by Mike Peters
We drove to the head of Spicewood and turned onto Harrison Ridge. From Jackson into Kanawha. Two does ran beside the truck as we made the right hand turn by Stanley Shaffer's old place. We climbed to a high point and "shock called" some gobblers, trying to pinpoint their location for the next morning's hunt.
In between the manmade hoot owl calls, I looked at the panoramic view and understood why John Denver first sang about "Almost Heaven" some 30 years ago. It was near sundown. The dogwoods were in bloom. Left to right I could see Trace Fork, Allen's Fork, Dog Fork, Spicewood Branch -- "hollers" named for the small tributaries that drain into the Pocatalico River. Poca for short. Pocatalico is Indian and means "river of the fat doe."
According to W. S. Laidley's "History of Charleston and Kanawha County, West Virginia and Representative Citizens," written in 1911, Kanawha's Poca District "is rather sparsely settled, but has some good farms, plenty of timber and coal, oil and gas, and is a good district in which to live a quiet life and behave yourself."
The Poca empties into the Kanawha River below Charleston. Other tributaries are Derrick's Creek, Tupper's Creek, First Creek and Second Creek. According to Laidley, First and Second creeks were "named in their order from Fisher's settlement at the mouth of Tupper's Creek."
There before me opened a family history book. Pressed tight inside its binding, like a teenage girl's first corsage, were clear vivid pictures and easy-to-read typewritten pages. It was a landscape void of the faded handwriting and rusted tin types, that often dominate the hunt for ancestors. My vision was now better than 20/20. All windows were Windex clean. I was looking through a scope with a powerful magnification. There was telescopic distance and microscopic detail.
I could see the Neal Plantation -- 500 acres somewhere between Spicewood and Trace Fork. Part in Kanawha County and part in Jackson. It was where Thomas Huffman and Margaret Lemon Huffman set up housekeeping after they left Botetourt County, Virginia, in December of 1842. Five hundred became one hundred, when the family had to sell eighty percent of the property to Benjamin Boggess, after patriarch Thomas passed. One good thing arising from the tragedy was a document signed by Margaret Huffman and all her children, a document that helped descendants prove their connection, 150 years later.
John Stuart Huffman, the oldest son, continued to live there beside his mother on what was left of the plantation. It was where his son, Frederick Lemon Huffman lived. It was where my great grandmother, Mary Myrtle Huffman, was reared. It was where she learned about poultices and herbs from her mother, Rachel Angeline Barnhart Huffman. Place this foul smelling poultice on your chest. Nobody will get close to you. But you'll get better. Drink this special herbal tea. Good for what ails you. When croup had me barking like a dog, Grandma Mary Myrtle gave me my first dose of whiskey and honey. Everyone was then able to sleep.
I could see the Boggess Store over on Allen's Fork. It was owned by my gg grandfather William Barnett Boggess. My great grandparents, James Garfield Pritt and Icie Estelle Boggess Pritt, lived nearby. Icie was the daughter of store owner William Boggess and Martha Huffman Boggess, from Roanoke County, Virginia.
I could see a small cemetery, out on Trace Fork, where just a half dozen or so of the Harrison surname are buried. One of my favorite names is there -- Jack Diamond Harrison. With a name like that, he could have been a gambler or a gangster. Husband and wife, George and Mae Harrison, rest there. Three World War II markers, scattered about the tiny graveyard, caught my eye:It was just around the time of "Saving Private Ryan," when I first visited the cemetery. I had questions. Were the three men brothers? Did only one of them make it home? Was Matt Damon's character based on middle brother, Virgil Lee? Was Mae Harrison twice a gold star mother? Matt's character was not based on Virgil, but it could have been. The answer to all the other questions was yes.Avril R. Harrison
7/14/1912 - 8/21/1945
Russell R. Harrison
9/24/1918 - 12/15/1943
Virgil Lee Harrison
3/3/1916 - 9/26/1968
I could see people swimming in Poca's cool summer waters. I could see children skipping flat stones across its surface. I could see young boys walking its banks with flashlights and small pitchforks, gigging for frog legs.
I could see Grandma Mernia Pritt Coleman, once again, fishing in a straw hat and with minimal tackle -- a bambo pole, an Eagle Claw fish hook, one red and white bobber and the patience of Job. She used night crawlers, dug the evening before from the meadow in front of the house. We fancied ourselves quite the fishermen, equipped with different types of bait, fancy lures, open faced reels, Zebcos and fancy storage boxes. She usually left with the fullest stringer.
I could see the water rising. The Poca is susceptible to flash flooding. Long steady rains or quick violent storms would send us scurrying to place a car on Poca's other side. Drive down the muddy road and across the small concrete "bridge," at the mouth of the "holler," before it becomes impassable with turbulence. Park in front of Sayre School. Guarantees transportation for the next day. Someone will take you down in the morning. They'll stop just shy of the water. You walk across the swinging bridge, above the raging river, across Route 21, and drive to work. We learned to adapt to Poca's uncertainty.
Cousin "Pete" got a Jake. Uncle Bob got a gobbler with a 10 inch beard. I came away without a bird, but with a better understanding of where I've been. I'd say, I got the better of that deal. It sure is beautiful, up there on top of the world. And, no matter where you look, you're but a stone's throw from heaven.
Thanks for listening and as my Grandma Coleman, the angler who was raised over on Allen's Fork, used to say, "Ya'll come!"