Sunday, April 20, 2014

Parkersburg: A Brief Retrospective

It was the year 2000.  The Y2K Bug had come and gone without wrecking the nation’s infrastructure and ushering in the end of days.  Farrell, Devin, and I had just moved back to West Virginia after a miserable winter living in Illinois and we were staying in one half of an old farmhouse my mother was buying which had been converted into a duplex.  We were a twenty minute drive from the nearest paved road and even further from the closest town.  Even that little hamlet, however, had little to offer.  There was a Wal-Mart built upon the grounds where an insane asylum had once stood, a one screen movie theater, Foodland, and a dying sweater factory.  Work was hard to come by without committing yourself to an hour and a half drive to the nearest cities.  Times were good, but lean.  We made do with the little we had, Farrell read books aloud each night in lieu of the family clustering around a television or computer; we hiked through rolling hills and happened upon houses so old and cut off that they were nothing more than rotting boards which had collapsed into overgrown foundations.  Every few nights, the extended family gathered around a bonfire and swapped stories or listened to CDs by Pete Seeger or ones with Native American folktales and lore while the kids chased each other through the darkness.  It was a simple, honest life with the aforementioned lack of employment opportunities being the biggest detractor.

Up to this point in our lives, both Farrell and I had been possessed by gypsy feet.  We tended to never stay in one place for too long, always brimming with excitement to see and experience whatever happened to lie just around the next bend.  However, we’d come to realize that this lifestyle wasn’t exactly fair to our son.  We wanted him to have the chance to grow up and go to school with the same kids every year instead of making new friends on a regular basis;  we wanted more stability and security in our lives for his sake if nothing else. 

I’d been filling out applications and submitting resumes everywhere I could find when I was finally offered a position as a customer service representative at the Coldwater Creek call center/warehouse.  The job was located in Parkersburg, which we knew very little about.  Farrell had gone to a club there with some friends years earlier but that was about the extent of our experience.  We didn’t know anyone there, didn’t have any friends or relatives in the area… but we decided this was the opportunity we’d been waiting for.  When we moved into our first Parkersburg apartment, we took a vow to stay in this area until our son graduated High School, no matter what it took.

It wasn’t always easy to keep that vow.  There were times when our gypsy feet called to us, times when financial strain tempted us to move on to more lucrative pastures;  but we always pressed on, keeping true to our word.  Parkersburg truly became our son’s hometown.  He can’t go anywhere in this city without seeing people he knows and its landmarks brim with memories and experiences.  But something a little unexpected happened along the way.  Not only did it become his hometown, but it became ours as well.  We’d always thought that once he graduated, we’d move on.  Perhaps to the beach.  Perhaps to Texas or Arizona.  But we never did.  There have been great times here and tough times as well… but all in all, Parkersburg has been good to us.  We’ve made friends with some really wonderful people in this area, folks we probably never would have known if not for the pledge we made to one another; we know the streets intimately, the shortcuts, and bus schedules, the yearly festivals, and which hospitals have the shortest ER wait times.  We have a bevy of stories set in this little city, memories which will follow us until the day we die.

Now, fourteen years after making that vow, Farrell and I are preparing to move back to the Charleston area.  She has classes there which require her to drive an hour and a half each way on a daily basis and, after months of being unemployed, I finally snagged a job at a chemical plant in that neck of the woods.  I grew up in the area surrounding Charleston and both Farrell and I spent quite a bit of time there up to our early twenties.  So one would think it would feel like a homecoming of sorts.  But it doesn’t really.  Instead, it feels like we’re leaving home.

True story.

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