Category Archives: West Virginia New

Porridge

“Malt-O-Meal, Malt-O-Meal . . .” I soon realized that my thoughts were being played out verbally as the lady with the shopping cart beside me hustled away. She looked back as if to confirm my psychosis and nearly took out a crossing shopper at the corner of the cereal aisle. I’m sure the sound of my chant was laced with anxiety and quite unnerving to those within earshot. Other moms probably understand the serious repercussions that can ensue from not being able to find the right breakfast cereal. The specific request from Cereal Lover (my youngest son) was for Malt-O-Meal, “Don’t forget my favorite.” He sang out as I dropped him off at school. Now the tick list of grocery items was going to have a blank spot and the disappointment from Cereal Lover at home was going to be very tough to accept.

My chant carried on in my head since I couldn’t find the box that I was searching for. Looking further, names of the potential replacements played in my mind as each box was read. Grits, grits, quick-cooking grits, old-fashioned grits, grits, Cream of Wheat – yes! That was familiar. As I grabbed the box, I spotted a store clerk near the end of the aisle.

“Hi, can you help me?”

“I’ll certainly try.” The clerk smiled.

“Where’s the Malt-o-Meal?”

“The what?” Now the store clerk was questioning my sanity. “Would you normally find that in the cereal aisle?”

“Yes, but I guess not here.” I felt a little dejected.

I don’t know anything about grits and here in Morgantown there are boxes and boxes of grits. I should probably try them sometime; of course prepared by one of the local experts as my attempt at cooking them would likely not turn out favorably. As I put the cereal in the cart I mused – there are some things that are quite different south of the Mason-Dixon Line and breakfast cereal is one of them.

This incident led to the recall of a summer long before sitting at the kitchen table in my great-grandmother’s house in Parsons, West Virginia.  I wasn’t quite five years old and our family was visiting my dad’s mom and grandmother. My little sister and I wanted oatmeal for breakfast and were served the warm bowls with brown sugar and CREAM. Having not experienced cream in our oats before (only milk), we promptly spit the offensive porridge back out into the bowls. My mother, mortified by our behavior, chastised us vehemently and ordered that we eat the “wonderful oatmeal” that had been made especially for us. At this we both bowed up, and ended up expelled from the table in tears with our stomachs protesting.

There were probably things that my mother could have done to make that memory turn out better. As a mom, I took this thought out of the grocery store and practiced the script to let Cereal Lover down easy. It started with “some things aren’t the same south of the Mason-Dixon Line.”

Appalachia Song

There is something comforting and attractive in what is familiar to the senses. Each of us is tuned in to notice what says “home”. Usually this comes from the elements that surrounded us as children, so the music of the familiar is initially composed by our family.

Many times during my childhood we travelled from our western haven in Wyoming eastward to family in West Virginia. Great-grandma, grandma, and my aunt’s generous family were the focus of our visits. The visits were summer excursions into the dialect and rhythm of Appalachia. The singing of cicadas, the chorus of songbirds, and the language of my family wrote an indelible melody in my subconscious.

As a child you do not understand or comprehend the way that your extended family influences your life. This hidden influence was brought to my attention in a local restaurant on our first house hunting trip to Morgantown. I could feel the change in my demeanor when I heard our waitress speak; the familiar surrounded me and I quite suddenly felt relaxed.

“She sounds like my cousin.” I told my husband when the waitress left our table.

“How’s that?”

“It’s the way she speaks.” I couldn’t accurately describe at the time what it was in her voice that reminded me of my cousin. I have now pinned it down to a few sounds that strike the familiar notes. Most prominent is the short “a” that sounds like “awe”. This vowel pronunciation makes “grandma” sound like “grandmaw” and easily slips its way into even the shortest conversation.

There are also certain terms and colloquialisms that I pick up in my sojourns about town. When heard, the statements almost always cause a giggle to escape me and I hope that the speaker doesn’t take offense to my chortle. Typically the grocery store is where the most familiar phrase comes within earshot and it usually has to do with a shopping cart. “Junior, go get grandmaw a buggy,” I overhear and an image of my own grandmother pops up, along with a stifled chuckle. I really should try to get this reaction under control since it probably looks like some sort of strange spasm.

