Charley West

I¶m proud to say that Charleston, West Virginia is my hometown. Just like in the ³Goldilocks and the Three Bears´ story, it wasn¶t too small, not too big, but ³Just Right.´ Charleston is referred to as ³Charley West,´ by pilots, air traffic controllers and navigators. It is also the name of Pat Shell¶s long-standing newspaper cartoon character, on the front page of the Charleston Daily Mail. This popular caricature has been offering his witty commentary, on local events, since 1958. We had many relatives scattered all across the state, so our home was somewhat of a boarding house. Charleston was a big

city to our relatives, since they lived in much smaller towns or rural communities. It was the hub of retail shopping, and many relatives came to Charleston, specifically to shop for Christmas gifts and school clothes. Others came to visit the capital city and all of its attractions. Some came to join us for the big 4th of July fireworks display. When necessary, many of them stayed with us, while their loved ones were in local hospitals. We always took our visitors to see the beautiful capitol grounds and building, designed by architect Cass Gilbert. Everyone marveled at the marble rotunda with the spectacular, enormous glass chandelier. The museum in the basement of the capital building wasn¶t very impressive, but I was always intrigued with the Flea Circus display. Just recently, a brand new, incredible state museum was opened in the basement of the Cultural Center. Many times we took our visitors up to Kanawha Airport, to watch the big planes come in and take off. We usually stood on the viewing ramp, outside of the airport, or watched from the tall windows inside. I always loved watching the lights light up on the

runways, as planes arrived and departed. Sometimes we took a picnic to the scenic Hawk¶s Nest State Park, which was only a forty-minute drive from Charleston. We walked out to the popular overlook area, made of huge slabs of flagstone and log rails. It offered a spectacular, panoramic view of the New River Gorge. Dad fed the tall, silver viewing scopes a quarter, then held us up, so we could look through them. We watched the long coal trains, on the other side of the river, which seemed to stretch for miles. They crept at such a slow pace, meandering around the horseshoe-shaped track.

Other times, we took our guests on a little trip down the West Virginia turnpike, to The Glass House. It was a fancy restaurant on the turnpike, which offered fine dining, and were famous for their ³Mile-high pies,´ with deep layers of meringue. Occasionally, our relatives bought us enormous, all-day suckers, at the candy counter. They were as big as a 45 record, with a brightly-colored, swirled design. We literally sucked on them all day. As a family and with scout and church groups, we frequently had huge day-long picnics at Coonskin Park, Kanawha State Forest, and DuPont Hunting and Fishing Lake. Horseback riding, on the trails of Kanawha Forest, or in the coral at Coonskin, were always exciting adventures. During extremely cold winters, the pond at Coonskin froze over. We joined the crowd of other ice skating enthusiasts, and spent the day, circling the frozen surface. I loved skating there. It was such a community event. Many people gathered around the gigantic bonfire, to get some relief from the frigid temperatures.

During our youth, we often had very deep snows. Living on the West Side hill, offered plenty of thrilling sleigh rides down the steeper streets. In the snowy weather, people from all over the area came to Edgewood Country Club¶s golf course, to sleigh ride. Someone always built a huge, rip-roaring bonfire there too. It provided a nice warm break, in between downhill runs. I got my first taste of skiing on the slopes of the golf driving range at Coonskin. In the winter, when we had deep snows, the driving range became ski slopes. A primitive-looking, mechanized rope pull dragged us back up the hill. One of my favorite remembrances about living in Charleston was shopping downtown. It was the center of the city, where we ran into everyone we knew. There was such a difference in shopping downtown, compared to shopping in a mall. Braving the elements, walking from one store to another, certainly was part of that difference. Back in those days, we didn¶t have parking garages, but there were enormous parking lots, peppered all over downtown. My brother-in-law paid his way through college, by

working as a parking lot attendant, for several years. I especially loved shopping downtown at Christmastime. The sound of the Salvation Army bell ringers, and seeing all of the window decorations, put everyone in such a festive mood. If the snow was falling, everyone really got in the spirit of the holiday season. Perhaps even the beggars, who sat with their tin cups, along Capital Street, got an extra coin or two. The animated Christmas scenes, in the windows of The Diamond and Stone and Thomas department stores, were my favorites. Our parents took us to The Diamond, to have pictures taken with Santa.

