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Pets In My Heart
By Charles H. Rudolph
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Charles H. Rudolph
All right reserved.
"Youth is, after all, just a moment, but it is the moment, the spark, that you always carry in your heart." -Raisa M. Gorbachev
According to Rudolph family legend, my mother met my dad on her second day of college, at West Virginia University. The year was 1959. My dad, a senior, had recently told his buddies he would never date a freshman because they were too young and immature. He called her later on the same day they met. The rest, as they say, is history. My parents were fraternity-pinned to each other within two months or so, engaged shortly thereafter, and married in Morgantown, West Virginia on September 3, 1960. Mom was eighteen and my dad was twenty-two. They had known each other less than a full year.
I was born February 2, 1963, during my mom's senior year of college. Yes, I was born on Groundhog's Day. I have always found it mildly amusing to know I was born on the day the nation celebrates a large rodent, and that I am named after a red-nosed reindeer. My parents were at a fraternity party when Mom's water broke. I arrived later that morning. When I was born, Mom was eight days shy of her twenty-first birthday. I was the oldest child in the family. In the years to come, my sister Elaine was born, followed by my brother David a year after that. My youngest brother Paul was not born until many years later.
After my dad received his law degree, my parents settled in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Parkersburg is a quiet, sleepy town that sits on the banks of the Ohio River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Parkersburg is a small town like many others, full of civic pride and with some good places and some places not so good. When I visit my old hometown every few years, I'm always surprised by how small it seems. But when I was a boy growing up there, Parkersburg was my whole world and might as well have been as big as the world itself, for all I was concerned.
When I was a boy, I was a dreamer. I used to dream about all the things I was going to do in my life, the places I would go, and the people I would meet. I used to wonder where I was going to live, what I would do for a living, what was going to happen to me. I wondered about what kind of house I would buy and who I would marry. I remember those childhood dreams and smile now. Some of those dreams happened, some of them didn't, but I'm glad I had those dreams when I was young.
I was lucky to have the parents I did. My childhood was mostly a happy one, full of love and warmth. I mean, we weren't like the some television show where each family member loved all the others all the time. I suppose if I try hard enough, I have some regrets, but doesn't everyone? Most of my memories from my childhood years have a faint, wonderful glow. It's always interested me, how time works. When you're a kid, all you want to do is grow up and be on your own. When you're an adult, you want to be young again and often reminisce about earlier days that you know are gone forever. Memories of my youth still sweep over me to this day, and for that I'm glad. Some moments in my life that happened more than twenty, thirty, or even forty years ago seem like they took place only yesterday.
Growing up in West Virginia was both a blessing and a curse. I have always loved the mountains, and West Virginia has a plentiful supply of those. It is, after all, known as the "Mountain State." I never tired of the natural beauty that used to surround me when I lived there. I especially enjoyed the West Virginia autumns, when the leaves started to change. The trees would turn spectacular colors: combinations of bright red, orange, and brilliant yellows that took my breath away. One of the slogans of the state tourism people is "Wild, wonderful West Virginia." It surely is that, at least in many places. When I eventually moved to South Carolina I greatly missed the fall seasons of my childhood, because in South Carolina the trees don't change colors nearly as often.
The bad part of living in West Virginia, then and now, is the reputation the state has with the rest of the nation. The citizens of West Virginia are all evidently poor, rural, unsophisticated country bumpkins. I have had people laugh out loud when I told them I was from there. When a character from West Virginia is portrayed on television or in the movies, they are usually the fool. I guess some people think we eat road kill and marry our cousins. The primary occupation for the mountain state folk is supposed to be coal mining. It's amazing how poorly informed some people are. My maternal grandfather was a teacher and principal, and my maternal grandmother was a teacher. My dad was an attorney and my mother a teacher who has her Master's degree. All of these ancestors just mentioned were from West Virginia, or lived in West Virginia for many years. Some backwards ancestry I have!
When I was growing up in those beautiful mountains, I thought I lived in the greatest place in the world. I was proud to live there then, and I'm proud of my heritage now, even though I currently reside in Virginia. I still visit my birth state every now and then, and I'm always glad when I do. My dad's family has its roots in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But the majority of my mother's family, the Creasys, were from West Virginia. My mother's family are proud people. They are hard-working and honest, frugal, and with a quiet sense of dignity. That would be a great description of my mother, now that I think about it. I'm proud to come from such a family.
