January 23, 2012: I grew up in West Virginia, on a farm in Brooke County (Northern Panhandle), 5 miles from everything. We had a Wellsburg address (RD#3), a Follansbee phone number, and went to grade school in Colliers. The phone was an 8-party line – we were R4 and Granny was J3. St John’s Road was dirt until about 1957.
Since I was a girl, I could not hitchhike to the pool in Follansbee and girls did not go swimming in the strip mines (water holes that remained after an area was strip mined for coal). I got to pick 100 potato bugs for a penny, help weed the garden, bring in the cows for milking (later I got to milk them – by hand, no milking machine) and take them back to the pasture, and in the Fall, help with the canning.
I also got to roam the pasture fields, ride my bike up and down the 3 ½ miles of St John’s Road, read books, learn to cook, bake, and sew, and practice my saxophone (I actually became quite good). I would sit on a sawhorse and practice and look up at the contrails of the planes from the Pittsburgh airport thinking, I do not care where you are going, I wish I were on you. In 1970, not on a plane - I drove, going to my Mother’s home territory – Chicago!
After 3 ½ years of flatland, I knew I had to go HOME. A week later I met the man and 5 kids that would keep me there another 19 years, bringing an infant son with me. I was more fortunate than a lot of the West Virginia exiles, I was given a reward for bringing up our “2-legged animals” and got to come HOME!! I am now in Shinnston in the North-Central region, Mountaineer Country, but it is West Virginia with a bed & breakfast I opened in 1996. I get to live in a house that is 100 years old this year, a house that was the “home place” to the Gillum family for 60 years. A house at least one of the Gillum grandsons still comes home to, the house his Dad was born in.
This reminiscing was brought on by an article a friend sent to me, Native son writes a love letter to West Virginia . It was a story similar to mine, but different in that I got to go home.
Come see our West Virginia (his Paden City is on one of my routings) for yourself. Come see our hills, valleys, rivers, and more that hold our hearts. Don’t be surprised if they win yours also.