The Road to Grandpa’s House
I was a lucky child who had two full sets of grandparents. My Mom’s Dad, the subject of these stories, was tagged by the name “Grandpa Miller”. That helped us keep him separate from my Dad’s Dad who went by the name, “Pop”. Pop lived in the tiny town of Clay, West Virginia and Pop hated to be called Grandpa. The few times we forgot and called him Grandpa, he would whip out his pocket knife and tease us that he was going to cut our “mollygrubs” off if we ever called him Grandpa again. Pop always told us, “Your Grandpa lives at Harrison!”
The US post office where Homer Miller did his mailing was Harrison, West Virginia, zip code 25063. It is near such populous places as Duck, Elmira, and Strange Creek. I remember the post office was a window built into the end of the counter in the corner of a little general store where Grandpa Miller bought staple items. The postmaster put on his US Postal Service hat and pulled a metal box from behind the counter whenever a customer had postal business to transact. That was the official US government money box, totally safe and secure in that area where stealing and crime were not a problem. Harrison was such a small place there was not even a sign welcoming visitors. I don’t guess people went there unless they were from there, had family to see, or were maybe lost.
Our trips to Grandpa Miller’s started in Charleston, WV and included a stop in Clay to see Pop and Grandma Nichols. Pop had indoor plumbing and city water. Grandpa Miller had a two seat outhouse and a spring up on the hill. But I am getting ahead of myself. The main reason we stopped in Clay was that I was usually car sick after a twisting and turning run up US 19 along the Elk River. This was before wide, straight I-79 was even a glimmer of a dream in anyone’s mind.
My Dad never liked to use his car brakes as brake parts were expensive and besides, it was a personal challenge for him to shave seconds off each trip trying to arrive a little faster on each excursion. Pity my poor Mom. I sat right behind her in the car and I suffered from extreme motion sickness – still do. As Dad accelerated and straightened one curve after another my little stomach was percolated, and churned. And I can only imagine how many times Mom heard my panicked voice from the back seat warning, “Mom I have to …” The rest of the uttered phrase was too chunky for words.
Mom got smart and started carrying spare clothes for both of us along with paper bags and tissues. Stopping in Clay was my Dad’s one consideration to us and it gave time for my stomach to settle a little before we hit the really bad road to Harrison. I have heard of something called the Mother’s Curse – you know, “I hope someday you have a kid just like you”. Well, it works. I have two daughters, and both suffer from motion sickness. My oldest at age 3, woke up from a sound sleep in the back seat of our little car and without any warning barfed. She splattered the windshield from the back seat, an Olympic class performance. I have been paid back many times for the road side cleanups I caused my Mom.
Just a note about that Mother’s Curse – it is usually uttered in anger when the child has displeased or embarrassed Mom in some way. I have never heard my wife use it on our kids. Truthfully, if God handed us a catalog and said “pick out the kids you want” we would not have found better kids. They are keepers and Amanda and Michelle, you can blame your Grandma for the motion sickness! (Just kidding, Mom!)
The road to Harrison was narrow, curvy, and either uphill or downhill, never flat. Young people today pay large sums of money to be thrilled on a roller coaster at some amusement park. They will never know the sheer terror of riding 15 miles from Clay to Harrison with Woody at the wheel of his Chevy. I didn’t know I was having fun. And there were few places to pull over so by the time I realized I was sick, pleaded for mercy, and Dad hit the brakes, it was most always too late. It was a major achievement in my life when later as a teen I survived that trip without tossing my cookies a single time. I know Mom was giving thanks.
Along the twists and turns of that road, called the Dundon-Widen Road if you use Google, I can remember a couple of special landmarks. The first was my parents’ “Courting Spot”. It was the place where boys would take their girls to park the truck, kiss and make out and do all those things they would later tell their children they didn’t do. In West Virginia one does not see much of the sky unless one hikes to the top of the hills. The view from the “Courting Spot”, on top of a high hill, was awesome. I can see why young lovers stopped there.
A second land mark along the way was Grandpa’s Trees. The legend passed to me was that Grandpa had been part of the crew which built the road during the Great Depression and at one location he left behind a group of three poplar trees. My brothers and I would watch for these trees and when we saw them, we knew the car ride was coming to an end. The sight of these trees gave me hope that there would be more to the day than an upset tummy. But you had to look fast as the car whizzed by – Dad would not slow down. I think the 3 trees will always be at the forefront of my “Grandpa” memories because they were living and growing yet constant, and sturdy, just like Grandpa. My childhood home also had three poplar trees my Dad left in place when we cleared the land. Somehow our own 3 trees seemed to be a bond through the years that hooked life together and reminded us of Grandpa.
After what seemed like hours we hit a straight stretch in the road. Just past the row of mailboxes was the turn off to Grandpa’s. His road was dirt in dry weather and mud in wet weather. We even traveled it in deep snow a time or two. Grandpa worked hard to keep that road passable and his family coming home to visit lent a hand. There were a couple of homemade log bridges and a few places where the road and the creek were one and the same. Grandpa could hear the car coming long before it came into view and by the time we pulled up next to the house, he would be on the porch, his booming voice, echoing up and down the valley as he welcomed us. I think what’s wrong with a lot of folks today is there is no memory of a home or a family or a place where a person was welcomed and made to feel like an honored guest.
It was worth the upset stomach.