|Publisher:||West Virginia University Press|
|Edition description:||1st Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Lee Maynard was born and raised in the hardscrabble ridges and hard-packed mountains of West Virginia, an upbringing that darkens and shapes much of his writing. His work has appeared in such publications such as Columbia Review of Literature, Appalachian Heritage, Kestrel, Reader's Digest, The Saturday Review, Rider Magazine, Washington Post, Country America, and The Christian Science Monitor. Maynard gained public and literary attention for his depiction of adolescent life in a rural mining town in his first novel, Crum, and received a Literary Fellowship in Fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts to complete its sequel, Screaming with the Cannibals.
An avid outdoorsman and conservationist, Maynard is a mountaineer, sea kayaker, skier, and former professional river runner. Currently, Maynard serves as President and CEO of The Storehouse, an independently funded, nonprofit food pantry in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He received the 2008 Turquoise Chalice Award to honor his dedication to this organization.
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By Lee Maynard
West Virginia University PressCopyright © 2012 West Virginia University Press
All rights reserved.
When I was growing up there, the population of Crum, West Virginia, was 219 human beings, two sub-humans, a few platoons of assorted dogs, at least one cat that I paid any attention to, a retarded mule and a very vivid image of Crash Corrigan. At first there were no whores, but later on I got to watch one in the Making.
"Crum — unincorporated" the road sign said, at the edge of town. It should have said "unnecessary." The place is located deep in the bowels of the Appalachians, on the bank of the Tug River, the urinary tract of the mountains. Across the flowing urine is Kentucky.
Life in Crum was one gay, mad whirl of abject ignorance, emotions spilling over emotions, sex spilling over love, and sometimes blood spilling over everything. The Korean War happened to be going on at the time, but it was something being fought in another world and, besides, who really gave a damn about all those gooks anyway. Our boys could handle them. Or so they said in the beer gardens. And what the hell were gooks? I had never seen one. Or a nigger. Or a Jew. Or a wop. I had heard those names from some of the men who had been outside of West Virginia, working in the steel mills of Pittsburgh and the factories of Detroit. But I didn't know what the names meant and I had never seen any of those people.
During the winters in Crum the days were long, boring and cold, and during the summers the days were long, boring and hot. In Crum, only the temperature changed.
The sad little town lay in a narrow valley, squeezed between the river and the hills, trapped before the floods, baked by the ancient heat of the mountains, awaiting each stagnant winter with all the patience, good looks and energy of a sloth. It was a collection of small houses, an assemblage of shacks, a reflecting pond of tin roofs.
The only paved highway into Crum came from downriver, from the general direction of Huntington. Actually, the road entered the valley by coming over the top of Bull Mountain, a dark and brooding hill that hung over the far ridge, closing off the valley. At the top of the hill the Mountaintop Beer Garden was penned between the ridge and the twisting road. Once past the beer garden, the road dropped into the valley like a dead snake. As soon as the road hit the valley floor it met the railroad tracks, a few miles downriver from the town. The two ran side by side from there on, seeming to be tied to each other, right through the middle of Crum and out the other end. The highway and the tracks stayed together until they were farther away from the town than any of us had ever ridden our bicycles.
If you drove down the highway from Bull Mountain and kept on going through town, the highway and the tracks divided the town into the hillside on the left, and the valley floor, across the tracks to the right. At the beginning of town a narrow dirt lane led off the highway and crossed the tracks and then followed the rails closely all the way through town, recrossing the tracks at the far end. The few people who lived along the hillside used the paved highway to come and go. The folks who lived on the valley floor used the dirt lane, and the even smaller dirt lanes that left it and ran off between the houses in the general direction of the river.
When the dirt lane first crossed the tracks on the way into Crum, it separated the tracks from the high school football field, with the school building sitting back across the field on the edge of the river bank. That school building was one of the first things you saw when you drove through Crum, and it was one of the places I always went when I was lonely. I could sit on the school steps and watch the cars go by — whenever there were any cars. And I could think about the people in the cars and wonder where they were going. I wanted to find out.
There were only a few houses along the hillside. Yvonne lived there, and so did Elvira. And Parson Piney had his house on the highest spot on the hill, where he could look down on everyone. I'm sure he thought God had ordered it that way. And the tiny house I lived in was there, tucked in between some trees and partially sheltered from view. But mainly the hillside was too steep. Most of the people lived on the flat valley floor, jammed between the triple routes of the highway, tracks and lane to the left and the river on the right. The houses began at the downriver end of the valley, just beside the high school, and continued upriver until they ran out of space, a distance that couldn't have been more than a mile.
Across the river was Kentucky, a mysterious land of pig fuckers.
About halfway through town, to the right of the tracks and just off the lane, was Luke's Restaurant, the only restaurant in Crum. It wasn't much of a restaurant, just a square box of a building with bare light bulbs inside, a few wooden tables and some rough, handmade booths. But it was open at night and it had an old juke box. And a light on the front porch. There was no public lighting of any kind in Crum — "unincorporated" meant there was no public anything, no sewer system, no water system, and no real law except for the constable and now and then when a state police car rolled through town. But Luke's Restaurant had a light out front, and so it just naturally served as a focal point for the kids in Crum. Just a little beyond the restaurant, sitting back at the edge of a small grove of trees, was the town's only church, a lonesome, rickety little building. When you looked at it from the side, it looked as though a truck had run into it from behind, pushing the back of it up and in, the whole building leaning slightly, only we could never figure out in which direction.
After the church there was the tiny post office, and then Tyler Wilson's General Store. There, the dirt lane widened into a larger area so that cars could park in front of the store, a rambling, two-story building. There were heavy wooden benches on the front porch and, at sometime during the week, most of the older men would go down to the store and sit for a spell.
The railroad station, looking like a scale model, sat out on the edge of the wide parking area, snuggled right up against the tracks.
At the far edge of Tyler's parking area the dirt lane went back across the tracks and ended at the highway. And that was about all there was to Crum.
In the summer, when school was out, the town died. The teachers, the only people in Crum who could provide diversion and interest, left the town the day after classes ended. Almost all of them lived somewhere else and stayed in town solely because they had been assigned to teach there. For the most part, Crum was the only place the county school board would let them teach. Not because they were bad teachers, but because, for some reason or other, they were out of favor with the school board, usually because they refused to kick back part of their salary to the county political leaders. Of all the teachers in the high school only one or two actually lived in Crum the year round. The rest arrived a few days before school was to begin, rented a small house or a room or two, opened up their books, and taught. When classes ended, so did their stay in Crum. And you really couldn't blame them. The whole place was a mistake for them. The town was a zero. A blank. Nothing. All the cake walks, the school carnivals, pie socials and church meetings of the year couldn't make up for that. The teachers came and went like migrating birds in reverse, showing up in the autumn and leaving in the spring, but building no nests and sending forth no singing.
No one in his right mind would spend four years in college earning a teaching degree just to come to Crum and teach. Many of those assigned to Crum refused and many of those who came just walked out after the first month or so. The school itself didn't help much, either. It was a twelve-year school, all twelve grades from elementary to high school in the same building. The halls were hard and hollow and the noise echoed through the rooms in great crashing peals. There was no gymnasium, no auditorium, not even a large meeting room. The library was a tiny, cramped room with two tables, eight chairs, a small desk, a collection of Zane Grey books and for some reason a subscription to the NEA Journal.
And there were no indoor restrooms. Crum High School had what might have been the world's largest outhouses, two of them, thirty yards out behind the school. It was enough to drive you nuts, it was enough to drive me nuts, and it sure as hell drove a lot of teachers nuts. They didn't stay long. They just didn't stay long, and I used to watch them get in their cars and drive away and wonder where they were going and how many other places they had been and why they had ever come to Crum in the first place. God, how I used to wish that I were one of them, that I could climb in a car and drive away.
