Some Newspaper Feature Columns Written by

Adrian Sutton Gwin

of and for the
Charleston Daily Mail
of Charleston, West Virginia,


between 1946 and 2000


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Return to James Basset Gwin's Page

Return to An Album to Celebrate the Lives of Adrian and Dot Gwin

Updated Jan 2010

Adrian Gwin invested over fifty years in his career as a journalist for the Charleston Daily Mail of Charleston, West Virginia, starting in the fall of 1942 and interrupted only twice--by his service during World War Two and his death in May 2001. During that time he wrote, among many news items, human-interest stories for four different feature columns that appeared anywhere from several times a week early-on to twice a month after he "retired." Those columns were loved by the people of the Kanawha Valley who subscribed to the Mail, and after much encouragement, Adrian gathered some of his better ones together and published his first book, Never Grow Old. It was so well received that he published two more (with a fourth being printed and sold without his authorization by an unscrupulous publisher).
Charleston Daily Mail COLUMNS
Roving the Valley With Friends and Neighbors
Never Grow Old With Our Man Gwin-- A collection of twenty-six of Adrian's favorite columns; Jalamap Publications, Inc, West Virginia,-- copyright 1981 
Once Over Lightly
Roving the Years-- A collection of thirty-one more of Adrian's favorite columns; Jalamap Publications, Inc, West Virginia,-- copyright 1982
Our Man Gwin
An Extra Mile--  [Unauthorized publication of Adrian's work]
Looking Back
Once Upon Ago-- A collection of thirty of Adrian's "Looking Back" columns; McClain Printing Co., West Virginia, copyright 1993 by Adrian Gwin (Several copies of this book are still available in paperback--$14.00 + shipping--click here to order or request more information)
Table of Contents
1 20 Nov 1992 Never Quit Kickin' Story of 2 frogs in the butter churn and an original poem by Adrian on the virtue of perserverance
2 9 Sep 1995 Traversing states is unforgettable experience Review of several of the Gwin family summer vacations in the 1950's and 1960's
3 16 Dec 1995  Pianos were lively additions to living room Commentary on the four pianos in Adrian's life--2 in Alabama, 2 in WV
4 3 Feb 1988 Recalls days of streetcars Mostly about taking the NM grandchildren on an all-day bus trip around Las Cruces; some on the Alabama trolleys, too.
5 15 Aug1992 Southern trip delights three generations Recalling the trip they and we took to Florida to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary
6 19 Dec1992 The little manger scene Gwin family tradition is setting up the little manger scene each Christmas since 1947.
7 9 Mar 1996 Rolling pin a treasured piece of family lore History of the one-piece rolling pin made as a wedding gift by Wm. Sutton Gwin for Adabelle Vardaman almost 100 years ago.
8 1 March 1997 You just gotta love Grandma Biographical sketches from the later life of Julia Ann Flynn Vardaman
9 21 Mar 1998 Covering provides comfort, memories History of our old quilt made by Susan Watson Flynn and her granddaughter, Adrian Belle Vardaman
10 6 May1995 Memories soar from fortune cookie Cousin Oscar Luker, son of Aunt Annie Vardaman Luker: fiddler, financier, fine husband
11 unknown Memorial Day Is for People A look at the true meaning of Memorial Day
12 8 Mar 1954 A Tribute to Adrian Belle Vardaman Gwin A brief biography and obituary of Adrian S. Gwin's mother
13 25 Dec 1993 Christmas candles' brief lives made lasting memories Recalling a childhood memory of Christmas in the rural south
The Song Doesn't End--It Stops Adrian's review of the Top Ten rock music singles of the early 1980s--Rolling Stones, Juice Newton, Eddie Rabbit, et al
15 1994
CHILDHOOD PLAYMATES REUNITED AT LIFE'S END Gwin's account of events preceding his mother's burial service that occurred simultaneously with that of her childhood friend

01.  CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL-----------------------------------20 Nov 1992

Looking Back:
Never quit kickin'


SITTING there in his long-handled underwear, he leaned far back and pointed one leg at the ceiling.
Then he hollered, "Wahoo."

Gramps said, "Now that's a Brother Rabbit story from Uncle Remus, but it really ain't the one I was aiming to tell you. You ever hear the story of the two frogs in the churn?"

