Friday, November 26, 2010

West Virginia Road Trip - Day 3 - Friday

Anna wanted to do several things during our trip to Charleston, West Virginia, where she had not lived since 15 years ago. Tops on her list was getting biscuits and gravy - a quintessential southern meal - at Tudor's Biscuit World. Her sister, Tonya, said Suzi's had better biscuits, but Anna persisted, so Tonya, Anna, Ricky and I ate breakfast at Tudor's on Friday. I ordered one biscuit with apples, and one with ham, and dipped my biscuits into the white gravy with chunks of sausage. At the end, I was more full than any traditional bacon, egg, homefries and toast breakfast I've ever had.

After breakfast, Tonya's car became a virtual time machine, taking us to places from Anna's past. We began with a stop at the site of a house on MacCorkle Avenue, next to the Kanawha River, where Anna lived as a young girl (the house was demolished years ago, and another building was in its place). Next we drove over the Dunbar Bridge, headed for Tyler Mountain, where Anna grew up. We saw where her grandfather ("paw paw") used to live. That house is also gone, although some concrete steps and metal handrail that used to lead up the steep hill to his house still remain, partially covered by brush.

We stopped at a convenience store called the Cold Spot, where Anna used to buy candy and soda as a kid, and, when she was a teenager, "hang out." She even got to see Bill, who is still the owner.

Then we drove by the site of a house where Anna lived from her late teens to early 20s. The ramshackle house, which had been owned by Anna's mother, was a "party house" where friends often crashed. "Everyone stayed there at one point or another, even my paw paw," Anna recalled. "It was kind of an 'in between' house for people." Eventually, the house was sold and demolished, and a bus shelter now sits where the house used to be - that's how close it was to the road.

Continuing on Tyler Mountain, we drove up Slaughter's Drive, a steep road that led to a group of houses and trailers clustered on the side of a mountain. Anna lived there with her mother (who is now deceased) from about ages 9 to 17. A house was built over the trailer they used to live in, but the shed she used to play in still stood. Anna stopped at the house next door to her old house, "just to see who was living there," and was pleasantly surprised to see the mother of her childhood best friend, Tammy, who was living in the next house over.

Anna went to the house next door and saw Jack - Tammy's father - cooking eggs. Tammy was sleeping after hitting the early-morning after Thanksgiving sales, but woke up, excited to see Anna, as the two hugged. Tammy said she had tried to find Anna on Facebook, but now they could catch up in person on 20 years of lost time. Anna was equally happy to see Jack, who she calls Jackie. "He was like a father figure to me," Anna said. "He would always say to me, 'If you ever see me on a plane, don't say "Hi Jack!"

Jack teased Anna for losing some of her West Virginia accent. "You sound like you're from New York," he teased Anna. "Don't forget your roots, girl!"

Next, we stopped at a bar called the Wagon Wheel, where Anna's mother, uncle and grandfather used to frequent. Anna said the bar, which has been around for decades, is virtually unchanged from how she remembers it. I actually have a Wagon Wheel tee shirt that Anna's sister sent us (since mine is getting faded, we asked if they had more, but they didn't).

Then we stopped at the 7 Eleven in where Anna used to work (7 Eleven and Go Mart are the two predominant convenience stores in the Charleston area), and rode around an upscale neighborhood in Cross Lanes.

Lastly, even though we were still somewhat full on Tudor's biscuits, we stopped at a local institution, Skeenies Hot Dogs, located in a small shack close to Sissonville Road. Skeenies serves West Virginia-style hot dogs, with steamed buns, spicy chili and finely-chopped cole slaw. In my opinion, they put the New York system weiners, which are prevalent in Rhode Island, to shame. Anna and Tonya were laughing at me because I was going "Mmmmm!" after every bite of my Skeenies hot dogs (I didn't even realize I was doing it, I was so busy savoring those dogs). What was even more cool was that the original owner, a woman in her 80s (sorry, I can't recall her name), served us.

Tonya took us back to her house, but had to leave us because her husband Jimmy had to go to the hospital. He had difficulty swallowing at Thanksgiving dinner and the problem had not gotten better since then. She stayed with him at the hospital until late that night as doctors ran a diagnostic test and found he had a swollen esophagus.

Meanwhile, Anna and I had another situation to deal with at the homefront. Someone clogged the only toilet in the house and I, a master plumber, could not unclog it with the funky-looking contraption with plastic bellows that was there. So, Anna and I had to take a drive to buy a real plunger at K-Mart, which did the job.

Later, Anna, Ricky and I had to drive Anna's daughter (who was also staying at Tonya's house, but rode there separately) and the father of her daughter, to a relative's house in nearby Nitro, W. Va. There, we somehow got talked into taking a sixth person into my car, which only fits five people, so Ricky had to sit on his sister's lap, which degenerated into a major shouting and wrestling match. Fortunately, it was only a short ride to where we had to drop off three passengers, so Anna, Ricky and I could return to Tonya's house for the night.

This blog would not be complete without a bit more about Gawnjie, the 120-lb. Bouvier, who resembled either a black bear or a poodle on steroids. The Belgian dogs are bred to herd cattle, but Tonya had to constantly herd this dog around the house, shooing it out of the way or off of the couch. The breed is known for being smelly to begin with, but this dog was also in heat, which made the odors worse. "Gawnjie, you stink!" was a constant refrain of Tonya, as she followed the dog with air freshener spray.

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