Our drive through the state of West Virginia started off in some of the hardest rain I have ever driven. As we worked our way southeast from Pittsburgh and onward to Charleston the rolling hills of Appalachia were beautiful. I was born in this state. A state that is famous for its coal mining and odd shape state that looks a bit like a frying pan.
We arrived in Charleston and stopped at Mcdonalds for a quick drink and to use the rest room. I haven’t been back into this neck of the woods since 1989 the summer I graduated high school and drove a Suzuki Sidekick faux Jeep from Portland, Oregon. That is a story for another day and one that I am sure you would love to read.
This would be the most difficult two days of our trip. I would be visiting the gravesite of my grandparents on my mothers side and my grandparents on my fathers side that are in a nursing home. I was apprehensive to see both of these people and places but I think it needs to be done. I have thought about both of them for a long, long time.
We passed quickly through the rest of West Virginia and onward to Ashland, Kentucky. Ashland is where my grandparents, the Wilsons lived when I was growing up and whom I remember most in my formative years. My grandfather was my best friend when I was a kid. I have so many fond memories of him and my grandmother that I am sure I could write a book.*
Our first stop was to see their old house on Walnut Avenue. I found it like I had just been here yesterday. Since their passing new people live here, of course but it is still my grandparents house. One of my fondest memories is my grandpa standing up at the top of the stairs that lead up from the driveway next to a light pole in the yard. He would stand there waving as we drove off. Even though he has been dead for over 20 years I could still see him standing there when we drove away today. We took a couple pictures and texted them to my mom and headed to find my aunts old house that was in the same neighborhood. In this house, when I was a kid, my great grandmother lived in it. We used to call her Granny. She passed away when I was a little kid and the only thing I really remember about her was she always had those orange peanut candies that were similar to a marshmallow.
We drove around this little town and I pointed out all the sights to Michele. We drove by Central Park. It still looked the same and over by the mighty Ohio River.
Our next stop was to head east to Flatwoods. If you know anything about Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley you have heard of Flatwoods. Did you know he filmed the video for his off the charts hit Achy Breaky Heart at the little theater in Ashland? Rumor has it my aunt was there.
The drive over to Flatwoods was very familiar. Like finding my grandparents house, everything was like it was 25 years ago except for a spattering of Outback Steakhouses, fast food joints and big box stores. Our mission was to go to the cemetery.
When we arrived we had no idea where to look for their grave sites. We stopped at the caretakers home and Michele got out and knocked but nobody answered. We started searching online and found the spot! I had no idea that you could find where someone was buried on the Internet. After some searching around we found the spot where they laid and I took a picture and texted it to my mom. Creepy right? But we both needed some closure, and I thought it was the right thing to do. About this time I texted my cousin, Susan. She lived in these parts and she was going to meet up with us tomorrow to visit our grandparents. As I will tell in the next post, I haven’t seen Susan since she was a toddler and now she is grown, married and has a son of her own. It is amazing and scary just how fast time moves.
We headed across the bridge over into Ohio and passed a place on the left which used to be the old K-Mart. I think I have told the story before about our pilgrimages to the Big K. (Hit the search bar above and check it out.) It is a story you will enjoy. We crossed back into West Virginia and into west Huntington. Again, I was driving like I lived here. Everything was just were it was supposed to be.
Our next mission was to visit Camden Park. This little theme park was where my passion for coasters was born. We used to go here every summer and ride the rides. My grandfather worked for Ashland Oil and they used to do Ashland Oil Days were the park would be reserved for their employees and families. As a kid, we would spend the day here riding the rides and having picnics.
I sent Michele up to the ticket booth, it was raining hard and I was just a tad bit nervous and didn’t want to be disappointed by bad news. Michele returned with two tickets in hand and said “We need to hurry they aren’t sure if the weather is gonna hold off enough to let you ride!” We headed straight for the Big Dipper. It was my first coaster and one that was very important for me on this trip. Even though we would ride over a hundred coasters on this trip, this one had a special place in my heart. Michele and I rode it alone. I sat in the front car and Michele behind me. She videoed the whole thing. It was just as I remembered!
We rode the little train around the park and I pointed out all the sights. It was like I was a kid again! When I was little this park seemed so BIG. I remember riding on the train when I was a kid and seeing the old cabin with the cowboys and Indians in a gunfight. We were out of the park in less than an hour. I am not sure how much longer this little place will be open but it was so important to me to come and show Michele this piece of my childhood.
We drive back into Huntington and I showed Michele my old stomping’ grounds; my elementary school that I used to walk to when I was in the first grade–who allows their kids to do that today? The little store where we would ride our bikes to for Slushes and penny candies. It is no longer a corner store but an office space. I showed her my grandparents home, who we would see tomorrow in the nursing home, my aunt Diana’s apartment, the ball fields where I played football and little league, my friend Roy’s house and finally my house where I spent the first eight or nine years of my childhood. 2640 Collis Avenue. The tree that my dad and I planted in the front yard is still there and probably over a hundred feet tall.
We checked out this little city where I saw my first rock concert, Kiss at 6 years old with my dad, I showed Michele the stadium of Marshall University where I played a game on the turf one Thanksgiving Day as an 8 year old. Marshall University is the college of NFL superstar Randy Moss and a lesser known quarterback that played for the Jets, Chad Pennington. We headed to a place that I have been telling stories about for as long as I have known Michele for dinner. It is Jim’s Spaghetti. The place was packed and it was just as I remembered. This place brought back so many memories. Michele said,
This is the place where you learned how to eat.
After dinner we headed over to Barboursville to our hotel, but first we would stop at the first shopping mall I ever remembered. I have such fond memories of coming here on Black Friday when I was a little kid and my grandpa would give me and my brother Ryan 50 bucks to buy gifts. He always said, “Meet us in front of Lazarus at noon and we will have lunch.” The next couple hours Ryan and I would check out the stores on our own always stopping and Spencer’s gifts and buying each other a gag gift or two.
Michele and I bought some stuff at Dick’s Sporting Goods. We don’t have this store in Alaska and we bought some things that we thought were ‘good deals’. We spent the night at a decent hotel and did our laundry in washers on site. We were about half way through our trip and like I said this midpoint was bittersweet. Tomorrow will be a tough day but it is important…
*Rabid readers just wait. We talk about this book later on in the trip when I visit my aunt and niece in Louisville.
Tomorrow: Family and Carter Caves
Coasters to date on the tour: 50
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