Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ghostly Doctor of Denmar

I've been saving this new Haunted Pocahontas County story for Halloween. It's another account from a local employee at Denmar State Prison, the former Denmar State Hospital. Before it was a prison, there were places in the old hospital where local workers were reluctant to go alone. One floor in particular made people uncomfortable, and there are stories of inexplicable voices and footsteps. Evidently this still continues now that the place is a prison.

Early in the morning, workers waiting for the elevator sometimes see the doors open to reveal a short, middle-aged black man wearing a white coat and a stethoscope. He looks up, perhaps in response to a "Good morning, Doctor," and then he disappears. My informant, who supervises in the kitchen, is one of those who has seen the apparition herself. The general consensus at the prison is that the ghost-doctor dates from Denmar's days as West Virginia's Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium.

Deaths at the West Virginia Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Denmar. West Virginia History Volume 56 (1997), pp. 88-121.
The West Virginia Legislature created the State Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium in 1917. The Maryland Lumber Company sold 185 acres of land and numerous buildings in Denmar, Pocahontas County, to the West Virginia Board of Control. According to the 1918 West Virginia Legislative Hand Book, black tuberculosis patients, who were West Virginia residents, were eligible for admission to the sanitarium provided they could pay for their care. The Hand Book noted: "The reasonable expenses of poor persons admitted at the request of the authorities of any municipal corporation or county, shall be paid by such municipal corporation or county." The sanitarium admitted its first patients on January 31, 1919.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

My New Job-let

Boardwalk at Beartown State Park

I'm excited to be starting a new job-let, as an adjunct faculty member of Mountain State University. In a couple of weeks, I'll start teaching my first class in MSU's Spectrum Health Program. I'll be teaching the second semester of a four-semester program, including chemistry, math, and statistics. Here's an excerpt from their blurbs:

Mountain State University offers selected traditional and distance learning programs through extended learning locations. Cohorts are formed in various locations with groups of students who meet together once a week, to complete a sequence of courses leading to a degree. This type of learning is especially attractive to working adults, because of the accelerated nature of the programs and classes designed to accommodate work schedules....

The Spectrum Health orientation allows you to complete the general education requirements for many of the programs offered by MSU' School of Health Sciences. The LPN to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program is an option for LPN's....

Yesterday I drove to Beckley for a Faculty Development Day, where I signed a contract and met about 20 other Spectrum faculty members. It was reassuring to talk to other people who have been teaching this way for a while. I've been anxious lately: What will happen if my substitute special ed gig continues indefinitely? Where can I get the Spectrum texts and materials? Will I have to buy a bunch of expensive Windows software? After yesterday, I'm excited and optimistic. I don't have to buy any nasty Microsoft stuff, and many of my fellow faculty are full-time teachers in public school. I can't deny that some of this warm glow is due to the nice Spectrum Director who provided yummy snacks every two hours during the meetings.

One nice discovery that will outlive yesterday's sugar high is that I will soon have access to the MSU library resources. Online journal subscriptions, an MSU library card, interlibrary loan--what a treat! I'll be getting a password in the next few days, I hope.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Holding a Gun To My Own Head

National Blog Posting Month

I've signed up for National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). I found the link at BlogHer yesterday. For me, the Q&A rang true:

What is it?

It's National Blog Posting Month!

Why...would I want to do that?

You started a blog to make yourself write more often?

NaBloPoMo is an alternative to November's NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, the program wherein you crank out a novel in thirty days.

Some of us lack the imagination, stamina, and self-destructive impulses required to write a novel that quickly, but, by Grabthar's Hammer, we can update our blogs every day for a month!

Yup. I started a blog to make myself write more often. Recent evidence to the contrary, it has motivated me to write more. People sign up for the "November is National Novel Writing Month(NaNoWriMo) to get over writer's block, or to prove to themselves that they can crank out the prose under pressure. Years of grant writing taught me two things: writer's block is a self-indulgence I can't afford, and I can crank out the prose (not good prose, necessarily, but prose to spec.). I don't need a goofy novel cluttering up my hard drive, but somehow, cluttering up blogger.com with daily postings doesn't bother me a bit.

I have some qualms....I looked at the list of participants' blogs, and noticed that they are a younger, "hipper" bunch than I usually pal around with. They have no recollection of the days when martinis were Squaresville, something with which the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit anesthetized himself. Still, I've signed up--if the cool kids won't eat lunch with me, well, I'll just read a book by myself, like I used to do.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dying For the Weekend

purple velvet scarf sample red and blue velvet scarf sample

Last summer, in an attempt to "generate a new income stream," I decided to try dying silk velvet yardage and sew scarves from it. I hoped this project would pay for itself, and for a good electronic scale I could use for all my dying recipes. (Measuring spoons were increasingly inadequate for my purposes.) I had no sooner gotten my materials together than the substitute teacher gig turned up. Between the classroom and the kitchen (where I was frantically canning garden produce), the dying project dwindled from a scarf or two per weekend down to one dye pot with all my leftover cotton socks.

Cotton sock dyed purple

I did, however, file a couple of dying links.

  • Paula Burch's "All About Hand Dyeing" has been on my bookmarks list for years, but she's recently revamped her Web site, adding new information and improving the look and feel

  • Dharma Trading Company has all the cool stuff from their catalog in an easier-to-use format. They have also added a "Projects" section, with how-to's for many different projects.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Battle of Droop Mountain, Refought

Firing the cannon

Every other year, Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park hosts a reinactment of the November 6, 1863 event for which it is named. Last weekend was the third one I'd attended. My first was the most dramatic, for me. I was going for my morning run on the park trails, when, out of the fog came a passle of Yankees on horseback. Understanding what was going on didn't make much difference. It was terrifying.

Waiting to fire the cannon

I'm not sure the reinactors get that excited anymore.

Watching from beside the cannon

Like the spectators, they look at the cannons like they would look at cars. "Will it start?"

Reinactors head home

As I headed home through the park, the Yankees and the Rebels passed each other on their way to pack up and go home.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Southern, or Appalachian?

Several months ago, I discovered a fascinating book, W.J Cash's The Mind of the South, published in 1941. I posted some interesting Web references here, and got a gracious comment from W.J Cash's great-niece, Mary K. Elkins, a talented Web designer.

Cash's book is a cultural history of the American South in the way that Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire is a history. Cash, a Southerner, critiques mid-twentieth-century problems such as toxic race relations, intractable rural poverty, sickly nostalgia for an imaginary past, and paralyzing class consciousness. Whether his history is accurate or not, his prose is compelling.

I heard echoes of the rhetoric of "Appalachian otherness" in Cash's analysis of eighteenth and nineteenth century Southern history. In fact, "The South," rather than "Our Southern Mountains," may be the real Land of the Nine-Fingered People. Here is one passage that took my fancy.

Again, if the Southern social order had blocked in the common Southerner, it had yet not sealed up the exit entirely. If he could not escape en masse, he could nevertheless escape as an individual. Always it was possible for the strong, craving lads who still thrust up from the old sturdy root-stock to make their way out and on...even...to carve out wealth and honor in the very oldest regions....But in their going these emergent ones naturally carried away with them practically the whole effective stock of those qualities which might have generated resentment and rebellion. Those who were left behind were the simplest of the simple men of this country--those who were inclined to accept whatever the day brought forth as in the nature of things--those whose vague ambition, though it might surge up in dreams now and then, was too weak ever to rise to a consistent lust for plantations and slaves, or anything else requiring an extended exercise of will--those who, sensing their own inadequacy, expected and were content with little.

Moreover, they were in general those in whom the frontier tradition was likely to run strongest; which is to say that they were often almost indifferent, even in their dreams, to the possession of plantations and slave and to the distinctions which such possessions set up. For it is characteristic of the frontier tradition everywhere that it places no such value on wealth and rank as they command in an old and stable society. Great personal courage, unusual physical powers, the ability to drink a quart of whisky or to lose the whole of one's capital on the turn of a card without the quiver of a muscle--these are at least as important as possessions, and infinitely more important than heraldic crests. In the South, if your neighbor overshadowed you in the number of his slaves, you could outshoot him or outfiddle him, and in your own eyes, and in those of many of your fellows, remain essentially as good a man as he.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Selling Myself Real Estate

Locust Creek in the clouds

Last week we bought the property adjacent to our Droop Mountain home. We were stunned to discover it was on the market, and were anxious to buy it, as it surrounds us on three sides. It hadn't been sold outside the family since the nineteenth century, and the only existing survey uses large chestnut trees as landmarks. Such extinct boundaries are not unusual in Pocahontas County.

This photograph, taken in October 2004 from my neighbor's yard, plays an interesting role in the purchase. We made a very good offer, and had been waiting two days without hearing anything from the seller. I opened up my copy of the Pocahontas Times, and saw the property listed with a very familiar photograph. There was this picture, taken from my Web page, without permission, and without attribution. When I checked the realtor's Web page, there was my picture again. Not only were they violating my copyright, but they were using my picture to solicit bidders to compete against my offer. Oh, did I mention that the photograph does not show the property in question?

I was rather upset when I went into the realtor's office the next day, between anxiety about the offer and outrage about the picture. The realtors were horrified. The property owner had given them a floppy disk, and said it was his picture, taken from his property. They also said that someone was in their office, making a competing offer on the same property. After a conference out of my hearing, they asked, "Would this problem go away if your offer were accepted?" I told them yes, went on home, and soon got a phone call telling me our offer was accepted. From there on out, everything moved along smoothly, and now we have taken down the fence that separated the new parcel from our old one.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pepper Butter

This past weekend, I canned the last of the garden produce. I made "Pepper Butter"--an unusual spread made from hot peppers and prepared yellow mustard--for the first time, after getting the recipe from Penny Kershner of Frost. I'd never tasted anything like it, but recently, I discovered I had two similar recipes, for "Pepper Sandwich Spread" and for "Green Tomato Sandwich Spread," in my favorite canning book, Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: Canning, Preserving and Freezing Cookbook.(Favorite Recipes Press, Montgomery, Alabama, 1975)

Thickened like a gravy, this bright yellow stuff is hot, sweet, and sour. Penny's recipe produced eight pints for me, and it is even tastier than I remembered. Although all the different recipes say you can pour the hot liquid into scalded jars and seal, I went ahead and water-bathed the filled jars for 20 minutes, the way I usually treat my sweet pickles. I find my jars are more likely to seal successfully when I do this, and it didn't hurt the "pepper butter" a bit.

PEPPER BUTTER 60-80 hot peppers (heat intensity your choice) Wash, remove stems, and grind in food processor. If you prefer a milder spread, remove some of the seeds and placenta. 6 cups sugar 1 quart prepared yellow mustard 1 quart cider vinegar In your cooking kettle, mix sugar, mustard, and vinegar. Stir in ground peppers and bring mixture to a boil. Make a thickening of 1 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/4 cups water. Add some boiling mix from your kettle to the thickening, and stir until smooth. Add thickening mix to boiling liquid, stirring until combined. Boil mixture for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent the thick mixture from burning on the bottom. Place in canning jars and seal. To waterbath can, place the jars in a canner and boil for 20 minutes. Remove, and allow jars to cool and seal.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


I've been writing, but not posting, recently. I'm still substituting for a yet-to-be-hired teacher for special needs students, and I'm dealing with a lot more people on a daily basis than has been my habit for many years. I've started to "blog" all sorts of interesting, wonderful, appalling things that the folks at school say and do, and then pulled up short. It's been my policy to avoid writing about my friends and neighbors, except in very vague terms, to protect their privacy. (Except for the doily cheater, but hey, I don't know who she was, and how much consideration should you get for fraudulent display of doilies, anyway?) I don't think I have many (any?) local readers, but who would want to hear through the grapevine that "Bootsie has been spilling the beans concerning your life on the Internet"?

Pair this self-censorship with my uncertainty about the direction I want my "Web-presence" to take, and you get very few posts. Dave, of Via Negativa, has invited me to submit something to qarrtsiluni on their "Education" theme. I was very excited about this, but quickly found out my most interesting themes violated my students' privacy. They may be seven years old and illiterate now, but that could (God willing) change.

In a comment this summer Dave suggested

...your mission could be to portray Pocahontas County in such an unflattering light that the flood of tourists would dwindle to a trickle. You could just make stuff up, like James Dickey. The local chambers of commerce would hate you.
I have since given much thought to writing Southern Gothic horror stories about fictional Pocahontas County residents, even to nominating Droop Mountain as the very capitol of The Land of the Nine-Fingered People. I am blessed to have a reader who understands me so completely. However, I could never invent anything to rival the things people really say and do. To paraphrase Dr. Watson, "The world is not yet ready for the Denmar kangaroo incident."

Other bloggers have been writing about the limits of the stories they may tell. I was especially struck by prariemary's recent posts on the topic "Who Should Tell the Stories?"

Who owns what stories?...Repeatedly in early years, individuals came to the reservation, took notes...wrote them up, sold them to publishers as original works, and collected the income. None of that income was sent back to the tribal storytellers. Some of the white writers claimed to be scientists who would use the stories to analyze and record the society of the tribal people -- others were simply acquiring stories the same way they would acquire beadwork, attractive curiosities....they not only made money from the stories, but also drained them of significance.

Pocahontas County "informants," such as still-living members of the Hammons family, have voiced feelings of exploitation. Although I know for a fact that the Library of Congress boys made little or no money from the stories and music they got from Burl, Sherman, and Maggie, they did carve notches in their academic status gunstocks. If I were to tell you that Denmar kangaroo story, with all the flourishes and detail it deserves, would I be exploiting my neighbor down the mountain? (Never mind that I could not possibly tell it as well as he can.)

I think the solution is...taking time. Really listening. Spending the day. Becoming part of the scene....Learning what stories mean to the tellers of them. I think that whether one is IN or OUT of the group, one can witness. One has an active obligation to witness accurately and possibly to record that somehow. It is the way to wisdom.

Framing it that way, I think I may try to tell few more tales. If it starts to sound too much like Yoknapatawpha County, perhaps I'll start a second blog.