STOMP! go the doors

I’d like to tell you I don’t know who this is, but I do! (circa 1985)

This essay is part of the Essays on a WV Childhood project.  Like any writer, I know that most of the best work is developed through several rounds of drafts and editing and more drafts.  Something about this subject matter, however, made me want to just write and not edit, to let the purity of an adolescent memory be uncontaminated by adult rules and regulations.  I hope you enjoy this reflection on one of the most important parts of my growing up, State 4-H Camp at Jackson’s Mill.  The pictures may be a little fuzzy, but the memories have a tight focus.

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I’m in a dance hall just outside Jackson’s Mill in Weston, West Virginia.  I remember just a few sights and sounds, but those recalled are so strong after all these years they appear in my mind as if they just walked in the door of my memory.

All of the tables and chairs are pushed against the walls or put away.  The space is filled with the throbbing life of young people in their late teens.  Boys and girls — or is it men and women? — vibrate with energy as they tap their feet and bounce up and down in anticipation of the most popular dance at camp.

It begins.

Kanawha County fellows danced to Morris Day and The Time

What’s funny is I don’t remember the song, or the tune.  I remember the Tyler boys, and Todd and Bryan and George.  I remember Lionel.  All but the younger Tyler boy had facial hair.  They wore cowboy boots and every girl in camp wanted to dance with them.

I remember the older Tyler boy was five years older than me.  I knew this because I first crushed on him when I was 15 years old, and he was…..twenty.  I knew he could never be interested in a little kid like me, but I would run the numbers in one year increments over and over again until I could imagine he might think I was a woman.  I figured I would have to be 19 and he would be 24 before there was even a prayer, but I had my “realistic” version too.  I would definitely have to be 21, and he would be 26.  That might work.  Only 6 years to go……

STOMP!

The music started.  How I wish I could remember the tune!  The guys picked partners and the couples swirled and kicked around the hardwoods, cowboy boots hitting the floor with such power and conviction it made me shake inside.  Our counselor chaperones just laughed and grinned as their wards thundered around the room.  They’d had their years of dancing in that room; it was now clearly their job to let us have fun but also to keep us from tearing down the building with our adolescent enthusiasm.

There was an older girl dancing with my Tyler boy.  I never knew how old she was.  I was convinced she had failed at least one grade.  She seemed very worn and tired, but she always chose very short skirts and purple high heeled shoes and tremendous amounts of pancake make up to cover the acne scars on her face.  Only now do I realize that she was very worn and tired, at less than 20 years old.  She and my older boy spent a lot of time together, but they never seemed close.  I suspected they had done things I could graph scientifically but lacked the poetry to describe in their entirety.

STOMP!

Sarah, Margaret, Kelley, me, Stacy

The couples turned to all face the same way.  Together in lines they lifted their feet and slammed the hard soles of their shoes into the floor…..ONE, TWO, ONE TWO THREE….kick!  They flowed seamlessly in their lines towards those of us who were not dancing.  They were like a wave you didn’t want to stop but weren’t sure what would happen when it reached your border.  Mercifully, they all knew how to put on the brakes before they ran over the wallflowers.

I never did this dance at camp.  It seemed like some kind of mysterious great rehearsal, and I desperately wanted to do it, but I knew I wasn’t ready.   Ready for what, I had no idea, but it just felt in my gut like a big step. My mother describes me as a kid who never wanted to been seen learning anything – I wanted to practice things that were important to me in private before anyone saw me trying them and making mistakes.  Obviously, this was a bit of a problem when it came to learning to dance with a partner.

There was a boy who crept increasingly closer to me over the week one summer.  First it was just, “Hi.”  Then, “Hi” followed by “What county are you from?”  By Wednesday it was , “Hi, Kanawha County!  Is this seat taken?”  I liked him.  He was handsome and nice and funny, but he made me nervous with his incremental growing closeness.

STOMP!

We were in the dance hall.  It was Friday night, the last night of camp.  The dance music started.  I saw my guy, Harrison County, walking towards me.  He reached out his hand.  I shook my head and shrank away, but I made sure to maintain eye contact and that he saw me smiling.

STOMP!

He smiled back and just stood where I was.  He didn’t ask another girl to dance, but sat that one out with me.  Something about that gesture lodged inside me, and I thankfully never once in the rest of my life so much as looked at any guy who didn’t have the “sit it out together” method down pat.

