Friday, January 2, 2009

The Year in Review--2008

I know these types of “Year in Review” write-ups are often overdone, but bear with me as I’m going to remember the events that shaped My 2008.

January was a cold month for us, the gas bill doubled from the previous month which caused frugal me to go into conservation mode, and use blankets and run the little electric heater to keep the furnace from kicking on. Also, lots of soup made its way into our suppertime along with the obligatory homemade bread. It was during this cold spell that I wrote the poem, “The Lonesome Wind”. After eating lots of good food, and losing part of our fingers to frostbite, we realized that the gas company screwed up our bill and estimated our gas usage to be more than double of any month of actual usage, so we turned the heat back on and set the thermostat to a balmy 54 degrees. Hey, I’m still frugal!!!

February Snow in front of our place.

February found us depressed due to the bleak times of winter. I never have been one to like the winter months, I like it hot enough to melt the tar on the road. In February, we found out that Shirley’s book, “Bringing Down The Mountains”, released the previous November, had sold out of its first printing and was going into a second. Also, Shirley was approached by Mari-Lynn Evans who done the book & documentary, The Appalachians, about the possibility of editing a new book that she was working on about mountaintop removal. It was also in February that we made a trip to Morgantown, where we visited my brother Jason, and where we realized that we really miss Morgantown. We ate at Kassars restaurant, and admitted that the food alone was worth the trip.

March was a pleasant enough month, the weather started warming up, I still haven’t got used to how early spring comes here in Charleston. Many times I’ll be talking to my mother on the telephone and she will comment about how hard it is snowing and I’ll say, “No, it’s in the 50’s here”. I guess to me winter will always be like the ones I experienced growing up on the mountain. Also, in late March, Shirley facilitated the plenary session on mountaintop removal at The Appalachian Studies Association conference (an academic conference), at the end of which in the questions portion of the session, she was shocked to be asked to sing one of her original songs. She did, and luckily it was captured on video and put on YouTube. Listen to Shirley by clicking here. After the session, she was asked by many people where they could buy her CD. She responded that she didn’t have one, and was then approached by Michael & Carrie Kline, renowned Appalachian Folklorists ( who offered to record Shirley in the summer.

April was a good month, I relished in the greenery that was returning to the mountains. Too bad gas was $4.39 a gallon or else we would have travelled a bit to soak it all up. Instead, we watch spring arrive by looking out our front door and by going to Coonskin Park, which is just under the hill from where we live.

April in Pendleton County.

May was a might hectic. Shirley agreed to compile & edit the new book from Mari-Lynn Evans, and we hammered out a contract. It is a long story, and thankfully Mari-Lynn is a good person or else our publisher, Sierra Club Books, would have driven us all crazy. In late May, my brother Jason came for a visit. He wanted to go on a ghost tour of this part of the state, he came with a list of places to visit in hand, and of course it was hot by now, in the upper 90’s. We took him around to most of them. On the last day of his visit, he wanted to visit Granny Sue at her farmstead. I had only briefly met Granny Sue once before in Morgantown, and was a might hesitant to impose on someone for an afternoon, but all my reservations were erased when we met her husband Larry at the exit by the interstate. Larry was to lead us to their farm, which is located on a backroad of a backroad. On the way, Larry pulled into a little stop-and-rob gas station, and I turned to my brother and said, “This ain’t no farm. I thought you said they lived on a farm!” Larry then gave us that grin that he is known for, and said, “Gotta get some milk.” There was just something about Larry that makes you instantly like him. Well, after that, I just knew that these were good people and people I wanted to get to know. We then continued to follow Larry up a long and winding road through some beautiful land. I really can’t explain my first impression of Granny Sue & Larry’s homestead, it was everything that I have ever wanted in a house and more. It truly is my dream home. And they are so nice, we just sat around and talked all afternoon and into the evening. Unfortunately, we had to leave earlier than I would have liked because Jason had to return to Morgantown that night and he had quite a trip ahead of him.

Above: Granny Sue's Kitchen.

Above: Jason, Granny Sue and Larry telling stories.

Above: Me spinning a yarn.

