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23Aug

Stitching Memories

23 August, 2013, 15:35

SEWINGWEB

    When you are as short as I am clothes never fit right. I am constantly hemming pants, shirts, jackets, skirts and dresses. Sometimes I get right to work on them. I mean, what woman can live without a pair of good black pants? Other things end up in the closet waiting until I finally get around to fixing them. That wait can be a long one, since other more interesting jobs seem to get higher priority on my list.

I do sewing repairs by hand, using the sewing box that once belonged to my mother. My father made it for her; he was a master woodworker and liked to make useful things. This box is fitted with a removable tray that holds thread, thimbles, scissors and other items. Two ends of the tray are lined in deep amber velvet, and the inside of the lid is padded and lined with the same fabric. Most of the contents were in the box when I got it after my mother passed away; some of the thread has been around so long it is on wood spools.

Sewing always kindles memories. I learned to sew when I was six or seven years old. We hemmed hankies, I remember, my sister Judy and I carefully trying to make tiny stitches according to instructions from our English granny, who was visiting at the time. Those hankies became birthday gifts for our mother; their crooked hems and uneven stitches disappeared in her happy praise of our handiwork. Later Judy and I would learn to use the sewing machine and made many of our clothes when we were in high school. In a family of thirteen children, new clothes were unheard of but we could make new outfits inexpensively.

When I got married I made my wedding dress of satin and brocade, and we made the bridesmaids dresses too. The beautiful amber velvet in the sewing box was leftover fabric from a different wedding-my sister Judy chose the rich fabric for my maid of honor dress for her wedding. In my first little house, I hand-stitched curtains for all the windows because I could not afford a sewing machine. And when we moved to West Virginia, I continued to hand-stitch curtains, tea towels, and even blouses.

Today I own two sewing machines that I never use. I bought them last year, thinking that since I was retired I would do more sewing. That hasn’t happened, yet. When something needs to be fixed, I get out the sewing kit, find a comfortable chair by a lamp, and sink into the peaceful repetition of needle through cloth.

There is something restful about sewing by hand. There is no noise of an electric motor, no high-speed needle thrusting purposefully through cloth in record time. It is slow, careful work. My stitches are more even these days even if I can barely see to thread the needle. I feel content to work inch by inch along the seams, stitching together not only cloth but memories of many past hours spent doing this simple, basic task.

   Visit Granny Sue online at http://www.grannysu.blogspot.com.

15Aug

Appalachian Profanity

15 August, 2013, 12:47

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During the generations of my grandparents the people who lived in the West Virginia hills, and probably most of the surrounding hill country of the Appalachians, spoke a brand of English that was heavily influenced by the Scotch-Irish. They were also a genteel people and profanity as we know it was not widespread. However, they did have a way of expressing displeasure or excitement without taking the Lord’s name in vain or reverting to Anglo-Saxon four letter words.

My maternal grandmother was a Holcomb and very Irish. She married a Kennedy, making her even more Irish. One of her expressions when she thought someone might do something better than they were doing it was, “For the love of Mike, you can do better than that.” I suspect that expression came over with the Irish. She would never, ever use a profane word but she would throw in an unnecessary phrase once in a while. If she hadn’t seen you for a while, you would often hear, “Where in the Sam Hill have you been?”

There was also another Sam who found his way into the language. During my formative years I heard relatives refer to him. His name was usually uttered at the beginning of a sentence as an introduction such as, “Well, Sam Patch, I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age!” I haven’t heard anyone use that one for quite a spell so it may have disappeared from the language.

If something happened that no one was expecting, you often heard the expression, “Well, I never.” Another expression that was tied to an unexpected event was also quite common. I remember several folks using “Forever More.”  It would be used in a context such as, “Well, Forever More, here comes old Frank Russ riding a mule.” My wife’s aunt often started a sentence with “My Stars.”

