Written by kjlouden on 18 May, 2005
They are two distinct feelings, Main Street and mountain, but they call me to Buckhannon as the Lorelei call sailors to shore. Both are all about family and community and comfort and resistance to change. Anyone who visits small towns or mountains without the…Read More
They are two distinct feelings, Main Street and mountain, but they call me to Buckhannon as the Lorelei call sailors to shore. Both are all about family and community and comfort and resistance to change. Anyone who visits small towns or mountains without the proper longing misses some of the refreshing, renewing medicine these destinations offer.
In her autobiography, writer Eudora Welty captures the romance of the mountains that she experienced annually at family reunions. She describes her youthful sense of well-being as she lay on the ground on a West Virginia mountaintop listening to her grandparents playing music late at night under the stars. In my family, it was a quilting bee or a neighborhood gathering on our wide in-town porch, but the feeling was the same. The
older generation were masters of time, making it stand still for us all. We paid it no heed. Was it youth or community that shielded us from this concern?
Today when we travel and tour, time doesn’t behave that way, so that we savor the moment. The world community has limits too broad, too unfamiliar for comfort and too insecure for continuity, and living in it engenders a longing for a more manageable frame of reference. Main Street isn’t my frame of reference anymore, but I can revisit it. I watch as a postal driver enters the courthouse (1899) with only one package.
My, he is in there a long time! He must know everyone who works for Upshur
County. I wait for him to move his delivery truck so that I can get a better photo, but I must give up and visit my stores first. After shopping, I finally get the shot.
I can imagine my mother’s and grandmother’s experiences walking to their shopping, nodding to their neighbors as they show off their new hats with feathers bobbing or veils that make them look like very demure ladies. Grandpa might call the hardware store owner by name, remind him of how loyal he’s been, and try to charm him into a good deal on a new wooden ice cream freezer--that would bring the neighbors over! (Then he could show them his new Victrola.)
On Sundays, he would have driven over the mountains with the family in that car I see in my brown-and-white photo of him with his foot resting oh-so-sportingly on the running board. That spit-shined auto reflects his image well. Grinning from ear to ear, he has tossed back his head, making him look very congenial and happy-go-lucky, and he has topped it off with a straw hat with band that looks like white silk. He appears very elegant and so coordinated and suave that one might expect him to break into a tap dance.
As I gander at the buildings along the two short blocks of the business district, I map out the historic community in my mind. Those were apartments above the stores.
Somebody’s grandpa’s mother lived in one of them, I imagine, after she had no need for a big house just a block or two away. They were nice apartments then in these brick buildings, nice enough for grandmas. Some newlyweds might have lived on the same floor while they saved for their first home. Grandma’s parents would have lived with her and her family just a block from the central area in one of those big Queen Annes with the
wrap-around porches. Yes, those are homes for three generations.
My grandparents didn’t live in Buckhannon, but in a similar small town. In truth, Grandpa drank a little, I’ve been told, but it wasn’t a big problem. He certainly didn’t drink and drive, because the bars the townspeople visited were within a block or two of the courthouse. Only the country folk went to those on the former outskirts of town. There is the Pour House in the same block with some stately homes. Perhaps he would have drunk there.
I know for certain that grandma went into a bar like this at least once--to return something grandpa had bought from a traveling salesman. She’d have no silly purchases made with their money, even though grandpa earned it as a cabinetmaker in a lumberyard’s woodshop. He made good money from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, so they would have "nice things as long as he didn’t waste much." Women ruled--at least in town.
The mountains have another story to tell. Grandma couldn’t have returned a purchase in the mountains. (What business had she?) A man’s money had to be spent on things he needed for hard work and not much of it for household decoration or fine clothing, but for manly things, such as rifles to protect them from mountain lions, trucks for hauling, saws to cut wood from the land, or moonshine for the boys who came visiting and to lend a hand. Women in
the mountains had to be more tolerant, for the men loved the freedom there. It was their kingdom, far from government or complaining neighbors, and two things they were free to do were to play foot-stompin’ music at night and to make and drink moonshine.
Two different worlds had the same effect: to consolidate a community and to isolate it from that other community, urban or rural. Main Street or Mountain, front-porch socials or raucous musical jams, grandma’s order and finery or grandpa’s freedom and hard work--we had two societies, feminine and masculine, that seem to be coming together now. How fortunate that we can visit both heritage links as tourists!
Finished with Main Street, David and I hop into the truck and head over the mountains (not the big ones yet) to Elkins. This region of lumberjacks produces a great deal of lumber, and craftsmen in towns make fine woodwork from it so that the woodshops of the area are well-known all over this state.
When we see our wainscotting, we are impressed with the craftsmanship. It looks just like that my grandpa made for a hotel in my hometown. The thirty-ish fellow who has made this decorative wall is debonair and teases me with surprisingly subtle wit. He reminds me of my grandpa--only without the suspenders!--and I like him immensely. He walks me to the curb to point out a mansion situated high atop a hill, and he tells me, "You should see the woodwork in that place." I will, since one can tour this former home of a senator. And I will because craftsmanship seems to link all the generations in towns all over the world, just as music links those in the mountains. (The centuries-old hammered dulcimer played in Moravia is a familiar sound here, too, as well as that of the Appalachian dulcimer, a newer instrument. Mostly Irish and Scottish ballads are preserved.) On our way home, I notice a trailhead (Allegheny Highlands Trail) on the outskirts of Elkins and resolve to return for a hike.
The human frame of reference has evolved from rural to town to world community. We have seen lasting links to at least two of these stages in one place on the same day! Right at the city line, I see a gigantic Confederate flag spread out on fully half of a one-gabled roof, so out-of-place in town that I think "the mountains are closing in." I’ll be content to watch MSNBC and check my email when I get home, but this has been a refreshing break from the seemingly larger world I live in--and from my ambiguous self.