June started with me discovering Granny Sue’s blog. I had never really read blogs before, I just didn’t get the whole concept. But it all made sense when I read through the hundreds of posts, and I saw just how much we had in common. It also dawned on me that I had stories to tell, and perhaps people would want to hear them. So I thought and though about started my own blog, I knew it’d be a lot of work, but could also be very rewarding. I put it on my to-do list. Late June found us at the Stewart Family Reunion in Wyoming County. We always try to attend the family reunion and to catch up with folks, we’d missed the year before due to a deadline on Shirley’s first book that had to be met, so we made a point to go. We’re glad we did.

Above: The Stewart Reunion

July found us on the mountain. I hadn’t been there since March when Shirley was at the Appalachian Studies Association Conference so it was great to be home. We took the scenic route home, and drove to Covington, Virginia, and then up US 220 through Bath & Highland Counties, and then into Pendleton. It was a nice drive. I still remember how sleek and shiny the cattle were in Bath County. I don’t think I’ve ever seen cattle that looked that good before in my life. While at home, I met an old genealogy friend, Glenn Huffman, and we went looking at a few old cemeteries. We found the tombstone of my great-great-great grandfather, George Sponaugle Cunningham. It was quite a find, and thanks to Glenn’s eye, a stone that I had previously overlooked was identified. Later in July, I started this blog. I was inspired by my trip home, and given the impetus by Granny Sue and encouraged by Shirley. Shirley thinks, as they say on the mountain, that “I can drive hen shit to gunpowder”, so I was pleasantly surprised with the response that I have gotten with the blog. Also in July, we attended the annual McKinney Family Reunion at Twin Falls State Park in Wyoming County. In addition, in the middle of the month, Shirley recorded her CD of original songs in Elkins, WV. In the last part of July, Shirley and I celebrated our 5th anniversary by going on a day trip to Lewisburg to eat at our favorite restaurant, Food & Friends. We also toured the town, visited antique shops and later decided to visit Grandview State Park. It was a good day. We returned home late that night, and the next morning received the sad news that Shirley’s uncle Ray had passed away. I am reminded of the first conversation I ever had with Uncle Ray, he told me a fool-proof way to keep tomatoes from blighting!!!

Above: Shirley talking to Uncle Ray at the Stewart Reunion.

Above: The Humpback Bridge, Covington, VA.

My great-great-great grandfathers tombstone.

Above: July 4th in Germany Valley.

Above: The McKinney Family Reunion.

August arrived with a heatwave. I found myself slipping outdoors a little more to enjoy the sweltering heat, and I also noticed that I seldom went anywhere without the digital camera so I could take photo’s for the blog. August also found us both working on the new book, now titled “Coal Country”. I was a research assistant for Shirley, we work well together, I have no desire to be in the forefront of things and fortunately for both of us Shirley has the ambition to make things happen. Besides, I couldn’t buy a job in Charleston so what better job could I ask for than to work for my wife from home.

September found us neck deep in essays from various people wanting to contribute to the book. It was progressing nicely but was getting quite hectic. I found that my continuing posts to this blog really helped me relax and keep sane (or as sane as I get). I also found that the more I wrote on the blog, the more stories I remembered. It was about this time that I really discovered poetry. I found that I like it a great deal. Whoda thunkit? Also in September, we toured the Arthurdale, a New Deal community in Preston County, WV, and later we attended a political rally in support of Coal River Wind Farm, which offers an alternative to blasting away the last mountain in the Coal River Mountain that hasn't been disturbed by mountaintop removal.

Above: Coal River Wind Project Rally in Charleston, WV.

October was the month from Hell for us. It is usually one of our favorite months and we typically spend it traversing the backroads of the mountains, soaking in the changing seasons and admiring God’s Creation. Instead of this, we had some event scheduled for nearly every weekend. The first weekend Shirley gave a presentation on mountaintop removal to a group of 200+ students at Virginia Tech. The 2nd weekend we had a book signing here in Charleston, and we had to prepare another presentation for the following weekend which was in Roanoke, Virginia, at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference. She spoke at the breakfast plenary session on Environmental Justice in the Coalfields. It was very well attended (300+) journalists from around the world. I must also say that the Roanoke Mall is awesome, and I rediscovered the goodness of frozen cheesecake on a stick at The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. But on a sour note, our hotel (which was not cheap by any means) was horrible. It was at the Quality Inn in Roanoke. Avoid this rat palace at all costs. The ceiling of the room was falling in and water stained, you couldn’t close the bathroom door without lifting the toilet seat, and the bed pillows were really couch cushions!! No kidding! We even complained at checkout and they dismissed us by just saying, “Okay”. Talk about customer service, they could really use some! On the way home, we swung around by Lewisburg and had lunch at Food & Friends, and then went leaf peeping at what was left of the autumn leaves. We did stop at Beartown State Park and experienced a spiritual moment with nature. In between of all this, we also found time to stand in as witnesses at our best friend Christina's wedding.

