As soon as I had crossed the border from Virginia to West Virginia, I knew I’d come home.
Now, I’d never seen West Virginia before, but I knew right off that my dreams had given me glimpses of this place since I was a girl. The landscape alone was a banquet for my hungry soul. Endless skies, forest-draped mountains, deep valleys crossed by rocky rivers and streams – each gorgeous vista was like tasting one delicious morsel after another. I couldn’t get enough.
And the old barns nestled among the West Virginia mountainsides were the perfect dessert. I’ve loved old barns since childhood and had photographed them, collected old barn treasures (like old cinch straps and rusty horseshoes) for my bedroom walls, drawn old barn wood, and added books about barns to my personal library. When I was about 11, I asked my parents if they could put barn wood on my bedroom walls. They compromised and made me one happy little girl by nailing up barn wood paneling around my room. Dad joked, saying all my bedroom needed was a lantern and a bale of hay. Although I never added either to my decor, I attached my great-grandfather’s three-tined pitchfork, old hay pick, and worn cabbage cutter to my walls.
When I moved to Virginia about 24 years ago, I still had that ancestor’s barn tools. And one year at the Occoquan Arts and Crafts Festival, I discovered Winchester, Virginia artist David Knowlton’s prints of old buildings and Mail Pouch tobacco barns. I would have gladly eaten grits for a month just to save for one of his prints. Although I didn’t make the connection to old barns initially, I painted my townhouse kitchen in northern Virginia the same deep burgundy as a friend’s 150-year-old barn – about eight years before laying eyes on that barn.
My favorite painting by American Impressionist Gari Melchers is called “Virginia Housewife” and features an older farm woman in well-worn attire leaning against a long-handled pick in front of a handmade wooden bench laden with vegetables. I’ve always thought it would be fun to dress up like the woman in that painting and get my picture taken – a rather unusual holiday card! In keeping with my preference for old-fashioned living, my homes have been decorated with old baskets, crocks, common antiques, and apple crates. I love canning applesauce in my grandmother’s old canning jars, the ones with the rubber ring and wire clasp. I recently found two antique apple butter paddles at Goodwill and decided I need to find a kettle in which to make apple butter – over a fire outside, though, for the hot butter “spits” too much to cook inside. I’ll have to use the two antique rug beaters (another Goodwill find) to clean my rugs on a clear day.
I’ve always wanted to learn “old timey” ways of doing things – cooking over a hearth fire, preserving foods by drying or smoking, building a log cabin… Foxfire books were a perfect way to satisfy my cravings for all things old. In the early 1980’s, I accompanied a friend to her home in the hollows of Kentucky and just loved everything about it. Ang’s home had no running water so the outhouse was in the pasture, the well was in the backyard, and washing laundry was done in a big cast iron cauldron over a fire in the yard. It was there that I saw my first quilts, explored my first root cellar lined with an enormous variety of canned goods, and helped load tobacco on a sledge pulled by two Belgians. Draft horses – oh, that’s another favorite of mine! In the eighth grade, I wrote a research paper for French class on that country’s draft horse, the Percheron. It was a labor of love and, yes, I got an “A”. No researching the French Revolution or the judicial system in France or Marie Antoinette for me! Years later, when I was 39, I finally had my very first riding lesson – and my mount was a dappled grey Percheron. It was a dream come true!
I suspect I’ll have many more dreams come true here in West Virginia. The first local paper I laid eyes on last fall, The Pendleton Times, featured an article about a local farmer teaching area residents how to plow a field – using his draft horses and a hand-held plow! Sign me up for lessons!
I’m an elementary school teacher and I’ve always loved enjoy sharing wonderful children’s books with my students. My favorite Christmas book is called “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree” by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Barbara Cooney and is based in Appalachia during World War I. The self-sufficiency, hard work, and creativity of the characters in that book are evident in the people of this area today. Another favorite is “My Great Aunt Arizona”, also by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb. The main character is a schoolteacher in the Appalachian Mountains who teaches generations of students in the one-room schoolhouse. It’s only now, as I’m writing this, that it occurs to me those two well-loved books are based in the area I now consider home.
How did I get to the Appalachian Mountains? I think you could say that my move to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia has been a lifetime in the making.