Jim Morrison said, “There are things known, and things unknown, and in between them are the doors.”

STOMP! is the sound of the doors of my memories at Jackson’s Mill.

Photo credits: Elizabeth Gaucher

Like the Corners of My Mind: Writers Announced

It is my great pleasure to announce the writers committed to date to the Essays on a West Virginia Childhood project.  This project is a direct result of A Better West Virginia’s annual initiative to support the mountain state.

As many of you have read, our first writer was Lisa Minney, who shared memories of her grandfather in The Fishing Stool.  Joining Lisa as we complete our project will be these fine people:

Photo credit: E. Gaucher

Anne Clinard Barnhill – Anne has been writ­ing or dream­ing of writ­ing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has pub­lished arti­cles, book and the­ater reviews, poetry, and short sto­ries. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like grow­ing up with an autis­tic sis­ter. Her work has won var­i­ous awards and grants. Barn­hill holds an M.F.A. in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina at Wilm­ing­ton. Besides writ­ing, Barn­hill also enjoys teach­ing, con­duct­ing writ­ing work­shops, and facil­i­tat­ing sem­i­nars to enhance cre­ativ­ity. She loves spend­ing time with her three grown sons and their fam­i­lies. For fun, she and her hus­band of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance.  You can find more about Anne on her website, www.anneclinardbarnhill.com.

John Warren — John is a long-time friend of mine.  We first met as very young children when our families were in the same Presbyterian Church in Charleston, and we later found each other again in junior high and high school.  He was always incredibly intelligent, compassionate and insanely funny.  One of those people you just know in your heart you will always adore and respect, he took my breath away when he told me he wanted to write about growing up gay in West Virginia.  He sent me an email that said, “It was as if homosexuality was an urban legend.  I was never even sure if it was real, which meant I wasn’t really sure what was going on with me for a long time either.”  I am thrilled and honored to have John’s participation in this project.  I am especially looking forward to what his perusing of old school journals will produce!

Amy Hamric Weintraub — Amy is one of the most intense and effective community leaders I have ever known.  I have seen her go to the mat for reproductive rights, fair housing, jobs, civil rights, religious freedom, and peace.  She is a devoted wife, mother, and friend, as well as an accomplished professional with a long history of executive leadership in key community nonprofit organizations.  Her essay will focus on growing up in a family with a long West Virginia heritage, while playing and learning among “children of hippie farmers and Filipino doctors.”  I not surprised she will give us insight into early experiences with diversity, as those times have clearly helped make her the woman she is today.

Liza Teodoro — Liza describes herself as “not a writer by any stretch of the imagination,” but she is truly enamored of her home state, and is excited to take part in this project. (It’s always the self-deprecating ones who surprise me……) She is married to her best friend Alex and is a stay-at-home mom to 2 wonderful pre-school aged girls.  Liza lives in Chicago with her family, and drags them to as many nature-inspired destinations as possible. The main theme of her essay is “family,” from her parents ending up in West Virginia in 1970, to her own childhood, to where she and her family may end up next, as they have lived in Chicago for over 20 years.

Janis Bland –  Janis describes herself as “a West Virginian, a frustrated artist, a depressive, and a bureaucratic wonk who would rather just live simply and sustainably.”  She was born and raised in Weston, West Virginia. Unlike her siblings, she eschewed WVU in favor for Beloit College, a small liberal arts school in the eponymous city in Wisconsin.  “I went to Beloit College thinking of a career in archaeology, but then realized that to attain that I needed a degree in anthropology. I also realized that I got a vicarious ‘archaeological’ thrill from languages, which resulted in my having a double major Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Classical Philology (that is, Latin).  What defines me is my trying to develop my creative side that I know is there, buried deep in my being. I am, after all, my father’s daughter, and he was both a fine artist and a deeply spiritual and quietly religious person.”  You can see a little more into Janis’s mind by visiting her blog at www.juanuchisway.com.

Yours truly will write as well; my essay will focus on my summers at (Stonewall) Jackson’s Mill State 4-H Camp during my teen years.  New essayists are always welcome!  Just drop a comment here on the blog anytime.   The general timeline is available here.