Tag Archives: Quakers

The Monday Book: THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION by Jessamyn West

You know how you start thinking about an old friend, and then look them up, and find they were thinking of you? This book is like that.

west-persuasionWest wrote it (and its companion volume Except for Me and Thee) more than 75 years ago, but it’s still just as funny and sweet, mostly because it’s about humans. Just humans, and how they interact, living on a farm in the Midwest as Quakers.

Well, there’s that Civil War bit, and their brush with the Underground Railroad, which is somehow more intense now reading it in these troubled years. So much should have changed by now…..

Not much has changed in human courtship, either, and the stories around love affairs (would be or actual) are as hysterical as they are accurate. If you want to just escape into a world that pre-dates Jan Karon but echoes our own modern troubles, this is a good one.

The author was a woman ahead of her time. She wrote two of my all-time favorite quotes about writing: “Talent is helpful in writing but guts are absolutely essential” and “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.”

That kinda sums up The Friendly Persuasion. One of the reasons people will still be reading it years from now is its poignant accuracy in describing human interactions.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

The Tossing of Couches

love seatEver have one of those marriage moments? Jack and I were divesting the upstairs landing of an old loveseat we picked up cheap someplace. The overstuffed seat, useful at first outside the Second Story Cafe for customers waiting on pick-up orders, was now in prime time bookshelf real estate. Time to say goodbye.

But nobody wanted the ancient paisley green thing, not at a yard sale, not donated. We’d have to carry it out to the trash. It was a solidly-built piece in its day–as Jack and I discovered once we’d eliminated the cushions, taken up the spare change, and unscrewed the solid wooden legs. Thing STILL weighed a ton.

Threading it down our 100-year-old staircase, past the rabbit tunnels of bookshelves between us and the front door, seemed unwise. Too many delicate pottery items and squishable foster cats. So we opted for the back staircase and the long, cold hike across the yard in the dark; we started the whole operation about 7:30 pm.

That probably has a lot to do with what happened next. I’d had a stressful day at the college trying to get some paperwork finalized, and Jack had been alone all day in the rather swamped bookstore – not that custom is a problem, you understand, but we were both feeling a bit hard done by and underappreciated.

So by the time we got The Great Green Monstrosity of Paisley Demonhood (as I may have called it once or twice, because remember by 7:30 pm I’d had a glass of wine on an empty stomach) onto the upstairs landing, I was pretty fed up. Jack standing with his back to the open stairs, the couch aimed at his midriff, yelling “Push, dammit!” was just too much temptation. I set my end down and peered over the railing into the front yard.

The front yard, about twenty feet down as the crow falls, would have to be reached by us carrying TGGMOPD all the way around the side of the house. Unless…..

I looked up. Jack was looking at me. “I will if you will,” he said.

Together we ensured all cats were accounted for behind closed doors downstairs, and that the outdoor flap available to our dogs was closed with them on the correct side. We then maneuvered TGGMOPD into a seesaw position on the railing. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought as we shouted “CHALKS AWAY!” and let go.

Sucker went straight down, taking one branch from our apple tree but no further collateral damage with it. We peeked over the side; the sofa lay on its back like a turtle on the half-shell, implanted in the ground. Jack and I gave each other a high-five.

As Quakers, we practice non-violent solutions and problem management. But perhaps once every ten years or so, tossing a really heavy piece of furniture off a second-story balcony is most satisfying.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

A Window on the World

Jack makes a plea in his weekly guest post –

I’m prompted to write on this particular subject because of a book I’ve just read, a memoir by a prison librarian. But this isn’t the Monday Book post, so that will have to wait for now.

I’m a member of Prison Visitation and Support (PVS), set up to provide a visitation service for all Federal prisoners, including those in both civilian and military prisons.

I joined up four years ago as part of a three person team based around the Quaker group that meets monthly in the bookstore and we all visit prisoners at the local Federal prison. Each of us visits two prisoners on each visit and they are mostly men who are either in for a very long time or forever. They have asked for visits because, for a variety of reasons, they have no-one else.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that there are nowhere near enough of us around the country to visit all the prisoners asking.