Long time ago a farm wife set the churn for tomorrow. She put in yesterday morning's milk and two skimmings of cream to make more butter. Then she set it out on the back porch to turn in the warm summer night. She covered it with a cheesecloth, but she neglected to tie it down.

Durin' the early evenin', two frogs jumped up on the porch and eyed the churn, wondering what it was and what was on top of it. Coincidentally, they both hopped at the same time, and the cheesecloth went down and the two frogs went into the churn.

They kicked and kicked, swimmin' about, trying to find a way out. But of course, the old-fashioned crockery churn narrowed inward toward the top, and it was utterly impossible for them to get out. So they swam and kicked for hours.

Finally, way 'fore day, one frog panted, "I just can't keep on" and quit kicking and sank in the sour milk and died.

The other frog kept on kicking, and soon found they'd churned up a big ball of butter, and he climbed up on it and jumped out.

The moral is, Don't ever quit kicking.

My pate gleams slick and shiny-bright
At morning, noon, and in twilight.
Like Christmas snow, what hair I have
Is to my aging ego, slave.
The knee is bent, the back is stooped;
With half an effort I am pooped.
With hearing aids my ears are wired.
Trifocals keep my eyes from tired.
My belly bellies o'er my belt,
My waistline's solid lard
That e'en with diets will not melt,
And makes my breathing hard.
Assorted pills are in my diet
To help me keep my skizzums quiet
That once a tight-tuned regular guy
Counted on to make him fly.
My toes have blackened as the fungus
Took residency among us
And with corns of long duration
Keep my feet in agitation.
Not to mention facial wrinkles
That with grooves my visage sprinkles.
And my nose, once Proud Patrician
Now shows bulbous red condition.
Arthritis wracks my every joint.
I feel it like a stabbing point
In ankles, elbows, knees and neck
But liniment keeps all in check.
Incontinence long took o'er my bladder,
And just to make the bad more badder
My bowels gone the other way
As constipation rules the day.
My teeth have crumbled o'er the years,
My store-bought ones beguile,
But I have neither qualms nor fears
To scrunge me when I smile.
Nor do I own a dang toupee
Though skinhead is my fate today.
I lived a lot to get this way.
A pox on young'uns who would say
That I'm decrepit. This is my song:
They oughter wish to live so long.
And here the plot begins to thicken.
They gotta know I ain't no chicken:
I'm 98 and still a-kickin'.

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02.  CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL----------------------------------- 9 Sep 1995

Looking Back:
Traversing states is unforgettable experience


WE'VE done some traveling in our time, and met some interesting people.

When our boys, John and Pat, were little, Dot and I decided we'd try to put them into every one of the 48 United States before they "got out from under us"--if we could.

Somewhere along the line Alaska and Hawaii made it 50 states, and we went for that.

And in every state, and Canada and Mexico, we met somebody who was interesting or more interesting or unforgettable.

When you're driving around the country with two little boys, you don't meet many horse's behinds.

Sometimes comedy crops up. Once in a restaurant I asked if that was our waitress. John, about 8, said, "No, Dad, our waitress looks like a praying mantis." And, for a fact, she did.

Another waitress made me comment after she took our order "I wonder what old West Virginia holler she crawled out of."

When she brought our food, Dot asked her, and I, recently from Louisiana, heard her say, "Bogalusa, Loose-y anna."

We went north to Maine and into Canada on one of our first trips. The French-Canadians spoke little English in the restaurant where we ate lunch, and we got our ice tea with ONE ice cube in each glass, melted into a small square of foam.

No matter. They were so anxious to please us we never complained.

South to Key West we went another time, and there's lots to see down thataway. But the best part was the people, and we enjoyed them immensely, all the way.

Then across the country to California we drove, and all the way we found the people as interesting as the sights.

Three, four times we crossed the whole country, middle-roaded, southern route, and northern exposure, and always we found people who fascinated us at places that were famous tourist spots and places you never heard of before.

But what about Hawaii and Alaska?

Rarely had we made reservations ahead on any of our trips--but for the big one, we planned every night's stop, and made a motel reservation, guaranteed, for that night.

Sometimes we got there in early afternoon, and the boys reveled in motel swimming pools. Sometimes we drove until late to reach our reservation, and the boys bedded down in the back of the station wagon.

