Almost heaven – Webster Springs, WV, pt 1

A recent trip my wife and I made to Huntington WV for a cousin’s daughter’s high school graduation party gave me pause, because I hadn’t visited West Virginia in the last 10 or 15 years except to attend two of my cousins’ weddings.  And that made me realize I hadn’t visited my mother’s birthplace of Webster Springs for over 20 years.  That area, and the house she grew up in are part of what make my memories special.

Mom grew up on Miller Mountain in Webster Springs.  She was the second-oldest of 8 children, and also the second to leave home and make her way into the world.  I remember her two youngest brother and her two sisters (also younger) were living with my grandparents in their family home from as far back as I can remember, probably around 1961.  Her sisters married and moved out in the next year or two, and the brothers did the same around 1968.

Their house was humble and rustic, built on the side of the mountain structure, with no plumbing.  An old-fashioned outside well gave them water, and an outhouse provided the necessary facilities.  The weather was hot in the summer, with the mountain breezes helped somewhat.  The winters, however, were brutally cold with heavy snowfall, with only a coal stove in the living room for heat and a wood-burning stove in the kitchen to cook with and also heat the kitchen.  They did have five bedrooms, after my grandfather enclosed a back porch to build an extra bedroom when the last two sons were born.

Mom came from the Miller family on her mother Nellie’s side, which had many descendants and branches in Webster County where Webster Springs was located.  My great-uncle Sampson Miller, who I remember visiting several times, was a local educator and historian, and wrote a book called “The Annals Of Webster County”, which included a large genealogy of the Miller family, and even included me and my sister’s name.  That was a bit of a thrill to see my name in a book and know it was me.

My grandfather French Carpenter, who I got my middle name from, also owned 21 acres of property on Miller Mountain (dirt cheap back then), which included the family home and farm on the low side of the mountain road, and also included wooded areas on the high side of the road.  His parents Ballard and Allie (Pugh) Carpenter were still alive at my birth.  Ballard was a ruggedly handsome man who looked like he might have been a character actor on TV.  I don’t have a clear memory of him, he died before I turned 3, but my parents said I liked my great-grandfather and would always pat his knee to be picked up, and that he enjoyed nothing better than holding me and hearing me laugh.

I do remember visiting my great-grandmother several times, and that she was very hard-of-hearing.  Mostly I sat there quietly on visits, but once in a while she would turn to me and speak, and my parents would have to remind me to shout so she could hear me.  She had white hair fixed in an old-fashioned conservative hair-net, and had very prominent facial features, quite different than most of my relatives.  When I finally saw a picture of her in her mid-30’s with very dark and long hair, it dawned on me that she might have Native American blood in her ancestry.  I’m not sure if that’s definitely the case, but it was something to think about.

The winding trip up and down the mountain road, and another winding and treacherous stretch of county road to get to downtown are etched into my memory banks.  Downtown Webster Spring is partly flat – actually, part of it was on an “island” created by the Elk River splitting and creating “Bakers island”, while the other part of downtown Webster is on the side of a hill.

My grandfather managed the Texaco gas station on Bakers Island.  Dad would always stop there when going downtown, and I would always come inside and sit on a tree stump that was used as a “chair” and also to keep the door propped open.  Grandpa would usually get me bag of potato chips, and I would sit there and watch him gas up cars, check their oil, and clean their windshields.

My grandfather had to retire suddenly in late 1969 due to a heart attack, and then passed away in early 1970 from another one.  After that, it was like that Texaco station became a stranger to me, because I didn’t know the owners or workers, and I know longer felt like I “belonged” to it.

I traveled to Webster Springs on my own twice in my late 20’s, both in conjunction with white-water rafting trips.  On the second trip in 1988, I came in early, went downtown to the old gas station to fill up my car (self-service by now), and tried to picture the old office inside with my grandfather standing there, his brown muscular forearms bulging out his shirt sleeves, a chaw of tobacco in his cheek and a twinkle in his eye.  But I couldn’t do it, and the magic that place held for me had been long gone.  And now someone had built a small diner attached to the building the gas station was in.   I remember going in to have lunch, sitting there for a long time, thinking ……….

On my next post, I’ll tell you a bit more about what makes Webster Springs so special to me.  And later, I’ll talk about the other half of my ancestry and the Polish neighborhoods of Buffalo, NY.

How about you readers?  What childhood family towns are important to you or made a huge impact in your life.  You’re welcome to share, just click on the “Leave A Comment” link at the top and share your thoughts.

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What’s going on with me right now?  It’s the last week of June, and I still haven’t landed my first job on, but I’m optimistic.  I’ve talked with a few local colleagues one-on-one, and they’ve given me some insights on how to tweak my auditions, and I’m getting some better feedback on “listens”, “likes”, and “demo listens”.

I haven’t played drums in the last 4 or 5 months, have been depressed about the lack of progress.  However, like doing voiceover, sometimes you need to go back and work with an instructor.  After watching some new and exciting local groups recently in the smooth jazz, funk, and blues styles, I’ve reached out to one of the top Columbus drummers who does a lot of work in those styles, and will be taking lessons from him starting July.  Can’t wait.  My passion to play drums isn’t greater than that of doing voiceover, but let’s just say it is a very, very close second.  VERY close.

That’s all for now.  May you enjoy these long days of summer, may your memories always take you back to pleasant times, and may you always keep your best voice forward.  Take care.


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