I catch the nuances of sound faster now. Maybe I walk around more aware, listening for the harmonies of language that fill the local dwelling places. Each restaurant, market, and shop a place to imbibe in human sound. Every outdoor venue presents the opportunity for orchestral compositions from fauna of earth and water and sky. My ears and mind work together to knit the memories of childhood into the fabric of my current place in life, weaving something comfortable into what is new.

In knitting together the past and present, I sift through each experience collecting tidbits for the project. One such experience was last fall when my aunt came to visit our new house. She brought family photos, home canned vegetables, and the melody of a dialect song from my childhood, all things that warmed the space between our new house’s walls to begin to make it home.

The Rules of Golf

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There is a commercial on TV that features a popular professional golf player chastising a casual golfer who has just kicked his ball away from a tree. This cracked me up the very first time I watched. That commercial goes through my head every time I go out on the course. There are several beautiful golf courses here in Morgantown. I’ve had the pain and pleasure of playing three of them. Pain because I am a beginner and they are difficult for me to play and pleasure because each is lovely and I enjoy playing golf. This is a surprising phrase as I “never” thought I would actually go out and play the game. Rule #1: Never say “never”.

My first attempts at using a set of golf clubs came in high school. I was not an athlete; so when the choices available for our P.E. class were coed volleyball, field hockey, or golf, I determined that golf presented the least likely scenario for broken bones and signed up. Week 1: learn to grip the club and practice swinging at an imaginary ball – wow; I was pretty good at this already! Week 2: place a REAL ball on a rubber mat in front of you and hit it. This was my downfall; no matter how hard I tried I simply could not hit that little ball. Week 3 came and went; my classmates were learning different clubs and perfecting their swing, I still hadn’t hit the ball. Week 4: field trip to the local golf course to apply what was learned. I, however, was left behind at the school to continue to attempt to hit the ball. So, as you may have deduced, I never hit the ball. In the instructor’s words, “Maybe you shouldn’t play this game.” Rule #2: Learn in the right atmosphere with someone who can give you valuable insight.

In all my years in Wyoming I never attempted to play golf again, but I didn’t feel that I was missing too much. The weather was usually prohibitive and the courses that I was familiar with were not very scenic. My husband liked to play and enjoyed the game with his many friends all over the state.  So when he bought a golf glove, I wondered why; when he bought shoes, I thought he was going a bit overboard; and when he shelled out “big bucks” for a new driver and 3-wood – well you can imagine my dismay.

About a year ago I tried again to hit a little white ball off of a tee on a West Virginia golf course. This time I used a club from my youngest son’s junior set and had a few tips from my ever-patient husband. The club face came down and actually connected with the ball, it didn’t travel far but I was as giddy as if it had gone several hundred yards! Each consecutive attempt drew me further into a pastime that I hadn’t considered pursuing. Soon I had clubs (shared with my youngest), a hand-me-up glove (also from the youngest), and a good pair of golf shoes. Rule #3: Buy the correct equipment.

My husband and I play a few holes nearly every evening and we truly enjoy this activity together. I’m learning the rules and when scoring must take extra strokes for balls lost, hit out of play and into the pond. The game is a sine curve of ups and downs for me, but the challenge of developing my game within the rules is enjoyable.  Rule #4: Follow the rules and have fun.

As you can see these rules of golf apply in pretty much any situation. Take a chance and try (or try again), get good guidance and tools, and maintain integrity for the best experience. I consider this life lesson while looking down on my ball in the tall grass of the rough.

“Go ahead and fluff that ball up a bit, everyone else does.” My husband suggests as I pull my 5-iron from the bag.

I reply, “Rule #13 – The ball must be played as it lies.”

 

Rain

It didn’t rain yesterday. This is only notable because it had rained for the previous ten days; some days more, some less, but rain all the same. Having come from the water-starved west, I rejoice at the rain while missing the blue sky and sunshine. In other words, I’m still getting used to it.

Getting in the groove of a wetter climate has been a bit of a stretch for our family. It was most evident much earlier this season when we planted new grass seed and shrubs. We dutifully watered every day to “establish” the new plantings. Our neighbors would walk by the house watching our antics in amused curiosity. Of course, our activity all stems from past experience. Back in Kemmerer, Wyoming we would have never neglected to water the lawn. (Item number 2 on the “Never” list.)

