“The Summer looks out from her brazen tower,
Through the flashing bars of July.”
– Francis Thompson, A Corymbus for Autumn
I grew up in a valley, surrounded by hills, at their greenest in July. I used to look up and think, if the trees were cushions were anyone to fall from the sky they could just bounce off them to the ground and be okay. A child’s silly thought. But, the hills, the plush green hills… I can shut my eyes and see them still. July days in West Virginia were hot! And as those in June, my days were mostly spent at the pool. July carried on its breeze the scent of my grandma’s peonies and roses, mulberry trees plump with fruit, cherry trees. My grand pap’s garden boasted ripe tomatoes, green beans and corn-on-the-cob. Violets covered the yard and the creek side.
There were summer storms which cut our time short at the pool. This was when the creek swelled over its banks. The water ran from the hills, cascading over our upper yard wall from the third and second alleys in waterfalls, gushing through the yard in little streams. We’d rush outside barefoot and squish through the wet earth to play in the cool rain water. My grandma captured the rain in buckets to wash her hair. Sometimes during a thunderstorm we’d sit on the upstairs porch glider with Mom, snuggled in a blanket, to watch the lightning zigzag across the sky, light up the surrounding hills. Mom used to say when it thundered, the angels were bowling in Heaven, and at the biggest crashes that they got a strike. I remember the cool misty air after a storm, everything damp and renewed.
July brought fireworks. In the 1950’s we children were only allowed firecrackers, cap strips which we tapped with hammers to make them go off, black pellets that rose like snakes when lit, smoke bombs and sparklers. Safe fireworks. However, some of the neighborhood boys had bottle rockets and M-80’s which they lit under metal buckets or pots. They were so loud! And dangerous. It’s a wonder none of my childhood friends lost any fingers! My dad would take us uptown to Wheeling to see the fireworks. They were lit off from a barge on the Ohio River. Wow! Each firework resounded off the hills. They seemed to last forever! And the finale, that was the best of all. I could still hear the noise in my head all the way home.
July, a special time of the year. Good memories. Happy memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Ah’ June… days of sunlight, picnics, barbecues and swimming pools. June was always a special month in my childhood. The first week of June started with the last day of St. Catherine’s grade school. Then, we children along with a couple nuns, would board the big yellow bus to go on our school picnic outing which was held at Wheeling Park, WV. I remember the bus ride, all of us kids singing, songs like “25 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and “Found A Peanut”. Upon reaching the park entrance we would drive through the Sonneborn gates past the Madonna of the Trail statue (erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1928). Both still stand today. We’d wind up the road to the parking lot, where the White Palace sat in all its glory to the right. To the left was a huge aviary full of birds and wonderfully glorious peacocks. There was also a monkey house which at some point the nuns would lead us through. I remember its dark, smelly hall, monkeys screeching on each side of us.
Ah June… how I miss the innocence and fun of the June’s of my youth!
The first one is based on an old black and white photograph from the 1950’s.
Mom used to sew. I remember one time going uptown to Wheeling on the bus. At this time there were just 3 girls. The other 2 siblings had not yet arrived. We all had on sun dresses she had made us, they were lime green with grey, beige and white kittens all over them. I’m sure Mom got compliments on her 3 lovely girls while she sat there beaming. Here is a short poem I wrote about Mom sewing.
Mom was gentle and kind. She never cussed, or if she did we never heard her. I remember as a small child walking up to the end of our alley where there was a small stream coming down the hill and picking the wild flowers growing there. I would bring them home to her and she’d exclaim how pretty they were, then proudly display them in a jar on the table. It didn’t take much to make Mom happy. You could have given her the simplest thing, like a handful of violets, and you’d of thought that you gave her the moon.
If you are fortunate enough to still have your mom cherish the time you spend with her. Give her your unconditional love. Often times I look up to the sky and I ask, Where are you Mom? Where did you go? But I already know the answer, although she is no longer here in her physical state she will always be with me, right here in my heart.
April is here, and Spring! Back where I grew up in Boggs Run, West Virginia, Spring always came with rain. We lived close to the Ohio River; it was just at the mouth of the Run. I remember many a year when the winter snow and ice thawed and the rains came pouring down, causing the river to rise, reaching many feet above flood stage. First it would back up through the drains in the underpass that we walked through to go to school. Then it would start backing up Boggs Run Creek. I remember the green cast of the water, how it backed up through the sewers and filled everyone’s basements. Then it would spill over the banks and fill the road so that no one could get across their bridges unless you were lucky enough to live farther up the Run than where the water reached. Neighbors would get out their canoes and paddle around the water-covered road. The water was usually not swift, but calm. Down on the actual river I’m sure the water ran much swifter. Wheeling Island was almost always flooded. In the early part of the century, before more flood walls were built, sometimes only the rooftops of the second story houses could be seen. Lower Wheeling and Benwood were especially hard hit too. Then as silently as it came, the water would recede, leaving the residents a muddy mess to clean up. Why do they do it? Why do people stay? It says a lot about the resiliency of the people of the area. Against such odds, they build and build again. I am a product of that environment. It made me who I am. Through and through, I’m West Virginia born and proud. It will always be home to me.