West Virginia is dotted with an abundance of small towns. If you aren’t from one, your parents probably were. That’s the case with me and my father’s home town, Richwood. It was hit hard with flooding a couple weeks ago. The images and videos that streamed out not long after the flooding began were almost too devastating to look at. The streets I used to walk with cousins as a child were unrecognizable. All at once, that tiny place in my heart was broken.
Broken. I can’t think of a better word to describe what I felt and what I saw. A river flowing off the mountain down main street bringing rocks and debris with it. Not pebbles or boulders, but something in between. Rocks so heavy you can’t imagine water could ever pick them up and move them so far. But that’s what happened, destroying quite a few lives along the way.
I never knew Richwood to be a bustling metropolis. To my knowledge, it never was. But it was alive and well in my younger days in the late 70’s and early 80’s. You could get anything you needed and most of the things you wanted there. Which was saying something in the days before the inter-connectivity we now enjoy. Even today, it’s not an easy place to get to in ideal weather.
We used to take Rt. 60 from Charleston to get there before the interstate was complete. It’s still a beautiful drive. You pass Kanawha Falls, and the bus that got lodged on a rock in the middle of the river and turned into a fishing camp. Then Cathedral Falls and the long windy road up the mountain to Hawks Nest. Oh, and the Mystery Hole.
My dad comes from a large family, and most of them lived in or close to Richwood. Which was nice for me because every one of his brothers and sisters had kids. So there was never a shortage of things to do and adventures to take. I got along with all my cousins, but I really looked forward to spending time with my cousin Jay. His family had a nice flat piece of land for us to play on. They had a three wheeler that provided endless hours of excitement, and one time it got the two of us shot at. Someone angry at us for riding while they were taking a nap or sleeping off a hangover, I guess. It’s really hard to separate myself from the fondness I have for those times we spent together in order to be more descriptive of the events. Jay picked up the guitar in his early teens, four years or so before I did. I don’t know man. We just had fun together.
After a visit with Jay’s family, we would head into Richwood and visit my grandparents. They lived in the center of town, the places you’ve seen on the news lately that are under water. This part of the visit was always more formal. And I say that as in ornery time was over. It was where we would have a holiday or Sunday meal. Most of my dad’s brothers and sisters would come over with their families. It was always a large gathering. My grandmother moved out of that house after my grandfather passed away. I really couldn’t tell you if it was still standing when the flood hit. But somehow, I hope it wasn’t. I hate to think that it would meet it’s end that way. Not that any other way would be good. It’s just that I know a lot of the houses that sat down in that low area of town will probably need to be torn down. That just makes me sad.
Even when those little places in your heart are not in your family’s possession anymore, it’s nice to know that they are still standing and carrying on. That’s not the case hear, and I’m afraid it’s true for most of the town. Long after the cameras are turned off and the Facebook pages go silent, Richwood is still going to be rebuilding. I don’t envy them this task, but if anyone can make it happen I know the people of Richwood will.
My parents and relatives in the area were spared the destruction that the storms brought to so many people of the area. And for that I am incredibly thankful. I hope this tiny place in my heart can someday heal and get back to normal.