Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

An American Stranger

Jack fails abjectly this week – Wednesday post on Friday – –

This post is about the attitude of some Scots towards Americans and why –

Wendy in Scotland

When Wendy came to Scotland twenty five years ago and we married, she was finishing her PhD in Folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland. She had worked for years as a community based storyteller and her dissertation examined professional storytellers in Great Britain, Ireland, Canada and the US. When she arrived she set up a group non-profit called Storytelling Unplugged with local storytellers that also used storytelling in the community including a children’s’ hospice, but began to encounter some problems from the cultural establishment. This was partly anti-American, partly professional jealousy and partly because I had recently divorced and (wrong) assumptions were made. Although Wendy was creating more storytelling opportunities for more storytellers, the anti-American sentiment during this expansion even included “don’t all Americans want everything bigger?” She got tired of it and turned to writing.

Colin in pensive mood

My old friend Colin moved from Aberdeen to Fife in the 1970s and we became compatriots on the musical scene. A fine singer who had helped organize the Aberdeen folksong club, he had driven buses there during his summer vacations. So when I started my small group tours of Scotland he was a natural to drive the seventeen seat minivan. But he was a retired teacher of English Lit in the local high school and then of communications in the community college and had a keen ear for language. Having lived in the US for a while I had learned to ‘code-switch’ between British English, US English and Scots and Colin very quickly learned to do the same. He made many long term friends among my ‘tourists’, although I could never persuade him to come and visit here. Despite his fondness for Americans, he never cared to see America.

Mike in contemplative mood

Another old friend was Mike who had played keyboards, pipes and whistle in my folk band. He did visit us for three weeks and charmed everyone he met. He had rented a car for the duration of his visit and delighted in getting out and about, even getting lost a couple of times. He was happy to play whistle and speak some Gaelic to a class I was teaching at the time. Although a devout Catholic he was very ecumenical and while with us he attended our Quaker Meeting, played a piano prelude at the Presbyterian Church and was mistaken for a visiting Priest at the Catholic Chapel. Once Mike went a day journey that had him asking directions everywhere, and everywhere he asked, people offered him hospitality if he didn’t think he could get back that night!

What to make of all this?

Well – Scots abroad certainly seem to find welcome signs wherever they go, and I’ve definitely experienced that. Whereas Americans abroad often find go home signs – particularly if they’re seeking to settle down. Scots like Colin and Mike were willing to ditch any prejudices and simply meet folk as they found them. The only time I ever encountered any hostility in the US it wasn’t cultural or even ant-immigrant, although it could have been seen as that. Just like Wendy in Scotland I ran up against someone who felt their little world was being challenged and their piece of the pie might be cut a little smaller, rather than enlarging the pie.

Isn’t that interesting? Of course it has no relevance to anything happening in the world today, or in America….

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Jack once again posts his Wednesday guest post on Thursday – sigh – – –

It’s amazing the quote I remember from a School science lesson – –

The vacuum is, of course, what our lives could have become during the pandemic for the last year and a quarter!

The most obvious thing for us in fighting that vacuum is how our house has changed. Our ceilidh room was where we entertained friends, held house concerts, and even ceilidhs (hence the name). But it became our home entertainment center, with a big screen and a projector to plug into my laptop and a good set of speakers. Wendy bought a box set of all twenty seasons of ‘Law and Order’ which we along with favorite movies on some nights. (Currently rounding toward the end of season 19!)

The library morphed into Wendy’s home office whence she somehow managed to orchestrate the supply of PPE to health centers and hospitals all over the area from March-May 2020. After that it was her writing studio as she churned out a book with colleagues on COVID conspiracy theories. And it accrued quite a lot of craft items, as she discovered decoupage. Recently a friend visited and commented, “I see you found a new hobby, Wendy.”

Our guest room continued to double as my studio where I prepare my radio show. But there was a period when I unusually had to pre-record the links out in our backyard log cabin, which was slow and tedious. That was due to some noise control efforts, since we have a sound proof box in the cabin.

But a lot of our time has been spent outside trying to learn how to grow vegetables. Last year wasn’t too successful but we have better hopes for this year. Some good friends tilled an extra section of the yard and it has carrots, beets, onions and the ‘the three sisters’ (corn, beans and squash), which all seem to be coming along fine. And Wendy has taken up foraging, which she calls lazy gardening. Why ignore nature presenting us with things like purslane and burdock—especially when we turn out to suck at gardening in the first place?

Our corn is as high as a baby elephant’s eye!

It would have been very easy for us to be ‘couch potatoes’ looking at the walls, but Wendy deliberately set her face against that and made sure, from the start, we would be occupied. We read lots of books—not to mention she had two published and has another two on the way. I took on some small construction projects and we made a fence to keep our chickens away from the back deck. Despite our failures, the garden has seen results. And we had the window visitors; people came by to drop off or pick up items (when the PPE runs ended Wendy kept going with a buy nothing list for the county, ranging from food to clothing to household detritus. I believe our neighbors might think we’re dealing drugs, the number of window packages that have been passed around here, and items left on doorsteps in mysterious lumpy packages. But she’s done some wonderful things for some community members with these free items.)

I believe this has kept us mentally and physically healthy and this seems to chime with other folks’ experiences. Once we finish season 20 of Law and Order, I’m not sure what we will do with ourselves, of course…..

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch