A few of you who I’ve chatted with know I’m writing a book. These next six months are a critical time in that process, and, as such, I had the chance to go back to West Virginia to visit with family, friends and, in some ways most importantly, to just drive around and take notes. I thought I’d share some pictures of that trip, and the memories they spurred.

(from top to bottom)

That’s my Maw Maw, who is in her 90s and will likely outlive me at the rate she’s going. Just two years ago my dad went by to visit, only to find her on the roof of the house, trying to scrub stains off the shingles. He made her promise never to do it again.

She raised four children in this two bedroom, one bath house–although there was only one bedroom when my dad was a kid. It sits just off the road in the town of Red House, West Virginia.

My Paw Paw was a genuine war hero. Bronze Star, Purple Heart, led a platoon through a minefield when he was 19. The real deal. He survived getting his bicep blown off by a mortar round while attempting to cross the Roer River with the 501st. He died in ’99. I’m honored to share his name.  

On the right is my Paw Paw’s workshop, where he’d disappear for hours on end, working on one contraption or another, building something. He was a steelworker by trade, and a woodworker by hobby. Later in life, he used his workshop as a hiding place where he could sneak off to smoke his Camel straights. Not that he was fooling anyone. Maw Maw knew what he was doing down there. They both just pretended the other didn’t know.

I learned to fish in this unnamed backwater of the Kanawha River, part of the property my Paw Paw bought in 1946, just home from the war. I caught my first bluegill, largemouth bass, catfish, carp and crappie in those muddy waters. Most of my cousins did, too.

It was a rite of passage when you were old enough to take the john boat out on your own. I think I was about 8, maybe 9 when I first climbed aboard and pushed off from the bank, out for whatever adventure might be around the next bend of the water. 

My childhood was magical.