SB2k18: Take Me Home, Country Roads Day 4

IMG_7645Eye of Newt, Oil of Not Olay and Heroes

By Thursday, our Spring Break of “let’s go help the old people,” had beaten Man Child and me to the ground. We waved the white flag of surrender and my mother noticed it was a little gray, so she laundered it with bleach. The woman irons my dad’s boxer shorts and one could cut steak with the creases in his khakis. I remain a disappointment to them.

Pawpaw grabbed my offspring for an adventure. Man Child looked at me the way he did back when I dropped him off at Mothers Day Out. Twenty years ago, I would walk around the corner and cry. This day, I merely looked at him with remorse. Sorry, Dude, you’re on your own. I have my own battles to fight. I turned to my mom, who was panting like a puppy ready to play. Oh. Dear. God. She wanted to Do Things.

This is where I make a confession. Go ahead and ridicule. Spousal Unit does. I have become victim to the pyramid scheme of essential oils. I love these things. I love the oils. I want ALL the oils. Because I suck at pyramid schemes, I don’t ever talk anybody into repping the oils, therefore building the “pyramid” below me and perhaps earning income. I just buy the oils. Because. I want ALL the oils. Spousal Unit reminds me that we have two kids in college, a 14-year-old Honda Pilot and an extremely high maintenance horse and he’d love to retire some day.

Whatever. If he retires sooner rather than later, he’ll just get on my nerves banging around the house sooner rather than later. Besides, I’m going to write a novel that will make us rich. First, I have to find the perfect oil that will enhance my creativity. I don’t know why he doesn’t understand these things.

After all, I had to have a vintage camper in which to write a novel that will make us rich. And I had to have a roll top desk on which to write a novel that will make us rich. And if somebody would remove that damn pea from under my mattress, then perhaps I would rest well enough to be able to write a novel that will make us rich. I really don’t see the problem here.

Since I clearly wasn’t going to be able to stare at my navel (which tbh I haven’t seen for at least fifty pounds) or scroll through Facebook for hours on end, with my gitterdone overachieving mother in the same ZIP code as me, I wooed her with a day of sitting at the kitchen table and concocting essential oil elixirs.

I sat at the kitchen table. She buzzed around like a hummingbird, getting out coconut oil, melting coconut oil, finding containers, making tea, fixing breakfast, stirring coconut oil, fixing lunch. I used to think my dad was So Rude when he would growl at her from his recliner, “Would you just sit down!?!”

Mea culpa pater familias. I get it, dude. I get it.

We measured and stirred and sniffed and stirred and created our potions. And talked. Lordamercy our mouths were dry, we talked so much. I have never had trouble talking with my mom. She’s a listener. She’s wise. Nanna quotes are the foundation of my family. My kids will have an issue. They’ll ask for advice. My answer – 90% of the time is – “What does Nanna say?”

“When it seems like it’s everybody else, then it’s time to look at yourself.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“Pretty is as pretty does.”

We were such overachievers that afternoon, that not only did we make a coconut oil-based pain reducing body cream, and catch up on all gossip, pertinent or not, we also solved all the world’s problems and fixed my sister up with three or four perfect men. Of course, those men were either in Hollywood, or married, or both, but the point is, we knew who was perfect for her. I don’t know why she never listens to us.

As the afternoon rolled on, we grabbed my niece from high school. Her car is in the shop and my lips are sealed. (She totally had a wreck, but since she’s okay and the car will be fixed, there’s no need to talk about it. I mean, it’s not like it was in the middle of town and her old neighbor and one of her teachers saw it. And it’s not like the mother of one of her friends was there and walked her through the experience as if my niece were her own daughter. ‘Cause, y’know in small towns nobody really helps one another, so nobody knows what’s going on and it’s not like if you have something go wrong, you’ve got thirty voicemail messages asking how people can help and three casseroles waiting at your front door.)

We arrived at Cabell-Midland High School, the sprawling educational home of nearly 2,000 students. Formed in 1994, when many West Virginia schools morphed from community to county wide, Cabell-Midland was born of two arch enemies: Milton High School and Barboursville High School. My dad still bears resentment. I think Barboursville must have beaten him in basketball or something and the man can hold a grudge. It didn’t bother me as much. I always thought Barboursville boys were cuter, anyway, so I was happy for my niece.

I did find fault with one issue at the school, however and since I had been fueled by the morning conversations with my mother, I knew we had the answers to fix everybody’s problems, including Cabell Midland’s afterschool pickup. I felt compelled to let the administration know that the schools in Nashville have a FAR superior method of picking kids up from school. For one thing we call it “hookup.” That right there will solve 90% of the problem. Change the name. For another thing, bumper cars is only fun at the fair. One way in. One way out. Traffic flows in the same direction at all times. And for the love of Pete, either get a stoplight, or somebody on Route 60 to direct traffic. Darwin reigns supreme in the Mountain State and it begins in high school when you’re pulling out onto a busy highway.

I refrained from marching into the principal’s office and giving him my free advice and instead navigated the parking lot. Sometimes I wish I were Catholic so I could justify crossing myself. With Niece safely in the car and strapped in with her trusty tennis racquet, I guided Pollyanna through the parking lot filled with teenager vehicles. There were fewer lifted trucks than I had imagined and more Toyota Corollas. Through the kindness of strangers under the age of 18 who allowed me to join the river of traffic, (you guys are SO gonna change the world), I made our way to Rt. 60, shut my eyes, put the pedal to the metal and turned left.

Nobody died.

My sister won’t let me steal her daughter, bring her to Nashville and keep her. I don’t understand it, really I don’t. I love this kid. She is one of the most incredible creatures ever put on this earth. She’s gorgeous (looks exactly like my dang sibling), athletic, smart as a whip and funny as hell. Therefore, she belongs with me.

Alas, I am the only one who believes that, including the perfect niece. Therefore I just hoard the time I am given with her. On that day, she spent the afternoon with us at the kitchen table as we continued our witchcraft brewing of essential oil concoctions. We made a lavender-infused bath salt for relaxation and a peppermint drenched oil to help perk us up. We made a hair tonic, of which I immediately applied to my own scalp. It wasn’t pretty, but my niece laughed so it was worth it. We continued to solve the world’s problems, most of which center around the opposite sex.

