Category Archives: Life reflections

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Jack fails to make it in time – again – – –

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Well the latest big surprise yesterday was an email telling me that ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ was voted one of the top three bookstores in SW Virginia by readers of a Virginia wide tourism magazine.

I thought to begin with that it was some kind of scam, but after exchanging a series of emails with a nice lady it became clear that it was genuine.

This immediately raised a few questions –

The bookstore closed over a year ago and the building is now a private dwelling again, and the new owners probably wouldn’t want hordes of folk knocking on the door or even just walking straight in.

There again – who voted and how did they not know we’d closed?

To be clear, we had the best time running that bookstore for fourteen years and made it into a real community hub. We made many friends along the way. The only reasons we sold up and moved was that Wendy’s job could be handled more easily from where we are now in Wytheville, it felt like time to move on and the building needed more TLC than a seventy-eight-year-old guy could contemplate.

I tried to find out whether we would have been first, second or third, but for understandable reasons we couldn’t be told. I also asked if our votes could be transferred to our good friends at Oracle Books in Wytheville but no dice there either.

 wendy-welch.com/2012/08/28/a-virtual-tour-of-tales-of-the-lonesome-pine-used-books/

Sometimes life is just weird – – –

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

Love is all Around – – –

Jack makes it with time to spare for a change – – –

NI marriage

The first same sex marriage in Northern Ireland yesterday.

As we approach Valentine’s Day –

Wendy and I write a regular column for Living Tradition magazine on topics common to the American and British folk music scenes. Our most recent one was about same sex relationships in the ballads and songs as well as between the performers. It got me thinking about how these relationships were viewed as I was growing up in the Presbyterian culture of Scotland in the 1950s and 60s. I found that I couldn’t remember ever hearing anything. I suppose that it was probably hidden under the cloak of ‘female companions’ or ‘good friends’. I do know that my Grandad stopped attending Church because the minister berated two women in front of the congregation and I always wondered if that was what it was about. But I never found out the reason – if that was it then kudos to Peter Ferguson!

This got me thinking about what we consider ‘normal’, and then about the different ‘normals’ I’ve encountered over the last seventy eight years.

Living now in a fairly conservative and rural part of the United States which, until relatively recently, would have also shunned same sex couples, I see a big change. It seems like there’s an attitude of ‘sure, they’re gays but they’re OUR gays’. It’s a combination of unremarkable and un-remarked upon.

Of course it may just be because we move in particular circles, but in both Big Stone Gap and now in Wytheville we count ever more such couples among our friends.

But my ‘normal’ has changed as well over the years. Not just my personal circumstances, but the world in general. I went from a naïve apprentice house-painter to a businessman, to a college professor, to a bookstore owner. Along the way I was folksinger on the side, moved from Scotland to the US and from one marriage to another.

As I changed, learned and developed so did the world. As my ignorance was challenged so has the world’s.

There’s a ways to go yet but, but we’re getting there I hope – –

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

I Finishes my Book, I Cleans my House

f2f262695ba52a8387ccb4c57703b3daIt is as inevitable as it unexplainable. As soon as the book is finished, I clean house. Perhaps it’s because there’s a lot of build-up while one is ignoring all the little surrounding things during that last push of editing and adding things.

Whatever the reason, the day after I push send, I’m in the bathroom with a toothbrush, tackling grout-esque problems.

Perhaps this ritual marks the passage from writing to marketing; you finish the part everyone thinks is cool, and you start the part that makes people edge away from you at parties. Make lists of festivals, make a nuisance of yourself on Facebook, Vimno, Instagram, and whatever other platforms somebody invented over the weekend.

But it never fails: Push send Friday, spray every surface in the house down Saturday, rip out contents of closets and cupboards, and dusty corners, stack your t-shirts by color, alphabetize the pantry, everything.

It’s like reclaiming space, but with benefits. My spice rack is organized by genre: Indian top shelf, Italian center, and the fundamentals at the foundation. Purged packaged food  lines the counter. “This is what I couldn’t fit back in after I separated the boxes by size, so this is what we’re eating this week,” I tell Jack.

He nods and smiles and finds an outdoor project. He’s seen it before and knows how this plays out.

Call it ritual, or clearing the path for what comes next, call it what you will, because it will happen. My home will be shiny-tidy this weekend and there will be a purge of useful boxes that weren’t and squished plastic containers that didn’t survive storage.