We left our car with friends, formerly of Charleston, in Redwood City, near San Francisco, and they drove us to the airport.

Friends, formerly of St. Albans, kept us five days in Honolulu, and our car and friends met us back in 'Frisco.

Then we drove north to Seattle, where we had motel reservations for when we came back from Alaska.

But we'd made NO arrangements where to leave the car or other luggage.

I was all trepidation as we approached the motel in Seattle. Would they, could they, keep the car and our carful of baggage?

I parked out front and walked into the office.

It was late afternoon, and our flight to Fairbanks left at midnight.

There was one person in sight as I entered the lobby and approached the desk.

And he was Casper Milktoast incarnate. But in all his dimunitive stature and timid appearance, he stepped to the counter and asked, "Yes?"

I explained that we had a reservation for a week from now when we returned from Alaska, and the rest of my worries.

He looked out and asked "Is that the car, with the family in it? I nodded yes. He said, "So what's the problem?"

Leave the car right there, where the clerks could watch it. Bring everything else in, to store in the bellhop's room.

The motel bus would take us to and bring us from the airport.

He was one of the nicest men we ever met.

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03. CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL-----------------------------------1616 Dec 1995    p. 7A

Looking Back:
Pianos were lively additions to living room


THERE have been four pianos in my life. Each one was like a Paderewski concert.

(Yes, I've heard the master pianist, in person.)

First of the four was Aunt Maggie's old player. It had perforated paper rolls that somehow played the music. I knew it from babyhood.

It had foot pedals you pumped up and down to make the rolls go round, just like pumping the old parlor organ to get the music out.

And there was a pile of music rolls to keep you busy any Sunday afternoon, pumping out that music.

I well knew the player piano in Aunt Maggie's front room. (It wasn't the parlor; that was the room with the bay window, seldom opened but for special company.)

The front room had a regular piano, too, and a fireplace and a bounce-on sofa that pulled out to make a double bed.

But that player piano was the heart and soul of Aunt Maggie's front room in the first 15 years of my life.

Sometime in the 1920s, Mother got us a piano. A real piano that weighed a thousand or two pounds and was taller than any of us kids.

Mother had a set of porch furniture--a settee, a straight chair and rocker--made of rattan. Rattan was "the thing" right then. Rattan is dried yellow grass stems, and grows in Rattania or somewhere, and at one time all porch furniture was made of woven or twisted rattan.

Whoever had the piano didn't have any rattan furniture, so they traded even, porch stuff for piano.

It was a tall upright, heavy and black. It was nearly in tune, and was playable.

Mother could play it. My sister Julia, about 8, got lessons from Mrs. Smith, and soon could play almost as well as mother.

When we moved to the country, mice invaded our house and built a nest under the piano keys. Keys over the mouse nest wouldn't play - they were padded underneath with the mouse nest.

My brothers took the piano apart and got the mouse nest out from under those real ivory keys, and more than three blind baby mice with it.

Julia and Brother James learned a lot of music on that high and mighty old upright. Me, I could never understand how every eighth key was the same but different, so I flunked piano from the start.

That old piano had three panels on the front, each one a sort of grill with black silk behind it. Each of those grills had tattered holes wherekids picked and punched and made raggedy places which became just part of the piano.

Ma sold it years later when we moved to New Orleans.

After I got married, when my wife Dot was going to have our first baby, she said she missed a piano in the house. Then, one day, I saw an ad wanting to sell a "new piano, bought by mistake and repossessed"--and bought it.

Nothing down, $25 a month.

At the time, $25 a month cut into the breadbasket, but I bought a music box. It was a little Gulbransen spinet, a dwarf-sized upright piano with full keyboard, but not much more than waist-high on a crawdad.

When they delivered it to the house, Dot was as tickled as a potbellied pig being curried with a corncob.

She played it off-hand, by the ear, by the book, and by the hour. John learned piano when he was tiny. No wonder. He had heard piano right outside the bellybutton for several months of his mother's pregnancy.

Then one day we gave that grand little upright spinet to a niece and were without a piano.

But not for long.

John was a high school senior when Dot took him up to Londerees and told him to pick a piano. She told him we would rent it until he graduated and he could buy it later.

He didn't hesitate, just pointed across to a fine looking young upright.

You guessed it.


We were as tickled as that potbellied pig.

