Tag Archives: High Knob

How soon unaccountable

starsLast night Jack and I sang for the St. Patrick’s Day event at the Fox House, home of another author who lived in Big Stone Gap. I wandered into his study before the event, feeling for a vibe. Didn’t really get one, but the house was full of people drinking green beer, so contemplation might not have been a good goal at that moment. But it was a lovely gig, a strong community pulling together, singing harmonies to the choruses, all sweetness and Picardy Thirds.

Walking home afterward, I realized how clear the night sky was–no moon, no clouds, every star hanging as if 12 feet above our heads. Back at the bookstore I dropped off my harp and hopped into our car to make for the reservoir, where there are no city lights whatsoever.

It was a strange drive. That’s not a road I’m very familiar with and it is full of hairpin curves up a wooded mountain. In the headlights, trees, a passing deer, even the road itself, were all monochrome pale black against the dark. The headlights barely cut into the next curve, and every time I swung the car I saw another row of those ghostly grey trees, hedging me in. A bit eerie. One starts to think about motor trouble and men with knives and rabid things in the woods…..

It began to feel foolish, this solo drive up a mountain on a fool’s errand. I pulled into the reservoir, hoping for enough clear space to see the night sky, turned off the headlights, cut the motor–

–and the stars came flooding in, past the windscreen, right past my eyes as though they wanted inside of me. Thousands of them. Constellations I’ve known since a child and many more I didn’t, all dancing together the instant the lights went out. Just like that.

It’s amazing how quickly some things change. All the turns in the road, the guardians at the gate, the grey washed-out things, they disappear. And there you are with all that glorious hidden brilliance suddenly in front of you, so bold and bright and beautiful you’re amazed you didn’t see it before. That you doubted it was there.

I love watching the night sky. It gives that combined feeling of confidence in the hands of a God who knows you, and humility at being a very small part of a Big Thing. You’re not the center of the dance, but you get to be in it. And whether you see a thing–the night sky, a pattern, a plan–or not doesn’t change its being there.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Wendy Welch

The Whalen-Specific Wise County Bookslinger Lexicon Quick Reference Guide

As many people know, we’ve got our bookshopsitter in place for Sept. 20-Nov. 20. Andrew Whalen, coming down from NYC, seems sensible and unflappable, so he should do fine–despite the best efforts of those offering to take him Squatch hunting, or help him scoop out the outhouse. (If you haven’t seen the blog post from two days ago, showing the Facebook comments welcoming him to town, well, go have a look.)

Still, there are things a city lad needs to know when arriving in Far Southwest Virginia, so with the help of a few friends, Jack and I have created the “Whalen-Specific Wise County Bookslinger Lexicon Quick Reference Guide,” to help him with terms that might be useful or used in the bookstore. Here are a few entries:

Rasslin: this is not a craft material. It’s that sport on television, the one many think is fixed. And it will come up in the bookstore, believe me. On Tuesday past, Garth, one of the town councilors, sat at our table outlining a plan for female mud rasslin to fundraise badly-needed equipment at the firehouse. Unfortunately, prudes stand in the way of progress…

Memaw/Mamaw: family-specific terms for the paternal and maternal grandmother. Problem is, which is which switches with each family. Don’t be afraid to ask. Just don’t smile when either term is used, or you will lose major points.

Woodbooger: {sigh} A documentary done for Discovery Channel attempted to discover if Sasquatch really lurked in our mountain woodlands. Apparently a few amateur photographers had once filmed a shadowy creature covered in hair skulking near a lake. (My friend Kathy holds an opinion shared by many: it was just a local guy fishing with his shirt off.)

While filming, a couple of the crew members allegedly referred to Wise Countians as less educated than some, less willing than others to be educated. This did not go over well. They also persisted in using outdated colloquialisms, including “booger,” a term for a ghost. So according to the film crew that wasn’t from here, Woodbooger is how Southwest Virginians refer to the Sasquatch that fills our every waking thought.

During the documentary, local men “helping” the crew held up some shelf fungus and explained with great solemnity that this was “Squatch snot,” aka a “woodbooger” and from there it just got silly. What is it with men and body effluvium, anyway? Now local stores sell shellacked pieces of wood knots called “woodboogers.” You can pick one up almost anywhere. (Just wash your hands afterward.)

Abuvyeraysen: As in “don’t get above your raising.” This is a gentle warning shot across the bow, delivered only to someone the local person thinks redeemable from snobbery, to knock off whatever one is doing or saying. The next verbal sally will be something along the lines of “shootfire, if’n we bought ‘im for what he was worth, an’ sold ‘im for what he thinks he’d fetch, we’d be bazillionairres!” By then it is too late; you will not be asked to join the hunting party, civic club, or fundraising committee. In female parlance, “shootfire” is often replaced with “nice” as in, “Well, ain’t you the just nicest li’l thing.” Translation: your life in this town is over.

Bless your heart: Eff you. (Please note; this one can be tricky. If the person is speaking to you about someone else and blesses his/her heart, it becomes a “get out of jail” card for trashing the gossipee. It only means eff you when spoken directly to you.)

We hope this simple guide will help not only Andrew, but others interested in the small town simplicity of our bookstore, to understand and enjoy the idyllic rural setting of our beloved Coalfields. Remember, Andrew will be blogging every Wednesday about his experiences. He arrives next Wednesday 19th, so we’ll get him settled in and start his guest blog the following week. Y’all come!


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