Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Home By Any Other Name

I'm a Monkeytown native. You may ask what I mean by that and to this I would answer, that is the name of the place where I grew up and that I call home. Monkeytown is a quiet little community on the west side of North Fork Mountain in Pendleton County. It is not incorporated and you probably won’t find it on any map, but everyone within a 5-county radius will know where Monkeytown is.

Monkeytown has several anomalies associated with it, such as the current mailing address is actually in Riverton, which is 7 miles away. In addition, residents of Monkeytown vote in Circleville District (not in Riverton), and the local news section in the county paper is found in the Hopewell section! In the past, the area has also been referred to as the Bland Hills and the community of Box.

An artists rendering of Monkeytown, drawn by my brother, Jason.

Monkeytown was given its colorful name by my great-granddaddy Don Burns. He was standing at Virge Hinkle’s store one day and looked up the holler at all of the houses. At each house there were kids hanging out of every window. Granddad Don reportedly commented to the folks at the store, “This looks like a damn Monkeytown”. The name stuck.

My Dad (the little boy in front) and his siblings in front of Virge Hinkle's store, about 1963.

Everyone in Monkeytown is related in at least one way. The land used to all be part of the old Burns property but over the years had been split up into smaller parcels. There were two main “streets” in Monkeytown, both were really just farm roads that double as drive-ways, and they are locally known as called “Frogbone Alley” and “Monkeytown Street”. At the lower end of Monkeytown, my great-aunt Jan and her husband Kennie lived with their family. Jan was a really sweet and loving person who was always trying to feed the neighborhood children, she always had a kind word for every child who entered her home, and she was genuinely happy to see you. Even though she didn’t have much, she was always willing to share everything that she did have. Years ago, the neighborhood children made up a rhyme that went:

“Frogbone Alley, Monkeytown Street
Kennie Bennett Hotel and nothing to Eat
But gravy, mashed potatoes and Coco-wheat!”

Growing up in such a community has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage being everyone knows who you are and what you have been doing, and the disadvantage is everyone knows who you are and what you have been doing.

An old insurance policy belonging to my great-grandmaw Mary. Note the address.

At one time, there was even a stop of the county bus line that stopped in Monkeytown, but it was discontinued when residents would ride on to the next stop at Judy Gap and walk the 3 miles back up the mountain rather than have folks know they lived in Monkeytown! You see, Monkeytown used to have a reputation for being a rough and wild place to live, with the residents being very uncouth and regular mountain "hoosiers" in every sense of the word. This is still true in many cases, but certainly it is now the exception and not the rule.

It does seem, though, that many residents of Monkeytown are still very clannish in that they only talk to, and are friends with, members of their own family. This makes it very difficult for new people to fit in to this community. For example, my mother is from Hardy County and even though she has been married to my Dad for over 30 years and has lived in Monkeytown most of that time, she still is considered to be “not from around here” by many. These are my people and this is my home, so I love them the way family should...warts and all!

The Monkeytown of the past is certainly not the Monkeytown of today. There are very few people that live there now, day passes into night without event and the once busy streets (such as they were) are quiet.


Tipper said...

I'm jealous of Monkeytown-my sleepy little close knit community where everyone knows you is turning into quite the metropolis-and I don't care for it.

Jason Burns said...
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Jason Burns said...

"love you like family should" takes on a reverse meaning when talking about that place.

More like "hate you like the devil".