Crum really was lonely when school was out. The teachers were gone for the summer. Nine out of ten of the kids rode the bus to school and just weren't seen again until the following September. All the buses were taken to Wayne, the county seat, and parked in the school board bus lots until the next school year, row after row of long yellow vehicles sitting in the sun. Almost every autumn, when they were getting the buses ready to go back into use, they would find where some kids had gotten into one or two and done a little drinking and a little fucking. Beer bottles would be lying around in the aisle and on the seats, and a few used rubbers would be hanging from the steering wheel and the rearview mirror.
So action in Crum in the summertime was limited to the few kids who actually lived there. There was Ruby Harmon, Nip Marcum, Wade Holbrook, Cyrus Hatfield, Yvonne Staley, Elvira Prince, Mule Pruitt, Ethan Piney and Benny Musser. And sometimes that sonofabitch Ott Parsons. And a few others, now and then. Some more girls, of course, but the only girl I think I ever cared about was Ruby Harmon. I would get tired of the same people day after day, and I would spend long days by myself, exploring the ridges, playing in the river, foraging in the hills, finding small streams and trying to follow them to their source, locating the hardwoods and the nut trees where I knew the squirrels would be when hunting season came around, looking for deer and wild turkey sign and every now and then discovering a pack of wild dogs. Sometimes it was a good time in the wilderness around Crum and sometimes it was not, but it was always lonely.
I'm not really complaining about being alone in Crum. Most of the time I wanted to be alone. I thought most of the kids in Crum were my friends, but there were a few I wasn't really sure about. Ethan Piney was one of those. I don't know how it was that Ethan and I got to want to kick each other's ass so much, but that's the way it always was. If there ever was a line drawn, you can bet that Ethan and I would be on different sides of it.
And there were some kids who weren't my friends, and they weren't my enemies. They weren't anything to me, and I wasn't anything to them. They didn't give a damn if I was there or not, or if they ever saw me again. When school was in session, they were just there, taking up seats, faces in the classroom. I hardly ever saw them when school was not in session. I knew that they lived in Crum and didn't come to school on the bus, but I didn't know where they went or what they did. I didn't know who their families were. Some of those kids just seemed to disappear.
In the summer people busied themselves in Crum by dumping trash on the river banks and digging new toilet holes. Early on they planted a few sugar cane patches down on the flats just above the river, hoping that the last high water had come and gone. Along about May, the town's only gas station would pour a winter's collection of oil drippings on the driveway and the oil would seep into the ground, collecting dust and spreading its smell. Little kids played in abandoned cars, using them as forts, houses, schools, cars, whorehouses and a thousand other things, then took stones and broke every scrap of glass out of them. Trains steamrolled through town, throwing smoke and cinders and bringing the town to its knees by the sheer size and sound of their passing. In the summer in Crum the river would go down and the springs would dry up and the people would talk about their wells. With no water system, no sewer system, no systems of any kind, the heat of an Appalachian summer would bring the outhouses to their full ripeness and spread the pungent aroma up and down the narrow Tug River Valley.
Some of the houses had electricity and a few had bottled gas but for the most part they were just a collection of boxes strung up and down the railroad tracks. The hills came down to the tracks, and across the tracks the flat, narrow valley floor spread gently toward the river, then dropped off sharply to the river bottom. And across the river, Kentucky.
My house — on the hill above the valley — wasn't "my" house exactly. I mean, it was their house, the house of my second cousins, Mattie and Oscar, I think, or maybe they were third cousins. I was born in Turkey Creek, a holler up on the north edge of the county. (Those narrow spaces between the ridges and the hills are "hollers" — not hollows, or canyons, or anything else.) Nobody would ever tell me what happened to my parents, if anyone ever knew. They were gone to their just reward. After a while I stopped asking about it. I was handed from relative to relative, from holler to holler, until I was old enough to be sent to Crum where I could go to school. Until I was raised, they said.