My husband has done better at adjusting to the weather than I have. Our patio conversation from a month ago confirms –

“We should water the lawn.” I stated while nervously shifting in my patio chair.
“No, it’s gonna rain.” He responded.
“We’ll at least my roses, they’re wilting.”
“No, it’s gonna rain.”
“There’s not a cloud.”
“Sit down, it’s gonna rain.”
“No way.” I remarked confidently.

By the next day at noon almost ½” of rain had fallen.

So I’ve worked very hard at restraining myself from the daily watering addiction. The garden hose has stayed rolled up on the keeper with the exception of a couple brief moments when I used it for the flower pots on the porch instead of hauling a watering can around. I don’t know if this was out of convenience or the melancholy of walking by the lonely looking garden hose every day.

However, I haven’t even looked at the garden hose for the past two weeks. Our unofficial rain gauge, tea light holders on the patio, have filled to about an inch and been dumped out three times in that period. Three inches of rain is impressive to this Wyoming girl. I came to West Virginia quite unaware of the precipitation. My ignorance was demonstrated when I recently remarked to my spouse, “well at least it’s not as wet here as in Seattle.” WRONG – upon brief research the truth was revealed that Morgantown is wetter than Seattle – MUCH wetter. Morgantown averages almost ten inches per year more rain than Seattle, Washington.  I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut on “intelligent” climate remarks to my spouse since it’s causing him to believe that he is often right.

Remarks on the extensive gloom and rain were a brief topic in my Father’s Day chat with dad. I lamented on the grey sky and tempered the woe with light-hearted discussion of the many beautiful blooms that we have been graced with. He listened patiently, interjecting a knowing “yes” and “you don’t say” every so often to be gracious. He eventually wearied of my doleful conversation and cleverly concluded the subject with the following:

Dad, “You know the old-timers have a name for the weather you’re describing, don’t you?”

Me, “Really, what’s that?”

Dad, “Spring.”

The ‘Never’ List

  1. Have paper napkins at a picnic.
  2. Forget to water the lawn.
  3. Cut down mature trees.
  4. Stay up late to watch hockey.
  5. Need golf shoes.

Everyone probably has a short list of things that they really never imagined that they would do. When asked, the response would be, “No, I never really considered that.” The list above shows some of mine. All of which would still be on the ‘never’ list if we had not moved east of the Mississippi.

Being born and raised in Wyoming, my husband and I were of the notion that you 1) could not have a picnic without your plate (food and all) blowing into Nebraska; 2) need to water your grass daily; 3) plant a tree so that your great-grandchildren could finally climb its 20-foot majesty; 4) hunted. What’s hockey? Golf was only enjoyable for a window of six to eight weeks – tops.

Wyoming was home from the eastern plains where we both were born to the western high desert foothills. The enormous clear blue sky against the soft light olive color of the dry sagebrush provided the backdrop for our deep root growth in western Wyoming. We raised most of our family outside of the little town of Kemmerer in a home that we spent all of our time renovating. So our hearts and minds were firmly grounded in the west – or so we thought.

Moving eastward was going to the state line or (heaven forbid) eastern Colorado. The notion of relocation beyond those bounds only came briefly as I search advancement potential in my federal job. “What about Washington?” I queried my unsuspecting spouse.

“Huh?” his reply.

“Washington.”

“Seattle? Too rainy.”

“No, D.C.”

“You have fun,” which was his response to places where he absolutely did not want to go. So when the door opened on advancement for his career and it took us beyond the imaginary geographical limits to the mysterious Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. we were into one more of the items on our ‘never’ list.

Sixteen years of growth in one place is difficult to uproot. Letting loose of the life-garden cultivated in that place creates a huge hole; the friendships, career, house, landscapes, and community left behind opens up an emptiness that is difficult to describe. (Or is it really a clean slate?)

Finding our home in West Virginia, we start to fill the hole again. Slowly, we’re learning the norms of the neighborhood, the cycles of the weather, and our vocation in this new place. – New item for the ‘never’ list: start a blog.

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