Tag Archives: dogs

It’s Not as Bad as it Sounds, Haggis…

Fair fa yir honest, sonsy face – – (beautiful is your plain but healthy face; Ode to a Haggis)

haggisEvery year around Jan. 25 we host our bookstore Burns Supper. Robert Burns is, of course Scotland’s National poet/songwriter and our bookstore is a kind of local Scottish consulate so…

Our haggis was piped in – loudly – by Randy Stanley, Wise County’s resident piper. We always wonder what the neighbors think, because despite the frigid temperatures just now, we throw open the windows to let the sound out–and because 25 people in our upstairs cafe really turns up the body heat. The sound of the Great Pipes wafted out across the snow–and every dog within earshot began howling. We love bringing these special moments of cultural celebration to the town.

Besides pipes, an absolute necessity is a haggis – the subject of an address written by Burns. Finding a haggis in the US used to be a problem, so this year ours came from New Jersey. Haggis, for those of you unfamiliar with the substance, is sheep intestines stuffed with oats, minced bits of the rest of the sheep, and spices. The more it tastes like liver, the better.

If you’d like to see the piping in of the haggis or hear Jack recite the Ode, both are on our bookstore’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tales-of-The-Lonesome-Pine-LLC/166114776736491?ref=hl

Our excellent chef, Kelley, came up with what attendees probably saw as the counterbalance to the Haggis; she made perfect champit tatties and bashed neeps. And Jack contributed his homemade scotch pies and Cranachan. (Google it; just try not to lick the screen when you see what’s in it.)

Burns Nights have presentations that must take place at them. One of these is The Immortal Memory, a brief description of Burns’ life, mostly trying to reconcile the ying and yang of his incredible poetry celebrating women, and his devious usury of them in real life. This year’s Immortal Memory was for the first time in our bookstore’s history delivered by an Englishman, Donald Leech. (And Donald said afterward it was his first Burns Supper, so kudos to him for a lovely job.)  The Toast to the Lasses (which Jack gave) was  Responded to by Susan Hamrick–those of you who are on Clan Hazel will recognize that name, and the Grande Dame sent salutations to the assembly.

And we enjoyed local singer Rita Quillen making her debut as a soloist. Rita normally accompanies other performers, but she gave a lovely rendition of Lea Rig. Rita will also debut in another way next month when her first novel, Hiding Ezra, comes out. https://www.facebook.com/ritaquillenhidingezra

The evening was a mixture of laughter and poking at the haggis and licking the Cranachan bowls clean and cracking jokes and enjoying music that would have delighted Rabbie Burns. In the packed-out cafe with the windows flung open and the sky darkening with snow outside, it was a lovely, warm night.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

The Parade of Characters

On Wednesday of our great book extravaganza, we made our way to Winchester. The sum total of my knowledge about Winchester, VA prior to this was its historic architecture, cool pedestrian mall, and sweet little bookshop in the corner: Winchester Book Gallery.

I wandered into the Book Gallery last year during a break in some very fun ethnographic interviewing I did as a subcontractor. Sometimes I serve as a hired gun for conducting interviews about rural living in Appalachia for various universities. It’s great work if you can get it, bopping across the state staying in small motels, seeing stuff you’d never otherwise see, meeting the most incredible people and getting them to tell you interesting things about how they do business.

That’s how I discovered Winchester. And in its Book Gallery, already utterly charmed by the downtown district, I found shop owner Christine to be charming in and of herself. Such a put-you-at-your-ease type was she, when she asked, “What brings you to the bookstore?” I blurted out, “I wrote a book about bookstores and I love to visit them” while continuing my wide-eyed stare at her carefully curated collection.

“What’s your name?” she asked. When I told her, she astounded me by saying, “Oh, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” It turns out that Christine is not only vivacious and charming, but on the ball. She has a google search feed that keeps up with news items about small bookshops in the States. We decided to have a book signing there once the book was launched, and that day came Wednesday past.

At 5 pm I was ensconced at a big desk covered—absolutely covered—with copies of Little Bookstore, while Jack sat beside me strumming guitar. This wasn’t a planned event, but a “come by and meet the author” kind of night. Thus began what Jack and I now call The Parade of Characters:

An older man who was—of course—an ex-pat Big Stone Gapper. He regaled us with stories of what had been done in the judge’s hunting cabin in their youth, and other tales of Old Family laundry, not laundered. We were splitting our sides laughing—and you note that I’m not using names here. This guy knows a lot. I’m surprised he’s still alive, and delighted that he comes back every August for a big ol’ party—to which we have now been invited. That will be a hoot. But I probably won’t be allowed to write about it.