We had to quit trash talking their gender when the men-folk came home from their morning adventures and settled in front of the television for an afternoon of Westerns. My dad watches the Western Channel as if it were his job. Because he’s a busy man, he rarely sits down and watches one movie from start to finish, but he says eventually he gets to see the entire flick. Sometimes he’ll catch the end of “True Grit” and at other times, he’ll watch the middle. Eventually, he’ll piece together the entire movie. This man meets his goals more than anybody I’ve ever known.

ChuckYeagerI learned the following day from Man Child, that during their Thursday adventure Pawpaw had met his goal of showing his grandson where Chuck Yeager had been born. Obviously West Virginia grows some tough critters and Chuck Yeager is among the toughest. For those who slept through history classes, General Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager is the fellow who first broke the sound barrier. Among other things, he was a combat pilot during WWII, and a test pilot for the Air Force. There is a bridge named after him, on the West Virginia Turnpike, and there is a rumor that is neither confirmed nor denied, that he flew UNDER that bridge on the day of its dedication.

Another tough old bird that hails from the uneven terrain of West Virginia is Hershell Woodrow “Woody” Williams who used to go to my parents’ church. Now he’s busy with Super Bowl coin tosses and such. Woody Williams is a Medal of Honor recipient. Something to do with Iwo Jima, a flame thrower and heroism. Seriously, you shouldn’t have slept through history.

My hero, dozing in his recliner, had spent the good part of the day driving my son all over Lincoln County the day after driving nearly 13 solid hours, so he could continue to show his grandson history lives outside of a textbook.

Without ever receiving a paycheck as such, my parents have always been teachers.

That evening, my sister and I went out to dinner, realizing that it hadn’t been the two of us in a couple of decades. We had more to say to one another than Christopher’s Eats closing time allowed. What is it about family that makes time go so quickly? Each day of this week was slipping past faster and faster and I was getting grouchy about it. Spousal Unit was leaving plaintive texts asking when I could talk on the phone. He missed us. I missed him. He used the dog as bait. I REALLY missed the dog. But I didn’t want to take a single second away from that rare thing of fully being where I actually was, even if it was acting goofy with my sister in the hair care section of Kroger.

 

 

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SB2k18: Take Me Home Country Roads Day 3

IMG_7482The Worlds Largest “Fully Steerable Radio Telescope”

I don’t know if living downstream from “Chemical Valley” mutated his DNA, or if a steady diet of Vienna sausages and Oreo cookies creates superpowers but my 81-year-old dad is beyond human. In similar fashion, although locals believe that my mother is a good, sweet Christian woman, my sister and I know that she obviously made a deal with the devil earlier in her life to still have the metabolism she has, the figure she has and the energy she has.

These people wear me out. Literally. I spent a week with them and had to come back to Nashville just to lie in the floor with the dog for the next five days. Daddy called yesterday just to “check in,” then said he needed to go because my mom was spring cleaning and flipping over their king size mattress. She might need help.

I need help trying to make the bed. Fluffing the pillows is exhausting.

By Day 3 of our Spring Break West Virginia excursion, Man Child and I were ready for some rest, but Pawpaw had taken off work and was determined to show his grandson the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. “But it’s predicted to snow,” we whined.

“Get in the car,” he groused. “We’ll go until we have to stop.” I was catapulted to the early seventies and Sunday drives that left me nauseous, but educated. If my first grade teacher was going to discuss the state flower, we were going to drive into the mountains to find rhododendron and bring some home. Of course it was against the law, but it was in the name of education.

Man Child rode shotgun, while my mother and I cringed in the back seat. The sky was heavy and gray. Sheets of sleet dropped sideways from the heavens. Speeding tractor-trailer rigs spewed dirty precipitation on the windshield, limiting visibility. I hoped Spousal Unit and Girl Child would continue to thrive after our untimely demise. I debated texting them with my last will and testament, but I didn’t want them to worry.

We continued north on I-79 and I broke out some essential oils. My mom and I sat in the back seat snorting oils like we were coke-addicted music producers. “Here, try this,” I offered her some lavender. “It’s calming.”

“Ooh. I like lavender,” she answered, rubbing it on her like lemon for a tequila shot. She breathed in heavily. Man Child’s head swung around.

“I smell essential oils.” Damn. Busted. I felt like William H. Macy in “Shameless.” Terrible parent, I am. Terrible.

We crested a mountain, along with twenty or so of our closet friends, long-distance truckers. The road was covered in white. I breathed in a mix of lavender and frankincense, a “spiritual” oil. I figured I’d go ahead and get a head start into the spiritual realm for when one of those suckers slid and pushed us off the edge of a precipice.

Daddy took the Buckhannon exit off the interstate. Ah. That must mean we are almost there. My former boss at a Nashville ad agency hailed from Buckhannon, where his father was a state trooper. Jud told stories about his dad climbing down into hollers and busting moonshiners when he found their stills. People from West Virginia always have stories.

From Buckhannon, we travelled to Elkins. Ah. That must mean we are almost there. Elkins is a cute little college town and I was enjoying its small-town charm when Daddy swung a sharp left and then u-turned into a parking lot. I swallowed down my breakfast for the second time and looked out the SUV’s window at a 10-foot-tall statue of a female Native American atop an eight-foot-tall podium.

http://www.hiawathascountrystore.com/index.html

Hia-the-store

We had landed at the infamous Hiawatha Country Store in Elkins, W.Va. I jumped out of the car and headed in. Ten-year-old me wanted ALL the things. I do so love swag. I wanted kitsch. I wanted t-shirts. I wanted moccasins that I could wear to school and make Cindy Grass jealous. My 23-year-old son grabbed my arm with excitement. His “Ohmigod mom, this PLACE,” jolted me back to the reality that it’s been a few decades since I was ten years old. It’s actually been a decade since HE was ten years old. Sigh. I needed to be a grown up, so I slithered over to my mom who was tittering at smart aleck postcards. She loves being right at the edge of orneriness.

