Our Current Home

Belpre May 2015

I like this place better than my wife does.

“That’s true.”  She frowned one day.  “There’s a reason I left.”

The people here look different and think different.

“Yeah.  And that’s because they are ignorant as hell and stubborn as mules.”

My wife is a salesperson, which in the world of commerce is something like a missionary.  So, now and then, she gets tossed into the native’s supper pot and stirred along with the peas and carrots, and it makes her grumpy.

But I’m a writer.  And I’m living where stories have flourished unmolested among generations of hill sheltered Irish, Scotch and German immigrants.  Life still flourishes in little clannish pockets of rustic growth scattered throughout these hills and hollers like so many petri dishes which have been left open to the air along the culture lab countertops.  There’s nothing quite like it in the Seattle metropolitan area from where I came.

It is said by the author, John Alexander Williams, in “Appalachia / A History”, that historians who have tried to identify this territory as a single entity concluded “instead that it is a territory only of the mind, an id’ee des savants, a place that has been invented, not discovered, an “alternative America” projected onto the mountains and mountain people by reformers whose real purpose is to critique or change things in the nation at large.”  Progressives break their picks on this place – file for exhaustion under a Federal Program, I’d suppose – and move away.  So that in many ways, (including to ‘my’ way of thinking), it’s bliss.  “Almost heaven.”

The brick buildings and infrastructure crumble.   When driving through a town hereabouts and  you see a large sign declaring their place in history, you can pretty well bet that is because there is nothing much going on currently.   Heritage is big, partly because although there was much happening then, there is not much happening now – and partly because so many of the people are related.  We’re talking family, here.

The State of West Virginia has lost population.  The coal mines are shuttering.  Oil prices have dropped.  For some reason, I have yet to plumb, their greatest pride in historical photos is of record floods.  You’ll see old photo after old photo, in the larger of the small towns, of ancestors poling around in boats down main street past the hotel and the mercantile.

We live just across the river from Parkersburg, West Virginia.  A lot of what once gave our town character and hometown beauty was bulldozed when the automobile bridge went through.   (The railroad bridge dates back to the Civil War.)  But to enjoy this place – and many others like it – you need to pan for the small pockets of gold.  For example, a lovely riverside residence sits behind a curved drive, in back of an empty row of store fronts along the treeless main strip which boasts a Hardee’s.  Another hidden mansion sits down a dead end street behind a sign designating it as a historical structure.  A yard sized graveyard hosts “Mrs. Armstrong and 3 children / Killed by Indians / in 1795.”  It’s surrounded by a non-descript, waist high hurricane fence with a gate on a low rent residential block.  Down the way is a house trailer perched high on the Ohio riverbank with a small garden trailing off below it, rowed with corn.  Also buried inside is “Israel Stone Jr. / March 24,1778 / April25, 1791 / Drowned in the Ohio River”.  You’ll find a lot of this puttering around on a bicycle.

The new construction and well maintained real estate appear to be hospitals, rest homes, mortuaries, government facilities and chemical plants up and down the river.  Billboards advertising “our nationally ranked cardiac surgery center” and personal injury lawyers are frequent sights.  It’s oddly easy to find a church and very hard to find a tavern, though the counties crawl with alcoholics and opium deaths are currently epidemic.   You can drive along a road in West Virginia which will gradually peter away into something like a pot-holed driveway, and then continue on to find the road improved and yourself in another small town.  The towns are so small and unremarkable that most of the rural folks identify themselves by the county they come from.

So what is there to like about this place?  Well, we have warm summer days punctuated by thunderstorms.  If you close your eyes summer times, what with the birds talking and the breeze blowing, it reminds me of Mexico.  Quiet stretches of forest full of broad leafs abound.  We have excellent produce.  People talk sports and hunting instead of politics.  The houses have porches which people use.  It rains enough, you needn’t water.  And although we’re a large percentage Caucasian, the minorities get along peaceably.  If you just turn off the national TV, you’re not going to hear a conversation about race, though each seems to stick with its own, as seems natural.

Our neighborhood is quite safe.  No intimidation.  No break-ins.  No burglar bars.  Neighbors wave and nod.   Which is kind of puzzling, since there was a crack house a block and a half north of us, a hooker who lived just up the street, and a trailer court of a half dozen older boxes a block kiddy corner in the opposite direction, and pickup trucks driven by grizzled  guys (and gals) rumble past.   The hooker was the undoing of my contractor.  And I think she got some of my money, too.  But otherwise, kids are respectful and walk past or ride by on bikes and play in the street.  I can’t say I understand it.  In the big city you had to buy your way out of these problems by moving to a development in the suburbs.  Here, it is very heterogeneous.  Lovely old mansions sit a half block from a trailer court.  A tumbledown is right next door to a nice foursquare.    Along the Ohio stately homes are recessed back of lawns sloping down towards the river, with here and there a small bungalow, or a cottage surrounded in junk with a blue-tarped roof.  Churches abound.  It seems every clan which has a member with a bent for religion starts another.  On a short drive to get the ‘best biscuits and gravy’ about thirty miles to the  south, we averaged one church per mile, and I can’t recall seeing a tavern.  In the small town of Carnation, outside of Seattle near where we once lived, there were three bars within a block’s radius.

Our son is busy with innumerable activities, very few of which involve a lot of money as there aren’t many attractions to spend it on.  He attends all the sports events, does pickup basketball,  organizes camping and pontoon boat excursions, goes mudding, cave exploring,  stays up late with his friends around bonfires and is the go-to school photographer.  And he has a steady girlfriend.

The teachers at his school are excellent.  Which puzzled me until my wife suggested that teaching is one of the better jobs to have around here.  The trades and service professions tend to fill up with individuals who in the larger metropolises would have graduated to more lucrative professions.  Families go back generations.  And you have to be careful who you squabble with as there are all sorts of filial ramifications.

So.  About being “ignorant as hell”.  Well, that’s the glass half empty.  The glass half full is that they are well schooled in experience – going back centuries.  And “stubborn as mules”.  Again, that’s the glass half empty.  The glass half full is that what has worked is honored, and they are a profound bulwark against the next incursion by those smarty pants, who are so finely educated that they know better even before their tuition has been fully paid, and are off preaching to “change the world”  with a vision offered from the moral high ground of their immaculate lives .   These damnable progressives, who constantly devalue our traditions… while carping, carping, carping about what a mess the modern world is – a world more and more of their making…  well, don’t get me started.

Like I say, those sorts either move away, or break their pick and go back to where they came from.  And it’s real restful.

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4 Responses to “Our Current Home”

  1. Bonsai Says:

    Ignorant is a peaceful state.

  2. schn00dles Says:

    🙂 Thanks for dropping by.

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