West Virginia

The Gravedigger and Big Pharmaceuticals

 

I met a gravedigger today but didn’t get his name. We met along the side of the road where he had just finished toping a grave with January clods of mud. We talked about the newly departed, at 31 years of age this man was too young for the darkness of the grave. He informed me that the 1885 cemetery was full and bursting at the seams. “Drugs,” the Gravedigger said, “We can’t fill the seats in the church anymore but we fill the cemetery to overflowing.”

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Mt Olive Church Cemetery Philippi, WV

As I walked along the road past the tiny white church and cemetery, down the curving hill to town, I found more signs of the true plague of Appalachia. The results of a generation who knew nothing of the risks, destruction, and power that a Poppy flower could have.

Along the graveled berm of the road near a hospital, I found the waded remains of a blue latex glove and the unsealed foil wrapper of prescription medication. Suboxone printed clearly in bright blue letters on the label of the wrapper. I knew the name and its use; I had heard it many times on the local news. Even members of my own family have sat at the dining table discussing if this was the answer.

Conversations about heroin, death and opioid addiction are an everyday thing. The statistics flood the television and the internet. We are in a state of addiction and all the struggles that come with it. I take photos of the hospital, the glove and the wrapper and walk back to my car.

 

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Wrapper from the medication Suboxone.

The Gravedigger has finished his job and sits in the cab of his blue pickup as I walk up to his window. I tell him about the trash that I found and he nods his broad heavy head. “No needles this time?” He asks. “No…. not this time”, I say looking at the gravel-covered ground. I think about the needles I have found on the street. I never need to find more. I think about the young man I watched shoot up and about the families I know who have lost parents to the Gravediggers shovel. I finally look back up at the Gravedigger and say “Well, maybe this one will get clean.” The Gravedigger and I both know what I said is a lie. It is false hope about the future of this town.

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Mt Olive Church circ. 1885 Philippi, WV 2020.

He looks up at the little white church through the windshield of the truck and says to me, “It was the faith in God that got our ancestors here, it was faith the kept them in these hills and it is faith that will get them through this, there is no other hope.” I nod my head and say goodbye.

Driving down the hill away from the Church I pass the little hospital. A beautiful new and clean facility where every day they fight for our lives. Where every day they fight this plague with millions less than the Pharmaceutical companies that planted this rotting plague in our mountains.

By the end of the day, I hear on the news that the CEO of a large Pharmaceutical Company gets sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison for bribery of doctors to prescribe a killer Opioid. 5 years… 5 years, is what the courts thought fit to sentence a man who has not only destroyed one life but also hundreds of thousands of lives. Where is the justice for the fatherless children I know?

He and men like him have drained every county in Appalachia of funds because each dose of Narcan is $150 dollars and each county has to pay for the medication to save hundreds of lives. He has drained my state of families who can raise their own children. We are now the #1 state in the country with grandparents raising their grandchildren. He has brought more crime to small towns as addicts steal to fuel their addiction. He and his company are draining the churches and filling the cemeteries of Appalachia with the young men and women who were supposed to be our leaders. Too many of them ended up meeting the Gravedigger I met today.

There are no easy answers and no easy solutions for the people who live in one of the highest Opioid addicted states. It is one of the problems that each of us who chooses to live here thinks about and wants to change. It is something that I worry about when I think about my 11-year-old and how will we handle his future. It is something my company talks about when they can’t hire a clean and sober employee. It is what the preachers in all the churches preach against and it is what is killing not only the young but the very state I live in. Today was just another day in Appalachia.

 

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A filtered photo of the Mt Olive Church in Philippi WV 2020.

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Cemetaries, drug addicition, family memories, grave digger, Mt Olive Church and Cemetry Barbour County WV, Opiod use, state wide struggle, Uncategorized, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Trail of Icicles at Audra State Park

 

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Christopher eating an icicle from the overhanging rocks at the Alum Cave Trail at Audra State Park 2019.

Early snows came to West Virginia this year. But this week at Audra State Park we found the perfect day to go hiking on a warm sunny 49-degree day. What we found was magical and my photos do not do justice to the beauty of the thousands of Icicles that form along the Alum Cave Trail in the wintertime.

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icicles forming over the boardwalk at Audra State Park Winter 2019.  

 

I had seen a photo once of the park in wintertime and had always wanted to do a hike along the river after a light snow. With Christopher off from school for the holiday, we headed out without any expectations of what we would find. We waited until about noon to start our hike in one of the state’s smallest parks. Audra State Park borders two counties(Barbour and Upshur) and includes several miles of the Middle Fork River. The park has several picknick sites, two pavilions and offers 67 campsites for guests to enjoy. There are just a few trails that cover the 355 acres of the park. The most popular and most photographed is the boardwalk that passes along the river bank and under a very large and long rock overhang along the Alum Cave Trail. The trip from the parking area to the trailhead and around the small loop is maybe 2.0 miles and is easy except for the very steep staircase that is attached to the boardwalk. There is a larger loop trail that takes you along the river bank for a nice walk of 3.2 miles of easy hiking. Both trails intersect at the boardwalk and return you to the picknick area.

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the very steep staircase to the boardwalk at Audra State Park. 

