PARSONS, W.Va. — As noted in my previous installments of my Appalachian Travelogue, I was blessed to be able to spend much of the last several months visiting my home state of West Virginia. This installment is a trip down memory lane for me. I visited my old “stomping grounds,” in particular in Tucker County, several times over the summer, a season which holds precious memories for me.
Every summer for more years than I can recall, I’d stay a week or two with my great uncle and aunt, Joe and Lorraine Barrick. They owned Parsons News & Novelty. It was a child’s dream. All the soda pop and Hershey’s bars that a child could down. As much fun as that was, the highlight of every week was the Saturday night cakewalk on the Courthouse Square.
One year in particular stands out. I rarely win anything that involves luck. But one evening, it was my lucky day. Three times, when the band stopped playing, I found myself standing on the circle with the winning number. Yes, I won three cakes!
But my joy was short-lived. My aunt told me that there was no way I could eat three cakes and that I had to give two back. Naturally I protested. I appealed to Uncle Joe. “He’ll help me eat them,” I proclaimed. My protests fell on deaf ears, and so I went home with one cake.
Yet, though I was understandably disappointed that night, as I look back over those years, I can say beyond any doubt that I also always went home a very happy camper. The backyard of their house went all the way to the Blackfork River. Rushing water has never ceased to amaze me, so I spent those two weeks in bliss — eating candy, drinking soda, eating Aunt Lorraine’s sweet, sweet corn, and playing in the river.
So, though I only went home that Saturday night with one cake, I also went home — back to Clarksburg where our family lived — with a collection of lifetime memories. I just didn’t know how precious they would be to me these 30-some years after Joe and Lorraine have passed on. At the time, cake was more important. Now, I am so thankful for the freedom to roam and play that they afforded me. Sure, playing in the river was risky. But that’s the lesson my family taught me — every day you get up is risky. But, it was also safe. I could walk the entire little town of Parsons by myself without an adult having to worry about me.
I didn’t know it then, but those visits were probably the first indication that I would become a writer. I was often alone and quite content being so. That has not changed.
Still, a visit to West Virginia is about seeing people. One such person is a friend of 47 years. He now lives in Chicago, but he flew into Clarksburg, and off to Tucker County and Blackwater Falls we went. Later in the summer, we arranged to do it again, this time, we visited the southern part of the state, and visited Sandstone Falls on the New River. In our first visit, we stayed at Blackwater Falls State Park, just about 15 miles up the mountain from Parsons. We made side trips, including one to Seneca Rocks.
I am 63. In December, 1993, I was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to two years to live Well, as you can see, the Great Spirit has other plans. I try to daily express gratitude for the grace and mercy of still walking the earth. So, I go to my favorite spots on it — my old stomping grounds.
I can think of no better way to celebrate the joy of being alive than by stomping around on cool, green and shaded grass, a cakewalk on a Courthouse Square, or in the middle of a boulder-filled river — and of course, with old friends.
I daily thank the Great Spirit for the privilege of growing up a West Virginian. It truly is “Almost Heaven.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2019.