Category Archives: Wendy Welch

Oh Death – – –

Another very sad post by Jack – –


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 –

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.



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

Philly Gelato

GCA-gelatoRecently I had to go to Philadelphia (for my sins, and for a big national conference). Philly is a foodie town, and on arrival I realized one of its best offerings was gelato.

I LOVE gelato, real gelato.

It’s not exactly on the low-carb diet, so I made a bargain with myself. There would be only one. It would be on the day I ate eggs and veggies for breakfast, and cheese plate and veggies for supper. It would be my whole lunch. And it would be the best Philly had to offer.

Googling “Best Gelato in Philly” on TripAdvisor revealed that GRAN CAFFE L’AQUILA was within walking distance for my limited lunch slot. But when I arrived, a woman alone, wanting only gelato, the waiter didn’t want to seat me. A brief struggle ensued. I was given one of the high tables in the restaurant’s central section and pretty much told to eat and get out.

Never mind; there were 14 glorious choices on the menu, with names that implied honey, almonds, and chocolate in the most decadent menage a trois kind of pairings. (Yes, I know.)

I ordered via the glowering waiter. While anticipating the glorious delivery, I perused the room. At the normal-sized table below and in front of me sat four older men whose order arrived in small artistic arrangements on square plates. Little balls of things with sauces and caviar accompaniments. They were engaged in a business meeting, and from their clothes and the casual dismissive power exuding from their gestures, it was clear that these men could have owned Philadelphia if it hadn’t been a little beneath them to do so. They were more likely after New York or Tokyo.

People walking through the restaurant greeted them with deference, and at least one of these lesser men got blown off in a fairly public way. These guys were capital R rich.

Soon my two scoops, long spoon and wafer arrived, driving all people watching out of my head. I began, slowly, savoring, sucking down and trying not to moan out loud. A small mix of the two flavors for experiment, separate spoons of each, one bite on the wafer; it was lovely.

Amidst this creamy dream, as a bee’s buzz invades a summer garden sojourn, I became aware that the four Riches were talking about me. Furtive glances, small giggles, boyishness.

I glanced down at them. The one sitting opposite caught my eye, knew the gig was up, and smiled in a “we mean no harm” kind of way. Gesturing to his friends, who had now swiveled in their chairs to face me, he said, “We were enjoying watching you enjoy that.”

I smiled back. “Nothing like this in my small town. I’ve been dreaming of it for days.”

The nearest man (balding, cashmere jacket) spoke. “Well, I couldn’t have made that last like you are. I don’t have that kind of discipline.”

Blue blazer who blew off the supplicant earlier added, “That’s why they sat you at that high table, so people could look in the window and see how happy you are. That’s advertising money can’t buy.”

The fourth man said, with a bit of caution, “In the best sense, this is one of those ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ moments.” And looked relieved when I smiled and nodded.

In gentlemanly retreat they turned to their little round things on small plates and I went back to my beloved. The waiter stopped trying hurry me, now I had powerful friends, and I admit to being in something of a time-stopped sugar-glazed daze when the spoon at last found no more inside the glass. The line of people waiting to get tables was now out the door.

As I hopped off my perch next to the Rich Man’s table, I paused. They looked up from their now-intense meeting.

“Gentlemen, don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” With a slight bow I went out the door past the hopeful patrons trying to have what I was having.

There are a few places where society levels, where it doesn’t matter how much power you normally yield, all people are suddenly and truly equal. Parent-teacher conferences. Doctor’s appointments. I’m not sure gelaterias are one of them, but then, I wasn’t there for the guys.



Filed under humor, Life reflections, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Up an’ Awa – – –

Jack misses the deadline again – – –

For the last twelve years I’ve been organizing small group tours of Scotland, and it’s been both good fun and an opportunity for me to visit new places.