Christopher and I had not explored much of Audra State Park in the past and the weather was perfect for wandering and taking photos. We hoped to see maybe just a few icicles at the cave that day but were astonished at the amount of ice we came across. We tried the typical route for the hike following the signage at the first fork, we took the lower trail to the boardwalk. As we reached the head of the boardwalk we were met with a huge ice slick that was 15 feet wide and 20 or 25 feet tall. Water was coming over the top of the mountain where the sun was shining and rolling over to the shaded side. This created several layers of thick ice. It was like a small frozen waterfall except across the trail and down to the river. No Crossing Here! We stopped and enjoyed the water and river below for a few minutes, knowing we would have to go around to see the boardwalk.

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Christopher looking at the ice covering the Alum Cave Trail at Audra State Park.

We backtracked and took the upper fork of the trail to the other end of the boardwalk. We often watched the Middle Fork River rumble by and enjoyed the quiet solitude of an empty park. Finally arriving at the top of the very steep staircase at the boardwalk. I was so relieved to see the stairs were not covered in ice. As we descended the steps the ice began to appear….. everywhere. The ice had somehow not gotten on the staircase but flowed all around it. The sidewalls were covered, some of the boardwalk and handrails were covered, the rock faces were covered, the trees and bushes below were covered. Icicles hung from the roof of the cave and froze to the ground all around us. Water gushed from a spring in the back of the cave and water splashed and froze everything but us.

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Middle Fork River at Audra State Park. 

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Ice covers the landing and ramp to the cave portion of the Alum Cave Trail. 

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looking back up the boardwalk ramp to the landing. We had to slide down this portion of the boardwalk at Audra State Park. 

 

Christopher was so amazed at the ice formations that all I can remember him saying the entire time was, “This is AWESOME!…. this is so awesome… can we come back again, Please?” At 11 years old shimmying across the ice-covered boardwalk was fun and exciting, at 51 it was tricky. The handrails along the boardwalk were much-needed support for me to cross the 12-foot sheet of ice going downhill into the cave/rock overhang. It was breathtaking to see the sunshine gleaming through the ice. I loved watching the dripping water drop 20 feet above me. It was one of those moments where you find beauty in nature beyond your imagination.  I just could not capture it adequately with my camera, I am not skilled enough to take backlit photos efficiently. We walked to the spot where the ice flow had blocked our passage and laughed. Then slowly enjoying every minute turned and walked back across the boardwalk.  The return up the ramp to the landing was also one of those moments where you just wonder what you have gotten yourself into. Christopher headed up the ramp first. I figured if he came sliding back down the ramp to me I could stop him, maybe? He made it with no problem. The ice was ruff and dry at this point of the day. So I took a deep breath and started to walk with both hands on the handrail up the ice-covered ramp. Slowly and carefully I walked right up the ramp without a hitch and stepped into the sun on the landing and about slipped. My heart stopped for a minute I am sure. Then we climbed back up that steep staircase to the gravel at the top. I stopped and looked back down at everything we had seen and felt like I was given a gift.

We then headed to the other end of the park and spent some time on the beach section of the river and walked on the frozen sand. Which sounded like a good idea at the time but got very scary very fast. The water makes the sand mushy close to the edge. I didn’t realize this for some reason and just about ended up in the ice-cold river as the sand gave way under the thin frozen crust. My feet sank about a foot before I dragged them free and away from the river’s edge.

Christopher and I headed home about three hours later and stopped for a drink. We talked about when we wanted to go back and made plans to see the rhododendrons in bloom in May. Overall the hike is very easy, the scenery is beautiful and the water is clear. I am not sure I would have enjoyed this as much if we had been surrounded by a lot of people. The trail is very narrow and not level, not graveled or maintained very well. You hike across what seems like a creek bed for several hundred yards on rolled stones so you need some room to move on and off the trail. Otherwise, for a relaxing afternoon in late Dec. I could not think of a better place to spend the day.

 

Categories: Audra State Park, Barbour County, Camping, family fun, family memories, hiking, ice, photo review, State Park activities, Uncategorized, Upshur County West Virginia, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ghost Visits the Golden Rule

I get asked all the time if where I work, The Golden Rule, is haunted? For a building to be built in 1902 and not be haunted is a surprise. I would say that the building is not haunted in the traditional way. Not in the way horror movies show hauntings, full of evil spirits and terrible outcomes. I don’t have slamming doors, lights turning on and off or cold chills in the building. I rarely hear strange unexplained noises. I work for hours alone in the large empty building day and night, never feeling a cold chill. But, this building does have visitors.

Black and white photo of the side of the Golden Rule, Belington WV.

I have worked in the building around 18 months and after about 6 months of clearing out the building I gave up on experiencing anything unusual. That is until one warm summer evening when the rain poured down and lightning flashed that I meet someone amazing.

This usual Wednesday evening I was working alone doing inventory and getting ready for the antique auction we were planning as a fundraiser. Tables were lined with items from the 1920s to items used in the 1970s. I would list each item on an inventory sheet and photograph it, so we could either sell the item or place in on display in the future. The storm came in about 4pm and darkened the sky and made the inside of the building dreary enough I needed to turn on the lights. With my back turned to the front glass doors I worked listening to the rumble of thunder and the sounds of pouring rain. A few minutes into the storm I head a pecking sound on the glass that brought my attention to the double glass doors at the front of the building. Standing under the aged front arch, was a man. A small aged man, maybe 5’2″ around 70 dressed in an unusual way.

Front view of the arched entry of the Golden Rule after a rain.

