When I visited my father’s childhood home in Schenectady, New York with my brothers last summer for my 65th birthday, I felt like I was attached to the very streets. I’ve never lived in Schenectady.

(presumably) The Cheat River in the Monongahel...

The Cheat River in the Monongahela_National_Forest in West Virginia, nearing its headwaters (from the state’s highest peaks). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some years before, I’d seen my father’s childhood home when I visited Schenectady for the first time, walked down the sledding hill on the street closed off in the winter for the children. I imagined my grandfather walking along the path from his house to the General Electric headquarters and home again at lunch, the company where he’d risen from the mailroom to an executive suite.

Suddenly, reading Rip van Winkle again took on personal significance, with a story set in the old Dutch-settled upstate New York.

My great-grandparents went to the Dutch Reformed Church in town. My great-aunt was a missionary for the Dutch-Reformed Church and my grandmother, who’d committed suicide a few years after leaving Schenectady, was buried in the city’s Dutch Reformed cemetery.

It is this sense of place that Stephanie Kadel Taras rediscovers when she decides to write about her childhood home in West Virginia in her memoir, Mountain Girls.

She was not born in West Virginia. She was born in Florida.

She does not live in West Virginia now. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

But, the eleven years she lived there, from the age of five until she was 16, seared her forever as a child of the wild mountains of West Virginia.

Readers will turn over and over again to the map in the beginning of the book showing West Virginia towns you have never heard of that anchor Taras’ s story.

Elkins. Where she lived, a college town where her father was a music professor.

Beverly, Adolph, Bemis. Tucked between low mountain ranges in hollers so remote that everything modern came there late – running water and indoor bathrooms – cable and cell phones.

Buckhannon – the big town down the road where teenagers practiced with their newly-acquired licenses to drive to the Dairy Queen for sodas after school.

And, then, Hardee’s came to Elkins.

Elkins, where you could walk to any place in town, and you did.

Elkins, which nevertheless, had two Methodist churches.

Taras’ mother, an opera singer who also played the piano, made sure her children went to every cultural event available, insistent that they learn there was a larger world than the one they could walk to in Elkins.

Ultimately, she was the one who insisted the family move back to Florida when Taras was sixteen and won her early admission to a college there her grandfather had founded.

But, though Taras married and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, her roots were in that wild, remote, beautiful West Virginia town of Elkins.

It is where her best friend returned and now lives. It is where she and her husband have bought a house, even if only to rent out.

It belies the image most have of West Virginia, an image of backwoods hillbillies missing teeth and good English.

Rather, it is a home of tough, resilient people who, when their large-plantation-owning neighbors to the east and south said they were seceding from the Union, had already taken a pro-Union stand.

As Taras sums up, “They were the only state to successfully secede during the Civil War.” They seceded from Virginia.

If you wonder at the draw of such a wild, remote land, Taras explains,

“…as I look toward the horizon at the ridges surrounding my hometown, I feel safe here, as if the outside world can’t get to me now. “

And, yet, she knows some of the appeal is imaginary, as with a childhood true only in memory.

“The promise of seclusion lulls me into a kind of complacency that is as dangerously false as it is addictive.”

Friendship and roots.

To listen to an interview with author Taras, click on the audio clip below.

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To order your own copy of Mountain Girls, visit Taras’s website http://www.timepiecesbios.com.

 

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers
http://newgrandmas.com

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