Almost heaven….

I loved the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” long before I ever set foot in the Mountain State. As a matter of fact, John Denver wrote and recorded the tune before he had ever set foot in West Virginia. His co-authors were Bill and Taffy Danoff.

West Virginia country road

Turns out, Denver nailed it anyway. One line from the song, “Almost Heaven,” became the state’s advertising slogan for a while. 

I am a big fan of John Denver, and it was only after I really paid attention to all his lyrics that I understood his most common themes were home and family. 

Some years back, parts of my family wound up not only in West Virginia, but in the back roads part of the state, which might have been a culture shock after living in Brooklyn, which is laced with subway and trolley tracks rather than free-flowing streams and coal veins.

It had been a few years since our last visit, so Half-Pint and I loaded up her reliable car, with one difference this time — because our usual dogsitter couldn’t take him, our 18-pound shih tzu mix came with us. “Road Trip! Road Trip!” I could imagine him saying, because he does love auto trips and being with his family.

For new readers, I have to explain that I never include all details of my family as there are azzwipes out there who don’t like me and are low enough to cause some trouble for my loved ones. That’s why my angelic girl friend is always Half-Pint and my granddaughters will be known as 1 and 2. And they were the main inspirations for this trip. 

I can’t say I always had strong family ties. I didn’t. There was a “cousins’ club” my cousins put together, but I never attended. It was some misplaced form of Bronx “toughness” I guess that kept me away. (I was born in the Bronx, reared in Brooklyn, went to high school in Manhattan. I never had to select a gender, but I did have to select a borough and I “identify” as Brooklyn.)

Traveling with a dog can be rewarding and fun — have you ever read John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley”?— but there are drawbacks.

Not all hotels or motels accept pets, and many of those that do tack $25 or so on to the room charge simply because they can. There is no valid reason — the dog doesn’t make more of a mess than a child, and the room must be cleaned anyway.

Most restaurants won’t accept pets in the dining room, but some that have outdoor decks or patios might make them welcome. Since the dog should not be left alone in the room, and hotels forbid that, you may be eating of a lot of takeout that you bring back to the room.

Granddaughter No. 1 met us at our motel room and instantly bonded with my dog, known as Nut Bag. (Not his real name.) 

Granddaughter No. 1 playing with Nut Bag

No. 1 recently graduated from her high school as number 3 or 5 in her class, depending on how you score. In either case, her graduation gown was decorated with the gold sash of the National Honor Society. That’s pretty hot stuff, and her smarts are matched by her courtesy and outgoing personality. In a week she starts college with a full scholarship — room, board, books, classes, the whole schmear. 

Now that she’s 18, I can engage her as an adult for the first time, and I am able to kid her. 

As we were sitting on an outdoor deck, high on Mount Storm, I asked her what is was like to be living among hillbillies. 

The nerve!, she seemed to say, and launched into a semi-serious delineation of rednecks, hicks and hillbillies. I won’t recreate it here, but in her view rednecks are the top of the pecking order, followed by hicks and hillbillies. (For the record, she says she is none of the three. Also for the record, at my insistence I am known as Grandpappy.)

Granddaughter No. 2 is still a young teenager and not that easy to communicate with. Stop the presses! A teenage girl who’s hard to talk to? Who would believe that?

They happen to be half-sisters who live apart, so I saw them on separate days, but the common denominator there was visits to Walmart for school supplies. Up here in the mountains, Walmart is Lord & Taylor, A&P and Target combined. 

I am not usually a Walmart customer, but the stores were extremely clean and well-stocked. 

We walked some trails, saw some town and country sights, checked out architecture and history.

The externals are not what mattered. Even during a short visit, the family bonds were tightened, relationships were strengthened and, importantly, the dog made new friends.

18 thoughts on “Almost heaven….”

  1. Because you’ve already identified him on facebook, it’s too late to give your 18-pound Shih Tzu mix a pseudonym. Too bad. John Gotti—a name that says, “Don’t F with the family”—would’ve been a good one.

  2. Nice story Stu. Family get togethers & reunions top of my list. Happy you enjoyed. I’m a JD fan, still play C Roads on the guitar. TRAGIC DEATH!!

  3. Dang you Stu! You had to mention John Denver’s song. Now it’s going to be banging around in my brain for the next 2 months. Thanks guy!

    BTW, as soon as you mentioned West Virginia, and before mentioning Country Roads, the first tuned that popped in my head was more like Dueling Banjos from Deliverance (“squeal like a pig”). Sorry Stu, that’s my fond remembrances of having travelled through the state over the years. The state is Picture Perfect in many ways, but does have a bit of a squeal in it.

  4. HAPPY TUESDAY !!!
    Henry John Deutschendorf, AKA John Denver. A perfectly good name, a little hard to pronounce maybe, but a real human being. Without politics, the man was for the planet.
    Back in the ’60s, it was called West “BY GOD” Virginia ! Pure and pristine it was. Squealing pigs and all .
    Stu. This is a side of you that was kept hidden from the public .

  5. Your mention of Charley reminded me of a funny anecdote. My step-father Jack was a native of Sag Harbor where John Steinbeck also resided. Charley was always in Jack’s backyard to visit his dog and Steinbeck would come to fetch him. I mentioned how impressed I was that Jack knew the famous author. Jack’s reply: Yeah I met him. Nice dog. (FYI: Steinbeck’s Winter of our Discontent was set in Sag Harbor).

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