Category Archives: small town USA

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

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


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.

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

The Monday Book: THE BEST DOCTOR IN TOWN by Amelia Townsend

IMG_8952This is a local story for a southwest Virginia, about a doctor whose idea of a pain-free life is rather permanent. The only people onto him are themselves a bit tarnished of reputation: a junior doctor under suspicion of theft, a police officer with one too many “this is your last warning”s, and a reporter who got fired for manipulating the truth.

So you can see why no one really takes them seriously. As much as this book is about a bad man who sees himself as one of the good guys, it also has some funny bits. Observations about human nature, ways of seeing the world, and also some predictable “see it coming a mile off” bits that twist into humor.

Townsend is a playwright and musician who works with regional productions in DC and this area, promoting Appalachian and Coalfields culture. She’s got a good ear for how people talk and a fun way of seeing how we live.

If you are looking for a local story, this has plenty of ethnographic detail. One of the patients is raising his grandchildren because their mom is on drugs. Some of the patients are stretching paychecks and Medicare, unable to retire. And the language is rhythmic to the mountains.

The book is available from Jan-Carol Publishing and the usual suspects.

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Filed under book reviews, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, what's on your bedside table

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

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!


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.


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!


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?



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

Jack’s Guest Blog has a Guest

Young Striped Skunk in roadside ditchYo. Have I got a story for you!

Me and the fam, we moved into a really nice brush pile not too far from the kits’ school. My little surfeit was all excited for their own rooms in the brush, and the wife (Mabel) really liked this area.

So about two weeks in, the kits have started school and Mabel’s made friends in the stump nearby and it’s all going swimmingly. Then I go out exploring.

This great brute of a thing, this dog that must have been fifty times my body size, he comes from nowhere, and he rolls me over with his paw, and I’m not a naturally violent guy, but I’ve got no choice.

I give him a full blast in the face.

The best defense is a good offense, I teach the kits. Poor little orphan surfeit – at this point I thought I’d never see them or Mabel again. But this dog, all of a sudden, he wants to play! I’m trying to stand up, but my leg hurts, and the beast is just circling me, barking and jumping like a puppy. Like he thinks I’m a cat or something and wants to be friends.

A human lady comes out of the house, throws her hands up, and goes back inside. I’m lying there sprawled in the yard, and I figure the dog’s not gonna hurt me at this point, and the lady’s gonna get a photo, so just wait. If she puts the photo on Facebook I can use it later in the insurance settlement. I’m suing the ears off this doggo, believe you me. “Unprovoked” comes to mind. There are fair warning laws between species, y’know?

But the lady comes back with a guy and they drag the dog to their porch. So I waddle home. I can walk on that leg, but think to to limp a little, just in case they can see me. From the porch I can hear the lady all annoyed-like saying “baking soda” and “Monday morning.”

Yeah, whatever, lady. I’ll see you my wafting scent and raise you one heart attack.

Mabel’s still there when I get home; the kits haven’t left for school, so they all cluster ’round while she gets the lineament. They want to hear the whole story, but their little eyes get so big when I talk about the teeth and jaws closing around me (hey, why not) Mabel interrupts.

“Daddy’s fine, surfeit. Off you go now; you’ll be late for school.” And despite the chorus of “Aw Ma”s and such, they grab their lunches and go grumbling out the door. She Who Must Be Obeyed has spoken.

Mabel brings me a drink. (Don’t judge. It was for my nerves.) And I tell her the whole story–the sudden rush, the rollover, the dog turning friendly a little late in the encounter for my tastes–while she checks my leg.

“Not broke, just sprained. Stay off it today and tomorrow you’ll be right as rain” is her pronouncement. “Did we make a mistake moving here? Can the kits play in the yard?”

I mean, we just got here, and we might have to move ’cause of that beast? Now I’m not gonna suggest to their mother that we take any chances with our little surfeit, no way nohow. All the same, that dog wasn’t out for blood. He kinda wanted to play. And I did teach him not to mess with skunks. Direct hit between the eyes. He’s gonna reek for days. Ain’t enough Dawn liquid soap in the world to make him forget this little lesson.

So maybe we can wait it out. Gonna restrict the kits to playing on the South side of the brush pile for a few days, and I’ll forage in another area. The people in the house won’t be interested in a repeat performance either, so they’ll be turning the outside lights on before the dog appears, I feel sure. That’s all we ask, fair warning.

And maybe, just maybe, we can all get along? Time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m gonna enjoy my day off. Mabel just brought me some eggs and bacon – and another drink.Bruce2




Filed under animal rescue, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

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.



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