This was before the heydey of oriental instruments. The little Steinway was bigger than the spinet, not as tall as the old rattan-traded upright, but a lot bigger than any child's toy or junior model.

We've treasured it from the day it entered our living room. Hundreds of fingers have danced on that keyboard.

John married and moved away, and Dot "bought" back his piano. He's had two in his living room. He never passes a piano. He pauses long enough to tickle the teeth of any smiling piano he sees, standing up as he goes by. His son Jeremy is like that, too--loves to ripple off some notes in passing.

Recently, our other son Pat said he'd like to have the piano in his home, and we watched as professional movers took that 31-year part of our lives out of our house to go to Pat's.


When Aunt Maggie went away, her 1906 player was still in her front room.

When Ma sold our outsize upright, I hardly realized it was gone.

When Jeannie got the little first-baby spinet, we were glad she could have a piano.

But there was a catch in my throat when the movers wheeled out our longtime musical companion. Our living room seems naked without it.

Somebody said put the TV in there.

In a living room?

I couldn't do that. A living room is for LIVING with people.

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04. CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL-----------------------------------163 Feb 1988    p. 6A

Looking Back:
Recalls days of streetcars


REMEMBER the first time you ever rode a streetcar or a bus?

Have you passed the memorial ride on to some little boy or girl as an experience to be remembered for the next 60 or more years?

My own first time on a streetcar, as I recollect, was when I was about 5 years old, and it was a memorable ride. We went for miles, it seemed, from downtown Birmingham clear out to East Lake, the Camden Park of that time and place, if you know what I mean.

And last year, about this time of year, we passed the first bus ride on down to our grandchildren and some of their friends.

We spent the Christmas holidays just passed with the grandchildren in Las Cruces, N.M., a town which until two years ago didn't have a public transit system.

And nothing would do for the kids this time but that we take another ride on the Roadrunner. That's what they call the street buses there--the Roadrunner. New Mexico's state bird is the big, sassy, long-tailed, long-billed, long-legged Roadrunner, a native Southwesterner that is seen dashing across the road every now and then. It is supposed to be good luck just to see one.

Well, when Las Cruces' city fathers put the buses on the streets, nobody had thought to take the kids for a bus ride until my wife, Dot, suggested it.

The kids went wild about it in a gentlemanly and ladylike way.

So we got up a party and went bus riding. (Dot thinks like a first-grader in situations like that. If you're gonna take the three Gwin grandchildren, take along a half-dozen friends for company and fun.)

We met at "our" house and walked down to the bus stop, doled out the quarters so that everyone could pay his own fare and had a ball getting on when the big Roadrunner stopped for us. We rode downtown to the terminal junction and swapped buses to go to Old Mesilla, then caught another one back to the big shopping mall a half-hour later, ate lunch at the mall, and then caught the bus back home.

It was a perfectly memorable day for all the kids, including the 4- and 5-year-olds.

They were fascinated with the rattle and the rumble of the bus, and the hiss and the swoosh of the air-operated doors. They had a lot of fun changing buses at the transfer points. They had more fun holding their own coins and putting the fares in the glass box, watching the coins rattle down inside to disappear with a "flop" as the driver dumped each fare out of sight. Things that are old hat and routine to some people are exciting new practices for kids who never did it before.

It was a real adventure just to sit on the bus and watch the people get on and off. It was an adventure for the children to sit there and watch the scenery go by--from a different vantage point than the family car, because it seemed so--so big inside a bus.

It was an adventure to just get off the buses because the doors smack shut behind the fellow getting off ahead of you, and you have to grab the push-bar on the door, and then the door just swooshes open again with a great hissing of compressed air.

And downtown at the transfer point, it was an adventure to change buses, with the grown-ups walking to the front of waiting buses to check for the right one, and the boys and girls running from one to another like ants at the picnic table, squealing, and shouting, and lining up orderly and nice when Bus No. 6 was spotted.

On those bus rides with the kids in Las Cruces, I was taken far back to the first streetcar ride out to East Lake when I was a preschooler. The car came with a mighty clanging of a bell, and I learned that the motorman--the man who stood in front of the car and actually ran it--banged that bell with his foot.

