Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

It’s a Girl!

I have always known I was adopted. My mom used to tell me how my very wealthy grandfather whisked his pregnant daughter out of Philadelphia and hid her at the Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers in Wheeling, West Virginia, until she had me. I was told the story of how some strange woman met my parents on a street corner and handed me over to them a few days after my birth. I was also told my birth mother was very young and had to love me very much when she had to decide to give me up for adoption so I may have the chance for a better life.

Well, two of those statements were true. I will find the Philadelphia story was untrue.

Before the “invention” of the internet, it was difficult to conduct a search for a birth parent. And I just didn’t care to know anything when I was a teenager. I even participated in a debate on WKKW in high school and was on the side of “Adoption Records Should Never Be Opened.”

But, my interest piqued a bit when I came home from college one weekend and a family member came to me with an interesting story. She went to a club and happened to see a girl my age who looked exactly like me and had similar mannerisms. After watching her for a while, she approached her and asked her if she was by any chance adopted.

She was taken aback, and then replied that, yes, she WAS adopted. She proceeded to tell  her birth date. It matched, along with the city, and the hospital. My family member was sure she was my twin and we just had to have been separated at birth.

So, it was arranged for us to meet, and I soon came face to face with Joyce, my possible twin. We brought our birth certificates,  talked for a while, comparing similarities, quirks, and medical conditions, and left with the promise we would get a blood test to make sure we were twins. I left the next day to go back to college, and along the way, lost her phone number and couldn’t remember her last name. All I knew and all I still know is that her name was Joyce and she was from Steubenville, Ohio. Well, that is, I believe her name was Joyce. It is funny how time has a way of making some memories foggy. For example, I have no idea where we met. Not a clue. I think we were at a kitchen table, but it could have been in a restaurant. I do not remember at all.

My brother, David, who is also adopted, made the trip to our state capital of Charleston, West Virginia, to search for our birth certificates. Imagine my surprise when he came back with two interesting pieces of information. The first was a birth certificate, but this one was different. This had the name of my birth mother, but her name was barely marked out.

 

I couldn’t believe it. I thought since adoption records were sealed, I would never know who my birth mother was. But, here was her name, staring at me. David also found out that Nancy, my birth mother, married and had two children in 1968. Their names were Mary Alice and Melissa Anne. So, she had another set of twins twelve years later?

I’m not going to go into detail about how David found all the Nancy Freelands who were born in 1939 and how my then-husband drove six hours into Ohio to meet one of them. That funny story will be saved for when I write my book.

Fast forward to 2017. After years of typing Nancy Jane Freeland into the google search bar and hunting for “Joyce Steubenville”  and “Melissa Mitchell,” on facebook, my daughter suggested I submit some saliva in a 23andme DNA kit.  I bought her a kit for Christmas and her results were interesting, but it was hard to decifer for sure who was on her father’s side and who was on my side. And I had just turned 60 and thought it was time to find my twin once and for all. I know what many of you may be thinking:

“Why did you wait so damn long?”

I guess I still feel that it is an intrusion.

But, I ordered the kit and was disappointed when I got the results. There was not one Freeland surname in any of my matches. My daughter, Alex, felt perhaps someone just happened to write down the false name, Nancy Jane Freeland, as other falsehoods prevailed. For example, my name at birth was Deborah Lee, but the director at the Crittenton Home answered a letter I wrote to her, stating that sometimes a nurse would name a baby so something would be written down before the adoption process concluded. So, maybe they did the same on a birth certificate, to again, hide the identity of the birth mother.  In that same letter, I also found out, the agency also lied to adoptive parents about the lives of the birth mothers. So, it was disappointing for a few days, until I got an email from a woman whom I matched with as a second cousin on 23andme.

She confirmed I was indeed Nancy Jane Freeland’s daughter, as our DNA matched. I was elated to have her name back in my mind as my birth mother. But, alas, my “twin” Joyce did not submit DNA to this company. So, I ordered a kit from Ancestry, hoping Joyce used this company. I wondered if she was even alive at this point. Surely she was hunting for me, too. Eyvonn, my newly found second cousin, did some research on my birth mother and told me my one half-sister, Mary Alice, had died when she was two days old. She couldn’t find any information on the other one, Melissa.

The day I spit in a vial and sent it off, I saw where people can make a free family tree at the Ancestry.com site. So, I gave my family tree a name and typed Nancy Jane Freeland in to start the process. A green leaf immediately appeared in the upper right hand corner of her information box. Curious, I clicked on it, and saw “hints” about my birth mother that are free to see without subscribing to their site. Among documents, I found a marriage certificate for a Nancy Jane Freeland Land. Well, that had to be a misprint….Freeland Land? Plus, I googled her name so much, it surely would have come up before if she remarried. But, I shrugged, and thought I might as well try it.

And what I found surprised me. About clicking on five or six links, the next one was titled, “Obituaries for Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009.”  I wasn’t going to click on it, as I was sure it was a dead end, but I did anyway.

