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.

A Prayer for the Farmers

Saturday morning dawned clear and pleasant, a lovely day to do something outside. I dragged my husband out of bed early to experience the local farmer’s market. He was more enthusiastic than I anticipated, likely due to the two large cups of coffee that had been delivered to him hot and strong while he sat in bed.

On arrival to the marketplace, we wandered like lost sheep through the multiple vendors. As neophytes to the experience, we were overwhelmed by a sea of color and choices. Even this early in the season, the stands provided a bounty beyond expectation. Upon the tables were spread multiple varieties of leafy greens, onions, beans, and herbs in overflowing piles. It took us over an hour just to decide on a course of action, which was the proposed menu for the next few days as well as the list of fresh edibles to build the entrees.

Farmer’s markets are not uncommon in the west, but you will not find one in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The growing season there seldom goes beyond about 30 days, which is the average of frost-free days in the area, and the main reason that the primary farming that goes on around Kemmerer is of livestock. Livestock farming can be moderately successful barring any “unusual” circumstances of weather or disease or market fluctuation which are all too common. The ever-burdened timeworn look of the Kemmerer rancher is deeply chiseled into my memory. These men and women, truly Jacks and Jills-of-all-trades, were the backbone of every aspect of their operation from before sun-up until well after sun-down every day of the year. I didn’t know of a rancher who rested (unless under anesthesia) and vacations were all but unheard of. They poured their very soul into the ranch – it wasn’t just a place or an occupation, it was their life.

I worked with the Kemmerer ranchers for over 13 years and I truly miss these denizens of the range. They would come into the office briefly, usually under great difficulty of time or disposition, to manage paperwork and accounts. Sometimes (rarely) they would stay for a bit and discuss matters other than concerns with business. Most often they would meander in, pay a bill, grumble a little about the weather or costs or changes, notice that their cow dog was now ¼ mile down the road, and hasten off leaving but a puff of range dust where they once stood.

One particularly poignant memory is the good-bye from a rancher who was not only a community fixture, but also someone who was more of a “regular” in our office.

“So, what do you think you’ll do when you leave this place?” He softly questioned while sharing a gentle hug.

“I was thinking about doing some writing.”

“Well, don’t you forget about us, OK?”

Saturday I looked into the eyes of the market farmer and didn’t see the red from the western dust and sun, or the wrinkles from worry, or the hunched shoulders from years on the back of a horse. I saw a robust man with a round-cheeked smile and thought of how I hoped his years on the farm were showing in the glow on his face. He helped me remember, so I said a prayer for all farmers that this year would bring them something to smile about.

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.”

Pageants

The Miss USA pageant was on last weekend. I only know this because I saw a photo prompt on a news website the day before the pageant was to air. I didn’t watch. I haven’t watched any of the televised beauty parades for decades. There are probably many good reasons for not buying into the beauty pageant scene, but the real reason that I stopped watching was that the great state of Wyoming NEVER won. (I stopped watching before the one and only runner up ever occurred.) OK, so Wyoming did have one “Junior Miss” winner, but in the long list of women who held title to any of the notable pageants the states at the end of the alphabet (WV and WY) contain goose-eggs next to their names.

I speculated for a while on why and came up with the following possibilities:

1)      West Virginia and Wyoming state names occur so far down in the alphabet that by the time the judges actually get to see a contestant from these states they are so burned out and bleary-eyed they would not be able to discern whether the figure standing before them was even female. I can hear the judges’ conversation, Judge1 to Judge2 “What is that melody? It really reminds me of a buzz saw.” Judge2, “The contestant is not singing; Judge3 has fallen asleep.” The end-of-alphabet excuse fell through on further research when I found that other W states have had success in at least one pageant.

2)      Young women vying for a beauty title are limited by the top talent in both states, hunting prowess. I have never heard of a Miss Beautiful winner who was able to pursue a deer (or antelope or elk or moose) aptly shoot it down, field dress the animal and tote it back to the admiring crowd in New Jersey (or other venue). However, this is a talent that will hook up the lovely field-roaming lady with her knight in shining camo in either state. I actually overheard this to be true from two young men who worked in my office. Real Guy 1, “I’m in love.” Real Guy 2, “No way, where did you find her?” RG1, “I was on the mountain huntin’ on Saturday and heard a shot nearby; when I looked over the ridge, there she was, blonde hair in a pony-tail field dressing her elk. Man that girl looks good in orange.” RG2, “You’re SO lucky.”

All of this is really of no serious consequence in the spinning of the earth, but it did give me pause. I’m sure that there are many bright, beautiful, talented young women in both states that are serious contenders for the title, but when they come home they will still need to know how to hunt and chop wood in order to survive the winter.

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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