I seriously doubt that many people remember a streetcar like that one, because it was a strictly warm-weather car--wide open to the elements, without sides at all, but with a side running board where you got on and the conductor walked to collect the fares. There weren't any doors or windows, just that open-air streetcar with wooden seats varnished yellow-brown, with lattice backs. And there was a ridged aisle-way down the middle, with raised wooden flooring, sort of like we later called "duckboards".

I remember it was a great thrill to ride that streetcar six decades ago, and I'm glad that Dot remembered that little kids today will remember for all time their first bus ride, and that we took them on it.

Sure is fun being a grampa sometimes.

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05.  CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL----------------------------------15 Aug1992    p. 5A

Looking Back:
Southern trip delights three generations


FOR our Golden Wedding, instead of "Down to Dover" we drove Florida over.

With our grandchildren, and not in ol' Dobbin's shay, but in the Ply Van and the wagon Chevrolet.

Long time ago Dot put on her thinkin' bonnet that has a lot of rainbow ribbons on it, and came up with this: Take the grandchildren on a tour of Florida's wonders.

And we did. With John and his wife Sharon driving, we ran the gamut:

NASA and the Cape Canaveral tour. Daytona Beach. Disney World. Universal Studios in Orlando. The Stouffer Orlando Resort Atrium and shopping center. Epcot Center. Silver Springs. Up through Georgia's peach country to Stone Mountain, and so on home.

More than 2,000 miles of excitement and fun for the four of five grandchildren we had along (Courtney elected to stay home)--Jeremy,13, Charity, 12, Sarah, 11, all of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Lauren, 11, of Huntington and St. Albans.

They enjoyed swimming in the motel pools and snacking in the cars on goodies that properly litter a car from stem to stern, and eating in fast-food places that were familiar and once in a Cracker Barrel which was a new experience and thrill to them.

Grandma's wheelchair went in the van with her, and my four-toed walking stick with with me, and thank God and all good people who devised the handicapped parking places everywhere. Grandma in the wheelchair always got us to the front of long waiting lines, for which also we thank God and good people everywhere.

Our kids were properly bug-eyed at the wonders of NASA at the Kennedy Space Center, and they took the two-hour bus tour to see, among other things, the shuttles and launch pads. Jeremy gave me the highlight of the bus tour of the Space Center: "Grandpa, I got to see my first, real, live manatee." (He wants to aim his education for a career in marine biology or some such related study.)

Next day, Daytona Beach. Seawater and sunscreen. Everybody got into the ocean at Daytona, nobody broiled to sunburn-red, and Lauren frankly admitted that she would gladly forego the rest of the trip just to stay at Daytona Beach.

Leaving, John saw in his rear-view mirror a wallet fly off the roof of a little red car from Quebec and ran back and retrieved it. We watched for that car for several days. Fortunately, the wallet had full identification, including phone number, and we were able to talk, after we got home, to the only English-speaking member of the family and to mail the wallet to its 15-year-old owner.

Next, from our Orlando motel, Disney World. They went, while Grandma and Grandpa drove 25 miles the other way to Lake Mary, where Wanda Chan has "The Petunia Patch", a little curio-antique shop. Wanda was, for years, our near neighbor on Keiffer Drive in St. Albans, and her oldest daughter Melanie is an engineer of some kind on the shuttle program at the NASA Space Center. Wanda and her children are almost as family to us.

Oh, our grandchildren: some of them got Mickey Mouse ear-hats at Disney World.

Next day--Universal Studios of Florida, where Sarah volunteered to be the "victim" in getting kicked off a fast-whirling merry-go-round, and thus starred in a closed-circuit TV episode that we watched on the TV screen, while at the same time watching her lying perfectly comfortable on a concealed stool, the studio men kicking at her hands with an artificial leg. We got an inserted view of a mean old man kicking, presumably at Sarah (he had on pants to match the artificial leg on a stick.) It appeared on the television that she was desperately holding on with her hands, while the revolving backround made it seem she was
whirling rapidly, and a big fan blew her clothing and hair like she was spinning fast on that merry-go-round.

The man told her to look frightened and scream, even though she was resting comfortably on her belly on that stationary stool 18 inches off the floor. Sarah's screams were magnificent.

Next day we met with our other set of non-grandchildren, Brian and Chris Tomberlin, and their parents Dan and Patsy. She is the former Patsy Hart of St. Albans, and we had visited them over the years in Georgia, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee, Virginia, and maybe other places where Dan had jobs as curator of museums, among others.