Two round women, slow of speech, soft of voice. “Special needs” is a label that imposes assumptions, so let’s just say they were hoping to open a bookstore up in Maryland. They had, in fact, traveled down expressely to talk to me about this. Oh dear sweet lambs, do not go gently to the slaughter. I wanted to bundle them up in warm coats (the day was cold and they were wearing only sweatshirts) and warn them off their intended trajectory. But I also didn’t want to crush anything that was making them happy, so we chatted amiably about start-up costs and how to shelve books until their driver came to collect them. Be well, dear children, and don’t let anyone lead you astray. I still feel protective of those two.

An Alec Baldwin look-alike entered with his wife, she making a bee-line for the upstairs mystery section, he clearly killing time. When he realized an author was sitting there hawking her book, he tried politely to avoid eye contact with me. But my husband had a copy of the People Magazine article (Oct. 22 issue!) that included Little Bookstore as a “great read.” Alec saw that, picked up a book, and said, “My sister is hard to buy for. But she likes these things.” (I think he meant books.) Whatever; I sold him one.

A man walking three Labradors. (Winchester Book Gallery is dog-friendly.) “I saw the sign,” he said. “Big Stone Gap, in SW VA?” I assured him yes, and he said, “We were just there, at the June Tolliver house and the open air theatre.” A few moments more of conversation, dogs straining at the leash–apparently they had decided en masse they wanted to buy the latest J.K. Rowling–and we realized that not only had this man and his wife visited our street last month, they had parked outside the bookstore–but not come in.

“Hmmph,” I said, and the man, probably out of guilt, bought one of my books. The dogs never got their Rowling.

A lady with dreadlocks. She fell into the shop, towed by a dog that looked like a cross between a Newfoundlander and an Irish wolfhound, in a word: big. The dog came straight for Christine, who bent and wrapped her arms around it. I hoped it was a hug rather than a last resort.

“This is XNVOUFER,” she said, her head buried in his fur. “He comes in every day to get socialized to become a service dog.” XNVOUFER (I swear that’s what it sounded like) licked Christine on the head, then trotted over to browse the history section.

Last through the door came a woman wearing a puffy green jacket, followed by a man wearing a puffy black jacket and a small child of indeterminate gender wearing a puffy pink jacket (social norms suggest but do not verify, and by this point in the evening I was taking nothing for granted). They wandered around, avoiding me, until the woman accidentally bumped the table.

“Oh,” she said, finding herself cheek to cheek with an author. “What’s your book about?”

I launched into my elevator speech description: my husband and I opened a used books store and the book described that in particular but life in general, discussing how to rebuild dreams and live to the fullest without letting anyone else dictate what will work and what won’t.

“Mmm.” She stared at me a moment, then asked, “So your bookstore, it’s still operating?”


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, VA

Criminals with Cold Noses

Jack and Wendy will spend today driving and look forward to blogging about their latest bookshop stop tomorrow. Meanwhile, Shopsitter Andrew Whalen bravely staffs the bookstore back in Big Stone Gap despite several obstacles – most of them fuzzy….

I’m not sure that dogs love pizza. But I can say for certain that any box that shows up at the door and smells like food is cause for great excitement in the bookstore. After eating as much as I could stomach I thought to bestow my generosity upon the crazed beasts. A few bits of crust and they seemed content.

The reality was a bit different. Like royalty hurling bread-crumbs to peasants with one hand while biting into a turkey leg clutched in the other, my generosity was a stingy and unpleasant thing to witness. The cats weren’t too interested in pizza, but cats are always interested in passing judgment. And under the disapproving eyes of Beulah, I felt a little bad.

Still, a king has his divine right. And I had my slices. My sweet, sweet breakfast slices. Too bad I also have deep-seated beliefs about the proper treatment of old pizza. You see, I don’t think pizza should ever be treated like left-overs. It’s not legitimate food to be dutifully filed away in tupperware. It should be left out to congeal and get a little gross. Pepperoni is best curled up and dry at the edges. Grease tastes better in slimy pools. Cheese should be allowed to form flavor-rubber. If you’re not risking minor food poisoning when eating your cold pizza, then where’s the fun? So I left my pizza out on the countertop.

The next morning I awoke to a scene of horror. Cardboard was strewn everywhere. Nothing remained and I know there can be no justice. The guilty parties will trot about, unpunished. Even the coupon sheet was missing, no doubt so the dogs can take advantage of MY deals. I can see them now, as I write these words, relaxing together on a chair, blissful in their feigned innocence.

