Drum Roll, Please! The Meme Winners Are…

Yes, I sound a lot like your grandmother when I say this, but it is true: I am honored to have had each of the 17 submitted photographs in this little gavotte into sharing favorite books and poking some well-deserved fun at my own blogger image. Each one is unique, and witty, and well done. You make me proud!

To see all the entries, visit http://elizgaucher.tumblr.com/search/meme.

There are two winners.

The first is the top prize for Reader’s Choice, and it goes to Jean Hanna Davis for her self-portrait with Kindle:

Voters in an online poll awarded her a staggering 40% of the votes cast. Congratulations, Jean! On its way to you is a copy of the book in my own self-portrait, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Naturally, you will receive the Kindle edition!

I am awarding an Editor’s Pick prize as well. This prize is based solely on my own gut reaction to how well a photograph mimics my own. My choice is the entry by Teresa McGlothlin Wissen for her self-portrait with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:

The black and white choice, the oddly unsettling (yet not unpleasant) expression over the book, and the facial proportions to the cover all made this photo stand out from the beginning. It also has a je ne sais quoi quality that haunts me. Teresa will receive a photographic print of the original book cover by Paul Bacon.

Truly, thank you to everyone who took the time to join in the fun of this project, and special thanks to Doug Imbrogno who invented it! You all are the best.

Carbide Camp was Magic by Jean Hanna Davis

Jean is an accomplished singer, guitar player, and sometime songwriter.  She has been performing since the age of 12, in all settings, ranging from concert halls to bars to churches to festivals.  Her family relocated to Charleston, West Virginia from New Jersey when she was 7, and as many times as she has tried to leave, something keeps pulling her back.  Jean and her family live in Princeton, West Virginia.  Her essay explores her experience moving to West Virginia from New Jersey during her early years, and the exceptional “magic” she encountered at a place called Carbide Camp.

Editor’s note:  I am grateful to Jean for revealing the secret world of Carbide Camp.  I was puzzled my entire youth about what Carbide Camp actually was, though I did know that a select number of my friends attended and it seemed to be just as described here, a magical place young people would cling to all year in great anticipation of entering its gates again in the summer.  Any place that can retrieve you as vividly as it does Jean at the end of this essay is someplace special!

Carbide Camp was Magic

My parents are from the Northeast.  Dad was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and Mom was born in Bound Brook, New Jersey.  Both graduated from Bound Brook High School, and Dad went to Kings College while Mom started working for Union Carbide as a secretary.  After Dad finished school, they married and settled in Middlesex, New Jersey.  Dad eventually started working for Union Carbide in Bound Brook.

Union Carbide was a huge chemical company with a long history in the Charleston, West Virginia, area.   It was bought by Dow Chemical Company in 2001.  Union Carbide is probably most famous for the Bhopal Disaster, which happened in Bhopal, India, in 1984.  A storage tank vent malfunctioned and spread poison gas into the atmosphere – over half a million people were injured and more than 4,000 died as a result of exposure to the gas. The same chemical was produced at the plant in Institute, West Virginia, about 9 miles from Charleston.

The area along the Kanawha River in the greater Charleston area was called The Chemical Valley.  When I was young, I remember DuPont, Monsanto, and the Union Carbide operating chemical plants, all in the Kanawha Valley. I’m sure there were more, but the names escape me.

When I was 7 years old, Dad had the opportunity to transfer to Charleston.  He was supposed to be there for several years and move on to “bigger & better things.”  I was in second grade, my sister in Kindergarten.  I remember how sad I was to leave my very best friend, Jennifer Johnson.  We swore to write and to visit, but we never did.

Our extended family was appalled by the idea that we were moving to Appalachia.   “I’ve heard that they don’t have electricity there.”  “You’re going to have to use an outhouse.  They don’t have indoor plumbing.”  We had cassette tapes of all of us, singing along in the most exaggerated HeeHaw accents, to “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.”  There were lots of “Yee-HAWs” on those tapes.  I even remember references to “black-eyed peas and chitlins.”  I’m sure my uncles had no idea what that even was, but they associated it with the South, and West Virginia was SOUTHERN to them.

As far as they were concerned, we were moving to a backward wasteland.  As a second grader, that changed how I felt about moving.  From that time on, whenever I was asked about college or where I wanted to live when I grew up, my answer was always, “Anywhere but West Virginia.”

We moved to Charleston in January.  Coming from New Jersey, I was overwhelmed by the land. Jersey was FLAT.  These were MOUNTAINS in Charleston.  My house was on a mountain.  We had to go over the mountain to get anywhere.  My new friends told me that these were most definitely NOT mountains, but mere hills.  I didn’t believe them.

