Thursday, July 29, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Growing up in West Virginia (or anywhere in this country) - you really don't get a sense that Appalachia is a good place to live. The media, our teachers, and society in general has a tendency to try and force us to conform, to lose our accents, and give up our traditions as if they were bad habits.
I have to admit that I was once in that same frame of mind. For a brief moment of my life, I was confused and searching for my identity. I was able to glean bits and pieces from other places, but it wasn't until I returned to West Virginia and starting reading about Appalachian history and literature that I gained my true sense of place.
It had been there all along, just below the surface. Of course looking back now, it makes sense that my identity was there. Where else would it be? Certainly not in the halls of a preppy private college in Virginia. I suppose for a while I ignored it, running away from what I thought was a bad thing (as I was influenced to believe) - I was running away from what I was looking for.
But I'm finally in a good place with my heritage, thought it took me a many good year to get there. I suppose you could still find fault with this place, just as you can with any place. However I happen to like my home in the mountains.
One of my favorite poems about Appalachia is by Muriel Miller Dressler, a woman from St. Albans, WV. She originally published this in 1977, and I have an original copy signed by the author. It's one of my prized possessions. The imagery in the poem is hypnotic and intoxicating - as well as brutally honest.
By Muriel Miller Dressler
I am Appalachia. In my veins
Runs fierce mountain pride; the hill-fed streams
Of passion; and, stranger, you don’t know me!
You’ve analyzed my every move–you still
Go away shaking your head. I remain
Enigmatic. How can you find rapport with me–
You, who never stood in the bowels of hell,
Never felt a mountain shake and open its jaws
To partake of human sacrifice?
You, who never stood on a high mountain
Watching the sun unwind its spiral rays:
Who never searched the glens for wild flowers,
Never picked mayapples or black walnuts; never ran
Wildly through the woods in pure delight,
Nor dangled your feet in a lazy creek?
You, who never danced to wild sweet notes,
Outpouring of nimble-fingered fiddlers;
Who never just “sat a spell,” on a porch,
Chewing and whittling; or hearing in pastime
The deep-throated bay of chasing hounds
And hunters shouting with joy, “He’s treed!”
You, who never once carried a coffin
To a family plot high up on a ridge
Because mountain folk know it’s best to lie
Where breezes from the hills whisper, “You’re home”;
You, who never saw from the valley that graves on a hill
Bring easement of pain to those below?
I tell you, stranger, hill folk know
What life is all about; they don’t need pills
To tranquilize the sorrow and joy of living.
I am Appalachia: and, stranger,
Though you’ve studied me, you still don’t know.
This poem is still in print in the collection: Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry 1950-1999 published by Publishers Place, Inc., 2000.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The second building to be built on the WVU campus was the one above - Woodburn Hall. The first was Martin Hall, which stands to it's left in the above picture. Woodburn Hall has several stories - and a clock tower that is at the center of one of them.
In the early years of the school, some of the students from the agriculture department decided to pull a prank on the campus, which has lived on (a la FDR) in infamy -
As the story goes, some of the students from the agriculture department stole a cow from the WVU farm, and led the poor thing up into the top of the Woodburn Hall bell tower. Now it is a well-known fact that cows will climb stairs, but will not climb back down them.
Once the cow was in the bell tower, it proceeded to moo and beller like there was no tomorrow - and caused no end of bemusement to the campus's students, staff, and faculty. Not knowing what to do, they spent several hours trying to remove the unfortunate cow from the bell tower without success.
Finally, the decision was made to kill the poor animal, and it's carcass was divided up and brought down out of the bell tower in this manner.
It is unknown what became of the students who pulled this horrible prank - or what was done with the cow after its demise in the bell tower. However, many people who have visited Woodburn Hall have told stories about hearing the poor unfortunate cow's ghost in the bell tower, still mooing and bellering, trying to get out of a dire situation.
So the next time you visit West Virginia University, keep your eyes (and ears) open - you just might hear the sound of WVU's most vocal ghost - the Woodburn Hall Cow.
Monday, July 19, 2010
The house we lived in was above the natural spring about a hundred feet, just past the fence and gate where the timber rattlers sat coiled on the rocks. They had bodies sometimes ten feet long and heads the size of a man's fist. The house had no running water, except when it rained, and then it came pouring through the kitchen ceiling. On drier days my mother and Aunt Tam, who lived with us, would carry water up the hill from the crick below the house.
