Note-able Journeys

Jack gets there on time for a change!

My good friend Randy Shell runs a used bookstore here in Wytheville called Oracle Books. About six months ago he began a section of records – LPs and CDs (even some 78s). It’s amazing some of the things I’ve found there.

The latest is one of a series called ‘Ballads from British Tradition’ in Virginia and this particular one focuses on this south west corner of the state. Included, of course, are Texas Gladden and The Stanley Brothers, but what really startled me was the field recordings of obscure (to me) singers and musicians. The recordings were made in towns around here including Norton, Wise, Galax and the wonderfully named Meadows of Dan.

Although ‘British Ballads’ is technically correct most of them originated in Scotland. The great Francis James Child of Harvard University published his definitive ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’ in the late 19th century and most of them were Scottish. Then a few years later Cecil Sharp traveled through Appalachia and produced his ‘English Ballads of the Southern Appalachians’. They were also mostly Scottish, although I suspect he meant English language rather than originating in England.

Our old friend Tom Burton who is Emeritus Professor of folklore at East Tennessee State University carried out research some years ago resulting in a paper called ‘The Lion’s Share’. In it he constructed a kind of ‘top twenty’ of British ballads found in Appalachia based on how many variants had been collected. The majority were originally from Scotland and the top five were all from there. He had to discount Barbara Allan as there were so many versions it completely skewed his calculations!

Another friend – the great English singer Brian Peters, has pointed out to me that although the majority of the Appalachian ballads may have originated in Scotland, many got there via England and there are quite a few distinctly English ballads that came over as well. Another piece of research by Tom Burton bears this out. He was able to trace the route by which the Scottish ‘Gypsy Laddies’ ended up in Appalachia as ‘Black Jack Davy’ and it wasn’t (as he’d assumed) via Ulster in Ireland, but actually by way of south west England.

In the end it’s just fascinating that these ballads continued to be used as either moral signposts or just as pure entertainment by the folks who came over and settled here.

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

The Tuesday Swimming Incident

The Monday book will be back next week. Sit back and enjoy the story of Wendy’s latest adventure….

Regular readers know that I enjoy canning. Like, a lot. It’s my down time upper. So yesterday evening I was squeezing out seven quarts of mixed veg from our garden, which is putting out more daily. Having a good time, rocking out to a little oldies Abba, slicing and dicing and spicing.

I threw a load of laundry in at the end, because canning is a messy business. And because Tuesday morning is my swim aerobics class with my sister, and it had been ages since my suit had been washed, what the heck, in it goes.

(Yes, I know washing is bad for suits. Just like fungal growth is bad for suits. It needed a scrub.)

Next day, sis and I are paddling in the pool preparatory to class beginning, and I feel something in the lower area. Like elastic that’s poked through. Oh well, I think, I know better than to wash a suit with other clothes, ruined it. I reach in….

…. and pull out a string bean.

A dried up string bean that looked so much like elastic at first that I didn’t realize what was happening. Until I felt a little pebble-like thing caressing my cheek….

After removing the two beans and the other half of the string bean husk, I placed them as surreptitiously as possible on the drain at the side of the pool.

A few minutes into class, the lifeguard gets this incredulous look on his face, climbs down from his chair, and walks to The Place of the Bean.

My sister who drags me to the class each week shouts, “It’s a string bean and it’s hers!” She points at me. “She cans everything and it got in her suit!”

Fortunately the instructor had The Beegees blasting at top decibel so not many of the participants heard her. Only one woman turned and asked, “Do you can in your suit? Is that cooler? I can a lot and…”

I am not banned from the pool. That is the good news.

My sister will die at the time and place of my choosing, and they will find her with a green bean shoved into her throat, serial killer style. That is the other good news.

Thank you for coming to my comedy of errors life show.


Filed under humor, small town USA, Wendy Welch