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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. 

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