There was a giant apple tree in the backyard that my brother and I played under with our dogs, Boney and her puppies. Mom said we often had more fleas than the dogs, but when you're 4 and 3 years old you don't notice. There was also an old cellar that I didn't like to go into because there were giant spiders and snakes inside it, and an outhouse no one would use because it was full of giant black centipedes.
It sounds rather hellish, and in some ways it was not ideal. Like most places though, we made it our home with creativity and talent - and one thing we did have was a beautiful garden. Rows and rows of corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers - all to be harvested in their time and canned for winter. The fence around the garden was as run down and old as the house, but my father and his brothers had fixed it up the best they could to keep the neighbor's cows out of it. It worked, mostly.
One specific memory I have is when my brother and I were playing under the front porch of the house (it was built high because of the slant of the hillside, so there was room under it for us to play in the dirt). We were having a high old time, when we suddenly heard my mother screaming and yelling cuss words like a drunken sailor. We ran around the corner of the house, and there was Mom running out into the garden. Apparently the neighbor's bull had broken through the fence and was eating the beans.
But there went my mother, potato masher in hand (she'd been making mashed potatoes for dinner) into the garden screaming and cussing that bull. Of course the bull didn't pay any attention to her yelling and cussin', but he sure did notice when Mom whacked him across the rear with that potato masher!
With a beller and a snort, that bull ran out of the garden, with Mom still chasing and cussin' him. It was a true David and Goliath moment. She'd saved the garden - and the fence was fixed later that evening where the bull had broken in. I asked why Aunt Tam didn't help Mom chase out the bull, and that was when I found out about my aunt's cow phobia. And still I ask, "Why would anyone be afraid of a cow?"
I'm not sure what happened to the original, but years ago I bought myself a similar potato masher that I keep in my home office/library. The picture above shows what it looked like. You might expect that to be in my kitchen, but I think it fits better among the books - because it too is carrying one heck of a good story!
Sunday, July 18, 2010
This is how it was - a white box with cabinets up WAY too high on the wall, a non-functional pass through (except for the cats - they loved being able to jump across the sink). The cabinets were also worn out - the sink cabinet came out in pieces - and not because it was ripped out menacingly. It was that bad! Also, notice the WHITE laminate floor which showed every speck of dirt, the ugly bathroom tile sheet glued to the wall, and the cherry on the cake was the institutional drop ceiling complete with flourescent light fixture.
So we ripped it all out - everything left the room except the stove! Even the refrigerator was in the dining room for a while. A lot of mess and a lot of work - but totally worth it. Above you can see the paint color that was chosen originally. It was a disaster - it was supposed to be a Tuscan terra cotta, and it turned out to be more of an NBA basketball. Live and learn - I got a better color later.
Remember the passthrough? These are photos of it's demise. It got framed out and drywalled. Please keep in mind that we are doing this ourselves - there was no contractor on this job!
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Here are some photos of the summer so far, since it's flying by so fast - and like a Monday it will be Autumn before you know it! These are all things that I've done/seen so far this summer but have not had time to write about.
The gatehouse of Berkeley Castle in Berkeley Springs, WV.
South Mill Creek Lake in Grant County near Dorcas, WV.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Hello again! It's the height of summer and the July heat is baking the world to a crisp! At least, it is here in Morgantown. My garden has been getting regular waterings, but the cucumbers have fried on the vine - its that hot!
Prior to this heatwave, I did manage to get a few projects done outside - and this is one of them! I had wanted a patio with a firepit in the backyard since I bought the house, and now I have one!
The bricks for the firepit came from the old chimney that I tore out of the kitchen - it was only a shaft of brick in the wall, not decorative or functional. The rocks for the wall came from a friend's property near town, and the pea gravel came from Lowe's. The big concrete slabs were already there, just overgrown with grass and covered in black gunk - it may have been mildew. But now its been weeded and power washed.
We've already had the inagural marshmallow roast and bonfire, and it works great. I even got patio furniture - something I've NEVER had in my life - and a grill. The green plastic chairs functioned well for a while, but now they are starting to crack and sag, so I replaced them with chairs I found for $20 and a table that was given to me by a friend. I painted it all to match, and you can't tell it's not a set.
However, until this heat and humidity subside, the backyard activities are on hold except for watering plants and short trips. This heat is insane!