“……She was born July 7, 1958, in Allegheny County, PA, a daughter of the late Nancy Jane Freeland Land.”

I thought for sure this Nancy Jane was not who I was looking for. First of all, my birth mother was from Moundsville. It never dawned on me she would ever move out of the area. That was not one of my brightest thoughts. Secondly, who was Barbara Jo Arbogast?  I was born in 1956. Surely, I would have found out if I had a half sister born two years later when my brother found the twins, who were born in 1968.

But, I continued to read because I like to finish what I start (That’s such a lie).

……She is survived by ……and 2 sisters, Amy Eli and her husband David, Clarksburg, and Melissa Mikulski, Youngsville, NC……”

Wait. What?

Melissa.

I sat stunned. Could this be the twin, Melissa, that was born in 1968?

I immediately went to facebook and typed Melissa’s full name in the search bar. And up came her picture. I’ll be damned. I remember that name from a few years before. She was from Shinnston and now lived in North Carolina. I dismissed her because, remember, my people stayed put in Moundsville. I just shook my head at my lack of common sense.

So, what the hell do I do now? I had three names….Melissa, Amy, and Barbara’s daughter, Brianna, to search on facebook. So, I basically stalked them and looked at a lot of their photos. I showed my co-workers photos of Amy, who I thought looked like me.

On a Thursday morning, I sat with my fingers on the keyboard and thought how to approach them. I needed to know if their mother was the same Nancy Jane Freeland who once lived in Moundsville.

I know how I am about friend requests on Facebook, and I know they might never see a private message unless were were facebook friends. I thought I would write each of them a message and see if anyone would reply.

So, on March 23, during my lunch at school, I wrote:

“Hi Amy! I’m not sure if you will receive this message or not. I also sent one to your sister, Melissa. I may be going down the wrong road, but I am trying to connect some dots with a genealogy study and was wondering if you are related to a Nancy Jane Freeland from Moundsville? Sept. 26, 1939? Thanks in advance. Vickie”

Ok, I liked that. It wasn’t an “in your face” admission that their mother might also be my mother. Again, I was still having intrusion issues.

My daughter squashed that thought.

“Mom. Tell them the truth.”  

No answer….Thursday or Friday.

By Saturday, I thought I would add a bit more. 7:15pm.-

I guess I should add that I am adopted (born in Wheeling in 1956) and Nancy Jane Freeland, age 17, is listed as my birth mother. I recently took a DNA test from 23andme and a second cousin on Harold Freeland’s mother’s side. (Ida Mae Koon) got in touch with me. I have had the information that Nancy Jane Freeland as my birth mother for years, (her name was lightly crossed out on my birth certificate) and I knew there was a possibility of being half-sisters to Melissa Mitchell, but didn’t want to intrude. I wasn’t aware of you or your sister Barbara until Ancestry.com showed Nancy Jane was then a Land. I googled that name the other day and found your sister’s obituary. I apologize for the intrusion now, but I would finally like to connect some dots after 60 years. Plus, I’d really like to know where my son’s red hair came from…lol I apologize if I cause any hurt in this process.”

and then added, “And I may be wrong.”

I friend requested Melissa and Brianna, but I thought I should write a public note on my facebook wall so they could see it. I know when I get friend requests, I go to that person’s facebook to see who the hell they are. So I wrote right on my facebook wall:

“So, a bit of news. When I sent in my DNA to Ancestry, it also let me create a family tree. When I did that, a “hint” came up for my birth mother. So, I clicked on it, and found a marriage certificate with an additional name at the end. So, I googled her with that name, and came across an obituary of a woman, born in 1958, two years after me. It gets better. She left behind two half sisters, one whom I was aware of (had her maiden name listed in obit), and the other lives in the Shinnston area. I have sent them messages and it looks if we aren’t friends they don’t receive the messages. If they do accept and they tell me their mother did indeed live in Moundsville, I will be certain I have 3 half-sisters (one who has passed), and not counting my twin, Joyce, who is still out there somewhere.
Pretty crazy, huh?”

Some more stalking. I saw where Amy was at Buffalo Wild Wings and she was commenting on her friend’s replies. She didn’t have a friend request button, so I decided to write in the comment bar. I started getting nervous.

at 7:57, I wrote:

“Hi, Amy. You don’t know me, but I sent you a message. You don’t have a friend request button…lol”

I’m such a goober.

And then it got crazy. I will elaborate in my book, which I feel like I am writing right now (sorry this is so long), but let’s just say it was fast and furious, and yes, Nancy Jane Freeland Land lived in Moundsville.

I found my birth mother and her family and they lived only about 15 minutes from me all this time. Nancy passed away in 1976.

Facebook is great and many posts and texts on the phone have followed our initial conversation.

Amy and I met at a nearby restaurant on April 6.