The man wore a blue and white striped engineers cap over his head of short white hair. His face was light with a short groomed beard and mustache with crystal blue eyes that twinkled when he spoke. He wore an insulated blue work coat in the style of a1970s coal miner. He wore dark blue work pants rather than blue jeans. The blue of his eyes, hat, and coat contrasted with his healthy pink skin so much it appeared he had just showered and still had the rosy glow of the heat.

I walked to the locked door and smiled at him through the glass. I opened the door slightly to speak to the petite man. I asked if I could help him and he replied that he had worked in the building years ago and had seen the lights on. That he saw my car parked outside as he drove by and wanted to see what was happening with the old place.

His accent was pure West Virginia, charming and educated. I felt the urge to let him in from the cold gray outside and felt no fear bringing the stranger into the building. We stopped at the front of the first floor and he began to ask questions about who owned the building and who worked for the company and what were the future plans for the Golden Rule.

He was so filled with love for the place that he excitedly asked if I knew the Shinn family. He also asked if I had known him or his brother back in the 1970s when he worked at the store. I explained that I was not in West Virginia then and shared who I worked for. He preceded to share that everyone called him Hatchet and he had a brother named Don who worked there off and on too. He explained he helped Don moved the furniture and did deliveries for Mrs. Shinn, who owned the Golden Rule for close to 50 years.  He had run the historic water-powered elevator and trapped bats on the third-floor rafters over the years. I asked if he had been in the building recently and he said, “no not for years and years. I spend most of my time fixing up old cars now.”

We visited for an extended time on the first floor then I offered to show him around.  He was a fit older man, so we talked about what was on each floor when he worked for Wanda Shinn. He shared stories about selling mattresses and box springs and having to wait on the elevator to raise and lower. “It was so slow that you would pile everything you sold on one trip to save time,” Hatchet said.

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We talked about his life as we looked out the windows on the third floor. He said,” I have always loved the view of the rail yard back here.” We stood side by side looking at the aging trains and cars parked behind the Golden Rule. He talked about his last days at the Golden Rule before going to work for the Mines. How being a coal miner had been the best thing he could have done for the pay and retirement. He had made enough money to buy a house and a couple acres of land when he was in his 50’s and had put plenty away for retirement so he could keep rebuilding old cars. We talked about how Belington had changed and how he used to drag race through town on Saturday nights and go to the movies in Philippi. He shared about how everyone for miles around shopped at the Golden Rule. He listed some of the things he bought for his mining job. Finally, he asked me if they were going to save the old elevator or if it was going to scrap. I was excited to tell him that the old water-powered elevator was staying and that we would be looking for someone to work on it soon. I asked if he wanted to see the elevator and if he had any idea how it worked. He was happy to take a look at the old mud covered basement and tell me a little bit about how it worked. He remembered swabbing the piston and waiting on the elevator to slowly carry its cargo up the shaft.

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Empty elevator shaft on the 2nd floor of the Golden Rule Belington, West Virginia.

Golden Rule elevator gears Preservation aliance of WV

Water Powered elevator pullies in the basement of the Golden Rule, Belington West Virginia.  

 

Finally, after about an hour of visiting and laughter, he said he should go. That he needed to get back to the house it was getting late and dinner would be ready soon. I realized that it was about 5:00 and I would need to leave for home too.  He walked to the door and said: “Thank you so much for showing this to me, it looks like she is in good hands.” He stepped down the stairs to the ground and I waved out the door and said: “Hatchet is was a pleasure to meet you, I hope you come back to visit soon”. Locking the glass door behind him I watched out the door for a classic blue car he had told me about. Soon a blue 1970’s Chevy drove by the building towards the town of Elkins. I couldn’t help smiling the rest of the night thinking of my visitor.

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Old umbrella on the third floor of the Golden Rule building Belington West Virginia.

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Furniture Polish bottles found in the basement of the Golden Rule Building, Belington WV.

A couple weeks later my boss and I found another person who had worked in the building operating the elevator for several years. We invited Charlie to lunch at a local cafe and planned to talk about the mechanics of the elevator and how it worked and if it could be made to operate on just the basement and first floor. Charlie was happy to meet and talk about how the elevator worked. As we eat and visited I casually told Charley and my boss that I had met another man who worked at the Golden Rule. I said I had met Hatchet and that we had talked for about an hour about the building and elevator. Charlie started shaking his head violently “no” and making a throat noise as he tried to swallow his bite of potatoes. Clearing his mouth he blurted out,”You did not meet Hatchet! He’s been dead 25 years! There is no way that is who you met.”

Being  surprised by his tone of voice  I replied with, “if it was not Hatchet then maybe it was his brother Don.”

Charlie’s face grew grave and serious leaning into the cafe table and said, “it wasn’t Don either, he has been dead 30 years or more”.

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Glass shoe sales sign found at the Golden Rule Belington, West Virginia. 

At this my poor boss about choked on his sip of coffee. Charlie continued to ask me questions about how I had heard of Hatchet and Don. I told him that I learned their names from the man who visited me at the Golden Rule. A short white-haired man who wore a railroad cap.

“That’s impossible!” Charlie said, “You must have met someone else!”

I gave a description of the white-haired man that I met and told about him leaving the Golden Rule for the Coal Mines. I shared his love of the old cars that he often worked on.

My boss and Charley looked at me as if the world had ended. Confused and in disbelief of my description they looked at one another. Finally said, “I have no idea how I would know this information any other way than from the source.”