That was our "break" from the sightseeing tours, but they took us to that magnificent Stouffer Resort atrium and the shopping mall.

Eye popping.

And then, the Epcot Center, with the reports as good as the other days.

We took to our wheels again and rolled northward to the greatest (to me) attraction in Florida--Silver Springs.

I rode the glass-bottom boats there in the mid-20s and again some 30 or more years ago and was fortunate to be able then to swim in the spring-pool. We rode the boats this trip, to see the wondrous clear water, and you could count the pebbles on the bottom, 81 feet down.

We streaked northward next day, up through peach country, and I got, in Tifton, Ga., four jars of Tupelo honey, comparable to West Virginia's Linn honey and called by the World Book Encyclopedia "The world-famous Tupelo honey."

We went on up to Stone Mountain, not far from "the home of the Braves"--Atlanta. And the kids got to see the literally world-famous, monumental sculpture on Stone Mountain. Charity said seeing "the big picture on the mountain" was a highlight of her trip.

Before we went on to the Shoney's Motel nearby, we stopped on Bethesda Church Road to see a niece, Sue Harless and her family, including her mother, Mrs. Ginny Hedrick, once of Beckley.

We got home at 10 p.m. after 10 great days, and we think our grandchildren will never forget that wild, wonderful Florida trip with us, as our Golden Wedding present to them. And our 6-year-old station wagon never chirped off-key the whole trip, just chortled along like a contented canary, and for which we thank God and Jack Gessel.

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06.  CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL----------------------------------19 Dec1992    p. 12A

Looking Back:
The little manger scene


MOST everybody has a private family "tradition" wrapped up in Christmas decorations.

Ours--to us--just suddenly seemed to be exceptional.

And, it really is.

We've used this same little bit of Christmas 46 consecutive years.

We call it our "Old Faithful' and it's still good and getting better all the time.

It's our nativity scene--what the French call a "creche". You know, Mary and Joseph and the baby in a manger, with wise men and lambs and a donkey and cows and an angel hovering overhead (atop the stable stall).

The stable is thin painted cardboard and the figurines are just painted plaster, but it has a hole on the back for a small white light. and I think maybe that's what attracted me in the first place. (Actually, Dot probably had more say-so in buying it than I did.) She remembers that we paid $2.95 for it at Stone & Thomas, in the Christmas season of 1947--our first Christmas in our own home.

Our first child, son John, would be almost 2 months old that Christmas of 1947, and we were happy to have the little nativity scene to remind everyone of the real meaning of the holiday.

With all the packing and unpacking, over the years, the thin cardboard of the stable stall has broken and torn in several places, and I shaved out wood slivers and patched it with glue, and it's not so torn and bent today that you'd notice. And some of the figurines have been chipped and nicked, but not so as to destroy their character or usefulness.

There's Mary and Joseph and, in a separate little cardboard manger, the Baby Jesus. And there are three kings, and an angel on the rooftop, and a camel, a donkey, a cow and three lambs in custody of a shepherd.

The roof originally had real hay glued on for thatch, but it's all gone except vestigial remains. I plan each year to sort of rehabilitate the whole thing and re-thatch the roof, but you gotta keep your priorities in order, so wrapping presents and trimming the tree takes me away from little Old Faithful.

Somewhere along those 46 Christmases we acquired eight little plastic choirboys which we usually set out in a row near the nativity scene, and all along those early years little son John--and a few years later, our other son Pat--played with the choirboys and the kings and Mary and Joseph and the others, and became quite familiar with the cast of characters which make up the Christmas scene.

It's a small thing, the entire set--the stable stall being not more than 3 inches deep, but with a painted interior to give it great depth as you inspect it. And it's about 8 inches wide and no more than 8 inches tall.

I've seen some representations of the nativity scene that fill up the entire top of a good-sized table, with a whole herd of animals and a stable stall that would accommodate a fair-sized Baby Jesus--but our little Old Faithful has always been a most attractive part of our Christmas decorations.

One year, several years back, when the children were more prone to play with the set than they seem to be today, Mary and the shepherd were missing when we began packing the set for another time. We hunted high and low, but they were plumb gone, and we mourned that maybe, just maybe, they'd gotten into a trash can and were gone for good.