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Amy is on the left. I’m 13 years older

Matching hair styles, glasses, and our black and white ensembles for the evening. We text almost daily. I just love her and can’t wait to meet Melissa sometime this summer.

Part Deux: My Birth Father

Yep. Who would have thought? So, I just got my results from ancestry.com back on Tuesday, May 2 just as I was logging off of the computer for the night. So, at 11:00pm, I found out my “twin” didn’t  submit DNA here either, but I did find I had a first cousin. It had to be on my birth father’s side. What? I never dreamed I would find anything about him.

So, I messaged her on Ancestry the very next morning:

“Hi! I have just received my results tonight and see we are first cousins. I was adopted at birth in 1956 in Wheeling, WV, and recently found my birth family on my mother’s side. Very curious to see how we may be related. I do have a twin (separated at birth), but only remember her first name is Joyce. Any information would be appreciated to help me connect some dots.”
Vickie

Erin wrote back and in communication over the past few days,  suggested her uncle, who passed away some time ago, was most likely my birth father.  But, over time this week, she noticed our “centimorgans” were very high for just being first cousins. Her father, who is still alive, told Erin he had been with my birth mother one time and was never told he was the father.

That was last night. I spent most of the night feeling like I wanted to throw up. I just felt that it served no real purpose to tell him that the DNA put him as my biological father. I felt this was extremely intrusive of me when all I wanted to do was find my twin. I am feeling a bit better this morning as my new family is so very welcoming.

So, adopted 60 years and 6 months ago and today I can say I have three half sisters and 1 half brother, and a birth father who is probably in a state of shock.

I still need to find Joyce.

To be continued…….

Cat Eye Glasses

Way back in the day, I remember hoping one day I would be able to wear cat eye glasses. I really wanted to wear them. They were very popular in the early sixties and I thought the women who wore them, especially if they were secretaries, were at the top of their game.

Why, oh, why, did I have to have great eyesight?

When I was little, I wanted to be an actress when I grew up. But, not just any regular actress. I wanted to be a smoking actress. You know what I’m talking about; the ones who adorned gowns, strategically placed a wisp of their hair over their left eye, smoked, and said, “Dahling” a lot. That’s what I wanted to be.

Until I saw my dad’s secretary wearing cat eye glasses.

I used to spend a lot of time after school and some Saturday’s at my dad’s real estate office. I played secretary a lot and pretended I could type at a very fast speed. Most of my creations were quite sad, but it was fun pounding the keys on the black typewriter. Back then, ink ribbon was used in the typewriter, so I am sure my dad’s secretaries were not happy to come back on Mondays to see the ribbon needed replaced. I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it.  There was no way I wanted purplish ink on my fingers, especially when my dad often took me over to Mom’s Lunch for lunch. How can you possibly pick up a french fry to dip in ketchup when you have purple ink on your fingers?  Besides, I was a kid. Kids weren’t expected to change typewriter ribbon, right?

So, imagine how my jaw dropped when I saw one of the secretaries wearing cat eye glasses for the first time. Now, you have to understand that both of them were young and very pretty, so the cat eye glasses didn’t make them look like nerds or anything. On the contrary, it made them look smart and beautiful, which was a pretty great combination. As my mom repeatedly told me, “You have to be pretty on the inside before you can be pretty on the outside.” I thought that was a stupid comment, because I was pretty sure lungs and kidneys were not pretty. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

After staring at my dad’s secretary, I wanted a pair of cat eye glasses. I couldn’t wait to go home and ask my mom to take me to the eye doctor. I had to have these glasses.

“Vickie, you have perfect eyesight. You do not need glasses.”

“I really do, Mom. I can’t really see what is written on the board.”

Yes, I lied. I was, after all, a big fat liar, minus the fat part. So, off we went to the doctor. Looks like my left eye was perfect and my right eye was just a little weak, but not enough to need glasses. But, after my mom told him I had a hard time seeing the board, I got a pair of glasses “to use as needed.”

Shit.

They didn’t have cat eye glasses for kids. What? Sure they do. You must be mistaken, Mr. Doctor.

I came home with a pair of brown glasses that looked an awful like my mom’s. I was not a happy liar. I think I wore those glasses a total of four times. My mom wrote a note to the teacher to make sure I wore those damn things, but I think it somehow got lost before I gave it to her.

So, it looked like I was back to wanting to be a smoking actress when I grew up. My hopes of being a secretary with cat eye glasses were dashed.

But, maybe my mom could get a little spiffy looking with a pair.

I wished my mom wore cat eye glasses because she had a pair of  what she called “Ben Franklin” glasses and they just looked stupid on top of her mop of a hair-do. I couldn’t understand why there was a line running right through the middle of each lens.

She was about as stylish as my dad, who wore suits every day and looked  dapper, but who could not coordinate casual clothes to save his soul. He wore stripes with plaids and couldn’t understand why he didn’t match, as long as the same color was in both pieces of clothing. He also had no problem wearing black socks with sandals.