But it’s gradually become more work and more worrying. Every time some emergency happens (and they do) I think about the other things that could happen. I work with an agency over there for hotel and ferry bookings, and they are very good when things go awry, but still – – –

It was always the intention that Wendy would also be along, but it’s hardly ever been possible because of her work schedule. So she’s usually been left to ‘hold the fort’. I’ve always regretted that because on the few occasions she has gone she added a dimension that I couldn’t!

This year will be the final one and because it is we have lots of previous folk making the sentimental last tour. Happily, Wendy will make it this time for sure (the flights are already booked). But we have twice as many going and two mini vans instead of just one  – – –

Of course this won’t be the last return to Scotland, but in future it will be different. Just with close friends and not traipsing from hotel to hotel.

The downside of all this is that most years Wendy and I have been separated for three weeks and that was brought home to me very forcefully just recently. She’s usually the one left alone. But her parents have needed support so she was the absent one recently, and I was the one left alone. What a salutary lesson!


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

Branches – –

Jack actually makes it in time –

This week has been a bit strange, what with Wendy being away for two weeks helping her parents and me keeping an eye on the (very hard working) guys trimming back the tree overhanging our house.


But then there was this –

My friend Dirk who engineers my radio show is also a video guy and he startled me a year ago with a proposal to make a documentary film of my life. As we worked on the radio shows he had become interested in all the things I mentioned, including why I moved the US, my various different careers and my musical life.

He started with a great number of videoed interviews with me and the original idea was to try to cover all of that. The first version I saw was an hour long and dived all over the place. Interesting to me but probably few others!

But once he decided to focus essentially on the musical side it all began to make more sense.

It was fascinating to see how he went about it, chasing after people who knew me and persuading them to share their observations then painstakingly transcribing their interviews. Busy folk in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and even in Scotland.

But then he had to turn it into a narrative that made sense, where one interview meshed with others and where various musical interludes contributed.

It finally went public a few days ago.

I think he did a wonderful job. I hate to use words like ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ but this time I have to. I’m so grateful to him and to all my friends who took the time and trouble to contribute so thoughtfully.

I’ve been emailing today with my sister about an audio interview with our mother that Wendy helped me do twenty years ago and it reminded me how important a legacy these seemingly fleeting things can be.

The video can be seen here –



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

Auld Aquaintance – –

Jack has an excuse this time for being a tad late – again –

I started writing this on the last day of the year and then realized it was the last day of the decade. So I’m in reflective mode –

At the end of another year and another decade, and as I enter my seventy eighth year, I can’t help but think of the friends and family who’ve passed on. The quote below pretty much sums it up –


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (June 29, 1900–July 31, 1944)

“Bit by bit… it comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this one garden is forever locked against us. And at that moment begins our true mourning, which, though it may not be rending, is yet a little bitter. For nothing, in truth, can replace that companion. Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.

So life goes on. For years we plant the seed, we feel ourselves rich; and then come other years when time does its work and our plantation is made sparse and thin. One by one, our comrades slip away, deprive us of their shade.”

It’s true and it is the ones that you fell out with and then made up with, even family members that you had awkward relationships with. They’re the ones you end up holding most closely and remembering most dearly.

I’m missing Mum and Dad, Margaret, Roy, Philip, Mike, Davy, Jim, Dominique, Gordeanna, Anne, Maureen, John, Tony – so many.

But happy to have reconnected and newly connected with just as many others who used to hover but have come much closer.

As we enter the roaring twenties again – hang on – – –

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

The Monday Book: WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi

breathA surgeon used to the negotiation between buying people time and curing them suddenly finds himself in the same position. And sums up the advice he’s been giving, the thoughts he had on this moments, from both sides.

One of the central themes of the book is “when you know you’re going to die, what do you spend your last year or two doing?” In that framework, Kalanithi’s writing moves between poetic and lyrical, and surgically precise.