Carbide Camp mess hall, aka "The Castle"

The highlight of the year was Carbide Camp.  Union Carbide had camps for their employees’ children on Blue Creek in Clay County, near Clendenin.  Camp Carlisle was for the girls and Camp Camelot was for the boys.

It always seemed to me that most Carbiders were transplanted from the Northeast –Bound Brook and Danbury, Connecticut, places that my dad traveled regularly.  We came together for a two-week session each summer, and it was magic.  As a kid who relocated to West Virginia at the age of seven, with parents whose idea of camping was a weekend at a Holiday Inn, these were exotic weeks, filled with music, friends, and fun.

We’d start talking about it in the spring.  “Which session did you sign up for?”  “Can you change it?  I’m going 2nd session & I really wanted us to go together this year!”  “Will you be old enough this time to do the horseback overnights?”  “Did you get a new trunk?  Sorry I fell through the top last year.”  “I wonder if Merge-Cindy-Karen-Sam will be my counselor this year?”

Then came the planning. The clothing with name tags meticulously sewn in each piece; the bandanas for your head (to keep the ticks off); one pair of jeans for horseback riding; flip-flops and sneakers (called “tennis shoes” in West Virginia), and rain ponchos and swimsuits and towels and shampoo and underwear and on and on and on.

When your trunk would just close, you knew you were ready.

We would meet in the parking lot of the Tech Center, a great, sprawling piece of property where most of our parents’ offices were located.  Parents and kids who were going and kids who weren’t going and kids who had already been but wanted to say goodbye to their friends all gathered.  There was always crying.  Kids crying from fear if it was their first year and frustration if their siblings got to go and they didn’t, always last minute dashes to the bathroom, and slightly controlled chaos abounded.  Parents yelling out the ever-embarassing, “Don’t forget to change your underwear!”  “Brush your teeth!”  “Use the bug spray!”  “Don’t forget to write!”

We were transported by old school buses, at least that’s how I remember it.  One bus was loaded with luggage.  Kids were loaded onto other buses and away we went.  The buses would take us as far as they could.  We walked the last bit.  I remember it seemed like forever that we walked, with more than 200 campers and teenagers and adults, walking a dirt and rock road, jumping in puddles if it had just rained, sometimes walking in the rain.  We sang songs (I’m Carlise born & Carlisle bred, and when I die I’ll be *clap* Carlisle dead!), introduced ourselves to new kids, cheered up the scared and the homesick, talked about archery and riflery and horseback riding and lanyards and skinny dipping and overnight trips and Vespers and campfires.  We fanned the flames of boy-girl competition and romance on those long walks to the camps.  We would pass the boys’ camp – Camelot – and they would go get settled.  We girls would continue past the pool and on to our place –Carlisle.

That walk marked the true beginning of Carbide Camp.  We left the world behind and we were on our way to our own private place in the woods.  We revisited old friendships and started new ones.  We were an exclusive club, and you had to be connected to Union Carbide to join.  We were special because we got to be there.

Two weeks later (for most of us, anyway; some were lucky and got to stay for more than one session), after retracing the long walk back to the main road, singing songs and fanning those romances and competitions again, we were delivered back to the parking lot at the Tech Center.  Our parents were happy to see us and we were genuinely happy to see them!  We were truly and utterly exhausted.  We said our sad, dramatic goodbyes to friends who we would not see until the next summer, and shared a deeper connection with those that we would see in the neighborhood and at school in the fall.  We exchanged phone numbers and addresses and promised to write and call and stay in touch, and most of the time we did.

We left with a sense of accomplishment as well.  We performed in talent shows and skits.  We tried new things and tested our limits.  We earned riflery and archery awards. I made it to Jr. Marksman with the rifles (22s), and was the second highest score in Archery.  I got the Silver Arrow award that year, and I recently came across that arrow at my parents’ house.

Holding that arrow in hand, I was there:   At the archery range, bow in hand, targets tacked onto hay bales.  I am wearing red denim bell bottoms with a button fly, a “Sweet Honesty” t-shirt, a pair of red Chucks on my feet, and a red bandana on my head.  My hair hangs almost to my waist.  I can smell the horse corral behind me.  The sun beats down on me as I set the notch into the bow string.

I am powerful.

I lift the bow and take aim, drawing the string back and back – breathe-hold-release – bull’s eye.

All these years later, Carbide Camp is still magic.