I was surrounded by the misfits of Toy Land.

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He was pinching her butt in this photo….

I have to admit I have never been back to the eye doctor. I know, my bad, especially since I’m pushing sixty.  I do wear Dollar General or Walmart Foster Grant reading glasses, mostly on top of my head like a head band.

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I don’t think I look like a secretary. I look like a pretend photographer.

 

 

Blackwater Falls

I am ready to move to a warmer climate. I am tired of snow, spinning tires, and 2 hour school delays. But, despite this long snap of frigid weather and mounting snow drifts, I still find inspiration to get in my car and snap some photos. It would be much easier to snap pictures during the other three seasons, when I actually want to get out of my car for different angles, but right now I am basically a “shoot from the car window”  kind of pretend photographer.

When my son was in for Christmas, we decided to drive to Blackwater Falls right after a frigid couple of days. We wanted to see if the falls were frozen. What was I thinking?

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We stopped to take photos of this lovely old house.

Blackwater State Park is located in the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, West Virginia near the town of Davis. The park is about 1 1/2 hours away from my home.  It is named for the cascading falls of the Blackwater River, whose amber-colored waters plunge 62 feet and then tumble through the Blackwater Canyon, which is roughly an eight mile long gorge. The so-called “black” water is from tannic acid from the nearby fallen hemlock along with red spruce needles.

According to wvencyclopedia.org

“The river enters Blackwater Falls State Park at an elevation of 3,040 feet. For the next 2.2 miles it is a wild river, dropping 57 feet at the main falls and then descending another 560 feet, before leaving the park. The river, geologically young, has carved the spectacular, deep, and almost vertical walls of Blackwater Canyon, which cuts through the surrounding plateau. Blackwater Lodge opened in 1956 on the south rim of the canyon, and a 65-site campground was opened in 1961. The state park, consisting of 1,688 acres, was established in 1937.”

I have never been to the falls in the winter. Summer is a beautiful time to visit the whole area, but we wanted to see what it looked like after a few days of frigid temperatures. I was not too smart and wore tennis shoes and my gloves might as well have been made of thin cotton. But, I had my camera and it was great having my son along with me.

We arrived at the falls parking lot and were surprised to see so many cars. I thought we would be all alone, seeing that it was so cold. I noticed license plates from Virginia, New York, Delaware, and Ohio among the many from West Virginia.

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Did I mention there were 214 steps to get down to the falls? I hadn’t been there in years and hoped the slipping and sliding would be worth it.

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It was a beautiful walk and I was so happy the wind was calm. I am not a fan of cold, but I trudged on, hoping the falls would not disappoint.

They didn’t There were parts that were frozen, but a majority of the falls were plunging, business as usual. I was taken back by the surrounding beauty. This was a winter wonderland, no doubt about it.

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Trees in the canyon below showed the beauty of winter.

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My son is a great photographer. His photos look a lot better than mine.

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Blackwater Falls, one of the most photographed areas in the state.

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So, if you go down, you must go back up. In all honesty, the stairs that snaked their way down to the falls had many platforms along the wall. There were benches and different viewing areas for those who did not want to take the whole journey. It was not bad, and I am a complainer.

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My son was able to make this snowman while he waited for me at the top of the stairs..just kidding. I did fine. But, we felt we deserved a break, so we stopped at the Mountain State Brewing Co. for a beer.

 

IMG_3945All in all, I was glad we ventured into the mountains to visit Blackwater Falls. The best part, though, was spending the day with my son.

 

Ginger-Ale House

I made my first gingerbread house this past Christmas. I am fifty-seven years old and had never made one, so I decided that would change. I informed my children, who are now 28 and 26,  it is never to late to begin a tradition, and that when they came home from eastern Europe and New York City to stay with me over the holidays, we would be making gingerbread houses….beer included in the mix.

I have been researching gingerbread houses and even have a board on pinterest on the subject. If I was going to create a gingerbread house, I really needed to know what the hell I was doing.

I started by looking at recipes for creating the gingerbread walls and roof for the house and I thought to myself, “Oh, hell no.”  No, this gingerbread house newbie was going to have to buy kits this first year. The thought of mixing and rolling and baking on top of my Christmas cookies and planned dinner was too much for me.

So, I found kits at Walmart. I also started accumulating candy and stuff to put on the gingerbread house. I bought other bases because I wanted to have room to make a yard. I was ready.

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The best part of this was the fact that my kids, now grown, seemed to be excited to put together a gingerbread house. When they were small, I was so busy getting ready for a Christmas Eve sit- down dinner at our house for 25 people, baking cookies and cleaning, that I just never thought about gingerbread house building.  It took us a while to get everything cooked and ready. I even used china and didn’t think about using plastic bowls or plates for salads or desserts until I was just tired of  it all.  So, our gingerbread house building I guess had to wait.

Better late than never.

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My son has been living in the Republic of Georgia and already had plans to alter his gingerbread house. He was thinking of Georgian architecture and went to the kitchen and came back with a knife. He sat, studied, and then began manipulating his walls and roof. He was smiling, so I knew he came up with an idea.

Alex, on the other hand, jumped right in and began icing her walls to the base. She remarked several times she was going to win. Before we started, we decided we would post our houses on my facebook wall and ask my friends to vote on the best gingerbread house. No one would know who built what house. Alex was on a mission to win.

I, on the other hand, was dealt a blow when my gingerbread house was missing the icing bag. Really? Strike one on momma’s house. I tried to improvise by getting a zip lock bag and cutting a hole in one of the corners. Total fail. I made quite the mess.

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We had a lot of fun though.  After Alex spent a lot of the time bragging about how her house was going to win, disaster struck….sort of. She put so many round little balls on her roof, that her roof slid right off the house. It was too heavy. She used a few choice curse words and then just sat and looked at her award winning gingerbread house.

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So, her roof became a side yard. She exclaimed that she was done, but then grabbed a few gingerbread people and started icing them on as the roof. It left a hole in middle. As she finished her bottle of Blue Moon beer, she placed it into the middle of her house and proclaimed her creation, “a ginger-ALE- house.”  Way to recover, young grasshopper.

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Adam, meanwhile, changed the whole thing and created a drive-in. Yes, a drive-in movie theater. I was ready to start calling him Gingerbread Fred as he had pieces of gingerbread lying on the table with no direction in mind. And then it came to him. The result was creative and so very cute.

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I loved his result! It’s a Wonderful Life was even playing at the gingerbread drive-in and the scene where George tells Mary he would lasso the moon for her was on the screen. He had little cars with the speakers by the car and I just loved it.

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So, we were done. I was pretty proud of my first gingerbread house.

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It was a basic house, but I liked how I made the icicles. I also put tootsie rolls as logs.

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Now it was time for the judging. We cleaned off the messy table and lined up the contest entries.

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I then put it on Facebook, where my friends obliged and immediately began voting. People were also guessing who they thought each gingerbread house belonged to. Most of the people thought I made the drive-in, Alex made the cottage, and Adam made the beer hall. It was fun. I won, of course, but  as I got votes for “best workmanship,” the kids both received kudos for being creative.

In the end, our first gingerbread house building was a success, minus my icing fiasco.

I smiled when Adam said he wanted to do it again next year.

Gingerbread Fred will be thinking ahead.

Alex, on the other hand, will probably take a more modest approach and wait until her house is done before bragging.

And I am just happy I had both of my children on the same continent, spending an evening with their mom making memories.

Success.

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Our Disappearing Roadside Rest Areas

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Robert Frost

Years ago, there were no interstates. We had two lane roads and that’s about it. Sometime during the summer we would hop into our family car and travel around West Virginia. My dad was a realtor and land developer and said he could not be away from the business for too long at a time. I’m thinking that he just didn’t want to be cooped up in a car with my mom, who was so much more than a co-pilot; she was a drill sergeant  driving instructor and a callous wife. That combination was not fun if you were sitting in the front seat…which I was not.

No, I was sitting in the backseat…with a bucket between my feet and my face out the window. The hairpin turns on these West Virginia roads did not make me a happy traveler. My dad would also make us get out at almost every scenic vista to pose for a picture. He had one of those huge press cameras, and also took home movies. So, it took us a while to travel 60 miles through the mountains.

The great thing about traveling on a two lane road back then was the fact that there were numerous places to pull over and take a break. You could tell  because there was a place to pull over and the three main requirements:

1) shade

2) a great view

3) a picnic table right by the road.

Many people would pack a lunch before their little jaunts as  restaurants and gas stations were just here and there. Nowadays, there are interstate rest stops along the way where you can buy food and drink out of vending machines. Just writing this makes me feel sorry for the youth in 2013, as this way of traveling in the 50’s and 60’s was ideal now that I think about it. Well, except for the fact that most of the pull-off picnic rest areas did not have a bathroom. But, for the most part, they were a welcome break from traveling with three fighting young children in the back seat and one continuously perturbed woman in the passenger seat. My dad would always say the same thing:

“Look at this beautiful view. We need to get a picture.” We would then get out of the car and strike a pose.

If you lived in West Virginia back then, there were certain places your family would travel.  I will never forget stopping by the smallest church in the lower 48 states.   Right alongside Route 219 in Thomas sits Our Lady of the Pines. My dad even let me sign our name in the guest book located right inside. This cute 24×12 foot church has only six pews and seats twelve people. Peter Milkint, a Lithuanian immigrant, built Our Lady of the Pines in 1938. You know, I’m thinking that since Hawaii and Alaska did not join the United States until 1959,  perhaps Peter billed the church the smallest before those states had their statehood. I may have stepped into the smallest church in all the 50 states.

This tiny sanctuary receives about 30,000 visitors a year.

There were other places we would venture on our yearly 2-3 day “jaunts” around West Virginia and stopping by the roadside rest areas were always part of the plan. We would visit Senaca Rocks, Smoke Hole Caverns, Spruce Knob, and come to think about it, we never went anywhere else except for the Monongahela State Forest area. Naturally, they had many pull over rest areas with added concrete fireplaces. But,the  one place I remember most vividly, and that was Cool Springs Park.

Cool Springs was not a destination, but a stop along the journey. It was what our interstate rest stops are today, minus the animals and rusty tractors. It was such a surprise the first time we came down a 3 mile hill and saw this great rest stop/souvenir shop/petting zoo and I was thrilled to death. Kids love souvenirs and this place had everything. This was roadside kitsch galore.

I’m pretty sure my brother bought a tomahawk and I liked the penny in a small bottle with the words Cool Springs Park written across the front. Parents are more than obliged to purchase these souvenirs because it may mean some quiet time once the kids climb back into the car. Well, not when there is a tomahawk involved. But, regardless, it was a vacation pressed in my memory and I decided last week to travel to Cool Springs once again on my way to nowhere in particular.

Now, this isn’t my first trip back to Cool Springs since I was little and was continually tomahawked in the back seat of the car. No, we traveled along Route 50 when I had my own children. But, it had changed since the early 60’s. In the early 90’s, it was, well, more rusty. The owners of cool springs had many displays of train cabooses and other mechanical devices showcased around the acreage beside the gas station/ souvenir shop.  You could walk through the park like grounds over bridges and see the large water wheel in action. But, the tractors had a lot of rust on them and I didn’t want my children to touch anything. The animals weren’t around that day, but there were a couple of peacocks walking around.

Inside, the kids picked out a souvenir or two. The tomahawks were still there. Thank goodness my kids walked right by those. I smiled when I saw the penny in a jar and I believe I had a thimble to add to my printer’s tray.

Cool Springs was the ultimate roadside park. So, fast forward to 2013, and I decided to stop there once again, this time with camera in tow. Earlier in the morning I decided to do something spontaneous and hurriedly packed an overnight bag and I was on my way. The only certain plan I had was to travel east on Route 50. I was going to get to visit Cool Springs again.

Since I was looking out for photo opportunities on my drive, I noticed numerous abandoned buildings along the way. Once an interstate is built, a lot of restaurants, motels, and small businesses had to close due to a decrease in people stopping. Roadside parks had decreased also. People weren’t really stopping to stretch their legs or check out their map. Afterall, that’s what a GPS is for. Coolers are kept in a car for longer jaunts, and people wanted to stretch their legs where ever there were also restroom facilities. But, Cool Springs Park was still open, after all these years.

Ah,nostalgia.

The sign was still the same.

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I smiled as I got out of my car and decided to walk left through the park and save the store and restaurant for later.

I immediately noticed the neglect of the once magnificent park.

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The collection box was quite rusted. I think they quit checking for donations years ago 

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There was a very pretty covered bridge, but what you didn’t see is that it was jammed with old pieces of machinery and cars so there is no way anyone could cross the bridge any more.

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I’m thinking this is where all the old steam engines and mechanical devices go to die.

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There were a couple of birds in a very muddy pen. With the amount of rain the area had earlier, the whole park looked as if the creek bed washed up over its banks and covered the whole park. It was a very muddy walk.

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The more I walked around, the more I realized that this park will probably not be here in twenty years. Fences were down, the water wheel was no longer working, and the shelters had fallen down.

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I remember climbing into this caboose when I was little.

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The water wheel is no longer working. It was such a wonderful thing to see.

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I have no idea why this wishing well is enclosed by a chain link fence and is now full of water. I stared at this for a while, trying to figure it out. I should have asked someone.

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Sit at your own risk.

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And then I walked into a swarm of about 25,000 gnats. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but they went up my nose, in my eyes and ears and all through my hair. There were so many shallow pockets of water throughout the park, I immediately thought that this could be a prime breeding ground for the West Nile virus as the bugs and mosquitoes were plentiful. Since there were a couple confirmed cases of West Nile Virus elsewhere in West Virginia, don’t think that wasn’t on my mind.

I was miserable. It is not fun having bugs up your nose or in the corner of your eyeballs. And then I stepped in donkey poop.

Yes, I didn’t see them, but I knew there were two donkeys on the property. And there was donkey poop everywhere.

So, now I was just a mess. I decided to make my way into the store so I could clean the donkey poop from my sandals and splash water on my face, you know, to drown the gnats.

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Once inside, a flower arrangement sits in one of the sinks in the bathroom that no longer works.

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A souvenir store on one side and a restaurant/hardware store on the other. I could not find a penny in a bottle.

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Darn, a blurry picture and I only took one of the crowd that was sitting for lunch. The place was crowded with tourists wanting a tomahawk, locals, and those just stopping for gas. There were three people in front of me at the cash register, so I knew this was still a hit with those passing by.

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As I left to continue on my trip on the scenic byways of West Virginia, I pulled over to take one last photo of Cool Springs Park. I then just sat and looked over the whole place. I remember such a manicured place with a water wheel and people sitting under shelters eating food they brought in their cars. This is the ultimate roadside park. And unless something is done, the shelters will be on the ground, the fences that are still up will have fallen, and the rusty tractors and train engines will be a further rusty mess. There’s no going back unless the decay is stopped.

I would so prefer driving the back roads. Interstates are rushed, impersonal, and agitating. Back roads offer scenery, a meandering pace, and a greeting from a roadside picnic table for stretching your legs and taking in the beauty that surrounds you.

I hope Cool Springs Park survives for future generations of tomahawk buying children. It was a West Virginia treasure, and still is, despite being so very rough around the edges. Luckily, it is a major route for those enjoying a ride on their motorcycles and short cuts across our state.

I hope you stop if you are ever in the area.

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S’mores

I have always loved picnics. Since I was the pickiest child on the planet, it was hard for my mom to find something I liked. No problem at a summer picnic, because there was a lot of food for me to put on my thin, wiggly paper plate. I would eat corn on the cob and watermelon. Ta-da. Ok, there were other foods I would eat. I wouldn’t touch the potato salad because whoever heard of putting chopped up potatoes in a whitish mixture ? I could also see little bits and pieces of unidentified food that I knew would take me forever to dig out. But, there was no way I was going to eat potatoes and white stuff in the first place and then call the damn thing a salad. Made no sense to me…potato salad. Give me a break. I saw no lettuce.  There was no way I was going to try that…ever. They did the same thing with macaroni noodles and called it macaroni salad. Macaroni is supposed to be with cheese or with beefaroni (which we called slop in my family.) Sometimes these ladies at the picnics brought the weirdest food.

I liked hamburgers with ketchup, but I would give the guy at the grill a dirty look if he tried to scoot a cheeseburger onto my bun. Um, Mr. Barbecue man, did I say cheese? No…who would ever put cheese on top of a piece of beef? That had to taste terrible. I would eat sliced Velveeta cheese at home and got pretty good with that cheese slicer thingy, but I would never put a slice of that on top of a hamburger. You just can’t mix things like that. So, sometimes I would just skip the hamburger and grab a fresh hot dog bun and put ketchup on it. I loved ketchup sandwiches! And in the end, I didn’t starve and picnics were great.

When our family would stay late at a picnic, usually a campfire would be involved. The adults whittled sticks and would place a hot dog in one hand and slide shove the stick through the middle of the hot dog halfway and would hand them to the kids. The first time I saw this happen, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  What is this for, exactly? Everyone would then move close to the fire to get their hot dog nice and cooked.  Well, ok, but why not just throw them into a pot of  boiling water and be done with it? I didn’t much care for hot dogs on a grill because some of them had black pieces on them. The blackened burned spots would peel off like a scab, but again, it was too much work. And now someone was trying to get me to stick my hot dog in a blazing fire.

The whole problem with a hot dog impaled on a whittle stick was the fact that what if there was a sliver of wood that came off in the hot dog? I would put my hot dog near the flame, just enough to get it warm, and then take the hot dog and stick over to my mom and ask her to take a look at the inside of the hot dog to make sure I wouldn’t get a splinter in my throat. You know that could happen, right? My mom would shoo me away because I guess I already bothered her for most of the day, so I would take a plastic knife and dissect that damn hot dog to see if it was ok to eat. Again, though, this just took too much work, so I would just eye the hot dog bun and put some ketchup on it.

So, this whole  picky Vickie story leads up to the whole problem with s’mores.

S’mores. The word even makes me cringe. I don’t think I saw them until I was in junior high. I was still picky in junior high, but I wanted  to be cool, so I had to pretend I was all about s’mores and not complain like I did when I was at a campfire with my family. The first part of the whole s’more experience was getting that damn marshmallow warmed up and gooey. First of all, I wasn’t a fan of getting gooey fingers. Not going to happen. Oh, sure, I would impale my marshmallow down on the stick after slyly checking the stick for errant splinters. I would hover my marshmallow over the flame for a second and while everyone else was watching their own marshmallow, I took mine off and would eat it. I hated warm marshmallows. I hated melted marshmallows. But, I wanted to fit in with the other kids and if I told them I hated s’mores, then, well, they would hate me and maybe call me “Picky Sticky Vickie” or something.

By the time some of the other kids got their marshmallow off their sticks, I was already by the picnic table grabbing two graham crackers. Thank god I liked graham crackers, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to share them with melted white goo and a hunk of chocolate.  I decided whoever mixed these three food items together for the very first time must have had rocks in their head.

So, it was like this every summer at every picnic I went to. I had to work hard and perfected my s’mores avoidance technique: Put the marshmallow on a stick for like 5 seconds, take it off, pretend it is gooey, go to the table and on the way eat the marshmallow. One time I thought I was being watched, so I made the whole damn thing and then….oops, dropped it on the ground. There is no 3 second rule in the woods or any place with me.  There was no way I was picking it up.

It wasn’t until college  when I was invited to a picnic and offered a stick, that I realized a lie didn’t take much work at all.

“I’m allergic to marshmallows, and you can’t make a s’more without marshmallows.”  Damn, why didn’t I lie earlier. I lied about everything else.

In the past twenty years it has been easier to pass on the s’mores.

“Oh, hell no.”

The Popcorn Muncher

Sometimes I get a chuckle from facebook status messages. One of those messages  made me laugh out loud this morning:

“If someone in Fairview is missing a goat it’s in my yard!!”

I laughed and then I smiled with a great memory from when my children were young. We lived “out in the country” if you want to call it that. We sat on 13 acres and I had wildlife at my kitchen door daily. It was wonderful. We used to watch a snapping turtle climb out of our pond and creep up to the top of  hill by our house and work for hours digging a hole to deposit her eggs. She did this every year. I had no idea that a snapping turtle finds the highest point she can for her egg delivery. I went out one year and dug a hole parallel to where she was working to no avail. She would look over at me like “What the hell, lady.”  As soon as I went back in the house, she moved over and continued where I started digging for her. My children loved it and I felt like an awesome mom and general turtle helper.

Well, every Christmas season, which is right after Thanksgiving in my household, I would bring out the air popper and make popcorn for our Christmas tree. I learned over the years to let the popcorn sit out for a few days for easier stringing. It just sucks to try to push a needle through fresh popcorn.It was hard not to curse in front of my children. “Oh….sugar” just didn’t make it. Some of those  needle-through-my fingers needed a full f-bomb rant. It wasn’t until after the internet was invented (thanks Al Gore) that I was able to read advice on proper popcorn stringing. Some years I would feel more energetic with my popcorn stringing and completely loop around the tree. Other years, not  so much. I would faux string it, which means cheating and only showing the popcorn string where people can see the tree.

After Christmas was over and the tree was taken down, I would slide the popcorn off the thread and put it in a large stainless steel bowl.

“Kids, I’m going to put the popcorn out on the mound so the birds can have a Christmas treat.”

Am I an awesome wildlife lady or what? The mound I am referring to was a place underneath a hickory tree near our pavilion. When we leveled the yard after we built our home, I wanted to save the hickory, so we left a little hill area in front of the tree. We placed a large granite stone at the base of the tree. This is where I would lay out goodies for the birds  and squirrels. And after Christmas, it was where I put the popcorn.

So, one day I had the kids put on their coats and I took that stainless steel bowl outside and explained to the kids what kind of birds may want to eat the popcorn.

“Let’s keep an eye out, because we may see blue jays…..and crows…..and..maybe a bird we haven’t seen on the mound before.”

It was starting to snow, which was great while decorating the tree. It really puts you in the mood. My daughter loved to help put the ornaments on the tree and it wasn’t too long when she too, would stand back after carefully deciding where to put a particular ornament. My son was generally waiting for me to put together my little Christmas  village of buildings and people as he loved putting a little boy headfirst down into the well or laying  him on the white ground with a horse drawn sleigh getting ready to run over him. To be honest, I loved walking into the kitchen to see what he moved around next.

A few hours after I put the popcorn out on the mound, my daughter ran into the Hearth room with a big smile on her face.

“Mommy, there’s a cow eating the popcorn!” Cackling is always a great laugh, and Alex was doing her share of cackling.

Whaat? We walked over to the  kitchen french door and lo and behold, there indeed was a cow munching on our popcorn. It was a big solid black cow and it was loving the popcorn. This was the year I made a large popcorn garland for the Christmas tree, so there was a heap of popcorn on the mound.  Popcorn was coming out of both sides of his mouth. The cackling from Little One continued. Adam took a break from putting a dog on a roof  in the village to join us at the door.

“Mommy, you never said a cow would come to the mound,” she managed to say between her wonderful laugh. Adam stood there watching the cow munching like it hadn’t been fed in a while.  It was a funny sight, especially since the most we were expecting were blue jays or crows.

We stood there for a long while, actually stunned that there was a cow in our yard. Our neighbors had cows, but they lived down over the hill and were far away from us. I knew it had to belong to them. The cow must have slipped through a broken barb-wired fence and trotted away and decided to visit us, I guess.

After I made the call and our neighbor came to retrieve the popcorn munching cow, we continued to decorate the tree and my son continued messing with the village, placing the little Christmas town on alert for the boy lost after jumping off a bridge.

It was a wonderful, wonderful memory and I thank my facebook friend who found a goat in her yard this morning.

It made me cackle.

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