Then there were those mild expressions that conveyed anger or disgust such as “dag-nab it,” or one often used to describe displeasure at something was,”that consarned mule, or horse”, or whatever was being described.

One of my very favorite ones was uttered by only one person. His name was Dennis Drake and I used to work with him in the hayfield or sometimes the cornfield. He had a horse by the name of Madge whom he dearly loved. Dennis was a good Christian man and would never use profanity. But one day when he was plowing out his cornfield with a double-shovel plow, old Madge kept stepping on the corn. Dennis walked around in front of the horse, looked her in the eye and said, “Madge, you Ethiopian Brute, you step on one more hill of corn and I’m gonna hit you right between the eyes.”  Now that, my friends, is profanity at its best.

By the time my dad and his generation came along, the language had gotten a little more salty. Not much true profanity was used but “bad words” were getting pretty common. Then, my generation, many of which pulled a hitch in the service, brought all kinds of new words to the hills. Nothing much was sacred as far as language was concerned.

And I don’t need to tell you that there are no holds barred in modern Appalachia when speaking the King’s English.  Words that used to be confined to men in the poolroom and sailors are now spoken by both sexes in any environment. Grandma would be mortified.

       Mack Samples is a writer and musician who lives in Clay County. Visit him online at http://www.macksamples.com or email  macksamples@gmail.com.

08Aug

The Incident on Gamble’s Creek – Wetzel County

08 August, 2013, 11:25

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      It was in the early autumn of the year 1850. Wetzel County farmer John Gamble had harvested an abundant apple crop once again and was in the process of making apple cider when he realized he had run out of barrels. John was very proud of his product and planned a trip to New Martinsville to purchase a few containers. It was on the way back home when the terrible incident would occur. John would become the victim of a horrific crime.

History tells us that John Gamble did indeed purchase several barrels as he had planned. He then stopped to see the Whitmore brothers on the trip home to see if they could cash a twenty dollar note that he had on his person. The brothers said that they could not as they did not have enough change on hand. A man by the name of Leb Mercer was also at the home and he mentioned to John that he still needed payment from him for the balance of two dollars regarding the calf that John had recently bought from him. Gamble mentioned that he had two hundred dollars on him but only in big bills and that perhaps Leb could stop by and see him later that week when he was home and had the correct change.

Gamble left the Whitmore home and continued his trip. As darkness fell, he made his way to the river and the small skiff he had left along the bank. Witnesses saw they saw him get in the boat. That was the last time he was seen alive. The next morning, witnesses say that they came across Leb Mercer soaking wet and the body of John Gamble murdered and robbed. Gamble’s body was on the banks of the river he would soon lend his name to with his upturned boat nearby. No money was found. Suspicions ran as high as the river water but Leb had a pretty solid alibi as he had been seen at the Whitmore home the night before. He was questioned and let go.

Weeks passed and a cornhusking event on nearby Point Pleasant Ridge brought together many folks, one of them being a man by the name of John Hindman. On his way home along Gamble’s Run, he saw a sight he would carry with him the rest of his life. A ghostly specter appeared. The apparition stood eerily still and glared at him while stating plainly “I am John Gamble. I was murdered by Leb Mercer. Take him in and have justice done.” The form dissipated and Hindman was headed quickly back to town.

Leb was arrested and charged with 1st degree murder. The future looked dim for Leb until he finally found an attorney who convinced the court that the testimony of a ghost could not be entered into court evidence. Leb was free, but not completely. You see, Leb was seen wandering later around the streets of his new home in St. Mary’s. He often wandered aimlessly and muttered to himself as if he had lost his senses. Some say he was tortured by the ghost of the man he ruthlessly murdered and robbed.

Regardless, the incident at Gambles Run left its mark on many. The ghost of John Gamble was never seen again. Let us hope he rests in peace.

    Sherri is a paranormal investigator and author. Visit her online at  HauntedHistory.net.

02Aug

Thurmond (by way of Matewan)

02 August, 2013, 17:55

In the late ‘80s, I enjoyed watching an interesting film entitled “Matewan,” about labor strife in the coal fields of West Virginia. If you haven’t seen this movie (directed by John Sayles and starring James Earl Jones, David Strathairn, Chris Cooper, Kevin Tighe, and others), I highly recommend it, because it provides a glimpse of the “mine wars” that gripped southern West Virginia nearly a hundred years ago. “Back in the old days” when I had West Virginia History in the eighth grade (a requirement for all West Virginia students), there wasn’t much mentioned about this controversial era of our history—it was only when I went to college that I finally learned about this fascinating period (complete with colorful characters such as Mother Jones).

The folks from Hollywood who made this movie decided that they couldn’t film it in the actual town of Matewan, but instead decided to use the old preserved town of Thurmond, which is located in the National Park Service’s New River Gorge, as the backdrop for some of the filming (including the pivotal scene of the “Matewan massacre”). I’ve been past the town of Thurmond several times while rafting down the New River, but other than the bridge, you can’t see much of the town from the river. I knew that someday I wanted to drive down into the gorge and explore this historic location, and recently I finally got the opportunity to do so.

The National Park Service has tried to preserve the buildings which still stand to provide a history lesson about this once bustling river town. They offer guided tours of the town from time to time, but we just parked at the train station and roamed around on our own, reading the interpretive signs that explain the background of each remaining building. Be aware that while time has seemingly stopped in Thurmond, the trains have not stopped—two eastbound trains and one westbound train went by while we were visiting—so look both ways when crossing the multiple tracks!

Among the most interesting of the few features remaining in Thurmond are the old train station (where you can still hop aboard an Amtrak train bound for Chicago or New York), the former National Bank of Thurmond, and the railroad coaling tower, which held 500 tons of coal in elevated storage, allowing steam engines to pull underneath to have their coal cars refilled. However, each of the buildings has its own story to tell about the city during its prime.

The road we took to visit Thurmond starts in Glen Jean and follows Dunloup Creek to the New River. About a mile or so from the river, the creek topples over a nice 20 foot waterfall adjacent to the road. If you know where to look, you can catch a glimpse of these falls from the road, and with the radio off and the windows down, you can definitely hear them. Fortunately, there is a pull-off area big enough for a couple of cars. On the way back up, we parked and explored the rocks and trails around Dunloup Creek Falls—I love the sights and sounds of waterfalls! It was the perfect end to an interesting day exploring the town of Matewan—oops, I mean Thurmond.

19Jul

The Hatfield Ghost Procession

19 July, 2013, 17:37

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Murders, feuds and ghost stories seem to be entwined in the very fabric of Logan County history.

The Hatfield-McCoy feud is possibly the most well-known feud in American history with recent documentaries and books still being written about the event. With all violent feuds, it unfortunately may seem, comes bloodshed. The Hatfield-McCoy battle of the clans is proof enough.

The Hatfield-McCoy feud takes its place not only in the annals of history books, but in the papers of many paranormal researchers’ files. According to various reports, the unusual activity takes place in the Hatfield cemetery about 7 miles from Sarah Ann in Logan County. The earliest marked grave in this cemetery is that of a child named Captain S. Hatfield who perished at age 7 in the year of 1898. The cemetery holds the grave of the Hatfield Patriarch, Devil Anse. Anse passed away at the age of 82 years in 1921.

The cemetery bears a life size statue of Captain Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield which is quite impressive and may catch you off guard if you are not expecting to see something like this. It was erected by his children in 1926 and was made of Carrera Marble in Italy. The sculptor used actual photographs and physical descriptions of Anse to make his creation which adds a bit to the errieness as the sun begins to set on his likeness.

The reports of ghostly activity claim that on foggy nights the specters of Devil Anse and six of his sons rise up from their graves and begin a supernatural march down the hillside to Island Creek. The apparitions are said to halt at the river as the ghost of William Garrett baptizes them, washing their sins away in the river water.

Those who have witnessed the spooky procession say it proceeds quietly and that as the fog rises up from the river, it can make the scene appear almost dream-like. Paranormal investigators and those who research the phenomena call this type of occurrence a residual haunting or imprinted energy. It tends to play like an old broken LP record repeating itself over and over. The apparitions have never tried to interact with those who have seen the activity occur, at least to my knowledge and through my research. This leads further evidence that it is residual.

Don’t be surprised on one of these foggy nights in the Mountain State, that you may see me headed through Logan County and down route 44 with my camera at my side. I’ll be seeking out the hillside cemetery with a good overlook of the Island Creek. Just in case!

    Sherri is a paranormal investigator and author. Visit her online at  HauntedHistory.net.

12Jul

Coming Home for Homecomings

12 July, 2013, 15:56

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The excitement begins the moment we top the driveway at Red Gate Farm. As we descend the bouncy terrain, kids and dogs go airborne as Jeff comments sarcastically while stepping on the gas, “Looks like they’ve been working on the driveway!” I look across the Holly River towards home…and I slowly exhale.

Mom and Dad always come out on the porch with big smiles and open arms. Actually everyone at the house comes out to greet us…aunts, uncles, cousins. It’s unconditional love. It’s a feeling of being connected…of being welcomed home.

Family reunions will happen all over the state this summer. They have been occurring at Red Gate Farm for 72 years. Great food! Fun games! One of which is the craw crab race (all critters are released unharmed later, which is more than we can say about some contestants…poor Paula). Storytelling, a traditional Appalachian entertainment, has been popular. Many of us still remember in awe cousin Nina Sapp’s sidesplitting monologue about a teacher who couldn’t talk plain until she blew her nose. I grew up thinking I was related to Carol Burnett and knew I wanted to be just like her.

Another skit I vividly remember (because it’s seared into my psyche) is the famous Chicken Dance. It’s not the normal one that probably came to your mind…there was actually very little “normal” about this one. In fact I’m sure Mom and Aunt Hilda had been saving this idea for when we  were teenagers for greatest impact. At the chosen year, they donned homemade turkey suits at the annual  reunion. Each apparatus was a cage-like contraption of chicken wire with fabric feathers sewn onto it, out of which extended an extremely long skinny bouncy neck topped off with a dumbfounded looking turkey head. The suits were pretty short so they compensated by wearing colorful tights underneath. The sound technician had to restart the Chicken Dance song on the boom box five times before the turkeys emerged from the old chicken house near the river. (We learned later Mom and Aunt Hilda had gotten their long necks tangled and couldn’t make their grand entrance on cue.) By the fifth rendition the music had gotten pretty loud which seemed to excite the turkeys as they strutted toward the house. The crowd roared with laughter, and there was a delirious crescendo each time the front of Aunt Hilda’s chicken-wire costume flipped up to reveal more than intended. I glanced over at my sister and two cousins and saw they were laughing and crying—mostly crying. The misery lasted until one of our mothers laid a giant paper mache egg in the nest they’d made of hay under the holly tree.

I’m going out on a limb of the old family tree to suggest even if you don’t have a crazy fun family you anticipate seeing, or if you live at home and can’t wait to get away…there is still a deep longing to feel at home. I’m convinced that even if we have every earthly desire fulfilled, we will still be sort of homesick because we have been made with “eternity set in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) To go further out on a limb, (Did you hear it snap too?;) I wonder if reunions might be a foreshadowing of a Homecoming on a Divine scale? After all, many events on earth point to Heaven. I can almost see it now, loved ones we haven’t seen in a while waiting on a celestial porch with open arms and baited breath to welcome us Home. Now that will be the ultimate reunion…just please Lord, without the turkey suits :)

    Janet Fliegel is a WV farmgirl currently surviving in a suburb of Cincinnati.

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