going to be a chemist. I asked for a chemistry set for Christmas that year. I hung a massive copy of the periodic table of elements on the back of my bedroom door, right next to the posters I’d ripped out of the latest Tiger Beat magazine. After about a week of trying to sift through that chemistry set I realized that sodium bi-whatever-it-was did not inspire me like I thought it would. So, I boxed up the test tubes, experiment manual, and mortar and pestle and stuffed it in the back of my closet along with all of the other hobbies I’d abandoned over the years. Then, in high school, I accepted my fate and resolved that I was destined to be a mathematician. I really don’t know why I felt so certain about that career path but I knew how to solve for X and use a graphing calculator so I accepted that math would then be my destiny.

I’m notorious for that – building unfounded dreams in the sky and then letting them sink down to the ground.

It’s taken me almost thirty-five years to discover my passion. I can remember the first day I realized what it was that I truly loved. I was an undergraduate student at UVa-Wise. College was the first time I’d ever really been around people who weren’t from my tiny town in Lee County, Virginia. We were given a writing prompt in one of my classes. We were told to write about something that we had experienced during our first few days as college students. Most people wrote about how terrible the cafeteria food was or how far away student parking was from the dorms and classroom buildings. I wrote about how surprised and fascinated I was with how students from other parts of Virginia didn’t talk like I talked and how different our worldviews were. Needless to say, my essay was a bit heavier than some of the other submissions the instructor received in class.

From that day forward I charged myself with being an advocate for the region I called home. I was flooded with emotions – mostly regret. I had taken years of amazing memories, stories, and people for granted. I wanted to rewind time so that I could go back and appreciate the days I spent at my Mamaw and Papaw’s old general store in Hubbard Springs. Instead of complaining about Mamaw and Papaw not having MTV, I should have been relishing in all of the things that made my childhood and this area great. I needed to bottle the quirky way my Mamaw refers to herself in the third person, “Lord, Chels. Don’t look at Mamaw. Mamaw’s been weedeatin’.” I wanted to record the way my Papaw, with an eighth grade education, worked out complex math problems aloud, ending each solution with, “why, hell, Chels. At’s simple math!”

I can’t go back so I choose to go forward and to be thankful for the opportunity to reflect on those memories and relive those moments I’m afforded through the cannon that is Appalachian literature.

This semester I have the distinct pleasure and honor of teaching my all-time favorite class, Appalachian Literature, for the local community college, Mountain Empire Community College. The chain of events that landed me here is as poetic as the literature my students will enjoy over the course of the semester. Together, we’ll laugh and we’ll cry but most of all, we’ll reflect. I hope to expose each of my students to the beauty of the things they, like me, may have ignored or underappreciated. My hope is that, at the end of the semester, each student will walk away inspired to go out and capture the beauty that surrounds them – through oral history collection, through participant-observation, but most of all, through just being present in the things that make this area, these people, and this body of literature great.

Won’t you join us?

This course will be a great way to expose yourself to works of and about our region, as well as to build a solid foundation in some of the significant historical movements that have impacted and continue to impact this body of work.

During this course we will read works (both fiction and non-fiction) set in or about the Appalachian region. The works will range from ballads to novels and hit almost everything in between.

This course is not exhaustive; it’s a sampling. Also sprinkled throughout the 15 weeks we’ll talk a little about history, culture, religion, and the land itself. This course is discussion heavy, which means that your participation in the discussion board, contributing to our conversation, is crucial for the course’s success.

In addition to weekly discussions, the class will require 2 major projects and 2 short essays. Remember, too, that senior residents of Virginia may be eligible to audit the class for free!

Apply here: http://www.mecc.edu/step1/

Questions? Contact Chelsie Dubay, cdubay@mecc.edu

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Christmas Cheer – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post finally makes it – –

Wendy and I spent Christmas with her parents in Knoxville as we usually try to do. They have always been gracious and welcoming to me and for that I am always thankful.

When they came over to Scotland almost twenty years ago for our wedding (the first time they had ever been out of the US), they were enchanted by my country and still keep up with folks over there through the internet.

One thing that Wendy’s mom sampled there was ‘chicken tikka masala’ and she always hankered to have that bright red delicacy again. So this Christmas I decided to make her some and prepared by purchasing the necessary sauce from Trader Joe’s and then googled to find out how to get the red color into the chicken. To my horror it turned out to be red food dye!

She was disappointed but agreed to try my pale orange chicken concoction instead. Despite me being the only person in the company who actually likes curry, she gamely tucked into the non-red delicacy. There was quite a lot left, which I look forward to finishing in due time! Pat reminds me very much of her own Mom, Wendy’s Nanny, who once prepared for me three different kinds of porridge for breakfast to show me I was accepted into the family.