It doesn’t last long, but it’s fun while it lasts.

HIGH HOPES: Prescribers and Therapists Explain how they Fight Substance Abuse comes out from McFarland Press this summer. The title is still in edits, so if you have a suggestion, let us know.

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Filed under between books, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Freewheelin’ Doon the Brae

Jack creakily creeps over the line to get his guest post in on a Wednesday – –

So I turned seventy eight years old today (Wednesday) although it may be Thursday before this appears!

weston

As far as I know the only two members of my immediate family to get beyond that are my Mum and my sister Margaret.

So I see eighty coming over the horizon and that’s quite a sobering thought. All the folk I know around my age are ‘old’, but that’s not how I feel at all. Despite smoking and drinking most of my life I seem to continue to be fairly healthy.

When I look back I’m surprised at how my life turned out and the twists and turns. When I was a house painter I never expected to become a lecturer in management studies or to gain an MBA from one of the most prestigious Scottish Universities. When I started singing in a skiffle group I never expected to make seven albums and contribute to three others.

Today I was equally surprised to see more than a hundred birthday greetings on facebook, which reminded me of how many friends all over the world I’ve made. Some are from way back and some not so far, and some only on line.

birthday

But the odd thing is that I’m very aware of friends and family who haven’t made it this far, and they’re actually the ones I’m thinking of today more then any. Among them are Margaret, Colin, Mike, Davy, Jim, Gordeanna, Anne and Maureen.

Since I do seem to be fairly healthy, though, I guess I should just get on with it and be lucky that I continue to make new friends and have a wife that despite twenty one years of sparring, somehow sticks by me –

Onwards and upwards!

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

Home is where the Heartspace is – –

Jack gets a guest post on a Saturday – what next?

Wendy and I have ended up in lots of great places so she could get some peace for writing. We thought Fayetteville in West Virginia was the best, when she was offered three months as Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. That was a lovely time, but the best was yet to come!

blue house

When we moved to Wytheville from Big Stone Gap, we couldn’t have imagined that among our first new friends would be Randy and Lisa who own Oracle Books down on Main Street. During our first year here we’ve helped them run events at the store and they’ve introduced us to many new friends, as well as supplying us with wonderful eggs from the farm where they live. Lisa raises goats for their fleece and I do believe the ladies have done some trades the hubbies are not privy to, as well.

But here’s the rub – Wendy found herself suddenly hit with two book deadlines. Her contracted book is due to McFarland Press in mid-February. Wendy’s been working almost non-stop at editing this volume, tentatively titled High Hopes: Appalachian prescribers and therapists take on the substance abuse crisis. It has some fifteen or so contributors, and all I know is my darling comes around the corner in our house from time to time, tears streaming down her face, or laughing, and says, “Listen to this.”

The second deadline is not specific, but Wendy feels driven. For years she wanted to publish a book about our cat rescue work, but her agent (a wonderful woman we both respect) didn’t feel it would work. Out of the blue, the editor Wendy works with at McFarland messaged to ask, hadn’t Wendy been working on a cat book at some point? Could she see that when Wendy had a chance?

It can be hard to concentrate at home sometimes—chores, cats and (dare I say) the husband can call my wife’s focus away. Randy’s sister Linda came to the rescue with the offer of her gorgeous 1900 house tucked off the beaten track. It doesn’t have cell-phone coverage but does have internet – perfect. So a bookstore is helping an author to get a couple of books published.

My job is to keep the wood stove going (oh bliss), walk Bruce our dog, and run out for provisions when necessary. In other words it is to guard Wendy’s head space so she can do what she does best – write. That’s what I guess all marriages are about, in a larger sense: guarding each other’s heads, if not hearts as well. You support each other. It’s always a negotiation as she supports my musical stuff and I do my best to support her writing. On the other hand, she’s also musical, becoming among other things a very good harp player, and I am writing a blog post at this moment. So perhaps as much as guarding each other’s space, it is making space for each other in our own?

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

That Recycling Thing

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without: Jack and I have made an artform out of frugality. We wash Ziploc bags, use strawberry boxes to hold dish sponges, feed the animals out of old pie tins, and even built a garden statue out of cans once. It was fun. I had to get a tetanus shot.