Chapter TwoEarly Years
"I thought my mom's whole purpose was to be my mom. That's how she made me feel." -Natasha Gregson Wagner
My dad was a big man, about six feet, three inches tall, and he weighed over two hundred pounds for a large part of his adult life. Living in Parkersburg, he was a big fish, literally and figuratively, in a small pond. He was a respected lawyer and municipal judge, and was very popular in our little town. My dad was one of those people that filled up a room, and that people liked to be around. Mom used to call him "Mr. Chamber of Commerce." When I was growing up, he was a larger-than-life character, and not because of his size. I was in awe of him, when I was very young. He was so intelligent, so sure of himself, so successful. I used to wonder: How was I going to measure up to my father? He cast a large shadow, without question. It didn't help that I was the oldest child and carried his name, Charles H. Rudolph. When we would go about town, people would invariably call me "Chuckie," "Little Chuck" and names like that, which used to upset me greatly. I also quickly learned in grade school that I was much smaller, not larger, than the other students in my grade. I always thought as I grew older I would eventually grow into a large man like my dad. I never came close.
Dad was a hard worker and an excellent provider for his family. I never remember truly needing anything I couldn't have. I didn't appreciate it then, but I sure do now. Dad's word was the law around our house, and he was not to be questioned. One of his friends used to jokingly call him "The king." He was a stern father, but fair.
I asked my mother only a few years ago what Dad thought of his children. He was not a warm, hugging, emotionally open kind of man. "He would be proud of you," Mom stated. She then surprised me by telling me Dad had thought, "Your kids should be afraid of you, that way they'll mind you better." I can assure you, it worked! When Dad gave a verbal command, it never once crossed my mind to disobey him. He rarely struck us; he didn't have to do this. It was simply the thought of being paddled that carried the day.
Dad may have been the law at 1722 Avery Street, but Mom was the person who really ran our household. When she had her children, Mom quit teaching and became a fulltime, stay-at-home mother. Dad was often not there, due to his job and other activities. Mom was the one who cleaned the house, cooked our meals, and handled the daily activities of being the mother of four children. She was the one we went to if we bruised our knee, had trouble in school, or felt sick. She was so young at the time, barely an adult herself, and inexperienced at life. When I left for college at age eighteen, my mother was only thirty-nine.
I personally think she did an amazing job of raising her kids. I know she tried very hard to be a good mom, and she loved us then and still loves us now very much. We are all still fairly close to my mom. I talk to her at least once a week, and sometimes more than that. The interesting thing about your parents is, you can't choose the ones you want. I know from vast experience as a high school teacher that many children come from a single-parent home or a broken home. I consider myself lucky to have had two parents, and to be given the parents I had.
We lived on a quiet tree-lined street about a mile or so from the small downtown area in Parkersburg, and also about a mile from the Ohio River. The house in which we lived was an old brown brick house built in the 1920s, guarded in front by two enormous pine trees. I loved that house! Inside its walls I felt safe and secure. Our house had a good-sized basement, a first and second floor and an attic. My room, at least for most of my childhood, was at the end of the hall, facing our backyard.
You can always find nice people no matter where you go. There were nice people that filled my childhood, both friends and neighbors. A kindly old lady across the alley from our house was Mrs. Kramer. She lived to her late eighties. The last time I saw her, when I was about thirty, she was almost ninety, but still had her red hair and her dry sense of humor. Mrs. Castro from the corner was a hard-working woman. She was always nice to my mom. Wayne Peck was my best friend at McKinley Elementary School, and a classmate for twelve years. Jay Stanley was a neighbor boy and my good friend in junior high school. We used to walk to school, all the way through high school. I lived less than a half-mile from grade school and my high school, but well over a mile from my junior high school.
Yes, I used to walk over a mile in the snow to get to school! Mom would beg to take me but I always insisted on walking, no matter the weather. Jay's house was on the way, so I would meet him there and off we would go. Jay was kind of a shy boy, like me. We talked about everything on those walks to and from school. I remember that Jay, like millions of other boys, had a crush on Farrah Fawcett, who was just then becoming famous.
Perhaps my best friend outside of the cross country and track team members was Scott Wilson. We talked all the time about my favorite subject back then: sports. Scott was an Oakland Raiders fan and I was a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which in the 1970s was one of the hottest rivalries in the NFL. Predictably, I thought the Steelers were better and he thought the Raiders were better, but it was all in good fun. I ran into Scott at our ten-year class reunion and we picked up just where we left off, talked about sports for a good portion of that night. What a nice guy.
My favorite two people in Parkersburg outside of my family were a couple who lived just down the street, Mr. and Mrs. Stephens. Mrs. Stephens was about twenty-five years older than Mom, and a role model for my mother when Mom was raising her own children. Mrs. Stephens was almost like a grandmother to me and my siblings; we liked her that much. She was a friendly, verbose woman who loved to tell stories and loved to laugh. We were always made welcome in the Stephens household. I loved visiting her and listening to her stories. She was funny and smart. She was a great cook, too. You knew if you went to the Stephens house you would get something good to eat. I can still smell her kitchen and recall how it made my mouth water.