My relatives in Crum were an ordinary bunch, for Crum. Mattie was the woman of the house, a large, dark, hard working woman. During the day, Mattie sometimes worked in Luke's Restaurant, helping Luke cook whatever there was to be cooked that day, and trying to keep Luke's dirty hands out of the stuff that he was going to feed to the customers.
Mattie's husband, Oscar, was a miner, and the nearest mine was some distance away from Crum. I don't really know how far. I know that Oscar left the house early and got back late. He would scrub himself at the mine right after quitting time, then come home and go out back and scrub again, trying to rid himself of the grime that collected around his eyes and in the creases of his hands. He scrubbed out back even in the winter.
I thought that Mattie and Oscar were a lot older than my parents would have been. They had a couple of children, both girls, but they were grown and gone from home, both of them having gone off to Williamson a long time ago to get jobs and to live in a town that was bigger than Crum. I used to see the girls sometimes around holidays, but then they got married and Mattie and Oscar would go to Williamson for the holidays and I would stay in Crum, alone.
In fact, there were a lot of days when I never saw anybody around the house, only the heat from the wood stove telling me that anybody at all had been there. But that was okay with me.
After the girls had left home, Oscar and Mattie had moved into a smaller house, tiny, with only one bedroom. It was the house they were living in when I showed up. The house was perched on the upriver end of Crum. A narrow porch ran along the front and around one side, reaching back to the shed that was tacked onto the back of the place, the shed where I slept and kept all my valuables, the shed that was mine. The shed was the only thing they could afford to let me have. But it wasn't their fault; they had already raised their kids, and one day they had been sent another one, one they had never seen before. That's the way things go. All things considered, I was luckier than most kids.
The folks in the house didn't bother me much, and I didn't bother them. They fed me if I was hungry and they made sure that I got to school often enough to keep from being kicked out of the place, but it was not their job to raise me. I was raised already. I was old enough to go to high school.
When I think about it, I guess I never paid much attention to them, and that seemed okay at the time, for all of us. Most of the kids in Crum never paid much attention to the grown-ups, unless they had to because of trouble. Mostly, we just kept to ourselves, doing our things and letting the grown-ups do theirs. We all seemed happy enough with that arrangement.
Summer seemed like the day after Christmas, when you have had something just a little nicer than the rest of the year but now it's over and there is some sort of empty feeling that won't quite go away. And you want badly for it to go away and you work at it but nothing seems to help. Just suddenly it's gone and you don't know why and you are caught up in summer in Crum and it's lonely.
There were a few regular weekly events that seemed to help regulate a town which needed no regulation. There was the weekly arrival of the meat truck from Huntington. It made two stops, then went on its way to Kermit. It seems odd but I never ever saw the meat truck on its way back to Huntington. I used to watch for its arrival in Crum because it was a sign of outside life and of other people doing things. But after it left for Kermit I never saw it return. I guess it went home by another route, but I knew the road maps by heart and I could never figure it out. We stole a load of meat off the truck once, and the driver never knew how he lost it. We stole so much that it rotted before we could eat it all and we would sit, gorging ourselves, trying to keep ahead of the spreading green rot, only to finally throw most of it in the river.
Another weekly event was the moving picture. There was a building in town that had been a general store, then had been converted into the Masonic Hall. The ground floor was one large room and every week Aaron Mason, who was a teacher and coach at the high school — about the only teacher who lived year-round in Crum — would show a moving picture. Because his name was Mason, we always thought that he owned the Masonic Hall.
Excerpted from Crum by Lee Maynard. Copyright © 2012 West Virginia University Press. Excerpted by permission of West Virginia University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Meredith Sue Willis,
Summer ... Again,
Looking for Benny,
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