Tag Archives: education

Mr. Smith Goes to Big Stone Gap

In Jack’s weekly blog, he announces his intention of making the world a better place. Or a certain part of it, anyway.

Small towns are amazing places at times, and this one is no exception.

On Saturday morning our good friend Gary (who appears in Wendy’s book under another name) reminded me that I’d been talking about possibly running for a place on our Town Council. That meant gathering the necessary forms and getting at least 125 signatures of registered voters resident in the town to support my application.

Now please recall that this conversation took place in our bookstore about 5:30 pm. At Church next morning at 11, one of our congregation congratulated me on running! Then on Tuesday, when Wendy went to the County courthouse to get the forms, the lady there said “we’ve been expecting you”. No need for the Internet around here when the jungle drums are alive and well.

So now I have three weeks or so to get those signatures and there’s really only one way to make sure they are really resident in town – knock on doors. Because when I trailed around local offices and businesses on Wednesday I was surprised by how few of the people who work here actually live here.

One difference between Scotland and the US when it comes to local democracy concerns party allegiance. In Scotland, even at town level, folk stand on a party ticket and follow the party ‘line’. But, unless I’m much mistaken local democracy here is much more about individuals, and that seems healthy to me.

So – I need to have a ‘platform’! Fittingly enough, I announced mine on Facebook – “I’m not a member of any political party, I’m a good listener, I want BSG to be ready to welcome visitors with something to see and do when the movie comes out, I support local businesses, I am an advocate of lifelong learning and education. How can I not do all in my power to support and represent the citizens of this town who stood beside me in the courthouse and cheered me on as I became a US Citizen?”

I remember the day I became an US Citizen, when every single official there encouraged us ‘newbies’ to become involved in the democratic process. I’m following their advice! And I’m offering a willingness to hear the concerns of the town residents (whether they vote for me or not); a desire to support any initiative that will make the town a place to visit and spend time in; an understanding of the issues that concern the owners of a small business; and over twenty years as a college professor who believes passionately in the value of education.

Plus shortbread for everyone. :] That’s my platform, and I’m standing on it.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Comfort Food

liberian foodI’m in Richmond for a few days to advocate for Coalfields Appalachia. Introvert that I am, trekking up and down the Halls of Power leaves me whacked.

I totally understand how important it is to know, respect, and talk with your legislators, particularly about things that can help your community: roads, school policies that play fair, healthcare access to close a coverage gap. Witness West Virginia; eyes might not have looked the other way, balls might not have been allowed to drop, and the blame game might not now be flowing faster than poisonous water.

So I’m not a cynic about the process of democracy–although when one of the legislative aides I know well winked and said, “Time to make the sausages,” we both cracked up. You know the famous quote, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”

It’s not cynicism that leaves me exhausted, but introvertism. (Is that a word?) I’m shy, and advocacy is important, so I do it. At each desk, the secretary asks which axe you’re grinding and the legislative aide wonders what you want; you smile and tell them, shake hands, move on. Smile some more. Once a Senator’s aide could be heard through the wall, saying in an exasperated voice to the secretary, “Well, just find out what she wants and tell her we’ll support it.” I get it, sweet child; it’s a hard job, dealing with people coming all day with their hands out. It’s a hard job, spending the day with our hands out. As one does one’s spiel and watches others do theirs, the place feels like a food warehouse with a thousand hungry people storming it.

Having spent the morning doing what feels vital rather than natural, I went out at lunchtime to recharge. Several restaurants nearby serve everything from barbeque to Middle Eastern lunches. A Liberian diner? Yes, please.  Stepping into the tiny “Africanne on Main,” I beheld a steam table laden with Cassava Leaf  and Smoked Trout and Oxtail Soup. The concept was simple; take what you want, $6.99 per pound. Behind me in the payment line waited a man with skin the color of caramel, salt-and-pepper dreadlocks reaching past his knees. When I turned, we almost collided; I smiled and apologized; he smiled and released my elbow where his hand had steadied my plate.

The meal proved delicious, fresh, hot, and calming (despite its fiery peppers). As I sat enjoying my out-of-the-comfort-zone comfort food, the First Lady spoke from the diner’s TV, rolling out an initiative to help disadvantaged students enter colleges. I thought of my morning in the Halls of Power, of the number of needy people in the Coalfields and other rural places who would honestly give back if given a chance, of the obstacles standing between them and a fair shot. And it felt like swimming upstream, to go back to the Halls of Power and ask, again and again, humbly with my hand out, for help for a whole bunch of people who wanted to give back, if only they could be given to.

And the man from the food line appeared at my table.  Without preamble, he said, “Hi, I just wanna say, in this era of school shootings and people on the make, with all that’s happening in the world, when I see someone with a warm, genuine spirit, I like to say, ‘hey, good for you, someone gets it.’ You have a great day.” And before I could swallow to speak, he was out the door.

Sir, you have no idea how much better you made my day. I flew back to the Halls of Power on wings of golden light because of you.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA