Thursday, November 25, 2010

West Virginia Road Trip - Day 2 - Thanksgiving Day

Today, I got to meet Anna's sister Tonya's family: her husband, Jimmy; her 3-year-old son, little Jimmy (also known as Bub-Bub), who wears his hair in a mullet; and the family dog, Gawnjie, a 120-lb. Bouvier that resembled a black bear.

Jimmy is a big, soft-spoken man who is into Harley-Davidsons and racing cars. Anna got him the perfect gift: a Harley tee shirt from our local Harley dealer, Ocean State Harley-Davidson, that read, "I'm wearing this tee shirt until they come out with a darker color than black." Anna brought her sister, who recently re-dedicated her life to Jesus Christ, a personalized Bible.

Before Thanksgiving dinner, Tonya and Jimmy drove us to downtown Charleston to see the capitol building and governor's mansion, which is right near the Kanawha River. The capitol's crowning feature is it's 293-foot gold dome, plated in real gold leaf. To my surprise, the doors to the capitol were open, and it was staffed by a capitol police officer, who was on duty until the early evening.

After the capitol, we drove to see Jimmy's mother, Minnie, who had prepared Thankgiving dinner for us and Jimmy's sisters. Getting to Minnie's house at the top of Spring Hill Mountain meant driving up a steep, narrow curvy road, with only a metal guardrail separating the road from a steep drop-off into the woods. Minnie's street was also very steep, and neighboring houses were not only surrounded by steep hills, but all of the houses were on hilly lots themselves. But that is typical of much of West Virginia. If you are not on a hill, then you are surrounded by them.

Minnie was a gracious host and wonderful cook, and after dinner, I was too full to do anything much more strenuous than make conversation. Anna's 11-year-old son Ricky, however, was full of energy and wanted to ride a four-wheel ATV, which he flipped over, ripping his jeans in the process (he only suffered minor cuts and bruises). "Now I'm officially a redneck," Ricky joked. At one point, Little Jimmy raided a tool shed in the yard, using a golf club as a shovel, and opening a gas can. I feared he might drink gasoline, but, as Big Jimmy ran toward him, Little Jimmy said in a southern drawl, "Don't worry, it's empty!"

Before the trip, Anna had hoped to find someone in West Virginia who would let us borrow a motorcycle so we could go riding. She had pinned her hopes on one Jimmy's friends, Slick, but he did not hook us up with a loaner bike. Too bad, because it was actually quite warm on Thanksgiving Day, around 65 degrees. "He (Slick) is the president of a motorcycle club, and he still couldn't come through," Anna joked.

After dinner, we went back to Tonya and Jimmy's house. Anna, Ricky and I were alone because Tonya had to work that night, and Jimmy, who wasn't feeling well, stayed at his mother's house. Being tired from my long drive, I wanted to just chill at the house, but Anna was itching to go out. "I have to get off this mountain, baby," Anna said. "I feel like I'm trapped." Besides being tired, I was also afraid of getting lost, since I didn't have a GPS, and Anna was not entirely confident how to get around, because it had been many years since she lived in Charleston. But she persisted and I gave in. We stopped at the hotel, where Tonya was working the front desk, to find her relaxing on the couch with her shoes off, which drives Anna crazy.

"Sister, people who come here and see you with no shoes will think we're a bunch of hillbillies," Anna scolded her.

Tonya replied, "I feel like I'm at home."

As the two sisters went back and forth, a woman came through the door to check in, and Tonya did not put her shoes on as she got off the couch and walked barefoot past the woman to go behind the front desk. "I don't care if you don't wear any shoes," the woman told Tonya, ending the debate.

After hanging out with Tonya (and enjoying free coffee), Anna Ricky and I went to 7-Eleven to get some snacks. Ricky, who is not shy about approaching strangers, walked up to a customer and said, "Dude, I like your accent!" That was enough to start a 10-minute conversation; people in general, even strangers, are quite friendly in West Virginia. Armed with snacks and Slurpees, we headed back to Tonya's house. It was so warm that I took my shirt off, sipped my Slurpee and sat outdoors on the front steps, watching the sea of lights from the chemical plants in the valley below. Train whistles blew. Crickets chirped. This must have been what country singer Glenn Campbell had in mind when he wrote the song, "Southern Nights."

Several minutes later, after I went back inside, Anna came and got me. I stepped outdoors to find that the weather had changed completely. The calm, clear sky had been replaced by an overcast drizzle, driven by a strong, continuous wind (as opposed to gusts of wind). It felt like I was in a wind tunnel. "Welcome to the mountains, baby," Anna said.

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