I know what you’re thinking – why on earth would you? Why would anyone want to spend sometimes considerable time and expense traveling to an isolated spot maybe hours from home to spend an hour with someone who has committed a terrible crime (often murder, drug dealing or armed robbery?) The answer is frequently hard to take but true, nevertheless. They are human beings and we are the only people with whom they can have contact who are not part of their prison network; the only people who can provide a momentary glimpse of the outside world through a neutral window.

PVS is supported by all the major religious groups as well as many non-religious ones; the board includes representatives of these, plus ex prisoners and ex Wardens. It has an excellent relationship with The Department of Justice and this means we have a great working relationship with our local prison.

That said, we don’t specifically talk about religion and that’s not the organization’s purpose. Actually we are more listeners than talkers.

All this may sound wonderful and uplifting, but there are caveats. If you have any tendency to claustrophobia this isn’t for you. Once the various doors have locked behind you, you are as much a prisoner as the folk you are visiting. It’s also very draining–as Wendy will tell you, because when I come home from visiting she hands me a Scotch and leaves me for a few hours to re-surface. It isn’t physically difficult because you sit across the table from your visitee with absolutely no distractions (no TV or magazines or books or anything) and have an hour to talk. Then all over again with the second one. Yet that can be very hard work! In addition there may be unexpected counts or your prisoners be delayed by internal activities. While you wait for maybe an hour or more you also have nothing to distract you – just an empty table and walls.

If this seems rather intimidating or uninviting, there’s an upside.

Once you have started visiting a particular prisoner, that continues until one of a number of things happen: they are released, they are transferred to another prison, or they ask for no more visits. As a result you might be visiting monthly with the same two guys (and ours is an all male prison) for years. That has been the case for me. My experience has often (though not always) meant meaningful conversations with really interesting characters. One of them had escaped many times from State prisons before ending in the Federal system. He could write a best-seller about digging tunnels.

There are some prisons in remote parts of the country that have no PVS visitors at all and all the others have waiting lists of prisoners who want visits. We have our own waiting list and urgently need some more to join our little group. If you are interested you can contact me through this blog or check out the PVS website – http://prisonervisitation.org/

“I was in prison and you visited me” Now, who was it said that……

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The Monday Book (aka, the Guilty Pleasures of a Bookseller)

nannieOk, so I have to let you in on a secret. I love the Dear America girl diary books published by Scholastic. Each one is from an American history period or place of significance – the Revolutionary War, Colonial Jamestown, Quaker New England, the Civil War in Virginia, a westbound wagon train of Italian immigrants. They all have a particular culture and time period to evoke. I think the most recent was the 1960s, and in American  diaries, the farthest back is Jamestown.

They’re fun. They take about an hour to read. They are full of historic information with facts stuffed around the edges. They’re practically formulaic. I just love them.

My four favorites are marked from the list below (which was copied from Wikipedia, and to my delight I find I haven’t read two of these, so I have a few more discoveries to make). Most of the girls in the diaries are representative rather than actual people. One or two of them use actual names from historical documents, but beyond that are fiction. I don’t think any of them represent actual events of real people with historic documentation, more the epoch of the time.

For those who grew up on Nancy Drew, and remember the perfect grammar and manners and decision making of girls from her deportment, you’ll enjoy these books. These are real girls, with good and bad angles to their personalities and happy and sad adventures in their lives. I cried to hard during My Heart is in the Ground, I had to hide from bookshop customers.

Treat yourself to an adventure, and check a few out. Male or female, young or old, they are great reads. And good entries into difficult points of history, reduced to statistics rather than stories. Enjoy!

