Monday, June 21, 2010

West Virginia - June 20, 1863

Astute readers will notice that the date stamp on this is a day late. We returned from a two-week vacation last night and I simply did not have the energy to post anything after being in the car all day on our return trip.

Almost heaven...

When I was very young my family bought a piece of property in the Shenandoah Valley of West Virginia. A few times a year we would drive out there, up the mountain with the guard rail that I never quite trusted. I got a thrill picturing our light blue Peugot rolling down the side of the hill. When we got to our piece of land we would have a picnic and talk about building a cabin there, or buying an camper. Then we would swim in the nearby lake, and then drive back to Baltimore. After a while it just seemed we stopped going, and stopped dreaming, and the property seemed to be forgotten. I know my father gave the deed to my sister and her husband at one point, then asked for it back. A few years ago when I really started dreaming about becoming a hermit I asked my father about it, and he told me he "got rid of that albatross a long time ago." Ah, well.

The Hayes children enjoying a piece of heaven c1969. Blogger is on the left.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
When West Virginian Rosalee Futch wins a contest to fly to California and have a night on the town with her favorite movie actor, she never imgines how it will change her life. Although a "tad" predictable, this is a sweet romantic comedy with a twist on the old worldy-boy-sweeps-naive-girl-off-her-feet schtick. And it has a few good one-liners. I was interested to see that the focus of the story was not on the contest, or even the date, both of which are done within the first 20 minutes or so of the film, without much fanfare. We tried to get our almost 13-year old daughter to watch it with us, as she seemed to be the target demographic for this one, but since we picked it out, she figured it wasn't worth her time. Not a movie I would have picked out for myself normally, but it was the perfect thing for relaxing after a 10-hour car trip. There wasn't a lot to place this is West Virginia. It really could have been filmed in any relatively rural southern area with a Piggly Wiggly. According to some of this was filmed on location, but I imagine the bulk of it was filmed in Hollywood.

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake was loaned to me by my friend Brendan, who always seems to know what I will like (except when he taped The Great Race and suggested that I watch it). Anyway, this collection of 12 short stories gave a bit more insight into rural West Virginia culture that the Tad Hamilton movie did.  I read about people who got their meat by hunting squirrel and deer, who kill beagles because they have nothing better to do, who hire teenage prostitutes, and who may dream of a better life than coal mining, but never find it. As I started to read I guessed that none of the stories would have a female protagonist, and was surprised to see that I was wrong on that count. The sixth story, "The Mark", tells of Reva, who is waiting to hear back the result of her rabbit test, a common pregnancy test back in the 1970s when this was first published. Breece Pancake (yes, the author's real name) killed himself in 1979 at the age of 27. I felt the same after reading this collection as I did after reading the novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, another gifted writer who commited suicide at a young age. I can only wonder in both cases what great stories will never be written.

We had a meal tonight comemmorating West Virginia, Arkansas and New Hampshire. Read about it here.

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