Mrs. Stephens was such a nice lady; she used to write me on a regular basis when I went away to college. Mr. Stephens was a genial, quiet man with a subtle sense of humor. The Rudolphs used to joke the reason he was so quiet was because he couldn't get a word in with Mrs. Stephens around. He once "helped" me with an eighth-grade project; truth is, he built more than half of it.
One of the neighborhood traditions when I was a kid was that every Halloween the Stephens would decorate their house with huge carved pumpkins, streamers, skeletons, and so forth. Their house sat on a small hill about thirty feet above the street, which made a perfect setting for Halloween. All the kids would have to walk up the hill if they wanted any candy. Better yet, Mrs. Stephens would get into costume and play the organ in her house with all kinds of haunting music, perfect for Halloween. It was a site to behold. Over the years, Mom, David, and Paul all assisted her in her Halloween night activities.
One of the greatest hugs I've ever received was from Mrs. Stephens when I returned home from college for the first time. I knocked on the Stephens' back door and there she was as usual, cooking in the kitchen. Her eyes grew wide, and she held me for about thirty seconds before letting me go. In 1986, after my parents moved to South Carolina, we learned that Mrs. Stephens had cancer. Mom went to see her and came back with a photo. I was shocked and very sad; she had lost more than a hundred pounds and there wasn't much left of her.
A short time later, Mom called to see how she was doing. I was in the other room and asked to speak to her. Although it hadn't really been discussed, I knew Mrs. Stephens was dying, so I told her, "Mrs. Stephens, I love you." I think I surprised her, because there was a silence on the phone. She then said, "I love you, too, honey." She died less than a month later. Mr. Stephens outlived his wife by more than twenty years. I would visit him every few years after her passing. The last time I saw him was in the late 1990s. When I was getting ready to leave, he said, "Goodbye, old friend."
Beside our house was an empty lot that the neighborhood kids called "the field." The field was where a substantial portion of my childhood took place. All the neighborhood kids would come and play on this lot, especially in the summer. Some came from Avery Street (our street), others from Market Street (one street up), and still others from Spring Street (one street down).
The main family contributors to these games and contests on the field were the Castros and the Haislops. The Castros lived on one corner of our block and the Haislops on the other. Delbert was the oldest Castro boy, followed by Mike and then Gene. The Haislop boys were Bill, Eddie, Tommy, and Victor. Neither the Castros nor the Haislops had any girls in the family, and their fathers were gone. All the Castro and Haislop boys played on the field at one time or another. Others came and went, some who I can't remember. Regular players who were not a member of the Castro or Haislop clans included Kip Pyle, David Chittum, Greg Lamp, Jimmie, and Mike Holmes, and a guy named Jim "Parakeet" Armel. Brothers Steve and Dorian Henderson played in our games for a few years before they moved. Others came and went over the years. Why they called Jim "Parakeet" I never knew. I assume he had one at his house or something.
There were no age limits or rules for participation - all were welcome. What would usually happen with the participants is, once they got to high school, they stopped coming to the field. By then, more important things were of interest to these boys: high school sports, high school jobs, cars and, most importantly, high school girls. We had boys as young as six or seven and as old as fifteen or sixteen play in our games. We rode bikes and played tag, football, Wiffle ball and a game we invented called tennis ball, climbed trees, played hide-and-seek and had many other games and activities in that field. This was where I played my childhood Super Bowls, World Series, and Masters Golf tournaments. We once made a miniature-golf course on the field, using Campbell's soup cans for our cups. I remember when we each brought a bike and had a kind of "motocross" dirt bicycle race, complete with ramps and hairpin turns.
Excerpted from Pets In My Heart by Charles H. Rudolph Copyright © 2010 by Charles H. Rudolph. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Beginnings....................1
Chapter 2: Early Years....................5
Chapter 3: Hobo....................15
Chapter 4: Mountain Run....................25
Chapter 5: The End of an Era....................35
Chapter 6: Tess....................41
Chapter 7: March 29, 1993....................45
Chapter 8: Old Tripod....................51
Chapter 9: Mary's Run....................55
Chapter 10: Zelda....................63
Chapter 11: Devo....................67
Chapter 12: Out of Time....................81
Chapter 13: The Assassin Cat....................87
Chapter 14: Maverick the Maniac....................89
Chapter 15: I Love My Pets!....................97