I save salad and carryout containers of clear plastic to start heirloom tomatoes each February. IMG_8864Tomatoes like a terrarium effect when they first start out, and if you go to Rural King, Tractor Supply, or any of the other awesome farm stores around here, you can buy a plastic tomato starter kit for $20.

Or, you can save your salad and carryout containers of clear plastic, fill them with free dirt from the backyard, and grow heirloom tomatoes from seeds swapped with friends.

Although we like these savings, and it is fun to figure out what strange uses regular household items can serve, my desire to recycle is at war with my wish to not live in a house full of string too short to be saved–carefully labeled in a Danish butter cookie tin. You know the kind of people I’m talking about, little packing peanuts and all.

Yet Marie Kondo never speaks to the guilt of adding to a landfill, of being that worst of Appalachian sins: WASTEFUL. Plus, my observation has been that the week after I get rid of that weird triangular-shaped piece of extra-thick black Styrofoam,  I need it for a scarecrow hat. Ask me how I know this. Or the perfect sized cardboard that could have backed an old picture frame, but I had to buy a new one because nothing was thick enough to keep a photo inside it. Or the broken clothes basket that would have made a perfect outdoor bed for the stray hanging around ….

No, in all honesty, Jack and I have given up decluttering and embraced the “hmmm, what can I do with this” camp? You really only need two things to enjoy this lifestyle: a laid-back spouse and a big closet with a sturdy door. Just shove everything in there, no need to organize. Hunting the ripped rubber chicken will lead you past the collection of bubble wrap you’ve been looking for; searches keep locations current. It’s a good system.

IMG_8863And I don’t want you to think Jack and I have lost it completely, but yesterday we started saving dryer lint. I was crocheting a doll for a friend, using the guts of an old dog toy for stuffing; Bruce helped out here; after he eviscerated his sock monkey, I threw the poly-fill in the wash to have on hand for crafty moments.

As I began to run out of Bruce’s contribution, it crossed my mind that dryer lint was very similar….

No, really, we’re fine. It brings us joy to be this nerdy. Go by, mad world.

 

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Filed under home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Oh Death – – –

Another very sad post by Jack – –

colin

I first met Colin when he helped organize the folk-song concerts at the Music Hall in Aberdeen during the first Bon Accord Festival in 1965. At the time I was half of a duo with Barbara Dickson and we played every night for a week as top of the bill.

We kept in touch and by the early 1970s he was booking guests for Aberdeen folk club. This was when I was erroneously billed in the local newspaper as Jeff Beck (not his fault). Lots of disappointed punters but a profitable night for the club!

Shortly after that he moved down to Fife to take up the position as a teacher of English in a local high school, where he was able to introduce the study of Scots ballads to the curriculum. After that he was a regular at parties and ceilidhs at my house and those of other friends in the area.

He was a wonderful singer with a deep and rich repertoire of Doric song, but never had any real interest in either recording or getting gigs, which meant he never got the recognition he deserves.

More recently, after my move to the US, he helped me and Wendy with our small group tours of Scotland and Ireland. As an excellent driver he was the natural choice to drive the minivan, but he quickly turned into joint tour guide. His running commentaries along the way after I ran out of wind and stories endeared him to everyone and he stayed in touch with many folk over here.

I would usually fly over to Edinburgh a few days beforehand, rent a car, drive to Colin’s house where he’d feed me mince and tatties. Then use his place as my base for visiting friends and family, before we’d pick up the minivan at the end, just before the tour started. During these evenings we’d feed each other our favorite YouTube discoveries which always included this –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYwbpCm2apA

Back in the 1960s I bought a very early MGB Roadster and eventually sold it to Colin, who did lots of refurbishing. Eventually he sold it back to me and it crossed the Atlantic! Our mutual friend David bought it from me as a birthday gift for his wife Susan and it is currently being completely rebuilt in North Carolina – – – it’s in this video and so is Colin!

I was right in the middle of recording a radio show about his friend and mentor Arthur Argo when I got the message that Wendy needed to speak to me urgently!

I was stunned by her news that Colin had just died. I’m obviously of an age now when I’m bound to lose old friends (or them me), but this was a real jolt. I still can’t quite believe it.

Driving home this morning after recording the radio shows I remembered that my black funeral suit is hanging in his guest room closet – – -along with so many memories.

Rest in Peace Colin. No one deserves it more.

 

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