All of the department stores with multiple floors, which didn¶t have escalators, had elevator ladies. For many of these women, it was their lifetime profession. We became so familiar with a few of them, that they felt like friends to us. At the Diamond, we often ate lunch at the snack bar on the first floor, or waited in line on the third floor, to eat in their cafeteria. Frequently, we stopped by Federal Bakery for some chocolate chip cookies or salt-rising bread, for our cheese squares recipe. The beautiful Louise Corey offered classes at Stone and Thomas in etiquette, fashion, and grooming. Most of the girls in my scout troop and I attended these sessions. In the late summer, before school started, Mom took my sister and me to back-to-school fashion shows, held in the Scottish Rite Temple. The Diamond hosted the shows, and featured models from different high schools. Thinking back to all of the stores that were open in downtown Charleston, I can¶t get over how many there were. I so vividly remember looking at Poor Pitiful Pearl dolls, in the toy

department of Coyle and Richardson. It was right before Christmas, and our parents had taken us shopping to look at toys. It seems like I could always find clothes that I liked, at Frankenberger¶s, Embee¶s, The Diamond and Stone and Thomas. We usually bought our school shoes in the shoe department of The Diamond, and dress shoes at John Lee¶s or Palmer¶s. There were so many places to buy shoes. In addition to the shoe shops, all of the larger department stores had big shoe departments. One day, Mom and my sister and I were shopping on the second floor of The Diamond. We had a few items to return. Our next door neighbor, Juanita, who worked on that floor for many years, thought it was hilarious, that the store¶s undercover security guards were following us. We had been completely oblivious to the fact, that we were being followed. Somehow, we must have looked suspicious to them, maybe since we walked in with our bags of items to return. After that incident, we frequently saw the two women, following other shoppers closely around the store. We shopped for books and picked up our photographs, in

little yellow or gray booklets, at S. Spencer Moore Company, on Capital Street. At Maynard¶s pet store, we often replenished our guppy population. Sometimes my friends and I were allowed to shop in the big dime stores, by ourselves. We loved to put our quarter in the slot, and get a strip of pictures made, as we tried to look silly in the photo booth at Woolworth¶s. Sometimes we got milkshakes on their mezzanine floor. I purchased fancy, white, lace-trimmed handkerchiefs, with colorful embroidered flowers, at Kresge¶s, one holiday season. Those were Christmas gifts for my grandmother. Two downtown institutions which I miss, are The Sterling Restaurant and the stately, old stone public library. Many times, after dances or dates, we went to The Sterling, because they were still opened, and had excellent food. I loved the old library, and was sad to see it torn down in 1966. It was a real landmark in downtown Charleston, having such character, with its two sets of curved steps, leading up to the front door. I spent many hours pouring through their card catalogues, working on research papers.

During the days of our youth, there were many movie theatres around town. The Virginian, Kearse, Capital, Rialto, Lyric and Village were the ones we usually frequented. Most of these places had such lavishly-decorated interiors, resembling fancy opera houses. I always liked to sit in the balconies. Our parents often dropped us kids off, to watch the movies, without any adult chaperones. That¶s how safe we felt. All of these theatres closed, once the mega-theatres moved in. The Capital is still used, for special film festivals. When the Town Center mall opened, in 1983, several of the downtown stores relocated there. Some store owners tried to stay in their downtown locations, and make a go of it. Their demise was similar to the independent theatres. It was heartbreaking, to see businesses, which had flourished for many decades, be forced to close their doors, one by one. Two downtown stores which beat the odds, and are still around today, are The Peanut Shoppe and Fife Street Shoe Shop. The interiors of both of these places, look like how they did fifty years ago. Walking into the Fife Street Shoe