Above: At Beartown.

Above: Jeff & Christina, newlyweds

November was looked forward to as a time to relax, the presentations were all over and the book was coming together. Shirley had some health issue’s to arise and needed her mommy to soothe her with some homemade potato soup, so I went to Wyoming County and picked up Mawmaw who stayed with us for a few weeks. Also, no Year in Review of 2008 would be complete without some mention of the defining event of the year, the November Election. Let me say that we watched with bated breath the goings on of the wheels of democracy. Shirley and I have both been longtime critics of King George the Unwise, and you might recognize Shirley from footage of the first inauguration of King George where she was protesting by holding a sign that said, “No Count Election, No ‘Count President”. We actually didn’t have a clear choice in the 2008 election, we weren’t really eat up with the message of either candidate. We liked McCain’s stand on mountaintop removal better than Obama’s, but like Obama’s views on education better than McCain, and mountaintop removal and education were our key issues. I guess for us the deciding factor were the VP picks, one of them we disliked, but the other we despised. In the end we recognized that either of them would be better than what we currently have in Office, so we voted our conscience and waited to see who won. We hope the winner has the wisdom to lead this republic in an honorable and respectable manner. I guess I am jaded because for the life of me, I don’t see why anyone would want the job. Late November found me on the mountain for deer season. I had a great time with my family, and hunting…or what passed for it…I shot more photographs than bullets, as a matter of fact, I didn’t even shoot my gun.

Above & Below: Germany Valley, WV. November 2008

December came with a flurry of excitement. Shirley and I are real big Christmas junkies. I decided to wait in anticipation for Der Belsnickel. He showed up just in time. In other news, Shirley and I met the first deadline for the book, Dec. 15, and on the 19th we began our annual migration through West Virginia in celebration of the Christmas season. We had a great time visiting, and got a lot of great gifts. On the way home, hot sausages were spilled, a great stench arose from the back seat of our car that has yet to dissipate, and New Years Eve found us at home playing Nintendo Wii (a Christmas gift from our friends Krystyl & Jeffrey), watching movies and contemplating a prosperous New Year.

Der Belsnickel

I want to thank everyone who brightened my 2008, and to all of those who read and comment on this blog. I hope you will continue to stop by for a visit often, and let me know what you think about things. I hope to get to know you all better in the coming year and I pray that good things await for us all.

Matthew, 2 January 2009


Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

I *loved* rereading the year...if not so much remembering some of the sadder/stressful moments. We got through it, though, and that's what counts!

Vera said...

I always enjoy your blog no matter what it is about, I may not always comment but I always read.

Farm Girl said...

I found your blog through Granny Sue's. It makes me feel right at home. I was born and lived in Eastern Kentucky, until I was 20. I have been to Elkins, and several other places you mention. Thanks for writing. I read your blog several times a week. Love your photos of the mountains and the hills.

Janet, said...

Sounds like you had a very fulfilling year. Wish I knew where my gr gr grandfather's tombstone was. Keep writing and I'll keep reading.
Happy New Year!

Granny Sue said...

Great review, Matthew. You included a lot of things that never made it to your daily blogs. I didn't realize you guys had such a hectic schedule! Thanks for starting your blog and keeping it going. It's a pleasure to read.

Kim said...

Hi Matthew
I never got around to reading this post until a couple of days ago -- I was at work on my break, and fired up the RSS reader on my iPhone and spotted this -- I took an extended break and read the whole piece.
Your posts bring so much to life -- and this was no exception.
I look forward to every one of your posts -- the fact that I know you and Shirley makes the posts even more interesting.