Almost heaven – Webster Springs, WV, pt 2

Continuing where I left off, some other memories of my mother’s hometown:

The drive to Webster Springs from Columbus always seemed to take forever – even more so when you’re a child, because your brain isn’t developed enough to occupy itself with other things without solid objects, like a coloring book.  The earliest trips I remember it took nearly 8 hours to get there before the freeways were completed, but after that it usually took 6 hours.  Most trips were on the weekend, leaving around 5:30 PM when my dad would get off work.  I would usually last long enough to drive by downtown Charleston and admire the capital building with its beautiful dome, and then I’d fall asleep until we pulled up to the house.

My grandfather had a small farm below the house, with a barn and an old tractor.  Some of me earliest special memories are of riding with him on that tractor, and him letting me steer a little.  He usually kept a cow and a calf for milk and to raise for beef, and my grandmother was always canning vegetables they harvested.

I developed a love for reading at an early age, so my grandmother would go through the closets for books they’d had for years.  I read my first Hardy Boys mystery there, and years later I was able to find and purchase some books on eBay that I remembered my grandmother letting me read.

There was an old ponderosa pine tree in the “front yard” of the house.  When I was eight, I discovered I could finally reach the bottom branch, and was able to pull myself up.  The next year I had grown tall enough to reach the higher branches, and I learned a “path”, or sequence of branches to climb in order to reach a particular spot where the branches formed a little sitting area.  I’d take a comic book up there, read, and listen to the breeze and sounds going thru the mountains.

One year, I think it was 1966, we made our only Christmas trip to WV.  We left Columbus on the afternoon of Christmas Day after unwrapping gifts in the morning.  We stayed overnight at my aunt and uncle’s house in Charleston, then woke up to snow.  That was back in the day when tires almost always needed snow chains, and my dad had them put on at the first gas station we came to.  It snowed harder as we drove, and by the time we got to the Miller Mountain road turnoff, the snow was four feet deep on the mountain road.  My dad drove the car about 100 feet before it stopped because the bumpers couldn’t clear the snow.   My father carried my sister who was two at the time, and he and Mom and I hiked up that mountain road, trying to forge a path thru the snow.  I was cold, tired, and hungry.  My clothes were soaked, my feet and hands were numb, maybe the worst hour of my young life, and I was miserable and in tears when we got to my grandparents house.  The quickly put me in some dry clothes and sat me in front the big coal stove in the living room with a cup of hot chocolate until I thawed out.  My father wasn’t able to retrieve our car for about three days until the plows finally made it up the mountain road to clear it.

Since I couldn’t easily visit my cousins – would have needed my father to drive me – most of the time I went out on the mountain road in front of the house and threw rocks.  The road was gravel, so I had plenty of rocks over the years to throw.  Hey, it passed the time.

My grandparents always had some dogs and cats around.  The two earliest dogs I remember were Bucky and Billy, and I loved those names.  Billy died when I was about seven, but Bucky lived another five years or so.  He had red hair and collie features, but was smaller.  After Billy died, Grandpa got a dog that was “part German Shepherd, part bear”, as he told us. His name was Ted, and he was a serious watchdog.  Bucky was a house dog, but Ted lived outside in a special house made from an old barrel, and was kept on a long chain while outside.  Ted was very friendly to me, because he knew me, but if anyone else dared walk up to the house or drive by, he would let you know in a hurry.  He could be a fearsome dog if you didn’t know him, and my uncles took him with them hunting several times as protection from bears or bobcats.

I even caught a tick in WV once.  I was about ten years old, and had just gotten a very short buzz haircut, which I didn’t like.  One morning I got up and staggered into the kitchen, half-asleep with my head down while my grandmother got me a bowl of cereal.  My mother noticed something on the top of my head, and found it was a tick.  She told me not to move, and I just remember sitting there, not quite awake, while she and Grandma got the tick off successfully.

Visiting my WV relatives on a regular basis was a stark reminder that life on the mountain in Webster Springs was no picnic, and was even harder when my mother was young.  But I came to appreciate the unspoiled beauty of the land, and to appreciate the memories and experience I’ve had there.

My grandfather passed away suddenly in April 1970.  He had a few health issues, and filed his retirement papers with Social Security when a heart attack took him.  It was the first time I saw my mother cry.  I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that the man who sat in his special rocking chair in the living room each night, with thick forearms and a chaw in his cheek, would not be there any more to sit in that rocking chair without a smile before giving me a little wink and a twinkle in his eye.

After the funeral, I claimed that rocking chair as my personal spot for the rest of the week, and made sure I spent time in it whenever we visited afterward.  I would close my eyes and picture myself in Grandpa’s lap, rocking slowly.

My grandmother lived another 17 years afterward.  Sadly, shortly before she passed away in a nursing home, the family house on the mountain was burned to the ground in 1986 by arsonists who did it for the thrill.  Unfortunately, my relatives in the area had not had time toremove things from the house when my grandma went into the nursing home.  There were some antiques, hunting rifles, pictures, and old foot-treadle sewing machine – and of course, the books I had always treasured when I went there.

I made my first trip to WV on my own in October 1987, while on a white-water rafting trip on the Gauley River.  At the end of the trip, on the way home I swung by Webster Springs, drove my car up the mountain, and stopped in front of the old homestead.  It had been 12 years since I was last there on a weekend trip, and the only thing to greet me this time was a pile of ashes and rubble where the house had been.  The old tree I’d learned to climb as a child was badly scorched and some of the climbing branches were gone. The concrete porches in the front were still there, and I gingerly made my way down the path and walked around where the house had stood.  Something caught my eye – I reached down and pulled out the wrought-iron treadle and belt wheel from the old sewing machine.  For some reason, it was important to me to pull it out and take it home as a more permanent memory of my childhood.

Thirty years later, those memories are still with me, and I hope I never lose them

How about you readers?  Have you saved something as a memory from your past  that is important to you?  Something nobody else would find significant except yourself?  What souvenir or memento from the past would you like to have if you could obtain it?  You’re welcome to share, just click on the “Leave A Comment” link at the top and share your thoughts.

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I hope you all had a safe and pleasant Independence Day holiday.  My wife and I did something a little different this year – we took a working train from the town of Nelsonville OH and rode it to Hocking Technical College for the annual fireworks display called “Thunder In The Valley”.  It was an old-fashioned display, with four guys carrying flares walking around and setting off the mortar tubes.  Reminded me a lot of our neighborhood celebrations in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

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