A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620

The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777

When Will This Cruel War Be Over?: The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864

A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859

Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell, 1847

So Far from Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847

I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 1865

***West to a Land of Plenty: The Diary of Teresa Angelino Viscardi, New York to Idaho Territory, 1883

Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl, New York City, 1903

***Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania, 1763

Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, RMS Titanic, 1912

A Line in the Sand: The Alamo Diary of Lucinda Lawrence, Gonzales, Texas, 1836

***My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880

The Great Railroad Race: The Diary of Libby West, Utah Territory, 1868

A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin, Fenwick Island, Delaware, 1861

The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864

A Coal Miner’s Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Lattimer, Pennsylvania, 1896

Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, the Great Migration North, Chicago, Illinois, 1919

One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss, Vienna, Austria to New York, 1938

My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941

Valley of the Moon: The Diary Of Maria Rosalia de Milagros, Sonoma Valley, Alta California, 1846

Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, California Territory, 1849

Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932

Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows, Hawaii, 1941

My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher, Broken Bow, Nebraska, 1881

***Where Have All the Flowers Gone? The Diary of Molly MacKenzie Flaherty, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968

A Time for Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen, Washington, D.C., 1917

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: The Diary of Bess Brennan, Perkins School for the Blind, 1932

Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards, Dalhart, Texas, 1935

When Christmas Comes Again: The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer, New York City to the Western Front, 1917

Land of the Buffalo Bones: The Diary of Mary Ann Elizabeth Rodgers, an English Girl in Minnesota, New Yeovil, Minnesota, 1873

Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson, Green Marsh, Massachusetts, 1774

All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, The Santa Fe Trail, 1848

Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl, New York Colony, 1763

I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1691

Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, New York City, 1909

 

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Fun with Philly Bookstores

I went to Philadelphia wearing my college hat, talking about rural health infrastructure and entrepreneurial activity. But of course there were a few spare minutes here and there, so I got to visit four bookstores. :]

chaucerThe first was the Quaker-run Book Corner, just beyond the Free Library of Philadelphia. THEY HAVE STAFF CATS! Catticus Finch declined to have his picture taken, but this is Chaucer. Book Corner supports the nearby library, which is how they wound up acquiring the cats. The two boys were trying to get into the library last winter, and it was cold, so the Quakers did as Quakers do, and now they have staff cats.

The boys weren’t all that interested in talking to me about Hadley et al; apparently they are sophisticats. But the lady who staffed the bookstore was very friendly, and at $3 per hardback, $2 per trade paperback, I had a grand old time!

book trader 1 book trader 2Then it was off to the Book Trader (shown above) across from historic Christ Church – a place of looming shelves and sideways books and a cheerfully curmudgeonly shopkeeper. When you think “used books store” this is the place you think of. Also, he proved cover color theory – just look at his display of Chick Lit books!chick lit

 

The conference started so no time for excursions again until today, when I got to catch up with old friends Ann and Adam. Ann owns The Spiral Bookcase in nearby Manayunk, and had just come from a photoshoot featuring her store. (She’s a brilliant marketer and a tireless community organizer!)ann and adam

Since our schedules wouldn’t permit meeting at her shop, she trained over, her husband Adam walked down from his office, and we had a late lunch at an upscale, trendy wine bar. “The kind of lifestyle one aspires to,” we agreed, nibbling on cheese that had been described on the menu as having a “fluffy personality.” (Yes, it kinda did.)

curtisRealizing we were near another bookshop owned by a mutual friend, we walked over to Neighborhood Books, run by Curtis. It’s so much fun to talk shop with fellow bookslingers: “What do you do with your old romances? Do you sell much sports? How often do you cull? When’s your biggest tourism season? How do you brace shelves that curve? Etc. etc. ad infinitium. Bookslingers can talk strategy all day long, and then move on to the great themes of literature over dinner.

Unfortunately, our schedules wouldn’t allow dinner either, so we said goodbye and headed back to our respective places in life. Walking back through Phillly, my head was buzzing with good ideas from the conference and good ideas from fellow bookshop owners.

There’s gonna be some work to do when I get home. Heh heh heh…….

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

A Return to Normalcy? HA!

normal12Jack’s Wednesday blog tackles a big question

For years now I’ve pondered on what ‘normal’ means. I can identify various times in my life when it meant very different things for me – my early life running a painting and decorating business, my 20 year career as an educator in a community college, my parallel life as a singer and musician in Scotland, and then my life in the US as a bookstore owner. Believe me, when you work retail, normal is just a setting on a dryer.