Criminal Masterminds of the Cold-Nose Gang

So now, even after gorging myself the night before, I feel less than content. But don’t worry. I have a plan:

Pizza King is the best pizza ever. It’s doughy hand-tossed style crust and fresh toppings make for a slice good enough to be called an experience. See Pizza King? Endorsements are the future. I’ve got this blog platform primed and ready for Pizza King tie-ins. I can see it now:

“If Heathcliff had tried Pizza King’s new boneless chicken bites Wuthering Heights would have been a whole lot happier!” 

“Sure Mark Twain’s great, but why read The Prince and the Pauper when you can order from the king of the pizza until midnight (or 1 am on weekends)?” 

“With Pizza King’s house-made sauce you’ll be seeing 50 Shades of Flavor!”

Oh, you don’t take blog endorsements in exchange for pizza? Ok then, your loss. Enjoy your fiat currency. We’ll see how far that gets you.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Staff Dog Zora Conducts Shop-sitter Orientation


Good morning: I’m Zora and I’ll be conducting your orientation training today. I should start by explaining that I’m in charge of Human Resources and will be your line manager during your time here. When I’m finished with you, scroll down to yesterday’s post where you’ll find application specifications for the shop-sitting position. I understand the humans who work here have a search going.

But first, let’s get acquainted. My management style has sometimes been described as ‘woofless’ but I would dispute that; indeed I’d say my bark is worse than my bite. As a junior member of staff, your main duties will be to attend to my needs, so you should first take note of where the treats are kept and never let them run out. There’s some stuff about books and customers as well, but you needn’t worry about that yet.

Where was I? Ah yes – my needs. As well as the treats you should fill my food bowl and water dish regularly. I think there’s something about the cats I should be telling you but that’s not important right now – except you should always make sure the cat food dishes are near enough the counter top that I can reach them.

There’s another canine manager here: my subordinate Bert. He’s the security chief. Whenever he barks you give us a treat, me first with the biggest one, of course. You might think he’d eventually stop barking if you wait long enough, but if you think that then you’re barking—barking mad!

I mentioned the cats earlier. There are three of them and the youngest is really quite cute. When he first arrived he was tiny and didn’t know how to look after himself. I soon licked him into shape! He is called Owen Meanie. Then there’s Val-Kyttie, our CEO. She’s a Scottish lady of advanced years and is on the slide towards retirement; she pretends she’s drawing up the annual forward plan, but we’ve never seen one in the six years we’ve been here. Best just to leave her alone and agree with anything she says (if you can understand her accent). Finally there’s Beulah, a unique cat indeed. She played a very important role in publicizing the bookstore when it first opened and quickly became everyone’s favorite (except for Val-Kyttie, who can’t stand her of course). It’s funny how all marketing managers end up marketing themselves!

So, I should probably tell you about your bookish duties now – no, wait, let’s just review what you’ve learned so far. Where are the treats?

(For information on applying to be our shop-sitter, please see yesterday’s blog post. To enter caption contest VI and potentially win a free copy of Wendy’s book, scroll down to August 29. And don’t forget that Big Stone Celtic, the town-wide festival celebrating all things celtic in food, song, story, dance and general merriment, is Saturday, Sept. 22.)


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Never Fear, Staff Dog Bert is Here

Hi! I’m Bert! I work here at Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books. I’m in charge of shop security.

Hey, I wonder what’s for dinner?

Oh yeah, as I was saying, I make sure that all the customers who come into the shop feel secure and happy. I’m not allowed to walk around on the shop floor because…. well, I’m not proud of this, but I guess I kind of have a reputation for running away. If the front door is open, I mean, there’s a whole world out there to explore. So many great smells… Instinct just takes over, y’know?

Speaking of smells, do you smell anything cooking? I wonder if the humans who stay here have started dinner.

There’s two humans here, a guy who knows just where to scratch, and a lady who yells a lot and says I’m an escape artist. She’s the reason I only get let out when we’re having special events, like Robert Burns Night or Celtic Christmas or a murder mystery, and everyone knows not to open the door until the event is over.

I’m actually named for Robert Burns, you know, but everyone calls me Bert because Burns was too hard to explain to people.

Burns…. do you smell anything cooking? I wonder what’s for dinner.

Anyway, I focus very hard on what needs to be done here at the shop–keeping the foster kittens in line, barking to point out sales shelves to the customers, making sure everyone who comes in fondles my ears… that type of thing. Zora – she’s the other staff dog who works here — says I have to concentrate more, but I think my powers of concentration are just fine, thank you.

Hey, has anyone said anything to you about what’s for dinner?

So come on down and visit us. We’re open Tuesday-Saturday 10-6, and if you come and visit, Zora likes the crunchy rawhides and I like the soft ones, flavored like beef.

Hmmm… beef. I wonder if that’s what’s for dinner?