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Cleaned off shelves at the Golden Rule before floors were cleaned 2019 Belington WV

 

I  joked that I gave a ghost a tour at the Golden Rule and both men laughed at the silliness of the statement. They blew off the strange story I had told them over our lunch. They were both ready to think that I  had somehow gotten the information from some other old man around town and that I couldn’t have met Hatchet. Neither one wanted a haunted job site and no one wanted to share gossip of a stranger at the Golden Rule for fear of scaring off contractors and laborers.

My experience with the Ghost of the Golden Rule was not one that anyone would call scary. Hatchet is happy to see his workplace coming back to life and seemed content to look the place over with me. He made me aware of several things about the building and the town of Belington that I did not know. So If you had asked me if I had seen a ghost at the Golden Rule before that lunch date my answer was “No!”  In my mind, Hatchet is as real as anyone else. But after that lunch date with Charlie, I still find myself wondering who I met that afternoon and if he meant it when he said he would come back to visit me when the building was finished? I just hope he is as happy to see me as I will be to see him!

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Categories: About me, Barbour County, Benefit auction, ghost stories, ghosts, Golden Rule, Haunted House, historic locations, history, Uncategorized, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Clean Up and Events at Golden Rule; Or This Mountain MaMa is Tired.

I have been working so hard to finish cleaning and sorting the 4 floors of Golden Rule that I really thought about changing the name of my blog title to…. “This Mountain Mama is Tired.”  Then leave some lame message about not having time to write. It would have been the truth. I am just beyond tired when I get home at night. I walk an average of 5 to 6 miles a day inside the building and that does not included the walking I do daily with my dog. So with 6 or 7 miles a day and the 3 sets of stairs in the building and the loads of trash and boxes I move every day. I just have not had the energy to stay up late or get up early to write. So please forgive me for not sharing more of the wonderful things I usually like to share.

So today I want to share just a few photos of what my life has been like since starting my work  at the Golden. It is a labor of love to be the main person to clean, sort and help with Demo in a 18,000 foot building.

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The 1902 Golden Rule Building 122 Crim Ave. Belington, WV my home away from home.

The building was abandoned after is was sold in the late 1980’s and it was never cleaned out. The building contained new old stock and office equipment from as far back as the 1920’s. My job has been to tackle the clean up of 100 years worth of history, trash and some how put together a couple of events to raise some money for the  rehabilitation.

So far we have removed 8,000 pounds of house hold trash and a 30 yard dumpster of ceiling tiles, paneling and dry wall.  It has taken a full year to reach the point that all three main floors are mostly clean and have a silent auction planned for the items that I was able to salvage. I have logged around 980 individual items that we hope to have for sale the first couple of weeks in May. It has been some of the hardest work I have done in my life, but the most rewarding also.

logan and Patrick AmeriCorps members volunteer to toss out 4,000 pounds of trash

Patrick and Logan AmeriCorps volunteers help remove 2000 pounds of trash from the Golden Rule 2018.

What we have found along the way is a treasure trove of history and stories from the past. Some of the questions we have about the building are solved, while others are still a mystery. I have done interviews with the former owner and several people who worked in the building that have helped put together a impression of what the building meant to the community and to those who worked here. One day I hope to put all this together in a book about the buildings story.

 

We are now ready to start the process of moving the history out of the building into storage and selling off what is left. We have plans for a ticket entry, benefit silent auction that will happen in just a few weeks, fallowed by community wide building sale. This should clean out most of the items that are remaining in the building. With lots of volunteers helping me over the course of the last year. I think the events will be a huge success.

Golden Rule flyer

 

The Golden Rule will soon be full of new people and construction materials, it will be full of busy saws and heavy foot steps and I will be regulated to watching most of it. I still have cleaning to do and a yard to tame so my work in not over but I will be more of an outsider for the next couple of years. I am excited for the work to begin in  June and can only imagine what I will be doing over the next year.

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Recycled sign for the Golden Rule Feeds and Fertilizers found in mill building. 

The project will start on the top floors of the building and work its way down. A new roof and 10 apartments will happen first and the final steps will be the retail spaces on the first floor. It is planned with a railroad depot in the back to connect passengers to the tourist trains in Elkins, West Virginia. A gift shop for the passengers, a Artist Market, a coffee shop and a viewing platform of the water powered elevator. We are hoping that some of the wonderful pieces we have found in the building will hang on the walls and be used as decor in the coffee shop and artist market one day.

Three-four years seem so far away from now, but I think it will pass in a blink of an eye. I know that one day not far off I will be wondering how it all got finished and open to the public.

Categories: antiques, Belington, WV, Benefit auction, Change, Golden Rule, historic locations, Historic Preservation, recycling, Vintage items, West Virginia, Woodlands Development Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sweet Taste of West Virginia Maple Syrup

When the town of Pickens, West Virginia throws a party it seems like the whole county shows up to eat, shop and be merry. The annual Pickens Maple Syrup Festival held every March turns the tiny town of 66 full-time residents into a town that swells to over two thousand visitors over the weekend. The much loved event is part of state-wide Maple Syrup Festival  themed events that celebrate our much loved native sugar maple trees.