As I was paying for some postcards, my bladder demanded I acknowledge its presence. My bladder is codependent as hell and ALWAYS wants my attention. I asked the clerk if they had a public restroom. No, she answered and looked quickly away. At the same time, there was a big old West Virginia boy hanging around and I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I hoped he was a friendly, but he lurked and made me nervous. Sometimes people can hang around and they’re just hanging around, but lurkers, they can mean trouble. He nodded to the clerk and asked where the bathroom was. She told him. I bit my tongue and squeezed my legs.

I was gathering up my postcards and receipt when she glanced up at me, looking as guilty as my dog after he’s eaten cat poop. “We don’t usually let people use our bathroom. They can make a mess that I have to clean up, if you know what I mean, but if you want to use it after he’s out, you can.”

After ten minutes passed without his exiting the not-for-public powder room, I realized he hadn’t been lurking so much as pacing in pain and that yes, now I do know what she means and she would certainly have to clean that up. My family agreed to enjoy the hospitality of the gas station across the street.

Not only did we enjoy the hospitality of the gas station across the street, we also enjoyed playing with the pinhole security window of the establishment’s back door. My parents stood in amazement as Man Child and I took turns running outside to show each other that the image was inverted “just like a pinhole camera!” We were so busy with the advanced security system that we ignored the advice from our elders that we “might want to get a snack” because “it would be a while until we get to another place that has food.” My parents each got a slice of pizza. Man Child and I scoffed. That’s not a snack. That’s lunch and it’s only 11 a.m. Geez, these old people probably belly up to the Shoney’s salad bar at 4:30 for dinner.

Besides, we’re almost there.

As we drove into the Monongahela National Forest, trees reached over us protectively as clouds covered the sun and dropped snow on our lone white Ford SUV climbing higher into the mountains. White packed snow replaced shiny wet blacktop. I started taking hits of essential oils again. My father is the best driver I have ever known, but these roads looked slick.

My parents were calm, chewing on their pizza, him reaching his slice back to her so she could remove his pepperonis. Sixty-plus years of marriage will do that. Words aren’t needed for her to pluck off the heartburn-inducing pepperonis as he keeps his eyes on the road ahead.

It’s 50 miles between Elkins, West Virginia and the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. As the crow flies, I think it’s about 30. Somebody once told me that if you straightened out West Virginia, shook it out like a wrinkled sheet and laid it flat, it would be the size of Texas. When you’re driving those wrinkles on snow-covered roads and a tendency toward carsickness, you kinda wish for a big old hot, steaming iron.

Two hours later, we rounded a curve and saw it. The world’s largest “fully steerable radio telescope.” It looked like a baby bird with its mouth open waiting for Mom to bring a worm. I was impressed, but y’know, we’re in West Virginia, where the dish satellite is the state flower. It looked like a satellite dish. What I didn’t realize is that we were still miles away.

When we got to the observatory grounds, my jaw dropped. This thing is HUGE. It’s as tall as the Washington Monument and the dish surface is 2.3 acres. You could get one helluva cell signal in these parts. Except you can’t. Thirteen thousand square miles create the National Radio Quiet Zone surrounding the observatory so that Daddy telescope and all of his baby telescopes can do their job. That means most of the eastern part of West Virginia can’t have cell phones, microwaves, decent radio stations, ham radio, or cable TV. I suppose one catches up with one’s church gossip through tin cans connected with strings and apparently smoke signals are okay. As exciting as this ginormous technological outer space monster is, I have to wonder if it really helps my home state progress and enlighten when so many people are left in the dark.

https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/10/08/218976699/enter-the-quiet-zone-where-cell-service-wi-fi-are-banned

Of course Man Child about dirtied his britches. This was everything he stood for. A lifetime of nerdiness, blowing stuff up, building radio stations with little more than a bunch of tiny pieces and a soldering iron, and getting a degree in drone technology culminated in this one moment, when he could become one with Big Daddy Telescope. Mesmerized, he strode toward it, SLR film camera in hand, as if he were Richard Dreyfuss at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

IMG_7483

I’m pretty sure I heard the five-note sequence that beckoned the space ship as Man Child became smaller and smaller in the distance. I hoped the aliens would be kind to him and provide him with Mountain Dew and bow ties. This was going to make his girlfriend very unhappy with me.

Luckily (for us earthlings at least), his camera messed up and he came trotting back. It had eaten his film. He thinks the camera glitched. I’m pretty certain that the Men in Black from Point Pleasant had come and ensured that he didn’t get any close-ups of bug-eyed people with no apparent sex organs. (I always wonder, were there no Adam and Even aliens? They’re always running around naked, so apparently they didn’t eat the forbidden fruit and become appalled at their nakedness.)

Pawpaw wanted to show his grandson where he went turkey hunting for several years, so we waved goodbye to Big Daddy Telescope and drove down to a convenience store to ask directions. It had been a while since he, his uncle, a friend and my 80-some-year-old grandfather had been in these mountains pretending to hunt turkey. Because he only brought home maybe two turkeys and one sad-looking squirrel in decades of hunting, we kinda knew it was a way to justify getting out of the house and away from the three women who dominated my dad’s existence.

Buffalo Mountain Road was the other way (this is how one gives directions in West Virginia: just go this way a little bit and then go the other way for about a mile, then you’ll see the old bank. Turn right and go thataway ‘til you’re at the top of the mountain). We passed the telescope again and screamed. In a matter of minutes, it had changed position from baby bird looking for food to pterodactyl looking for prey. More than two acres of mass had gyrated from a cereal bowl position to a klieg light position. It was like Big Daddy Telescope was looking for Man Child. I felt sorry for the big old thing. I feel the same way when my boy is away from me.

We saw the old bank, turned right and went thataway, then realized we should have gone thisaway, so turned around, headed to the top of the mountain and found the hunting “cabin.” Please know that during all those years of turkey hunting, the womenfolk fully believed that these trips were their men’s version of going into the woods and beating a drum. We had civilized them and they needed to commune with nature, become one with their ancestors, grunt in acknowledgement of one another as they ripped recently cooked-over-a-fire flesh from bone with their teeth.

My dad pulled up to the gate and stopped. Gate. I said gate. Le château was safely ensconced behind a gate as if it were the estate of a country music legend tucked in the outskirts of Nashville. It had once been an old school house, pale gray in color. A chimney, made of local stone, rose from the center of the house. A front porch looked out on the mountains and valleys with an excellent view of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. The roof of the porch created a deck that was accessible from a second story bedroom. According to my dad, a schoolteacher once rented the place and grew marijuana on the front porch. This gated community was nirvana.

I leaned back into my seat, happy that my dad had met his goals in showing his grandson the world’s largest “fully steerable radio telescope” and his “roughing it” hunting lodge. Now we would eat lunch, right?

Several harrowing hours later, with my stomach rumbling more loudly than the wheels of the tractor trailer who’d been playing Duel with us on hairpin curves, we were on a four-lane highway. Civilization! Food! Cell service!

But nooooooo. Pawpaw the Superhuman had yet another goal. He wanted his grandson to see one of the world’s longest single-span arched bridge. How was this man still driving? I had begun gnawing on my arm and was hallucinating that the back of my son’s head was a bowl of spaghetti. The only thing that kept me from chewing on his noggin was that I wasn’t sure it was gluten free.

My dad drove over the New River Gorge, turned around and drove back. There. We’d done it. The New River Gorge Bridge. When he has a goal, my dad doesn’t let silly details like getting out and actually looking at the structure get in his way. He could check “Take grandson to New River Gorge Bridge” off his bucket list.

By this time, my codependent bladder had awakened from her nap and reminded me that it had been a LONG time since Elkins. I told her if she didn’t behave, my stomach was going to ingest her because it hadn’t had attention for far more time than my bladder had. They both got into it and I didn’t have an essential oil available to calm them down.

Daddy swung a sharp left and my head got involved, bitching that it had ALWAYS been sensitive to motion and my stomach told it to shut up because it could kick in nausea faster than a headache could even think about poking my eyes out.

I tried to remain chipper. After all, if the old man could keep going, then so could I. It was obvious that Man Child was fading. Oh dear, my parents were going to know that I raised a lightweight. Stay strong, son. You can do this!

I looked over at my mother, who just four years previously was completely paralyzed by Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Her recovery from that is the stuff of which medical journals are made. She still looked hardy, perkily looking out the car window. Good God, man, what was in that pizza?

IMG_7493

Daddy pulled the car off the road into a parking spot. Hawk’s Nest. Omigod, I love Hawk’s Nest. I love everything about Hawk’s Nest and at that moment I loved the Hawk’s Nest ladies room most of all. I limped, Quasimodo, style up the stone steps to the stone cylinder that held the restrooms. A sliver of evening sunlight shown upon the throne and a chorus of angels sang.

With my bladder gloating to my other organs about the attention it had received, I grabbed Man Child and said, “We’re going for a walk.” He had never seen the Hawk’s Nest overlook and he had no idea.

Like Girl Child in an art supply store, Man Child was speechless with awe and delight. This overlook had everything. Scary height. Beautiful scenery. Train tracks! And a TUNNEL!!! Even a story about the tunnel tragedy highlighted on a historical marker! We love historical markers! The story on the marker is sobering, though, made more so when further research is involved.

Often considered America’s worst industrial disaster, construction of a three-mile tunnel for hydro-electric power in the thirties was just one of many abuses the West Virginia worker has suffered. The project allegedly killed more than 2,000 men, many of whom were black and – much like the African-American lives lost in Katrina – remain unaccounted for and unnamed. Once again, the beauty and rugged grandeur of my home state is covered in a film of heartbreak and tragedy.

Just past Hawk’s Nest, around a few hairpin turns where – as the saying goes – you kiss your own ass as you round the curve, is Gauley Bridge. If one is a white water rafter, one knows about Gauley Bridge. Just past Gauley Bridge is Glen Ferris. If one is someone who eats, one knows about Glen Ferris and the Glen Ferris Inn.

Situated on the bank, and I do mean Right On the Bank of where the Gauley River meets the New River and creates the Kanawha River, this haunted old building houses a hotel with a restaurant where cops come to eat. Cops are like truckers. You want to eat where they eat. Cops and truckers know things.

We were seated two tables over from a four-top of officers of the law who checked out Man Child’s large jean cuffs. I hoped they wouldn’t ask him to raise his hands above his ankles. We ordered food. We ate food. Without dishonoring my parents’ cooking, because they both make some awesome fried chicken, I scarfed down the best fried chicken I’ve ever had the great fortune to eat.

With a nod in the generation direction of my nutritionist, I didn’t eat any of the homemade rolls.

I still regret that.

I regretted even more that we were still almost two hours from home. My poor dad had to be exhausted. Man Child or I should offer to drive. I mean, the old guy’s been driving all day and he’s probably plum tuckered out. “Let’s go!” he hollered and herded us into the car. Good Lord almighty, man, are you not even gonna swill some of that free coffee in the hallway. Waitaminute. I think I forgot my phone omigod he’s got it in drive.

He had met his goals for the day. Like a horse who knows it’s dinner time, he was heading back to the barn, whether we had hold of the halter or not. At one point, belching mashed potatoes, as we careened around a curve on two wheels, I audaciously declared, “Daddy, these curves are making me a little sick.”

“Well, I’m trying to straighten them out for you.”

Well, yeah, the straightest distance between two points is a straight line, but when one side is a mountain going up and the other side is a mountain going down, I think we need to reconsider going straight on a curvy road.

When we got home, Man Child and I staggered into my parents’ house and fell facedown onto our beds. Nanna and Pawpaw stayed up and cleaned out the car.

 

SB2k18: Take Me Home, Country Roads Day 2

IMG_7442Flat Daisy Falls Flat; W.Va. History is Made

Way back when I first anticipated getting a vintage camper to turn into a writer’s retreat and travel the country, I actually anticipated getting a vintage camper to turn into a writer’s retreat and travel the country. Clearly, Daisy had other ideas.

I bemoaned my and Daisy’s difference of opinion to Man Child while traveling the back roads of West Virginia during his spring break. Much to his chagrin, I used it as a life lesson, elucidating the loss of dreams and how we can grow from them. For instance I will never be a professional dancer and Daisy will never line up with other campers on the banks of the Kanawha River, pink flamingo lights twinkling in the twilight. I could, however, end up dancing on the pole and returning home to a Daisy that is tucked between meth labs. One must be careful and specific when tossing a dream out to the universe.

We can also alter our dreams a little bit. Since Daisy can’t travel and I’m a freaking genius, I decided to bring a Mini Daisy with me on my journeys. Through the generosity of friends, I have a couple of really cute miniature Daisies that I can photograph in spots of interest. That requires my remembering to bring the dang thing with me, though. Sigh.

Although not quite up a creek without a paddle, I was in West Virginia without a Mini Daisy, so I had to rethink ways to bring Daisy to my travels. Once again, because I’m a freaking genius, I remembered my offsprings’ second grade projects that centered around the book, Flat Stanley. In the book, young Stanley is smashed flat by a bulletin board, resulting in his ability travel anywhere he wants as easily as a sheet of paper. The kids’ school project was to make flat versions of themselves and send them to someone (my parents of course) who would take those flat versions of themselves on adventures. My parents ROCKED this assignment. Flat Caldwell kids did some amazing things, from having tea at the Greenbrier to climbing beneath the New River Gorge Bridge. I just knew Nanna and Pawpaw would be SO excited to know that their daughter is a genius.

When I announced that I would use my friend Claire’s drawing of Daisy to create a flat Daisy, the response was less than enthusiastic. In fact, there was no response at all. I thought maybe they didn’t hear me. After all the television was turned up pretty high and Everybody Loves Raymond IS captivating. That’s okay. It’ll make more sense when they see it in print.

Flat Daisy made it to one adventure, a barbecue joint in Hurricane, (pronounced Her-uh-cuhn). I caught up with my buddy Dyann the graphic designer who tried to hide her eye rolling at Daisy’s presence on the table as I took pictures. Dyann is good at a lot of things, but not at hiding her eye rolling. That’s okay. It’ll make more sense when she sees it in print.

TeachersStrike

As Man Child and I traveled the hills of West Virginia, my home state was taking its own journey. Teachers were on strike. Every single county school system was shut down tighter than my mother’s pursed lips when I would stay out past curfew. Once known as a birthplace of the labor movement and home to the infamous Mother Jones, the Mountain State had limped away from its history of union strength. In fact, The Washington Post published a piece titled, “How the birthplace of the labor movement just turned on its unions” in 2016.

It was beginning to look like the citizenry of West Virginia was remembering its roots, though and twenty thousand teachers were striking to improve the state’s standing of 48th in the nation for teacher pay. It was national news. It was international news. Well-spoken, intelligent, strong people who knew they were in the right were repping West Virginia to the world. Man Child and I were there for the experience and we were excited.

My family members were not so thrilled. My niece was looking at less time to study for AP exams and more time in the classroom during hot summer days. I understood that and yes, the extra days at the end of the school year will suck, but when people talk about sacrificing for one’s country, this is what I think that means. To me, thousands of teachers fighting for what is right is as about as patriotic as it gets.

As far as education, students seeing their third grade teacher, their history teacher, their tennis coach amid a sea of multi-colored, multi-sized, multi-aged women and men in red t-shirts standing up for themselves and their students is a lesson we all can learn. As Man Child said, “These kids’ kids are going to be reading about this in their history books some day.”

One thing I love most about this whole thing is that it was schoolteachers. These people don’t mess around and some version of them have shaken each and every one of us to our core at some point in our lives. Tell me something. How long would YOU be able to defy a hoard of freaking SCHOOLTEACHERS!?!? I’m imagining my determined, steely-eyed sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Dillon when she demanded something be done and the excuses started pouring in.

“Well, Mrs. Dillon, we just don’t have the….”

“Excuse me Mr. Carmichael, I believe I told you we want a five percent raise.”

“No. I don’t wanna.”

“Mr. Carmichael.” Mrs. Dillon squints ever so slightly.

Because this Carmichael guy is the class bully, he digs in his heels. “No. I’m not going to give it to you. You can’t make me.”

Mrs. Dillon raises her perfectly manicured eyebrows; her silver hair catches the afternoon sun, temporarily blinding the object of your attention. “Mr. Carmichael, would you like to stay after school? Or perhaps you’d rather put your head on your desk.”

He’s becoming petulant now, “But the…” and then mutters under his breath, “Dammit.”

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Nine days into the no-school toe-to-toe negotiations, it looked as if the Mrs. Dillons might win. Man Child and I didn’t want to miss the action, so after barbecue and Failed Flat Daisy, (who remains, forgotten at a barbecue joint in Hurricane, W.Va.) we hauled butt to Charleston, the state capitol. Radio news reported that the collective teachers had won. I wanted to see the sea of red shirts. We knew it was going to be crazy and we were looking forward to the mess. Dyann had secured a spot for me to park in her friend’s driveway, because it would be impossible to find a spot nearby.

We careened into the capitol complex on two wheels to discover that the circus had left town. It was the day after Coachella. Two minutes past midnight in Times Square on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. The bread aisle in a Nashville Kroger twelve seconds after a snow prediction. There wasn’t even the occasional fluttering flyer skating on the wind. These are teachers and teachers pick up after themselves, glaring at you until you do the same. A small group in red shirts scurried across the street. These people didn’t stick around to celebrate. They had papers to grade.

We were dejected. I didn’t need my friend’s friend’s parking spot. We had our choice of spots right there in the middle of the complex. We had missed seeing history being made. With a deep sigh, I told Man Child that it was still the most beautiful capitol building in the US and we should go through it anyway. He sighed. Sure.

First we had to go through security. Apparently, I have become so dull that security officers don’t give me a second glance. Overweight middle-aged women in comfortable shoes don’t provide a threat, (unless they’re marching in protest of low wages and shut down an entire state’s school system for nine days). However, hipster young men with Red Wing boots and big cuffs apparently do.

Man Child had to walk through security twice. Then the guard mumbled “Raise your (undecipherable) above your ankles.” Man Child is like huh? Guard repeated “Raise your (ants?) above your ankles.” He pointed downward.

Realizing that I can, indeed, speak Appalachian, when there are visual aids, I excitedly translated, “Raise your pants above your ankles!”

“Oh!” Man Child obligingly bent over and raised his cuffed jeans to show his boots and skinny ankles sans weaponry. The guard motioned us onward and we laughed so hard it echoed within the marble hallways.

“I had NO idea what he was saying, Mom. I thought it was ‘Raise your hands above your ankles’ and I’m like, uhhhh…they ARE?”

“I know, right? I thought maybe with all the knuckle-draggers that come in here, they had to start asking them to raise their hands above their ankles.”

“Mom, I thought I could speak southern, but I’m gonna need subtitles.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that being able to understand what comes out of West Virginians’ mouths doesn’t necessarily mean one understands West Virginians. We are a complicated people. What else explains the birthplace of the labor movement becoming the burial ground of the average working man and woman?

We oohed and ahhed over the beautiful building in which so much – and yet so little – progress is made to further the lives of mountaineers. We studied the portrait gallery of governors. “I met that one, Jay Rockefeller, when I was a little girl and was starstruck. He was SO tall and handsome.”

We walked on. “That one spent time in the pokey. Wonder if he ever shared a cell with the Tennessee governor who spent time in the pokey.”

“Your paternal grandparents were good friends with this guy. He was governor two different times, making him the both the youngest AND the oldest governor the state ever had. Our porcelain cake plate and server were a wedding gift from him and his wife. And this guy here…yeah. He’s a weird one.” We moved on down the hall and found ourselves standing in front of the current governor’s office. I don’t know much about him, except that he has a lot of money and he owns the Greenbrier. It’s hard for me to not judge after he turned the Greenbrier into a casino, but at least it’s not a Wal-Mart.

Just behind us, a guy wrapping cable into a circle spoke. “He just left to sign the bill.” We nodded our heads as if we knew what he was talking about. I was more interested in cable-wrapping guy’s way cool British accent than I was who just left where to do what. Still, I looked in the direction he pointed.

“You’ll catch him if you just go that way. He’s gone to sign the bill.” Not completely sure what he was saying or why we should care about what he’s saying, we nodded our heads again. I just wanted him to keep talking so I could hear his accent. He loaded up the cable and a camera that had been attached to it. “CNN” was on the side.

Are you kidding me? A CNN camera guy with a British accent? Man Child, meet your new step-daddy. Spousal Unit will surely understand.

We still didn’t really understand what Step-Daddy was excited about, but since we wanted to go to the state museum, and that appeared to be where he was pointing, we followed his directions. About fifty yards ahead of us, a Really Big Guy with Really White Hair and an entourage hustled toward the same building that was our destination. Man Child and I looked at one another and shrugged. Whatever THAT was about. We walked into the building that housed the museum. There was hubbub. Lots of hubbub. I asked the guy at the information desk how to get to the museum. He looked at me strangely. What? Now I’M hard to understand?

Information guy said, “The museum is downstairs. He’s signing the bill in there,” pointing to the auditorium in front of us. We were getting swept into the stream of humanity rushing to get into that auditorium.

The information guy looked at me strangely again. “Is this okay?” I asked him as I disappeared into the mob.

“Yes,” he answered. “It’s a press conference. It’s for the public.”

We stood in the back of the room, not really sure we were someplace we were allowed to be, so I wasn’t one bit surprised when an official looking woman with a name tag and a clipboard told us we weren’t supposed to be standing there. Some people standing next to us were offended. “We’re with the governor’s office,” they huffed.

“Uh. We’re not. We are definitely not with the governor’s office. Sorry.” I prepared myself for the humiliation of being escorted from the room.

She said, “Take a seat. It’s getting ready to start.”

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For some reason, that’s when reality mixed with knowledge mixed with illumination. Man Child and I looked at one another. Holy crap. He’s going to sign the BILL. That bill. We wanted to see teachers in red shirts marching in a historical strike, but we get to see teachers in red shirts – so many teachers in red shirts – witness their governor turn their effort into law. Hell yeah, I’ll have a seat. Bring the popcorn. We sat down and kept nudging one another. Hehehe. He’s gonna sign the bill. Hehehe. We’re here to see him sign the bill. Damn, he’s a big guy. Hehehe he’s going to sign the bill. Oh man, don’t take questions first. Just sign the bill. Shut up man from California. Let him sign the danged bill.

He signed the bill and the photographs I took aren’t that much different than the photographs posted by the BBC, New York Times, Atlantic, Washington Post and probably – but I never got to see it – footage shot by our British-accented CNN camera guy.

I looked smugly at Man Child and bragged, “We are Forrest Freaking Gump” and the fact that he understood the reference to a 24-year-old movie classic made me even happier than our dumb luck.

 

 

 

 

 

SB 2k18: Take Me Home, Country Roads

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Proving once again that he’s not the average guy, my 23-year-old man child announced last fall that his senior year spring break would be spent navigating the physical roads and emotional paths of his mom’s childhood and youth, with – of all people – his mom.

I was dubious. Surely the come-hither slap of waves against shore would lure him, the girlfriend would have a better offer, or the temptation of staying in his house and rebuilding a 1982 Jaguar XJ6 Sovereign (it’s pronounced Jag-you-are, Mom) would outweigh his desire to visit the place where Nanna and Pawpaw live and where Mom grew up.

I was dubious and I was wrong. We packed up Pollyanna, the 2004 Honda Pilot who gamely faces our adventures with nothing but an oil change and a full tank, added a few more thousand miles to her odometer, and traveled the mountains and valleys of our people. We visited Mothman, ate hot dogs in a school bus perched on the side of a hill, experienced the making of history, communed with aliens through a satellite dish the size of my parents’ neighborhood, ate more hot dogs in a red shack on the side of the road in a town that was so rough in the 70s, the cheerleaders weren’t allowed to go when my school played them, stood where Hatfields and McCoys lived, fought and died, made friends with a Kentucky state trooper with tats and calves the size of that satellite dish, walked past the bullet holes of the first battle of the mine wars, and consumed my mother’s cooking with a hungry Dickensian fervor that belied our middle class lives. More gruel, please?

Part 1: It’s Monday So It Must Be Mothman IMG_7401

In the mid-to-late sixties, a tall, dark creature foretold tragedy to the citizens of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Sadly, nobody spoke Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the mid-to-late sixties, so the warnings went untranslated and unheeded. The Silver Bridge collapsed and 46 people met their deaths in a tangle of metal, water and catfish just days before Christmas 1967. This is why I have gephyrophobia.

Although Mothman has been spotted ‘round the world, the burg of Point Pleasant, West Virginia claims him as their own. Point Pleasant lies about an hour northwest of my parents’ home in Milton. There are several ways to get from Milton to Point Pleasant, some more curvy than others. Man Child had expressed his desire to experience the real West Virginia, curvy roads and all. I gave him curvy roads and all. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the best distance is a line that looks like a drunk hillbilly staggered between two points, unsure of which direction he was intending to go. Man Child held onto the armrest and his groceries, I held onto the steering wheel and Pollyanna held onto the asphalt as I reclaimed my curvy road driving skills. I am proud of all three of us.

Man Child’s brain is never at rest. This made raising him fun, challenging and sometimes exhausting. Nothing in our house is as it was first made to be. A t-ball stand became a locomotive smokestack; a futon became a go-cart and watermelons became WMD. When he is strapped down in a 2004 Honda Pilot, his need to invent becomes verbal and stories are born. Ergo, Stave the WVDOT worker.

According to Man Child Lore, there is a WVDOT worker named Steve, but all the guys just say Stave. He’s not particularly bright, this Stave, yet he apparently has a lot of responsibility. Man Child begat Stave after six hours on the road, driving from Nashville and we neared my small hometown. Superfluous interstate signs announced the town’s presence. “Milton 1 ¾ Mile” one sign says. Then “Milton 1 Mile” followed by “Milton ¾ Mile.”

“What did they do, just have extra signs that had arbitrary numbers on them? Stave, measure off that distance there, yeah, that’s about a mile and three quarter. Put that sign there cuz it done say a mile and three quarter.”

Stave was also apparently involved in naming the roads between Milton and Point Pleasant. “What do they do here,” my offspring asked. “Just name things after the first thing they see?

“Stave. There’s a cow standin’ in a crick there. Name that one Cow Crick Road. And over there where that horse is? Put up a sign that says Horse Crick Road.

“‘Hey Stave, that thar crick look like it about three mile. Call that one Three Mile Crick.

“Stave, you know you can’t ask me to do no math. Just measure it out agin and if it’s still five and twenty, just call it Five and Twenty Creek Road.

“Stave, I’m plum outa ideas. Just name that one after yourself. Yeah, Stave Branch is fine. I don’t know how you spellit. It’s yer name.”

We pulled into the town of Point Pleasant, (pop 4237) that, like so many other West Virginia towns, looks like a 1980s homecoming queen who has spent a lifetime smoking too much, over-applying mousse in her fringe bangs that defy gravity, and refusing to change the application of her Merle Norman black eyeliner and rust-colored blush. She used to be a beauty, but has, as my mother would say, “let herself go.”

We parked next to a storied haunted hotel and stepped from the car. Through the wispy morning clouds, filtered sun illuminated the metal spectacle a block away as if God were anointing the creature with light. Mothman: The Sculpture.

Made of stainless steel by the artist Robert (Bob) Roach, Mothman is more jacked than Shemar Moore and despite his tattered wings is, quite frankly, kinda hot. (I can patch those wings up for you, boo.) His hands and feet are talons and his red eyes a little threatening, but nobody’s perfect. After all, Mothman has our best interest at heart and just wants people to know that bad things are about to happen.

Next to Mothman: The Sculpture is WOMM, for which I now have a bumper sticker. I have a bumper crop of bumper stickers. They hold Pollyanna together and I’m smug that I have one of the first Coexist stickers ever made as well as a sticker for the city of Flint, for which the L has been replaced with the silhouette of a handgun. One of my great pleasures in life is watching people read my bumper stickers, shake their heads and walk away.

Another of my greatest pleasures is taking Man Child to places such as The World’s Only Mothman Museum. WOMM is a veritable cornucopia of all things Mothman and when Man Child saw the motorized Mothman bike, I thought he was going to soil his pants. He could scarcely contain his joy when I agreed to pay seven bucks for both of us to tour the museum. I love being the benevolent parent. Of course I’ll pay the admission fee for a museum tour my child. Your continuing education is so very, very important to your father and me.

Owned by a graphic design teacher, who is also a rocker and, if I can guess correctly, an old hippie, The World’s Only Mothman Museum holds a wealth of knowledge for even those of us who consider ourselves Mothman connoisseurs. http://www.mothmanmuseum.com/ I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know that there were Men in Black before Will Smith. After touring the museum under the watchful glare of Men in Black mannequins, I do not doubt their existence.

As with every museum worth its exhibit, the tour ends in the gift shop. I am a fool for swag. When my offspring toured colleges and didn’t take advantage of the swag bags, I pouted. Imagine my delight in a shop filled with Mothman swag. T-shirts and aforementioned bumper stickers and books and buttons and bags! I wanted ALL the things. We already have the movie starring Richard Gere and Debra Messing; get the book! The traveling coffee mug! Who cares if we’re paying two college tuitions and board for a high maintenance horse? Who cares if our house is so cluttered that “Hoarders” producers circle us like a vulture around a dying cow? Mothman swag for EVERYONE!

Dizzy by my frenzied Mothman shopping extravaganza, credit card clutched in my sweaty hand, I turned my head when the museum shop door opened and a smoky smell wafted in. A fellow was tossing mats on the floor like it was his job. It was. He owned the place. Man Child and I felt like we had met Sir Paul McCartney and nearly fell to our knees in fealty. “You own the Mothman Museum? Like. Wow. Man.”

We shook hands and learned that he smelled smoky because he’d been on the picket line with striking West Virginia teachers. Our love became greater. Forget living down the street from country music royalty, or bumping into Connie Britton at my kids’ school. I’m impressed with a schoolteacher who is a graphic artist and owns the freaking WORLD’S ONLY MOTHMAN MUSEUM. He’s also in a band. I mean can you get any more boss than that?

He also knows our Really Cool Neighbor who grew up in Point Pleasant and we learned that the stuffed Mothman she gave us years ago is now a collector’s item. Sorry Tammy. Collector Mothman is mine. The World’s Most Interesting Man who owns the World’s Only Mothman Museum invited us back for the Mothman Festival that is held the third weekend of September.

We put it in our calendars.

It was difficult to pull ourselves away from Point Pleasant, but we had an appointment with my mother, niece and some hot dogs. We paid our respects to those lost in the Silver Bridge collapse, paid homage to Chief Cornstalk with the embarrassment of knowing more often than not, the white guys have been the bad guys and nodded respectfully to the red glowing eyes in a porthole window of a Victorian house.

IMG_7436Thirty minutes down Route 2 from Mothman is a much-heralded eatery that defies haute cuisine, defines hot weenies and has been featured in shows such as Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. Clutching our 10% off coupon from WOMM, we entered the compound that is Hillbilly Hot Dogs.

This architectural marvel perched on the side of a hill that overlooks the slow-moving Ohio River is the brainchild of Sonny and Sharie Knight. He, a West Virginia native, brought his California girl back to the hills with him and they built a building so they could open a hotdog stand. Nearly two decades later, the building has all but disappeared within a puzzle of school buses, junktiques, outhouses, boats, vans teetering on poles, wedding chapels and more kitsch than a garden gnome emporium.

What remains important, however, within the layers of décor and bâtiment de fantaisie, is the original building, which houses the kitchen (cue: angelic voices). From this surprisingly sterile, steamy room, Hillbilly Hot Dogs are born. http://www.hillbillyhotdogs.com/

There are more menu choices at Hillbilly Hot Dogs than there are cars on blocks between Point Pleasant and Hillbilly Hot Dogs. Each item has a name. I got the West Virginian. Man Child considered the Homewrecker, briefly and the Widowmaker even more briefly, but I don’t remember what he got. Nor do I remember what my mother and niece got. I was in the zone and all that mattered was my hot dog, the onion rings and a Diet Coke. I’m watching my weight, after all.

We climbed into one of the dining rooms – a school bus covered in graffiti – and sat at a beautifully appointed table with a lovely centerpiece made from a Spam can. I need to remember that when I complete Daisy’s décor. As we waited for our food, Man Child plopped into the driver’s seat of the bus and discovered that everything was still connected. “The clutch just engaged!” he yelled. “The brakes are still hooked up!” He pushed pedals and shifted gears. I looked at my mom and she looked at me. Good God he was going to drive us into the Ohio River. Worst of all, he was going to drive us into the Ohio River BEFORE we got our hot dogs.

I used the ploy available to moms worldwide, no matter the age of their offspring. I distracted with food. “Why don’t you see if our order is ready?” He took off sniffing like a beagle after a rabbit and the bus stayed nestled into the side of a hill.

Before I made this trip, I had a discussion with my nutritionist. Because I have an autoimmune disease and because I am twice the woman I used to be, she has her work cut out for her. We were on the phone and she was trying to help me make good decisions for the trip by encouraging me to plan ahead.

“Well, I know I’m going to Hillbilly Hot Dogs, so that’s just gonna be a blow-it-out-my-ass kinda day,” I announced, knowing that I meant it both figuratively and literally. I heard the clicking of a keyboard and bit my tongue. Dammit. She was on the website, looking at the menu. I think I heard her retch.

She was quiet. The kind of quiet that a nervous person like myself feels obligated to fill. “I know it’s unhealthy, but it’s something I have to do.” She doesn’t understand the sacrifices we make for our kids, even when they’re grown. My son wanted the West Virginia experience. That meant Mothman and Hillbilly Hot Dogs.

“They have some vegetables,” she whispered. “Oh. Those are fried.” Then a few seconds later, “Wait. Here are rabbit fixin’s.”

I kept my mouth shut. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I adore this woman. She’s changed my life, seriously, with alterations in my eating habits that have lessened inflammation. But her elevator don’t go all the way to the top if she thinks I’m going to go to Hillbilly Hot Dogs and order a SALAD.

Because I’ve lived in Nashville long enough to say one thing and mean another, (unlike in West Virginia where you say everything that pops into your brain), I said, “Yes, that sounds lovely” and agreed that yes, I would have a great time and make good choices.

Because I was raised by my mother, for whom guilt is the elixir of life, I felt a little bit remorseful as I took the first bite of my dog, enjoying that satisfying pop of a perfectly cooked wiener. With each subsequent bite, I felt less guilty. By the time I had eaten all of my hot dog, an order of onion rings and half of my niece’s fries, and washed it down with a Diet Coke, I was happily, greasily semi-comatose.

All I needed was a wafer-thin mint.

We strolled the grounds afterward, as one would in any park-like setting, enjoying

bon mots written upon slabs of wood (“grinning like a opossum pooping peach seeds”), and marveling at the logistics of getting a van 20 feet into the air so that it could perch on top of a dead tree. We were flirting with a stray cat when Man Child clutched his stomach and high tailed it to the outhouse.

He was getting the full West Virginia experience, after all.

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Coming soon: Take Me Home Country Roads Part 2. Herstory in the making.