But that’s fairly superficial and applies to most folk as we get older, I’d imagine.

No – what I’m interested in is maybe more fundamental. It’s what we consider normal behavior or a normal lifestyle when we look at other people around us. It’s how we judge these things and place values on folk, placing them somewhere on a continuum that’s based around our definition of ‘normal’. In a small town bookstore, we find that some books just won’t sell, and we think it’s because the norms of the area don’t uphold those lifestyles or needs. People asking for some books wait until the shop is empty, or phone ahead anonymously.

The society we live in obviously has a bearing on this, and that’s society with both a small and large S. On my monthly visits to the local Federal prison I’m painfully aware that we incarcerate people for failing to conform to our norms. While some of that non-conformity is understandably so extreme that keeping those people from harming others is essential, a good deal of it is simply inconvenient or unfashionable.

Possession of items as opposed to the committing of violence to get them is one example–wouldn’t treatment be a better option? However, I don’t want to get political. It’s interesting to look back in history and observe how different activities have been classified as crimes and/or insanity. It’s not so long since unmarried mothers or kids we’d now classify as autistic were locked up and treated pretty much as if they were in prison.

It’s very easy to look at other people, or other places, and be critical of how they treat different sections of society, not to mention individual non-conformists. If we turned this same critical eye on ourselves, would we look any different? Does thinking about this make me any more tolerant of other ‘normalities’?

I am not sure it does, but since I live in a glass house and am concerned with the mote in my own eye, I really don’t have time to judge others. :]

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Our Shopsitter Moved to SC

confusionToday we have guest blog from Wes and Rachael, our local shopsitter and his wife. They recently moved to South Carolina (WAAAAAHHHH!) Rachael is seated in the photo.

Regular readers may recognize us as the couple that got married in the bookstore.  We recently moved due to a job change.  It was a difficult decision to leave such a tight knit community of loving friends.  But change comes for us all and so it has come for us.

One of the most joyful things the little bookstore community brought us was our monthly Quaker meetings.  As mentioned before we chose a Quaker meeting for our wedding.  Most of our friends find it baffling that we enjoy sitting in dead silence for an hour, but we can’t think of a better way to find peace in the stressful life we lead.  So finding a Quaker meeting was top on our list for the move.  We earmarked this past weekend for a trip to the Columbia meeting 40 minutes down the road.

That morning we were raring to go, but on the drive we were wracked with doubts.  What do we really know about this meeting?  It’s in a church.  What if it’s “churchy”?  We did a quick google search for “Quakers” to get a feel for what we could expect, and found this troubling statistic: “90% of meetings are programmed worship”.  This means standing, singing … in others words “churchy”!  They probably meet in the sanctuary – pews, altar and all…we pretty well worked each other into an anxiety-ridden frenzy convinced this would be a disaster.  Were we prepared to sit through church, or worse yet walk out?

At the run-down church building, the engraved sign read “unprogrammed worship”.  A collective sigh of relief filled the car.  The first friends arrived a few moments later in their hybrid car.  The woman, wearing a comfy crocheted sweater put me in mind of Wendy who often attended still in her pajama pants and cozy slippers. NB from Wendy: I don’t remember pajama bottoms but it’s a fair cop on the slippers.

We were welcomed with open arms.

The woman told us how the building had been donated by the Methodist church, along with a hefty sum to renovate.  She was particularly proud of the energy efficient LED lighting.  A back room held a loom where salvaged fabric was being made into rugs.  You could see their lovely garden from the window.  The sanctuary had been modified too, the altar removed and the pews in concentric squares facing the center of the room.  Shortly after, a man arrived with a small vase of flowers and set it as the central focus point.

And just like that, we were home.  The Quakers began filing in – all walks of life, young, older, teenagers, some children, but all with the joy and friendliness we have come to appreciate and foster in ourselves.  It seems we haven’t left our tight knit community after all.  Rather we’ve opened the door to a world wide community that will follow us wherever we go.  We are eternally grateful to Jack and Wendy, the little bookstore, and the Big Stone Friends for that opportunity. confusion

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