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Pickens is a historic railroad spur town that boomed in the late 1800 and early 1900’s. Logging, lumber mills and the railroad brought money and jobs to the mountains of Randolph County, but when the railroad left so did the jobs and the town slowly shut down. With only a few business left in downtown, the town struggled to survive but the community feeling stayed strong.So they created a new reason for people like me to drive an hour into some of the most remote communities in mountains.

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Morning of the Maple Syrup Festival 2019 before the crowds arrive for lunch.

The festival began 35 years ago encouraged by a local Maple Sugar Camp owner Mr Richter and the tradition just keeps growing and families just keep coming. The Richter maple sugar camp is only few minutes from Pickens and is part of the joy of a day spent at the festival taking time to learn about the process of taping the trees and boiling down the sap to make the sweet syrup we all love.

During the festival their are lots of family friendly events that take place from live music to wood chopping demos, to ax tossing and lots and lots of eating. Their is the traditional maple syrup pancake breakfast, their is smoked pork, turkey and beef, maple cotton candy, honey, jam, jelly and a wine made from honey called Mead.

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Christoper Powers on his way up the rock wall Pickens Maple Syrup Festival 2019.

Tom and I enjoyed hand made maple-dark chocolate candy and brought home strawberry rhubarb jelly. I bought a bottle of syrup for the next morning just so we could remember our fun. The food was fantastic and the smell of smoke and hot maple syrup was to-die-for.

Tom and I bumped into many of our friends from all over the state at the event. It was like a family reunion on a grand scale. I really enjoyed watching the people shop and the kids play on a downtown swing set.

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Row of old men visit on historic store front porch at the Pickens Maple Syrup Festival 2019.

In true West Virginia fashion over half the visitors arrived on side by side ATVs, riding trails from the other side of the mountain. Taking part  in one one of the first spring ATV poker rides that raises money for a charity or family in need. At one point the whole main street was filled with ATVs, maybe 40 of them paraded down main street, it was a sight to see in the small town.

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lady making Maple flavored Cotton Candy in the old post office in Pickens.

The entertainment for the day was all about was inexpensive or free, you could learn to through an ax on main street or you could watch a wood chopping competition on the wooden stage just off main street. You could take the kids to meet Scooby-Doo or just watch the kids play on the swing set in the park enjoying live music from a local blue grass band.

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Beautiful church on a hill high over Pickens West Virgina.

After about 4 hours Tom was ready to head home. I could have spent more time in the early spring sunshine, but I was happy to enjoy the beautiful country drive home. Next time I will remember to bring the fishing poles as the streams all around Randolph county were clear and the sun was out making for a great day on a stream also.

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Strawberry Rhubarb jelly and pure West Virginia Maple Syrup from the Pickens Maple Syrup Festival March 2019.

Learning more about our mountain communities is always fun and taking part in the Maple Syrup Festival Tradition was one of the best. Next time I hope to focus more on the making of the syrup and less on the food. But, that smoked turkey bacon and swiss sandwich is one of the best picnic foods I have ever had !!!

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Fairs and Festivals, family fun, Maple Syrup Festival, Randolph County, Uncategorized, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Spring Snow at Pleasant Grove Cemetery

This weeks Spring weather has had it all, sun, high winds, rain and snow. It is as if the Gods of winter and spring are having a fight to see who will control the weather. Even the resting souls in the local cemetery noticed the fight.

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Early morning snow in Barbour County

With this maybe being our last snow of winter I was just lucky to have a camera in the car and time to stop several places along my route to work last week. It takes about 28 minutes of winding country roads to get into Philippi West Virginia and along the way I always see something interesting. Often I see deer or turkey in the farm fields, tractors mowing hilly farms and lots of barns. I also see lots of cemeteries and this one was just beautiful on this cold  snow-covered morning.

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Hwy 119 headed to Philippi, West Virginia. 

These photos were taken at a small country cemetery name Pleasant Grove Cemetery just outside Century, West Virginia. Many of the head stones date back into the mid 1800’s. I love to photograph cemeteries, I have been doing it for years. I think there is something about old historical cemeteries that is fascinating. Maybe it’s because the tradition of stand up headstones is fading, or idea that every community and/or family owning a cemetery is not as popular anymore,whatever the reason, I find these small old cemeteries wonderful. Then with a little light snow you have a place that magic.

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Pleasant Grove Cemetery Fence

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Unique headstone at Pleasant Grove Cemetery near Century, WV.

So while visiting I did find one very unusual head stone. A type that I had never seen before.This marker looks finished and carved on one side but other half is just ruff chiseled stone. I have no idea what it means or if it was done on purpose, but it was fascinating to see such a different marker dated so long ago. I now wonder even more about the life this woman and her unique headstone.

 

As you can tell the cemetery is old and most of the headstones dated back to the middle 1800’s and some have faded and toppled over. There is no church standing watch over these families, so I wonder who cares for the graves and who clean up the dead flowers. The Donation Box makes me think that someone is looking after several generations of families without much help.

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Donation box for the Cemetery 

 

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Snow falling on mail boxes across from Pleasant Grove Cemetery ,Barbour County,WV.

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Front Gate of Pleasant Grove Cemetery.

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Deer trail at Pleasant Grove Cemetery

The weather continued to snow and I had to get to down the road to work so I quietly left the headstones behind.  I will never get the answers to my questions about the cemetery or the families who rest here. I will wonder about them for a long time. This beautiful place made the last snow of the year a little more bearable. I am glad that I took time to look a little closer at what beauty is all around me.

HAPPY SPRING!!!

 

Categories: Barbour County, Cemetaries, Philippi, photo review, Snow day, Uncategorized, West Virginia, West Virginia History | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Making Murals in the Mountain State

I was just recently asked some interesting questions  about a mural I recently finished painting at the Barbour County Development Authority’s office in Philippi, West Virginia. This new mural was unveiled on January 23 of 2018 and a guest at the reception asked,”When did you start painting murals, and how long did this one take to paint.” I had to really stop and think about my response. My response was,” I have been making them for over 35 years in public and privet, and this one took about 125 hours to paint.”  I never really went looking to paint murals, painting murals can looking for me!

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General Store Mural Painted at the Barbour County Development Authority office 2018.

I painted my first mural at age 11 or 12 at my hometown elementary school Majestic Heights Elementary  in Boulder Co. I was asked by a teacher if I would come into our class room a few days before the school  year started  and help her decorate a large empty wall in the class room. She asked if I could paint her a lion and some text underneath. I had no idea what she wanted and the only skill I had at the time was to use her over head projector to enlarge a image and trace the image on the wall. I was given a sheet of clear acetate and told to find something in the library to use.  I eventually found a wonderful lion image and proceeded to make a large lion mural on the wall of our class room. I do remember her saying that the reason she asked for me to help her was because I could draw well and she thought It would be fun for me. It was a nice experience and my mom enjoyed seeing the mural during parent teacher conferences.

It seems funny now, when I look back, that I have painted murals for churches, schools, barns, down towns and now businesses offices on and off my whole life. I have never pursued painting these large images, but I seem to get asked more and more to do them.

closeup of tree of life quilt block

Some are very simple and only take a day or two to prepare and paint,while others are large detailed images like the one at the Barbour County Development Authority. This is one of the larger murals that I have painted measuring 12 feet wide by 8 feet tall or ruffly 96 square feet of paint. I painted off and on, over about 4 months. Some days drawing and painting 5 hours and then some weeks not painting at all. The the value of the mural came to about 1800.00 dollars that was donated to the BCDA from Woodlands Development Group to cover the expense of my time.

The mural concept had three full color drawings as different options for the layout and figures in the mural. In the end the we actually had real people who worked in the actual store as models for in the mural. The Director of the BCDA was able to find photos for me to reference when adding the little girl and the meat cutter to the image. Then we were lucky enough to have the little girl behind the sales counter (Anna)  come to the unveiling with her two brothers. Their father, the owner of the building and Smith Grocery , is represented in the mural as the meat cutter in the mural.

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Children of Robert Smith ( man in Mural) and owner of Smith’s Grocery in Philippi WV. Anna Smith is photographed with her likeness as a child in the mural. Jan 2019.   

 As I have matured as an artist I have slowly become less and less realistic with my painting and drawing. I have a degree in fine art and have skills to draw very realistic images but with age and failing eye sight I have begun to make images that are more representative of a feeling or style then realistic. The style of this mural has been described as Folk Art, because its very flat and has little depth. The colors I chose also add to the “Old Timey” feel of the piece . 
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Golden Rule Window replacement mural “Hope” 2018.

The “General Store”mural is only one of four planned art and mural projects for downtown Philippi. I will be working on teaching others in the community how to make panel murals this spring. This time we hope to create three panels with images of quilt blocks and the city seal to be displayed on a downtown building as part of a Philippi  “Gateway Project”. The project includes instillation of a large welcome to Philippi sign, a flower planter, the murals, lights and flowers.  This project is the first time I have worked with some many organisations who want to contribute to making a downtown look better. It is amazing what small communities can do if they join together.  The “Gateway Project” is scheduled to be unveiled in Aug 2019 with about 25 volunteers doing the work.

My hope is that one day I will look back at all the beauty I have helped to create, and feel that I made a difference. I hope my art has made their towns and communities more colorful, friendly and welcoming. That I have begun to help wash away the stereotypes that portray our communities as empty, dead or forgotten. I plan to keep adding more life, color and happiness to every place I work  and adding more positive images to the story of West Virginia.

instillation of Quilt block at YMCA 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: About me, Art, Barbour County, Community Art, Creative Place Making, murals, West Virginia, West Virginia artists | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Reflections on Being a Woman of 50; Family, Friendships and Funny Body Changes.

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Easter morning 2018 with Country Music Star Taylor Hicks cooking in my Kitchen, 2018 has been a great year and having a celebrity in the house is even better.

 

Turning fifty has been emotional and wonderful all at once. So many things in my family life, career life and emotional life have given me the most satisfaction that I have ever had the last couple of years. It is so strange to find peace a normal and everyday part of my life. I wish I could share this calm and peace with the younger woman in the family and let them know it will happen for them soon enough.

This transition into maturity has been so refreshing. I finally know my own personality well enough to know that I love having a family and would never have been happy without the total chaos of children, grandchildren, a husband and animals that sneak into to bed with you at 2am. At 18 I imaged my life with a husband and two boys, being a working mother who ran from work to after school activities and concerts. It was hard to be such a young mom with my husband working so far away but I loved our time together more than anything. Now as a mother and grandmother my joy is tripled. There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time with all of them. My deepest happiness comes from hearing laughter that rings out in my back yard when spontaneous water fights happen or when we share a moment of pride together when the littlest of the clan steps out on stage to sing and dance.  I did not know that I could have this amount of love in my heart. That it would swell to include so many people. It seems to me that the more love I give away, the more love I get back. I pour my love out and feel filled up at the same time.

Finding and keeping friends as you age is challenging and not because you can’t find people to relate to. Work and children and other obligations take priority for many years when you are young. But eventually you slow down, kids grow up and there is time to renew old friendships and find new ones. I have been so blessed to have several lifelong friends.  I still have friends who I have known from my school days and ones that I met while trying to get through having young children. They form a group of support and love that I value more every year. They know I am crazy, creative and that I am a terrible speller.  These old friends make my life safe to live. They stand by and watch as the sea of life changes from calm to divesting and never think a thing about not loving me. My new friends are now mostly woman who have seen a lot and don’t mind sharing my struggles with growing old. They have been there and understand how hard it is getting old and have the people you love get old too. Our conversations are much less about men and romance and much more about how are you doing after losing your parents and what to do when an older child is struggling. These topics are harder and much more serious than the conversations of my teens. These ladies know real pain; they know death, divorce and the loss of a child. They have seen cancer up close and come out of menopause saying there is freedom at the end of the tunnel if you can just get through it. I love all of them and am so glad they are part of my journey.

50 is such a strange age for women, you are either entering menopause or you have passed through it, naturally or with the help of a Doctor . For the first time since I was 14 years old I am so happy to be free of my child bearing years. I would not give up my two boys for anything in the world, yet I am totally over it. So in return for losing my fertility, my body is giving me things that no one wants. Things like age spots, wrinkles, and feet that hurt and eyes that don’t see very well. I have traded my perfect skin in for laugh lines, that remind me of the evenings at my kitchen table where all the stories and jokes are shared. I traded my perfect eye sight for the comfort of men driving me around at night like a rich woman. I have given away my perfect body to carry and bring two beautiful men into the world. I traded my high heels and sexy shoes for Merrell work shoes that support me every day in the career that I love. I have traded in my concern for what others think of me for a strength and courage to try new things that I never expected.

I guess when you are faced with graying hair, and wrinkled skin and children who have grown and don’t need a babysitter any more, you have two options. You become the person you have worked your whole life to be or pretend that you are something you are not. I don’t fake anything well, never have, so this is me take it or leave it.

laughing at the Mystery hole

I have chosen to fall in love with myself at this age, at this time. To take care of myself better, to enjoy myself more than before, to share my love more freely, to live more fully and regret less. I have opened the door and left the past behind me, it is time to find MY best future ahead.

To be a woman of 50 is to be free and I hope to enjoy every single minute of it!

Categories: About me, ageing, Birthday, Change, family fun, family memories, Friendship, Love, Taylor Hicks, West Virginia | 3 Comments

Appalachian Food, Trend or Tradition?

So after appearing on the TV show State Plate where my family was featured making traditional Appalachian foods and now that CNN’s Anthony Bourdain  has traveled to West Virginia in his show Explore Parts Unknown, I am a little confused if the food of my home is now trendy or traditional? I wonder what it is that we as people are looking for when we have come back and taken the simple county food that my family eats and made it trendy.

I wonder if our nation has had so much world food exposure that we are looking for something that is truly American, something with traditions and stories that reflect our basic American history. Many Americans have never eaten self butchered meats, home-made breads,home canned fruits and veggies from the garden. So to these people my family and the mountain communities that surround me seem novel. Yet, I view myself and my way of living as traditional to Appalachia and not unique in any way. In reality it is not unique to most  Americans either, just forgotten for a few generations.

Christopher and Cody picking Pumpkins with Paige on the way to pick them up

Christopher and Cody picking pumpkins and Paige on the way with the wagon

Food is just one aspect of a life here that is lived believing you will only be able to count on your family and yourself in an uncertain future. Families still raise gardens to provide valuable nutrition, they hunt, fish and forage as a normal part of the seasons. They can and dry foods for the winter and share the bounty with those they know and love. It is simple and direct to make food from what is growing near by. It saves money and is better for you because it is less likely to have chemicals and pesticides.  It only seems odd or novel to outsiders who would never think of eating wild rabbits or making your own wine from plants that grow like weeds. It also takes skills that many have forgotten over the generations. They say time stands still in the hills, so in this way we are fortunate to have kept the skills alive.

To my surprise, I was recently invited to be part of a historical “Foodways” museum exhibit at the Beverly Heritage Center  in Beverly, West Virginia. I shared some of my families recipes and our way of preparing several items that have been in the family for generations. I even shared some of the cooking tools we use for the display, some being over 60 years old.

BHC cooking display board

As part of the display the Museum created this panel about my family’s food history. It will be on display for the summer placed on a dinner table with 5 other panels. Each one sharing a Appalachian food story and a couple of recipes. Then during opening day Jenny the curator of the project will serve several of the foods that the families have shared with her during the collection process. I hope to make the apple sauce cake for her and the visitors and share some more of my families stories. The exhibit opens June 9th in the lobby of the Beverly Heritage Center in Beverly, West Virginia. 

After my interview with Jenny, I began to reflect on the resent fascination with our rural foods. Our interview reminded me of why country families and mountain communities have such attachments to their food. Food is the link to each other and the communities that they value. As Jenny and I chatted, I found myself saying that it is often times food that brings us all together. It is church dinners and family holidays, birthdays and funerals, fairs and festivals, that whole communities will gather together to share in someones pain or celebration. Our foods are about nourishment, not only of the body but of the soul. We have family time, say Grace, and keep in touch with friends, families all with food. It is these connections with food that is different in the world today. Today’s families rarely sit down at the table to eat a meal together. Holiday meals are not home-made anymore. Never allowing everyone to get involved in the preparations.  Here in Appalachia often we know who butchered the meat, made the beer and wine that we toast with, know the woman who made the jams, jellies and the children who made the cookies sitting on the table our Thanksgiving table.

Today people have no idea what the ingredients are in their food or even how they  are grown or raised. Kids eat in the car and we get milk in plastic bottles. We have lost touch with the joy of our food.

Appalachian food is about being authentic and natural, full of stories and traditions. Sometimes it is fancy and other times it is simple and filling, but it is often more about who you share a meal with then the food on the plate that is important.

Categories: About me, canning, cooking, country cooking, Country life, Dandelions, family traditions, Foraging, Hand Pies, history, hobbies, Holidays, Jam, State Plate TV show, West Virginia, wild food | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Golden Delicious Apple Dumplings with Salted Caramel Sauce.

So one of the things that the producers of “State Plate” TV show want me to make is apple dumplings made from our very own state apple the Golden Delicious. A wonderful history fallows the apple. It comes  from one of the most rural counties in our state, Clay County, West Virginia. The county is a twisty, curvy, mountainous place to call home but that is where the very first Golden Delicious apple tree was found. The apple tree was  growing wild on a hillside on the Mullins farm back the 1890’s. It was thought to be a naturally occurring hybrid but no one really knows. So after discovering the tree and it’s unusual fruit, a sample was sent of the Stark Brothers nursery for identification. It has been said that they were happily surprised by the new find and made plans to buy the tree and the land that surrounded it.  the  Stark Brothers company bought the tree in the early 1900’s and built a large fence around the tree.  The Stark Brothers company worked several years with seed and graphs to develop the very best and marketable tree that they could and in 1914 the began sale of the Golden Delicious apple that we love today. A crisp, yellow, fine skinned apple that is lightly tart; when baked softens easily making wonderful apple sauce or dumplings that are soft enough to cut with a fork.

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Modern example of the Golden Delicious Apple

So as I continue to prepare for our up coming filming I have made a couple of batches of apple dumplings for testing and tasting. I wanted to be sure that I  still knew how to make them. I  made them from small hard Wine Sap apples on the farm when the whole family lived close together back in the 90’s. My brother-in-law still talks about them even today. So here is a photo of the first test batch.

apple dumpling close up

My family personally does not care for the sweet sugar glaze that most people eat with a dumpling. We would rather eat them with ice cream and salted caramel syrup topping. So that is how I am making them for the show.  I am hoping to make one more batch this weekend just to be sure I will not have a panic attack while they film. So in case you want the recipe I will share it here with some photos. If you get a chance to see me making them on the Inspiration Channels  “State Plate” you can see how they are made with the help of Taylor Hicks. 

So the simple recipe that I am going to use is this one.

Apple Dumplings West Virginia Style

For the crust for 6 dumplings

2 1/4 cups all purposed flour

2/3 cup shortening

1/2 cup plus a couple of tablespoons milk if needed

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg with water for egg wash on crust

 

For the dumpling

6 snack size golden delicious apples, peeled cored and left with whole down center

1 stick room temperature salted butter

6 to 7 heaping tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

One Jar Smucker’s salted Caramel topping.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes until dumplings are golden brown and juice has escaped the into the bottom of the pan.

Mix together dry ingredients for pie crust adding in shorting and cutting together. Until dry crumbles form and they look like cheese curds. Slowly add milk and cut in more as needed to make a dough ball. Food processors do a wonderful job here.  Remove from processor and form a large flat ball and place in container in refrigerator while prepping apples.

begining crust

crumbly crust before adding all the milk

Peel apples and remove core with a melon baller tool,without breaking the apple.The apple should be hallow inside. Set aside while making the stuffing for apples. Mix brown sugar with butter until creamy but firm enough to hold together. If you can model it with your fingers like play dough you have enough brown sugar. Mix in the 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon cloves.  Set aside

crust

7 inch crust rounds

Remove cool crust from refrigerator roll out on a floured surface in large oval about 1/4 thick. With a kitchen bowl around 5 inches in diameter,  mark and cut crust in smaller circles.  Re-roll until thin and about 7 inches in diameter. Score crust in 4 evenly placed locations to allow crust to fold neatly.

mix up 1 egg and 3 tablespoons water and brush edge of circle of crust.

begining of apple wrap

Place apple in center of crust and spoon in sugar mixture pushing to bottom as you go.  Wet edge of crust with egg wash, wrap apple in sections over lapping where the edges need to be pinched to hold together. Bring all edges together at top of apple and pinch together using more egg wash to hold everything. Cover dumpling with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon  repeat with other 5 apples.

side view apple dumpling

crust wrapped apple dumplings ready to bake

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes in a deep dish pan. Dumplings will leak and have sticky syrup in pan be careful it is very hot.Serve with a caramel topping and/or vanilla ice cream.

caramel apple dumpling from side

Salted Caramel sauce over apple dumpling

inside view of dumpling

yummy desert with apples and caramel

Categories: Apples, cooking, country cooking, golden delicious apples, State Plate, Taylor Hicks, TV, Uncategorized, West Virginia, West Virginia History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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