He struggles with returning to work, and someone says this to him:

“That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

That one’s lyrical. Then he and his wife (who were having marital problems coping with their dual schedules as medical residents, drifting apart in exhausted frustration) have this exchange, after they decide to go ahead with trying for a baby once they know he’s sick:

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

Surgically precise.

The book was Kalanithi’s dying wish, and that is actually recorded in the book when his wife Lucy takes over, and recorded in the afterword as well. The afterword makes clear that, had there been more time, more editing might have occurred, and that the book as it reads is a singular walk less than a full narrative. Paul was concentrating on Paul, which makes sense.

Even then, there are several magic helpers in the book, although they appear but briefly. Most notable are Lucy and their oncologist (and the subtle between-the-lines understanding of what the couple are dealing with when colleague and friend becomes doctor).

Although this book is about dying, the “both sides of the desk” nature of it, reminiscent of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, is a rare peep into a world none of us are too keen to explore: what happens when death happens to you? When you know the diagnosis but not the timeline, and when you have advised hundreds of people in the same position? What do words mean, actions mean, family mean, when you are the one making the singular journey?

Highly recommended.


Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

My New Year’s Resolutions

I try not to make too many NYRsNew year concept, because type A personalities like me tend to overburden the spirit of the thing, and then sink beneath our own weight. So, here are my three (ish) resolutions:


1) Return to blogging three times a week. Come hell or high water, I am GOING to get this back on track. It’s fun to blog, and when people honor you with their reading time, you should honor them. So, three times a week. Help me, people. Make this work! Send Monday Book reviews! It’s easy; 300-400 words on what it’s about and why you liked it. We tend not to publish “why I didn’t like it” unless the book is so bad, it’s art. Y’all help me with Mondays, and Jack and I can get Wednesday and the weekend together.

2) I wrote some fiction that’s set in West Virginia. Gonna get that signed with somebody in 2020. Where there’s a laptop, there’s a way. It’s in serious rewrite now after a few beta readers had their way with it. I love editing. The original writing is harder. Editing is the best part of writing. Having fun!!!

3) Learn to make poached eggs. In Philly recently I must have had five different kinds of poached eggs, on top of every conceivable form of veggie platform. I’m not much of a cook, but they’re fun, nutritious, diverse, and low carb. Eggs are our friends. Imma learn to make poached eggs this year.

Things I am not making resolutions about: playing the harp. I have finally taken my beloved instrument up again, after we closed and sold the bookstore. There was nowhere to keep my harp in the shop where it was out of the case and safe. People mean well, but no one can resist plucking a harp string when it’s sitting out. And our basement apartment was not a good climate. So it waited–until now. Now it sits in our library, atop its box, happy, healthy, and played every day. Having a good time with that, I am.

I’m not resolving to lose more weight. Since being diagnosed as pre-diabetic, I’ve lost 11 pounds. Goal: 7 more. It has taken me a year and a half to lose those 11, but they have not come back. Slow loss is permanent loss, and built into our lifestyle now. Substituting cauliflower for rice, zucchini for wheat, and sweet potatoes for those moments when nothing but a potato will do, I have come this far with God and His better vegetables’ help. I don’t understand how a potato can be a whole food, a vegetable, easy to grow, and super-cheap to buy, all while being so freaking bad for us. Sigh…. But I have learned to make them treats rather than staples. All of that to say, it’s a journey that will never end, experimenting with tasty ways to eat wisely and still have fun.

This is one of those places where life is unfair in my favor, though; it’s fun for me because I can afford to buy the kinds of food that are good for us. It’s hard work staying away from corn syrup without blowing a budget. God bless and stretch grocery dollars for everyone trying to do the same on a tight salary. And remember: zucchini is cheap and not hard to make into noodles. Cauliflower I’ve never seen cheaper than $2.29 per head, sadly.

I have one more resolution, but I’m not telling anybody what it is. If it works out, I’ll let you know. :]

What are your resolutions this year?


Filed under humor, Life reflections, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch