Category Archives: Popo’s Porch Stories

Building Friends

I don’t remember exactly when Eldon became my friend. I do, however, remember the first time I saw him grabbing fistfuls of blackberries off of Grandmaw’s shrub in the backyard. He stood there smashing the fruits in his mouth, his faded overalls dangling off one shoulder, feet bare and hair straight up on his head. He jumped in surprise when I yelled. “Y’all get outta my grandmaw’s berries!” Really, I was thinking – get out of MY berries. It made me red-hot mad to see all those yummy fruits going down someone else’s throat. I came off the porch in time to see him run off over the hill blackberries in both fists.

It would be several weeks before I knew his name, and that came after church one Sunday. Leaving from Assembly of God Church was an exercise in frustration for us kids and eternal patience for our parents. The slow procession out was made excruciating by the old folks who normally sat in the front and always were excused first. Their conversations with each other and then with Pastor Norris made the entire line stop and start in hiccupped convulsions. Kids, with a fevered desire to get out in the sun, would dash in as the line began to move only to be stopped short within footsteps from where they left; such was the sudden calamity that I experienced. I found an open spot and ran for it only to find my face smothered by the backside of a rather large-skirted lady.

“Oh, honey, are you alright?” she turned and patted me on the head. I didn’t look up for fear of seeing Grandmaw’s face frowning back, not that I could have seen anything since my eyes were blurry from the knock. As my vision cleared a round cheeked face appeared from the outside of the big skirt. My mouth popped open in surprise. It was that berry swiping kid! I hardly recognized him, his clothes were pressed and clean, and his hair was pressed too, down and to the side. He smelled like Grandpaw’s hair tonic.

Little did I know of the talk taking place above my head until Grandmaw poked me in the back and said, “Mind your manners Dickie, say hello to Eldon.”

“Hhlow.” I sputtered. Eldon just stood there wide-eyed with his mouth open. I knew he was remembering me from the berry bush incident.

By the time we all made it out into the sun, the sting of the backside buffeting including my introduction to Eldon had gone away. The sunshine invited play and Eldon made the first move. “Ya want to see my baseball?” He pulled a shining white ball from the front pocket of his baggy trousers. I thought maybe this kid was not just a berry thief after all and eased up enough to give him a second chance. “Race ya,” I motioned with my head to the vacant lot by the church. We scurried over and played catch while the grown-ups talked.

From then on it seemed like Eldon became part of our family. He was my age and fun to have around, so it was no surprise that everywhere I went he went too. Jimmy and me would make a plan and it couldn’t possibly be complete without Eldon along. Well, mostly, Eldon had lots of good ideas. He was the one who figured out that the broken boards off of Miss Parson’s old fence would be great as bunks in the clubhouse AND he finally came up with the way to get them to stay nailed to the walls – even though we spent half the day picking ourselves and the boards up off of the floor. He also knew where to find the best branches for making really good slingshots.

Soon August was well along and the big kids were starting talk about school. Summer beat down with unbearable heat, Jimmy and me, bound by Grandpaw’s swimming rule needed another place to play. Eldon helped us find a great spot up on the mountain that we could walk to and have a rumpus in the cool shade of the timber. The “hiding spot” was a great place to have adventures. After chores we would band together and make our way up the mountain to play war. Hours were spent searching for and collecting little piles of acorns and other nuts for ammo. After a short time pelting each other with the booty, we would abandon our efforts to get home in time for supper. Sometimes we just gathered up the ammo and would have to high-tail it back home; returning the next day we’d find our ammo eaten up by squirrels and deer. We tried hiding the stacks under twigs and leaves, but it was no use.

“We need a ammo box.” Jimmy sighed after the third try.

“No, we need a hideout!” Eldon exclaimed.

While we set to collecting up our ammo, I imagined a glorious lair in the trees – something like Robin Hood. We could go up and down on rope ladders and swing down to attack our enemies below . . . My imagination was working overtime when Jimmy popped me between the eyes with a walnut. “C’mon, I’m hungry, we’ve gotta get home.”

We spent the next week finding big branches and trying to stack them up between trees for a suitable hideout. Our efforts kept falling down and there wasn’t enough water and dirt to make a good mud pack to stick it all together. It was decided that we would start collecting boards and nails and we would have to haul them up to the site. This was gonna take a while. Since time was at a premium, we also determined that we could salvage a big chunk of the day if we helped each other out with our chores. This was an agreement that nearly led to the demise of me and Eldon’s friendship – but that story is for another day.

Our salvage operation was very successful as by the time school started we had most of the makings of a good hideout. We’d made a few new friends in the meantime and they were really good at scavenging areas that Jimmy, Eldon, and me weren’t familiar with.  Sherm was best at finding nails and Red had a knack for bringing along rope. We worked feverishly every afternoon to gather up the necessary supplies and would spend Saturdays in our building endeavors. By the end of September we pounded in the last nail. Our hideout was complete, or so we thought. We all stood back in admiration. “So, how do ya get in?” Sherm questioned. In our hurry, we forgot to build a door! Thwack, thwack, thwack. Eldon got right on the solution. He took the claw-end of his hammer to the nails on the middle three boards. In no time at all the entrance was made.

We jostled for position to get through the door. I, being rather skinny, slid in first. Inside the hideout was dark, cool and peaceful. The earth was soft under my feet and the air smelled musty and rich, like mushrooms. We all sat inside just looking at each other for a few minutes. All of a sudden Jimmy hopped up and declared war on the rest of us. I was glad since my britches were starting to get wet from my seat on the ground. After a short time pelting nuts at each other, Jimmy jumped back on the idea of an ammo box. We took the wood that was cast off for the door and made a good size box that also made a really great bench seat inside the hideout. By the time we collected a few nuts and put them inside the dinner bell was ringing back home.

Early October brought the first heavy frost and the afternoons didn’t stretch out long enough to allow us back to the hideout on the weekdays. I longed for Saturday when we would run up to the hideout, adventure, stash our nut ammo and other treasure and drag back home giddy and exhausted from play. As the month began to wane, we all knew that we’d soon have to leave the hideout behind for the winter. Eldon came up with another great idea – a camp out. It took Jimmy and me a bit more effort to convince Grandmaw that we could manage ourselves late on the mountain. She allowed it only if we bundled up and agreed that my older sister and cousin would go fetch us up an hour after dark.

On the day of the camp out Jimmy poked me in the ribs before the sun was up. “C’mon, we gotta get our camp gear packed.” I jumped up and pulled on my thermals. I gathered up my gear and turned on Uncle Otto’s headlamp to check the battery. The excitement bubbled in my stomach and I had to eat one of the apples that I packed the night before. We were dashing through the kitchen when Grandmaw stopped us short. “I made you boys some sandwiches, they’re on the table.” I grabbed the grub, kissed Grandmaw on the cheek and raced out the door.

We met Eldon on the top of the hill. “Your light’s on,” he pointed to my head. I felt a sharp smack on the back of my noggin compliments of Jimmy.

“Rats.” Now I would have to conserve the battery until the walk back home.

The trek to the hideout was made a bit slower by the gear, but we were still the first to arrive. Sherm got there soon after and was showing us the Boy Scout kit he borrowed from his brother when Red finally came along.

“How long were you planning on staying?” Sherm asked Red – this was prompted by the enormous rucksack that Red had hauled up.

“I din’t want to get cold, or hungry, besides I brought this.” Red revealed a spread of chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows – enough to feed all of Miss Lambert’s second-grade class. I liked Red’s thinking.

The day seemed to fly by and I felt a bit heavy as we collected up firewood in the afternoon. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the hideout or the fun we’d had. Before the sun got low we had a good size fire in the pit and were poking marshmallows in. We each took a turn at spooking the others with scary stories. I really liked the one that Jimmy made about crazy Miss Parsons being a witch, but Eldon’s about the miner’s ghost was voted the best. Darkness blanketed the woods. Cold crept into my skin and I didn’t know if my shivers were from the frosty air or the stories that were told. We watched the fire dwindle to white-hot coals as we ate up the last of the graham crackers. I could hear my sister’s voice calling up from the hollow below. We rummaged around in the beam of Sherm’s Boy Scout flashlight to gather our gear.  No one said a word as we covered up and stamped out the last of the fire’s embers.

My gear felt extra heavy on the walk down the trail toward the government road. Sherm and Red left us at the junction. I didn’t have the heart to say goodbye, so I just waved at their shadowy figures as they trudged slowly away. Sis had had enough of our lollygagging and left us at the top of the hill where we were to bid Eldon goodnight. It was there that I realized something and I got to poke Jimmy in the back for a change. “Hey, we didn’t play war all day,” I smiled. I could tell that he didn’t understand by the way he looked at me; but Eldon knew, he smiled too. “See ya tomorrow?” He said.

“Yeah, tomorrow.” The load was lighter the rest of the way home as I carried along visions of the hideout ammo box and the treasure that waited inside.

Popo’s Stories from Home

Dad was born in Morgantown, West Virginia; his beginnings are right here in the place that I now experience as home. He lived many of his formative years in the community of Parsons, West Virginia. Parsons sits among the hills at the confluence of the Shavers Fork and Black Fork creeks at the headwaters of the Cheat River.  Parsons is the place that my dad identifies as the roots of his life, what he would call his first home.

The word home identifies the place where you hang your hat, or take off your work clothes or eat your supper, but the meaning of home is so much more. Home may be where you feel most relaxed, or where you go to get renewed. Home may be where you started your life or where you are right now. Home, for most of us, is where our family gathers to share, and laugh, and cry. Most of all, I think, home is where your heart continues to venture whether in being or memory, it goes there when life is good and mainly when life kicks you in the teeth.

In all of the places that I’ve called home, my dad has graced the space within the walls with his stories. The better part of the tales comes from the times in his youth running among the hickory and beech trees in Parsons. He recalls the antics of family and friends in a less complicated world where the kids were kicked out of the house in the morning and spent the day fashioning adventures of every type from the pickings of the earth. Most of the stories would get us all laughing to the point where our sides were sore. Mainly, his stories painted a picture of a world that is all but gone now, memories of people who passed through his life and became, briefly, part of ours.

In my home, and that of all my sisters, dad is called “Popo”, a term of endearment he gave himself upon the birth of the first grandson. So the stories retold under “Popo’s Porch Stories” are his, with some minor fabrication where I can’t recall the details, or need to add a name or keep an identity private. This is the living tribute to a gentle man who continues to be a giant in the eyes of his daughters and his grandchildren.

Dad, I hope you like these in the retelling.

Popo’s Swimming Story

Grandpaw had lots of rules, especially when it came to Jimmy and me. This was probably due to the fact that neither of us stood taller than his belt buckle and our combined age was less than his dog’s. We knew the rule, but today was the hot, muggy West Virginia summer day that makes the rules melt right out of your head. Grandmaw and all the big kids were otherwise occupied, so we hiked down to the swimming hole on the Cheat River together. Like I said, this went cross-wise to Grandpaw’s rules, “No swimming alone.” Alone meant without the big kids or an adult, but no one was watching, so who would know? We’d spend the day in the cool water and be back by supper.

We reached the bank of the swimming hole and I stuck my big toe in the water. The cool feeling traveled up the bottom of my foot as I stepped in.

“Stop!” Jimmy hollered at me, “Are you stupid? You gotta take your clothes off so we don’t get all wet and get in trouble.”

Since he was a bit older than me, and a hair taller, I knew that his advice was sound. We stripped down to our skivvies, carefully laid our shorts and shirts on the bushes and then jumped into the cool stream. The water washed the sticky day off my skin. I splashed Jimmy and he dove under, in a flash my feet were pulled out from under me and I fell backwards into the drink. We swam and played like this without regard to the passing of the day. After a while my grumbling belly made me think that it was probably getting toward supper time. “Jimmy, I’m getting hungry. Maybe we should get home.” We reluctantly trudged up the bank and gingerly pulled our dry clothes off of the bushes. Our dripping skivvies would dry as we walked up toward home. We meandered along up the hill and started up the dirt road towards Grandmaw’s house. I heard a rumble behind us and turned to see Mr. Sidlinton in his Ford pickup coming up the road.

“You boys need a ride?” Mr. Sidlinton’s low slow voice rolled over his arm through the open window of the driver door.

“Yes, sir.” Jimmy immediately replied.

Looking us over, Mr. Sidlinton said. “Looks like you boys better jump in the back.”

We climbed into the bed of the truck. Once seated, we thought it best we get our clothes back on since we were now making very good time back up to Grandmaw’s house. It didn’t take long and the truck was rolling to a stop. I peeped over the side of the truck bed to see Grandpaw taking his boots off on the back porch.

“I believe I have something that belongs to you.” Mr. Sidlinton droned out the window to Grandpaw. “Take a look in the back.”

Grandpaw’s face appeared over the tailgate. His brow furrowed and his mouth moved into a deep frown. “You boys get out and meet me on the porch.” His voice was stern. He thanked Mr. Sidlinton and soon stood in front of Jimmy and me on the porch.

“You boys been swimming?” His voice was low and serious. I shook my head, no. I could feel my face tingling. The realization hit that my drawers were soaked – we didn’t have the drying time that was planned for the walk home. “Dickie? Jimmy? Are you boys fibbing to me? Why are your clothes all wet?” My head started to spin, I couldn’t keep up the lie, but Jimmy broke first, “But, but, Grandpaw it was so hot, and . . . “

“Jimmy, you know the rule. Get over to that apple tree and break me off a switch.”

Jimmy walked over and broke off a twig no bigger than his finger and presented it to Grandpaw.

Grandpaw frowned, “That won’t do and you know it, get me a better switch.” This time he followed Jimmy to the tree. I stood watching the show. This was getting good. I must have snickered, because Grandpaw shot back over his shoulder, “Dickie, you’re next.”

What!? Panic shot up from my feet to my head and back down again. I zipped into the kitchen where Grandmaw was still cooking supper.

“Save me, Grandmaw! Save me!” I cried mournfully all the while listening to Jimmie’s howling in the back yard. She didn’t have time to react, Grandpaw was through the door. I hid behind her skirt as he came in.

“That boy’s due for a switching so let me at him.”

I didn’t wait for the reply; I scurried under the kitchen table, my heart racing.

“Dickie, you come out and get what your due.” Grandpaw lumbered over to the end of the table, but I scrambled to the other side just as he reached under. I knew if he caught me, I was a gonner. He followed around the side, I could see his feet. So off I went, back to the other end. Back and forth this chase went on all the while I could hear Grandpaw’s deep, stern tone, “Dickie, you come out. When I catch you, I’m gonna tan your hide. Get out here and take your medicine.” It all ran together mixed with the thumping of my heart in my ears.

“You are never going to catch that boy and you know it.” Grandmaw chided. Little did I know that she was gasping with laughter at the scene.

“Well I’m hungry, and this is taking too long.” Grandpaw sat down in his chair to eat and I cowered on the other end of the table, watching for any movement toward me. The world slowed as I watched Grandpaw’s feet while he ate. I lay down on the floor and his feet started to blur.

I woke up to the dark, quiet of the house. Everyone was asleep. I climbed the stairs and slipped into bed next to Jimmy. My fanny didn’t sting, but the whole incident scared me near to death. My eyes fixed on the open window, I could smell the heat of the day coming off of the trees, and I thought of the cool water in the swimming hole as I drifted off to sleep.