Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Dear, pretty Fairmont"

On Friday, I drove down to Fairmont, WV, about 20 miles south of Morgantown, to attend the Mountain State Storytelling Institute.

Fairmont is a really lovely little town:  clearly quite prosperous at the turn of the last century, it's full of beautiful old Victorian buildings and the high school I serve as the university's liaison to, Fairmont Senior.  It's also the birthplace of Father's Day and Mary Lou Retton, and is home to Muriale's, easily our favorite Italian restaurant in the whole area.

That's saying something, because a huge influx of Italian immigrants came to the area in the late 19th century to work in the coal mines, and their food legacy is tremendous.  On my way back to Morgantown yesterday, I stopped in at the Country Club Bakery, allegedly the original maker of the area's famous pepperoni roll, and bought a few for dinner.  Truly, if I had to name a single local foodway that's unique to north-central West Virginia, the pepperoni roll is clearly it.

So Fairmont was on my mind when we wandered into a local antique mall today, where we found the following postcard:

--had to buy that one for a dollar.

But more intriguing was this one, addressed to someone in Fairmont, but sent from Moscow in November 1916.

Since the description of this scene on the reverse is in Russian, I can't tell you what we're looking at here.  But more interesting was the back:

The message reads:

Dear Scully:

Well we are now down in the Douetz Coal Basin.  Today we went down a shaft about 1100 feet deep and then down an inside slope about 400 feet and saw them work two and three foot seams of coal, long wall method.  I am real well and I hope that you are all real well.  Hope that everything is going along in fine shape for you.  This place is a long way from dear, pretty Fairmont and the comforts of home.

With best wishes to all,
F. K. D.

Poor, homesick F.  K. D.  I can't imagine how strange a coal mine in Russia must have seemed to him in 1916, or how long it must've taken to get there from West Virginia.

What's surprising about this is the realization that even a hundred years ago, coal companies were sending folks out of the country--way out of the country, in this case--to observe other mining operations and techniques.

And it reminded me that in Fairmont, it all comes back to coal.  The first Father's Day celebration?  It was in honor of the 362 men killed in the nearby Monongah Mine Disaster in December 1907.  The pepperoni roll?  Made to be easily carried into and eaten in the mines, much like Cornish pasties.

I hope F.  K. D. made it home to "dear, pretty Fairmont."  It's one of those places that reminds me that much of West Virginia's culture is invisible from its surface; like coal itself, it has to be mined.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Neologisms: Not just for the lazy

They say twins often develop a private language; the same must be true for couples who have been together long enough. The two of us have been together for the better part of two decades, now, and we've developed our own kind of private shorthand. If you ever wanted to sound like part of the Romantoes team, here's a few of our choicest inventions.

1. Snouffer. Technically, this is the name of a street in Columbus, but I always thought it sounded like a verb meaning "to devour food with a bit too much enthusiasm." So now when I am snarfing down french fries or tortilla chips a little bit too fast, Rose often has to remind me to "Stop snouffering!" It's advice I'm usually wise to follow; if I eat too quickly, I am sometimes subject to the hiccups.

2. Crunky-gut. This word refers to any of a spectrum of gastro-intestinal disorders, or (without "-gut") to a general feeling of physical malaise. The key term usefully combines the semantic and phonological properties of "cranky" and "crummy." Luckily, neither of us has had a real bad case of crunky-gut in a while.

3. Frozberries. For years, I have referred to the two major varieties of cat food as CCF and DCF (for "canned cat food" and "dry cat food"). I have a fondness for that kind of psuedo-acronym, but I think the real origin of these terms comes from Rosemary's grocery lists. In recent years she's taken to buying large bags of frozen mixed forest berries at Sam's Club (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries). These show up on the shopping list as "froz. berries," which I (naturally) started pronouncing as a single word, "frozberries." After an initial period of resistance, Rosemary has even started using it.

But I guess that is the real key for a neologism for us: when we both use it. Otherwise it's just a crazy bit of idiosyncratic vocalization. But it's language when it's shared by two.