Shop, really does feel like stepping back in time to 1920, when the shoe repair shop first opened. When we were in grade school, in the 1950s, our scout leaders took us to appeared on television. We went to the local WSAZ studio, to be filmed in the peanut gallery of the ³Mr. Cartoon Show,´ with host George Lewis. To be on television, was a pretty big deal to a child. Their studio and tower were near my aunt and uncle¶s hilltop farm, which overlooking the city. There were two interesting characters, who became familiar to all of us growing up in Charleston. ³Lightning,´ as he was fondly called, was a pleasant, short, elderly, African-American man. He stood on the street corners downtown, or at the Capitol complex, and directed traffic and sold newspapers. ³Aqualung´ was Charleston¶s iconic street person. That name was given to him, since he resembled the man on the cover of the ³Aqualung´ album, by Jethro Tull. For many years, he scavenged the streets and alleys of downtown Charleston, with his grocery cart, crammed full of treasured possessions. Recently, Taylor

Books of downtown Charleston, displayed several portraits of him, in their art gallery, by local artist, Rob Cleland. It was rumored that ³Aqualung´ received monthly checks from a large, Mid-American university. It has been years, since I have seen either of these characters. Charleston had its share of soda fountains scattered all over town. In the fifties, my parents frequently treated my scout troop to sundaes, at the Valley Bell ice cream shop, which is now where the Fountain Hobby Center sits. I loved their hot fudge sundaes and banana splits. For many years, I stopped by the Valley Bell store, across from Lincoln Junior High, to purchase a toasted almond ice cream cone. A few weeks ago, I pulled up to their store, to get another cone. As I walked by the table in front of the store, a gentleman sitting there, said, ³Lady, the ice cream shop closed a few years ago.´ What a disappointment. The Fountain Hobby Center has certainly withstood the test of time. The family-run business originally opened in North Charleston, in 1947, and was actually a soda fountain too, hence

the name. In 1960, it moved into its current location on the West Side. The hobby store has always carried many of those hard-to-find items, needed for hobbies or craft projects. When I taught craft classes, I spent quite a lot of time there, buying supplies. For many years, Tandy Leather was down the street from the hobby shop. It was another place I often frequented, as an art teacher. While I was teaching in the seventies, my students were really into making and wearing leather wristbands. Those were real popular and fashionable accessories, during that era. I bought huge sides of leather, and cut them into strips. Another popular craft and fashion accessory, during that time, was macramé. Many students bought nice brass belt buckles, and knotted fine macramé belts. Sunrise museum opened its doors to the public, when we were in junior high school. It offered many interesting exhibits and art shows. The display of Christmas trees, from foreign countries, was always a popular exhibit. In 1971, Charleston began its long-running Sternwheel Regatta Festival, over Labor Day

weekends. My grandmother loved to watch the sternwheeler races, on the Kanawha River. The Taste of Charleston was my favorite event. It offered a sampling of many of the city¶s best restaurants, and was a real culinary extravaganza. During our youth, one of the biggest events in Charleston every year, was the football game between the two high schools in town, Charleston High and Stonewall Jackson. They were such rivals, and the city was divided into two groups of fans. Before the game every year, the students from Stonewall had a huge celebration with a Snake Dance, which meandered all through the city. It seemed like the entire population of Charleston, showed up for the ball game, at Laidley Field. When the two schools were consolidated and closed in 1989, a new combined high school was opened, Capital High. The long-standing East Side-West Side rivalry came to a screeching halt. These days, Charlestonians join together, in rooting on Capital High School, when it faces competitors all over the county and state.

One of the most anticipated occurrences, in our town¶s history, was our state¶s 100th birthday party. Many people and dignitaries poured into Charleston, to celebrate West Virginia¶s Centennial, on June 20, 1963. Numerous women, including my mother and grandmother, had sewn authentic-looking nineteenth-century dresses and hats to wear, for the momentous occasion. My family and I stood out in the rain for hours, on the grounds of the state capitol, to hear president Kennedy¶s speech. We were up on top of a set of steps, and could look over the throng of people. The sea of mostly black, wet umbrellas was such an unforgettable, peculiar sight. No one could have predicted, that five months later, our beloved president would be assassinated.

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