Always Home, West Virginia

By Judi Clark (2003)

In the year of 1952, while working in the coalmines of Logan County, West Virginia, Bill Clark made what he later referred to as a monumental decision that would change the paths he and his young family would take. Concerned for the future of his sons if he remained in Holden where the majority of men did not have many employment opportunities, Bill replied to an advertisement for a worker in a print shop in Indianapolis.

Stepping out in faith, he embarked on a new life in Indiana.
Having been born and raised in West Virginia, this was a difficult choice for Bill and his wife Ruth to make.

West Virginia was always home and never far from their hearts and minds.
I have often wondered what West Virginia would have held for me had we remained in the beautiful mountain state where I was born.

“DIGGING UP DEEP SOUTHERN ROOTS”

It would prove to be a long ride for my sister, my brothers and me sitting on our couch in the back of the big U-Haul truck, where just a few hours before, this familiar piece of furniture had been a constant in the home where I was born.

The farthest I had been in my short life was to the neighboring county of Boone.  I enjoyed riding in the back seat of our old Nash, traveling on dirt mountain roads that dipped up and down, twisting and turning on what seemed an endless journey.  My anticipation would heighten with every bounce that brought us closer to our destination.  In the mind of a four-year-old girl, this was a big trip!

Uncle Carlos was one of daddy’s five brothers.  He and Aunt Garnett lived on fifty acres of rolling hillside up a holler, which was just off of North Fork of Big Creek, Turtle Creek, in Boone County.  Visiting here always promised a good time for the entire family.  My mother and aunt would have a wonderful gabfest while the men would share their stories, ones most likely they had told before.  My sister June, brothers Billy, Johnny and I could hear their laughter as we played outside. I was an adult before I understood, with help, why we referred to Uncle Carlos’s home as being “at” Turtle Creek.  These beautiful mountains were often named for the waterways flowing around them.

I had much to look forward to, more than my peering at the horse that Uncle Carlos used to pull the empty wagon up the hillside to his little coal mine.  The routine was always the same.  After filling the old wagon with black coal and almost an equal amount of dust, the horse on command would make his way back down stopping close to the little cabin style home having accomplished his work for the day.  The giggles would begin as we awaited the finality of this task.  We expected to see him shake his head and body to and fro when the wagon was unhitched from him.   Then make funny sounds that we would try to imitate. He never disappointed us.  In later years I wondered if Uncle Carlos really happened to need coal at the time of our visits, or if perhaps he enjoyed entertaining his nieces and nephews.  Hoping for this spectacle was second on my list to making this an event to treasure.  A greater treat always awaited my brothers, sister and me.

Daddy gave his all to provide the necessities to us, and we were oblivious to any other life style.  After all, in the small mining town of our home at Holden most folks were all on the same economic level.  Never feeling deprived, we children knew how deeply we were loved.  The constant and unchanging affection from our parents brought security to us that could not have been purchased at the all too familiar “Company Store”.

Nevertheless, I knew from previous visits that Aunt Garnett would welcome us with free ice cream at her little grocery store by the side of the road.  She surely knew it was an uncommon treat for us.  The yummy orange flavored Pushup ice creams were so good I would try to eat slowly to enjoy them as long as possible.  But it would begin to melt and I had to change my pace and forsake indulging slowly to quickly licking it up.

I thought how lucky Aunt Garnett was to always have a freezer filled with goodies.  It was not because of the flavor choice that she gave to me that made me feel I loved her.  It was the gentle way she touched my curly blonde hair combined with her tender smile that made me feel loved in return.  She had no children of her own but I was sure that when she did they would love her greatly.  Surely this lady would be a good mommy to have.

Yet, our visit out of Logan County to neighboring Boone would prove to be trivial in comparison to taking as much of our belongings that Daddy could pack into the truck and going to “live near Indians”.  I was excited and a little frightened for this new adventure.

Leaving our little three-room home that sat on the hillside of Lyman Terrie, I complained to no avail that we were forgetting my baby bed.  How cozy and secure I had felt when night would creep upon us, and my entire world snuggled into this tight niche where sleep came easily to me.  Somehow, now empty of furniture it had transcended into a large, cold unwelcoming site. But my sadness was momentary, as Daddy hustled me outside bringing comfort by showing me that the little red tricycle handed down from my siblings was securely on board.  He promised that this would be the first object removed when we arrived at our new home in Indiana.  It was.

The thought of going to live with Indians did not thrill me, as I surely knew what Indians were all about from watching my two brothers Johnny, who was six years old, and Billy, the older one at eight, playing Cowboys and Indians.  Both boys always wanted to be the cowboy, and I knew why!  The Indian always lost the battle with the Cowboy who had guns.  He would be over powered as he was only armed with a bow and arrow.

I did not have time to dwell on the baby bed, nor the Indians for now—there was just too much going on, and I knew that I had to keep abreast of every move Daddy made, lest I be left behind with the bed.  The big wooden teeter-totter in our front yard would stay too.  Daddy had made it, and what fun it was when my brothers would hold their end to the ground and let my sister and me remain up high where we could watch the cars driving past the home of Daddy’s brother, Ambrose Clark.

Looking across the dirt road that passed by the front of our house, you could have gone down the embankment across a set of railroad tracks, but before arriving at the hard road, you would be confronted by a creek running with rusty looking red, orange and black water.  It was this obstacle that prevented us from walking a direct path from our teeter-totter to Logan Avenue where Uncle Ambrose’s house stood tall for us to see.

After helping Mother into the cab of the truck with him, Daddy placed us into the seating he had arranged in the back.  Then, down the dirt road we traveled west in the direction of Main Holden to the Island Creek Coal Company shops where the little bridge stood ready to take us across to the West end of Logan Avenue.  A right turn on the hard road put us a short distance from Uncle Ambrose’s house.

Although we children could not see our route because of the closed rear door of the truck, we knew it well.  Daddy would not have driven down into Price even though he could have chosen the bridge at the east end of the bottom to take us across. The dirt road was much rougher down there than it was passing our house and one could get stuck or tear the bottom of a car off, we had often heard him explain.

The past three months must have been a difficult time for Mother, alone with four children.  She had no transportation to the grocery stores or to the little white church over at Cherry Tree Bottom where we attended religiously twice on Sunday, and also Wednesday nights.  She was homebound where the closest to having an adult conversation was with my big sister June.  She was ten years old and Mother’s little lady.  We younger three stood a little taller when we were by her side.  This never changed.

Uncle Bethel had moved to Canada.  What a help it was when Daddy wrote the letter to him explaining our situation and news of the upcoming change that brought him quickly to our aid.  We four children loved him dearly.  Having the vocabulary of a child my age, I told him with love that he could be my “left over daddy”.  I guess that I meant substitute but did not know the correct word.  He remained my “left over daddy”, and the saying an unending joke when my family reflected on our life-changing move.

My brothers who were all of two and four years older than me were obviously wiser as well.  They had a back up plan. Apparently believing that we would soon be destitute without Daddy, we would have rations if it were left up to them.  When the floor model radio that we children would lie in front of, looking at as though we could see the people whose voices we were hearing such as The Lone Ranger and Tonto rides again their secret was about to unfold.  Now the radio’s turn to be loaded, daddy moved it out from the wall and Mother’s buttermilk biscuits came rolling past.  My brothers’ hidden stash!  Not knowing they would turn rock hard the biscuits most likely brought feelings of security to the boys who feared our destiny was starvation.

The adults’ plan was to relish in a wonderful meal cooked by Aunt Bertha.  Then Daddy would go upstairs and take a nap to get rested for the trip.  I insisted on sticking by him.  I had missed him so terribly while he was working his new job and finding a home for us in Indiana; besides, I did not want to be left behind with the baby bed or the porch glider that had once sat on our porch but was now provided seating for Uncle Ambrose.

But sleep was not to be found with the miles ahead on daddy’s mind.  Soon he gave up trying and we headed downstairs to say our good-byes

Aunt Bertha (who we affectionately called Berthie) begged Daddy to spend the night.  But he was resigned to stick to his plan.  Now Aunt Berthie was not one to easily lose a battle, so she offered a compromise.   For the many years that followed, with every visit home, we were houseguests of Ambrose and Berthie.

Transplanted

The long adventurous ride came to an end in the early hours of a crisp December morning.

1052 West 18th Street, Indianapolis, Indiana was a far cry from Lyman Terrace Hill, Holden, West Virginia.
Daddy said that we were “transplanted hillbillies”.
We soon found it to be the truth for it would be a long time before our new friends understood our southern speak.
We never became “Hoosiers”.

We left Logan, but our heart’s remained . . .
West Virginia 51 years later is still “home”.

Lovingly dedicated to the memory of my parents, Bill and Ruth Clark, pioneers.

With a special thank you to Barbara Mowery and Paul Hill of Logan and Boone Counties, West Virginia for geographical assistance.


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One Response to Always Home, West Virginia

  1. It was a pleasure following the story of the Clark family about their transplant to Indiana from Holden, WV. I remember this family quite well as I also attended the little church at Cherry Tree where Bill Clark was Sunday School Superintendent. I recall Bill and his brother Bethel singing and playing their guitars at church services and seeing the Clark children every Sunday. The Bill and Ruth Clark family were sorely missed when they moved to Indiana. The Church would never be the same. Thank you, Judi Clark, for sharing your story.

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