Essays on Childhood: The 2011 Writers, Part One

We know something is going right when we have too many outstanding essayists to announce all at once!  The Essays on Childhood project is pleased to introduce you to the first 6 of 11 writers for 2011.

The entire collective is multi-talented, courageous, and impressive.  We hope you will spend some time “getting to know” these fine people and anticipating the pleasure of reading their essays.  As editor, I have read some early drafts and can promise you an experience with these stories and reflections that will open your eyes and stir your heart with new ways of thinking about childhood experience.

Anne Clinard Barnhill

Anne Clinard Barnhill grew up in West Virginia and graduated from Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi.  Her debut novel, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press in 2012.  She is also author of AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ: Autism, My Sister and Me, a memoir about growing up in West Virginia in a time before anyone had heard the word ‘autism’.  WHAT YOU LONG FOR is a short story collection published in 2009 that also contains stories set in the mountains.  Books are available from Amazon, www.jkp.comwww.mainstreetrag.com or, if you’d like a signed copy, from the author directly at acbarnhill@yahoo.com.  Anne’s essay will examine issues of racial and ethnic prejudice towards the Melungeon population; Melungeons represent a “tri-racial isolate group” mainly in the Cumberland Gap area of Central Appalachia.

Helen Adelia Slaughter Basham

Helen was born in Dunbar, West Virginia, on April 26, 1928.  She laughs at newspaperman Jim Dent’s description of “a fate worse than Dunbar.”  Her elementary through high school education all took place in a single block and only three blocks away from her home.  After Helen worked a year in an office in Charleston, “hating every minute,”  her youngest brother came out of the Navy with an engineering degree and  helped send Helen  to West Virginia University, where she majored in social work. From 1950 until 1966, Helen worked in several states (sometimes part-time during child rearing years) as a social worker or as an administrator of programs for children and families.  She describes her five children as the most important people in her life — sustaining, inspiring, and sheltering her with their love.  After retirement, Helen returned to live in a little house decorated with sage siding and purple shutters and doors, just down the street from the big box of a house where she was born.  Unbeknownst to her at the time, Helen’s 50 year old son died the day before she wrote her essay which “just poured out” of her.  Her essay describes her experiences as a fairy maker artist and her journey into creative thinking and doing after retirement.

Julian Martin

Julian is the eighth generation of his family born on Big Coal River.  He is a graduate of St. Albans High School where he was an all-conference football player. He has a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU) and worked two years in the chemical industry. After one month training to make sidewinder missiles he joined the Peace Corps as West Virginia’s first volunteer and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, he has also worked in urban outreach, organic farming, environmental education, and conservation.  He loves his wife and several children, step-children, grandchildren and step grandchildren and two great grandchildren.  Julian’s essay is tentatively titled, “Homeplace,” and is a colorful reflection on his growing up experiences on his grandparents’ farm.  He admits though, “I called it Grandma’s house and farm ever since Grandpa threw a rake at me.”

Melanie Foster Taylor

Melanie claims she is “not a real writer’s writer, except for trying it now.”   She is a classical pianist, and piano teacher who has been inspired to write her childhood story by her former piano student, Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher. Forced into really early retirement by the economic crash in 2008-9, this former college music professor now has plenty of time to reflect and write. Oh what a blessing. Melanie is presently trapped in South Carolina, but visits the family in Charleston, West Virginia two or three times a year. She breathes anew whenever she sees the mountains again.  Her essay, “Going to the Farm,” recounts memories of trips to the jointly-held family vacation farm in Monroe County, West Virginia, from Charleston. Model-T’s, grand pianos, and wildlife ensue.

Jean Hanna Davis

Jean is an accomplished singer, guitar player, and sometime songwriter.  She has been performing since the age of 12, in all settings, ranging from concert halls to bars to churches to festivals.  Her family relocated to Charleston, West Virginia from New Jersey when she was 7, and as many times as she has tried to leave, something keeps pulling her back.  Jean and her family live in Princeton, West Virginia.  Her essay will explore her experience moving to West Virginia from New Jersey during her early years, and some of the places she began to find herself accepted in a strange new land.

Devin McGrew

Devin was born in Charleston, West Virginia. She was raised in a farm house in a little town called Liberty. At the age of 11, she moved to Sarasota, Florida, with her mother and stepfather. She lived in Florida for 10 years before returning to her hometown in West Virginia. Devin is attending college at American Public University working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies. She currently works in the oil and gas industry as a paralegal. She is a single mother to a beautiful daughter named Lauren. They live in a small town in rural West Virginia with their two dogs, Foxy and Molly.  In her essay, Devin plans to explore how her life in Liberty influenced her lifelong passion for shooting guns.