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

A Message from Val-Kyttie, Bookshop CEO

Little did I think, while relaxing as a tiny kitten at the Leith home for orphan cats and dogs (that’s in Scotland) that one day I’d be in charge of the ‘Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’.

It’s a heavy responsibility to be in charge of the bookstore and I don’t take it lightly. I mean, we have 38,000 books here and so many customers! So if it sometimes looks as if I’m dozing, or even sleeping soundly, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m continually reviewing our Mission Statement and our five year plan, not to mention marketing strategies and staff training.

Did I mention the staff? There’s the humans—Wendy my catering manager and Jack the general minion and Boy Friday—plus the others.

Ah, the others….

The others are utterly useless hangers-on, complete wastes of space! Zora the black Lab was already settling in when I arrived from Scotland. She thinks she is in charge of customer relations, but she’s not – I am! Bert the Terrier seems to think he’s the security manager, but he’s not – I am! Beulah, whom everyone delights in calling a “pretty kitty,” took over customer attraction duties by sunning herself on the porch – my porch!

Just recently there’s been a positive invasion of pesky little kittens mewling and carrying on. None of them stay long, thank goodness, but as soon as one lot get the message and sling their hook, another lot arrive. Apparently the human staff are “rescuing” them. Hmmph. There is one, by the name of Owen Meany, I believe, who seems to be hanging around a bit longer. Hhhmmm –

It’s enough to drive a cat to drink!

Talking of drink, have you seen that picture of one of the pesky little critters eying up the glass of red? The one the catering manager put on here as the latest caption contest? She should have known better! Everyone knows you have white with fish and I distinctly remember I had shrimp that day. (I hope it wasn’t marinated in red).

I can think of a few short and pithy captions, but they’d probably get the catering manager banned, and she works the can opener. So scroll back to August 14, view the photo, and do your worst.

Perhaps if I have time I’ll write again about the trials and tribulations I put up with here at the bookshop. If it weren’t for me, this place would have fallen into wrack and ruin ages go. The catering manager has no idea what she’s doing, and as for that Boy Friday…. If I didn’t watch him every minute, he’d leave book boxes lying everywhere. It’s only my constant moving in and out of them that reminds him to put them away. Sometimes I have to sleep in one to get him to notice how long it’s been there. Honestly…..


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Comfort Books

I hope everyone had a safe and happy Fourth of July yesterday. Ours passed comfortably in a swelter of heat, a nice cold plate of veggies and cheese for supper, and gorgeous fireworks with friends on the lawn. (They taught my newly-American husband–a native of Scotland–to say “Oooooh” and “Aaaaaah” at the right times, and presented him with a stars-n-stripes baseball hat.)

We returned to find our neurotic younger dog Bert had chewed his way through the baby gate that keeps him from the bookshop floor, to huddle quivering under the table. Apparently, his firework reactions were less “Oooh! Aaaah” than “Nooooo! Aaaaaagh!”

In righting the destruction Bert had wrought, my mind turned to the rituals and readings we use to comfort ourselves in such situations; had Bert been able to pull his favorite children’s book off the shelf–Wind in the Willows, of course–and read it (as opposed to shred it) he might have been able to forget the noise outside and find his happy place.

I have a few “my troubles can’t get to me here” books to which I return when my heart is uneasy, my brain a hamster wheel of all-go, no-forward-motion. Let me just share five here, and then you tell me yours.

Psalms: as in Old Testament Bible. The letters in the New Testament are also pretty calming, and for those of us who believe the back story, they return the balance of seeing the Big Picture versus the immediate events of the day.

Except for Me and Thee, Jessamyn West. Such a happy story, even when it’s bittersweet. If you’ve not read this tale of a Quaker family and their daily-life silly adventures, it is funny and charming; you can feel your blood pressure dropping as you read.

Bert and I share affinity for Wind in the Willows. My two favorite parts are the visit from Pan when they find the lost otter child, and the return to Mole’s house for Christmas. This sweetness comes wrapped in warm brown fur.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Call me crazy. A friend who works in a prison says she once asked the shrinks there, who visit ax murderers and people who killed women and children, “What do you do to relax?” A lot of them watched that serial-murder TV show “Dexter,” because “as bad as it gets here, it’s not that bad.” I think The Road is like that for many of us. No matter what’s going on, it ain’t that bad.

Anything by Louise Rennison. If you’re unfamiliar with this British writer, she turns out faux diaries of a “typical” English girl’s madcap adventures in love and family. Lines like “7 pm: I shall never think of him again!” and “7:02 pm: I hate him. I shall call and tell him so” intersperse with bad hair days, deciding what to wear to those all-important dances, and other stuff that makes one laugh out loud. Rennison is hysterical.

So, I showed you mine. How about yours?


Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA