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Friday, June 30, 2017

The New River Gorge And Our 25th Anniversary

Last week, my wife Candice and I traveled to Beckley, WV, for three days on the road to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  We had been married at the main overlook of Grandview National Park 25 years ago.  It was the first time we had been back to the park since our wedding.  We left home on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, and traveled over the river and through the woods to Beckley where we stayed in a Hampton Inn Motel for two nights and did a couple of days of semi-touristy things in the Beckley area.  When we leave our home in West Liberty, KY, to go toward Beckley, I always prefer to take US 460 to Salyersville, KY, and then KY 40 all the way to Inez, KY, in Martin County.  Then we cross the Tug River at Warfied, KY, and Kermit, WV.  Then I go up US 52, the Tolsia Highway, to Naugatuck, WV, and up the creek to US119 in the Delbarton area where we turn toward Logan.  At Logan, we take WV 10 to the mouth of Huff Creek above Man, WV, where we go to Oceana, WV, and then across the mountain above Kopperston, WV, down through Little Jimmie Dickens' hometown of Bolt, WV, and into Beckley.  

Taffy Likes To Help Us Pack Photo By Roger D. Hicks

It is a lovely drive across a major section of Appalachian Kentucky and West Virginia and has always been one of my favorite trips when I have the time to drive slowly and enjoy the sights.  We got to the motel in Beckley and found it to be a lot like any other Hampton Inn we have ever stayed in.  They always have good to better wheelchair accessible bathrooms, are clean, serve a breakfast buffet, and are competitively priced with other motels in any area.  We have never seen a bedbug in a Hampton Inn which is a qualifying factor in today's world of rampant bedbugs in motels.  We ate lunch on the trip at Pizza Hut in Stollings, WV, just outside Logan in mid-afternoon and didn't eat out for supper in Beckley.  In the late 1980's, I lived in Logan and Williamson and usually went to that particular Pizza Hut with a group of good friends including Jim and Phyllis Ferrell, Eve Downey, Gabe and Jewell Mobley, and a varying assortment of others from week to week.  Pizza Hut in Stollings was a disappointment.  We both had individual pizzas and shared an order of cinnamon sticks.  The pizzas were minimally acceptable and the service was adequate.  It was actually interesting to find a Pizza Hut which still had a dining room.  But the area in Stollings has deteriorated over time.  The restaurant decor was ugly and cheap.  The parking lot was aged, grass grown, cracked, and going down hill fast. Several businesses which used to be in Stollings are no longer there including a major automobile dealership.  We ate and ran.  

Candice At The Bridge Overlook Photo By Roger D. Hicks

As we left the Logan area, we ran into the ongoing construction to turn WV 10 into a four lane highway and it is actually finished most of the way from Three Mile Curve above Stollings to the mouth of Huff Creek.  While I understand the need to build superhighways in WV, Route 10 has always been one of my favorite roads in all of Appalachia and now it is just not the same.  A great deal is lost when you shoot past the town of Man and the mouth of Buffalo Creek without even seeing them.  That old crooked, dangerous two lane highway hanging between the mountains and the Guyandotte River between Stollings and Man was always one of the most interesting and picturesque drives in all of West Virginia and Appalachia.  Some of the cuts, in order to build the road rival those on US 119 between Williamson, WV, and Neon, KY. 

Roger At The Bridge Overlook Photo By Candice Hicks

We also drove into downtown Logan looking for a place to eat before we went on to Stollings.  That is a whole other sad story.  Downtown Logan is virtually non-existent with several parking lots where there were stores in the 1980's.  The hustle and bustle of an Appalachian town is no longer apparent in Logan.  The street corners are infested with numerous apparent denizens of the drug epidemic.  Several appeared to be prostitutes and/or drug dealers.  We couldn't find a decent place to stop for a meal in downtown Logan and moved on to the run down Pizza Hut in Stollings.  My thousands of pleasant memories of life in Logan in the 1980's will need to suffice.  

Roger And Candice At Grandview Photo By Roger D. Hicks

After we turned up Huff Creek, the drive was extremely pleasant as it had been across Magoffin, Johnson, and Martin Counties in Kentucky.  The old two lane was familiar territory where I had worked numerous days as a salesman.  I could point to several houses and tell stories of my encounters and sales in them.  Oceana, WV, is still Oceana, WV, Thank God!  It is just another quiet little court house town in a small county in WV.  People still have friendly conversations with strangers.  The same little family businesses still compete with one or two franchises like McDonald's.  You can feel at home after you drop off Huff Mountain into the county seat.  Kopperston is still a dying coal camp.  The tipple is still rusting away at the head of the creek.  That old crooked road still leads through the coal camp, past the empty company store, and over the mountain into Raleigh County where a hundred years ago a tiny little boy named Jimmy Dickens was learning to be the center of attention in any crowd while hiding behind a pawn shop guitar.  Bolt is always like a breath of fresh air to me.  

Candice At Grandview Photo By Roger D. Hicks

When we got up on the morning of June 21, 2017, we ate the motel buffet breakfast, encountered an elderly couple with the husband, a former pharmaceutical representative, taking care of his wife who exhibited the uncertainties and repetitions of Alzheimer's Disease.  I admired the man on two mornings as he continued to care for his wife in her deterioration.  She was friendly and struck up a conversation with Candice, asking the same questions every couple of minutes, but showing eighty years of manners and sociability while her husband showed sixty years of love and a quiet determination to go down swinging in the face of her disease.  

The New River From Grandview Photo By Roger D. Hicks

We left the motel to go to the Raleigh County Library to copy a short story I wrote in the 1970's from one of the few extant copies of "What's A Nice Hillbilly Like You...".  The library staff were helpful.  The copier worked.  I rescued that old story for another rewrite and, perhaps, inclusion in a collection when I publish them some day.  The library was giving away discards and I found an autographed copy of poetry from a local woman named Edith Williams Toner.  The inscription was to a neighbor who had helped the elderly Ms. Toner and her husband as they fought the snow and ice of a New River Plateau winter.  I always question why librarians discard such books by local authors and I was glad to be there to catch that one before it hit the dumpster.  I also found an interesting children's book from 1947 called "Nellie And The Mayor's Hat" written and illustrated by Charlotte Baker.  It is fascinating because nearly all of the characters have Hispanic names and that was a rarity in the 1940's. I also found an Arthur Hailey medical novel called "The Final Diagnosis A Novel About Love, Life, And Death In A Hospital".  When I was a high school student, making the transition from adolescent literature to serious literature, I had read a few Hailey novels in the old library of Knott County High School.  I am glad I was there to rescue all three of those books while I was passing through Beckley.  

We left the library and traveled to Tamarack, the West Virginia cultural and artistic sales facility near I-64.  We walked through the building, enjoyed the art works, talked to the staff, and I  bought two books by Lee Maynard, who just died the week before.  I had never known Lee Maynard and had never read any of his work.  But following his death, I had read some of the biographical information and just had to sample a Lee Maynard book or two.  I bought "Crum", the novel which had been banned from the shelves at Tamarack for a few years because of its reputed anti-West Virginia bent.  I also bought "The Pale Light Of Sunset".  I just had to buy and read some of his work after learning that his book had been banned, at least in Raleigh County, for a while.  I firmly believe that every American reader should make a point to read at least one banned book a year in order to support free speech and a free press.  Both are endangered on a daily basis by the TRAITOR Donald Trump and his crimes must be confronted if America and the world are to be safe.  

Candice wanted to go to Summersville to see the New River Gorge Bridge since she had never seen it.  We took the drive and stopped to eat lunch in a Panera Bread store, an experience which I hope to never repeat.   We spent a half hour or so at the bridge overlook area and shot a few photos, talked to a few tourists including a woman from Michigan who walked up to the window in the visitor center and literally gasped, "We don't have anything like that in Michigan."  Then we drove back to Grandview and spent an hour or two at the park reminiscing about our wedding and the 25 years since then.  Candice had walked down the stone path to the main overlook for the ceremony and I rolled her down it in a wheelchair for our return trip.  The day was beautiful.  The river was calm with only a few rafters since it was the middle of the week.  Buzzards flew below us.  Flowers were blooming.  It was a wonderful day on the New River.  

That night we went to dinner at a restaurant called The Char where Candice had escargot and a bone in rib eye.  I had a large Filet Mignon and the best bread pudding I have ever had.  The restaurant is set off the highway on a former farm, has a pond with a swan and a fountain, valet parking if you desire it, and a menu which is up to snuff in most other towns.  

The next morning, we left Beckley after the motel buffet and another conversation with the elderly couple.  We drove back across the mountains, down the Guyandotte River, across the Tug River, and into the Licking River Valley to home.  It was a trip well worth taking, both to Beckley and the New River Gorge this month and down all those 25 years of twists and turns since that day long ago when we got married at the Main Overlook of Grandview National Park. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Some Appalachian Wisdom About Health Care

When I was growing up on Right Beaver Creek in Knott County Kentucky, there were two relatively easy options for my parents when simple childhood illnesses were involved.  There were two doctors in private practice a few miles away in Floyd County just down Beaver Creek.  One of those doctors was Mark Dempsey, M.D. who practiced until he was nearly ninety and died in the late 1960's in my teenage years.  Most children hated to go to see him but I am sure his medicine was just as effective and safe as that being practiced by anyone else in the area at the time.  But his manner was brusque and abrupt.  He was still using reusable syringes and needles which he sterilized in an autoclave. We children often accused him of "not sharpening his needles".  His wife was his assistant although I have never been told that she was a nurse.  He had begun his practice in Floyd County as a company doctor for the Elkhorn Coal Company after moving from his native Logan County West Virginia, and was a cousin of the prize fighter, Jack Dempsey, although he never made any effort to gain advantages from the relationship.  He was in all ways a native Appalachian male who had grown up relatively poor and done well based on hard work.  His office was in an old building between the railroad and creek in Garrett, KY, a typical Eastern Kentucky coal mine town. His office also served as his home and after his death it lived a second life as a produce market.  The office area was cluttered, cramped, and loaded from wall to wall, corner to corner, and floor to ceiling with pill bottles, medical instruments, and all the tools of a country doctor's trade along with some odds and ends of his every day life. 

Dr. Mark Dempsey at work.  Photo by The Floyd News

Recently, Dr. Dempsey crossed my mind and I did a Google Search of his name and found a most interesting and timely newspaper article about him from about 1964 shortly before his death.  I was astounded at what I learned about the old country doctor I had never wanted to visit when I was a sick child.  After reading the article, originally published in a now defunct newspaper called The Floyd News, I found myself wishing I had been smart enough to learn at his feet while he was alive and working.  The article listed a few examples of the medical, social, and political philosophies of Dr. Dempsey which are just as worthwhile and necessary today as they were in the late 1960's when he was originally interviewed. The most timely and pertinent of the remarks from Dr. Dempsey was the following:

1) "All people should have free health care." This remark should be ringing from the mouths of every  health care provider and politician in our country today at this time when the TRAITOR Donald Trump is attempting to destroy the best health care coverage plan ever concocted in an industrialized nation.  Dr. Dempsey's name should be lauded in every public health care forum in Appalachia and the entire country today. Dr. Mark Dempsey should become one of the faces of the ongoing battle to save American health care for all future generations.  The Dempsey newspaper article was written when future American President Barack Obama was about five years old and I am certain that it contained nothing that Dr. Mark Dempsey had not been telling his patients, friends, and professional associates for forty years before that date. The words "all people should have free health care" are just as relevant today as they were when Dr. Mark Dempsey was born on the banks of the Guyandotte River more than a hundred years ago.

 2) "Every man, regardless of who he is, should be trained to do skilled work." In light of the refusals by the Right Wing Radical Repugnican Party to support free associate degrees for all citizens, as espoused by Hillary Clinton, this idea should also be a key plank in the basic political platform of the country.  Nearly every other so-called civilized country in the world has advanced ahead of the United States in the percentages of high school graduates, college graduates, and recipients of advanced degrees of all kinds.  We are rapidly deteriorating into a Third World Country educationally and the TRAITOR Donald Trump has placed a billionaire idiot whose family constructed the largest pyramid scheme in the history of the country, in charge of the US Department of Education. This brief piece of wisdom from Dr. Mark Dempsey could go a long way to rescuing America from our slow slide into international mediocrity.  If every American citizen with sufficient intelligence to pass the educational or training program of their desires could be guaranteed a vocational or college degree, we would soon be a stronger, better country with a vastly improved national gross product, national domestic product, higher median income, a larger and stronger national tax base, lower unemployment rates, and a much solider place in international competitions of productivity.  Dr. Mark Dempsey had grown up in Logan County West Virginia as the coal boom was transforming Appalachia and the Logan County Mine Wars, the Battle Of Blair Mountain, and the murder of dozens of union members, union organizers, and suspected union sympathizers were being carried out on the orders of the murderous sheriff Don Chafin and the Logan County Coal operators.  Dr. Dempsey had seen just how cheaply American corporations in the early twentieth century valued their employees.  During his childhood in Logan County, Dr. Mark Dempsey was exposed to a world in which a bank mule was considered more valuable than a man.  Logan County coal operators were notorious for saying that "you have to buy a mule but you can always hire another man".  Living in this environment, as a child with enough intelligence to complete medical school, there can be little doubt that Dr. Mark Dempsey realized many truths about the strained relationship between industry and labor and came to believe as he did that men should be trained to work to the best of their ability. 

3) "He is an avowed enemy of totalitarianism of communism, Hitlerism or any enforced subjugation of individual rights-but he can point out inequalities existing  in our system of government which might be corrected, he has said  through courageous and  honest  leadership"  Even though Dr. Mark Dempsey gave the Floyd News that interview more than fifty years ago, these words of his ring just as true today as they did then.  TRAITOR Trump, in subjugation to and cooperation with Vladimir Putin, has placed the United States in the greatest peril it has ever faced.  TRAITOR Trump seeks to inflict "subjugation of individual rights" on nearly every citizen of the country by virtue of destroying every public service program and agency instituted over the last seventy years. TRAITOR Trump has illegally and unconstitutionally authorized the arrest of the free press on several occasions in his ongoing effort to destroy the free press which exposes his crimes.  TRAITOR Trump has spoken out against having numerous services available to citizens such as National Public Radio and Public Television, the National Endowment For The Arts, the National Endowment For The Humanities, all of which lead to a better educated, more intelligent, more literate, and more verbal populace.  Dr. Mark Dempsey was a prescient and clairvoyant man in the late 1960's. Every citizen of America should be reading, defending, repeating, and supporting his ideas today all across Appalachia and America.  Every citizen should be standing up, in honor of Dr. Mark Dempsey, to defend the sacred values, Constitution, and Bill Of Rights of the United States.

Later in the article from the Floyd News, Dr. Dempsey and the writer, Qaentin Allen, wrap up much of the doctor's  belief structure in the following quote:
"When you meet [him] the man  is ready to talk of the people's  need to. become whole and become as citizens of this country. The doctor fears that his views may be misinterpreted. He is an avowed enemy of totalitarianism of communism, Hitlerism or any enforced subjugation of individual rights-but he can point out inequalities existing  in our system of government which might be corrected, he has said  through courageous and  honest  leadership. All classes of people regardless of who they are, should be trained to do skilled work and be disease free. Our government seems to to take the attitude that, If you can't do something for yourself then it won't be done. One man can't shoot a rocket to the moon. It takes the experts, the specialists. It takes the collective effort on the part of the people through the government.
One person can't give an education to eliminate the illiteracy and the disease of our people. Only the government and the scientists and the experts can do this."
"I have practiced medicine in more rich and poor homes than any other doctor in Eastern Kentucky. I have practiced among the Negro, the Jew, the Italian, the Indian. They are all the same. The Negroes treated me better than anyone has ever treated me. The people in the lower economic class are being neglected. "The experts should treat them. They should be free of disease, should have free medical service as they do in Great Britain or Russia."
"No. I am not a Communist." But how do we hope to compete with Russia? How do we compete with Russia when we have much ignorance and illiteracy? You find ignorance worse in the city than you do in the country."
Dr. Mark Dempsey Photo By Floyd News

That quotation about "courageous leadership" is just as relevant today as any word that Dr. Mark Dempsey ever spoke in his life of nearly a hundred years in the coal fields of Appalachia.  A lack of courageous leadership in most of the elected offices in this country has allowed a Russian TRAITOR and idiot to assume illegal control of the White House with the assistance of Vladimir Putin.  Dr. Mark Dempsey must be spinning in his grave today if he is cognizant of the political terrorism which is being forced on the American citizenry, the free press, the education system, the social welfare system, and environmental protections. The greatest public health insurance system ever devised in an industrialized nation is under attack from TRAITORS, criminals, corporations, and idiots in order to save billions of dollars for American corporations.  Every voter in America should be speaking up, speaking out, and defending the real American values which are being destroyed every time a baby is born dead because of lack of prenatal care, every time a bright student drops out of school because of a lack of funding, every time an elderly person fails to seek treatment because they are afraid of not having enough money, every time another environmental disaster takes place without repercussions, and every time a TRAITOR illegally occupies the White House and pretends to be qualified to do the job of the President Of The United States because the President Of Russia stole an American election.

Dr. Mark Dempsey with a child