Wendy’s dad, however has much more conservative tastes in food (and other things) and has, I think, always used me as a kind of barometer for measuring how ‘the rest of the world’ thinks. I actually don’t mind that too much as we are in many ways mirror images of each other in our political and societal views. Our sources of news are diametrically opposed and we usually see current events in very different ways. I’m often surprised by how much we agree on, however, and I’m grateful to him for being much more open with his views than I’ve been prepared to be with mine (although I’m sure he has me pegged).

They must both have had severe misgivings when Wendy announced our engagement – to marry a foreigner and one so many years older than her!

The last time we were all together was to observe the total eclipse of the sun – but yet, here we are all still – – – and the sun has not fallen from the sky!

 

 

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Up, Up, and Away – – –

Jack scrapes in once again – –

Regular readers will know of my fascination with all things aeronautical, so, when Wendy posted a message a couple days ago on FaceBook asking (on behalf of a friend!), about insurance for a 75 year old man bent on going up in a glider – – –

While I’ve made many, many trips all over the world in airliners, there really just two flight experiences that really stick in my mind.

glider

When I was about 19 years old I went on a week long gliding vacation in Yorkshire. It was held at Sutton Bank which is a very high straight cliff near Thirsk and a beautiful area. We were a small group and all stayed in a lovely old pub/inn at the foot of the cliff. Every morning an ancient ex-army land-rover would ferry us up to the airfield up on top of the cliff. Then the excitement started!

Our instructor was a Polish ex fighter pilot who’d flown Spitfires in the Battle of Britain and he was a real character. Each morning he would address us in the clubhouse where he told us nothing about gliders and everything about flying Spitfires during WW2! Then we’d go out with him in turns, get hooked up to the winch and rocket up to five hundred feet or so. That put us over the edge of the cliff where our height suddenly became over a thousand feet and with an up-draft that pushed us up even further.

But my strongest memory is the complete tranquility of sitting silently in the sky with no sense of motion and no engine – like being in an armchair!

The second experience was much more recently –

low wing

During the 1990s I organized a student exchange between my college in Scotland and one in Herning, Denmark. My opposite number there was the head of the engineering dept. and he owned a light plane (and a half share in another one). I went over for a week to set things up and he took me up in his plane (a low wing monoplane with a side by side open cockpit). We visited some of his flying buddies who lived out in the country with their own grass landing strips.

morgan

At that time I was the owner of a Morgan sports car and I remember thinking as we took off for the first time that this felt like my Morgan had just sprouted wings! We had a number of magical flights and never more than a few hundred feet up, navigating around pylons and factory chimneys and with no maps.

Coincidentally both our colleges had a link to one in Wilhelmshaven in Germany and he wanted to fly us down there. The ‘high-ups’ didn’t approve as it would involve traversing part of the north sea, so we ended up driving. When we crossed into Germany the autobahn had no speed limit so we drove at over 100 MPH!

I’m sure it was much safer – – –

 

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Caption Contest Time

It’s time to vote on the best meme –

They are numbered, so just vote for your favorite by its number.

glass 1

Number 1

glass 2

Number 2

glass 3

Number 3

glass 4

Number 4

 

glass 5

Number 5

 

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The Vagaries of Age – –

Jack slips in under the wire – –

I’m an idiot!

I have an inherited condition called ‘Nail Patella Syndrome’ (NPS), passed through the male line and mainly affecting bones, joints, finger and toe nails, and teeth. So, whenever I have any problem that might be attributed to that I’m quick to jump to that conclusion!

Back when we heard that ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’ would be published, we were on vacation in Chicago (we’d discovered that we could get a cheap flight from our local airport). But shortly before that I began to suffer severe pain in my left hip, Thigh, knee and foot. So much that I needed to use a cane, which eased me through check in very quickly!

Chiropractics aren’t a big thing in Scotland, so I wasn’t too sure Terri would be able to do much for me when we got back. But – miracle of miracles – after a couple of sessions I was back to normal, and she was very interested to learn about NPS.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I begin to experience the very same thing on my right side.

I’m four years older and people are talking about sciatica and arthritis, but I’m still focused on NTS as the culprit.

Until – –

The sainted Terri has again been X-raying and adjusting me without too much effect. The ‘Full Scottish Breakfast Club’ (of which I am a member) spent Thanksgiving weekend in Asheville, with me hirpling like an auld man. One of the other members (who shall be nameless) passed me heavy duty painkillers to let me sleep at night.

But, as I lay on Terri’s couch yesterday morning and she battered me around, she asked me how long I had kept my very thick wallet in my right hip pocket. “For years” I said.

Up until we spent that vacation in Chicago I had always kept it in my left hip pocket – until the pocket wore out. The I shifted it to my right hip pocket. I had been keeping a half inch wedge under – first my left hip, then my right hip – until yesterday morning.

I shifted it to a front pocket before I left the chiro office and almost immediately felt better!

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