Roughly 35 years ago I got a call National Geographic photographer based near Charlottesville, VAirginiaand asked him to come to the Mountain State and record the images of those I once referred to as “the last of the mountain nation.”
The famous photojournalist promised to “hook up” with me after completing a couple of photo assignments he was working on, one in Australia and the other in Mexico.
He never followed up on my invitation, even though I offered him the hospitality of my home and the friendship of mine. co Mountain climbers.
Meanwhile, I continued to travel the back roads and byways of Southern West Virginia, writing features and photographing some of the most interesting people on earth. Eventually, I changed my day job and became a professional educatorbut I continued to write about the families of the hills.
Within a few years, most of those precious elderly people I knew passed from this life to the next.
Unfortunately, their faces never appeared in a national magazine of the magnitude of the Geographically, but they are recognized in usregionally media. Many of those country people appeared in my trilogy, Songs of the Whippoorwill: an Appalachian Odyssey and my fourth volume titled Appalachian Chronicleswhich are all for sale at Tamarack in Beckleyas well as at Barnes & Nobleamazon, and other online outlets.
Maybe in the future a graduate students from a major university with grant money to burn might turn up and examine the archives. Perhaps the historical time traveler will come across the photos and stories of those who made a lasting impression on me.
Here are just a few of those that are seemingly indescribable people I came across in Southern West Virginia of 1980 through 2015.
• A 49-year-old Beckley man sat on a log every day on dealing with his back woes. “I’ll admit that most people are baffled when they try to figure out why I’m sitting on the butt of a tree,” explained the friendly rehab patient.. Tthe oak stump near a rehabilitation center on Harper Road has been officially dedicated to the man who sat there almost every day. Witnesses claim that the man appeared to be “meditating over the log as if he were a monk”.
• A pet possum named Sammie found a home in it the kitchen cupboard of a Hinton family. The animal with a hairy body and a rather rat-like face has taken up residence with a family living on New River Road. “She’s far from ugly,” a kind-hearted Hinton woman remarked of her unusual houseguest. “She’s a damn good pet and has almost no problems.” Meanwhile, the small primitive American animal apparently ate scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, bacon, ham, chicken, shrimp, broccoli, apples, pears, grapes and a variety of dog food. “She sleeps all day and walks all night,” the owner said. “She even climbs into bed with us and sniffs our ears. We play with her for a while and then go back to sleep.”
The woman continued: “We found Sammy when she was just a small, plus-sized creature. We fed her with an eye dropper, and my husband carried her around in his shirt pocket.”
• Wanted: matchbox model house museum. A Bellwood woman created a problem of “unprecedented” proportions for herself: She built a model home in her bedroom and couldn’t find a way to get the structure through a window or door. She wanted to donate the piece to a museum if she could find a willing recipient. “The only thing I ask is that someone find a way to get this out.” The Bellwood native built a 4-by-5-foot structure out of matches—164,376 to be exact. But her doors and windows were not wide enough to let the model house through. “People who come in here to see it are blown away,” she said of the structure.
• An Oak Hill woman said she heard her unborn son crying. A story made international headlines about a 27-year-old doctor from Shanghai who claimed to have heard the cries of the unborn child in her seventh month of pregnancy. The The 62-year-old grandmother from Oak Hill said this is nothing new. She heard the cry of her unborn son in 1951. The woman claimed she was in a taxi on her way to the hospital when she heard the cries of her third child, who was still in her womb. “I heard a sound like a kitten would make,” the woman recalled of the incident. “I never knew a baby could cry before it was born.”
Top of the morning!