But sometime in the summer, down in the basement among some other stuff that the kids had been playing with, we found the shepherd and Mary. And we cheered and laughed and took them back upstairs to the box in the front hall closet where the whole nativity scene is usually stored.

This season the little scene is set up on my grandma's washstand near the corner where the tree sparkles in many-colored splendor. It's just a little thing of cardboard and plaster--but it holds a special place in our hearts--and I often think that maybe others have such a piece of Christmas decor in their lives.

I bet there are many special scenes like this. Maybe some that have been used many more times than ours. But none could have given more pleasure to more kids over the years than our little Old Faithful.

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07.  CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL--------------------------------- 9 Mar 1996    p. 5B

Looking Back:
Rolling pin a treasured piece of family lore


You can't buy goods like this today.

Couldn't in 1910, either, when this rolling pin was a homemade present to Ma from Grampa Gwin.

He made it on a foot-powered lathe in his home workshop, and he didn't  expect her to use it as a club on his son's head. And of course, she  never did.

She rolled out biscuits and pie dough with it for more than 40 years, and I've used it now for more than 40 years. I have never seen another rolling pin of this pattern.

I've also rarely seen another rolling pin made in one solid piece--the bought ones today are all tricked-up with swivel ends and loose handles that come apart in a few years.

This one, with reasonable care, will last at least another 80 years, and  I'd put money on 180 years more because of the integrity of a kitchen tool that merchandisers seem to overlook deliberately today, in the interest of selling another when the first breaks or wears out.

Grandpa William Sutton Gwin was a Confederate who was captured by the Yankees at the battle of Selma and held for the rest of the war.

His home acreage was at a little place called Wilsonville, just a few miles north of Selma, which was a good-sized town even in Civil War days.

He owned some Wilsonville land, and when the railroad wanted to build a depot, he gave a triangle of land--about half an acre, where the road crossed the railroad--on condition that if it ever ceased to be used as a depot, the land would revert to his estate.

And while he died in 1916, I got a registered letter in 1961 from a lawyer wanting my (and about 650 other descendants') signature for the return of that property. My share would have been 75 cents or less, so I signed it over so the little abandoned depot could be sold.

Grampa Gwin was a better businessman than a farmer. He was a justice of the peace, a magistrate for many years, and a major influence in Wilsonville and the county.

He made this rolling pin just for fun (I've always enjoyed woodwork, so I must have inherited some of it) and sent it to his oldest son's wife--my mother--within a year of their marriage on Washington's birthday, 1909.

And, while he was a good businessman and a good woodworker and a good justice of the peace, he also was a philosopher of sorts.

I have a letter he wrote to my dad shortly after the marriage--a letter that Dad saved until he died in 1921, and mother saved from then until her own death in 1954.

It was before the rolling pin, and of course before the fatal morning when I was born.

Mother often told the story: She was "very pregnant," labor pains were casting their foreshadows, and Dad got a telegram.

"Come at once. Father desperately ill with stroke."

Dad asked mother, "Do you think you can have this baby all right if I run up to Wilsonville?"

Mother said she told him straight off the shoulder: "Mr. Gwin, I have had three healthy babies without a mite of help from you. Go on to your father."

So he did. He caught a train that afternoon to Wilsonville and got to see his dad before he died that night about 7.

Little Adrian was born at 7 the next morning.

But back to the letter.

In it, Grampa Gwin gave some news of the family, and some advice about marriage, and ended the letter with the philosopher's gem that Dad treasured.

It is a piece of advice that, if we could all do it throughout our married lives, we'd always be happy.

"Remember, son," the old man said, "Remember the two little bears: Bear, and Forbear."

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08.  CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL-----------------------------------1 March 1997 P10A

Looking Back:
You gotta love Grandma


I was about 12. She was about 85.

I was completely in love with her.

It was because she knew everything. She had the answers. Now, she was just a little bit too proper sometimes.

But she was delicate, fine-woven like a fairy. Ephemeral, but solidly positive, too.

She was my grandmother, my only living grandparent.

Being the baby of four children, I never got much instruction from the others. They didn't bother to teach me anything. They just sort of tolerated me. Oh, they let me catch on, if I could, but they wasted little in showing me how.

Grandmother was different, and I loved her for it. But under it all, I saw her as a little bit too prissy-proper, and I wondered why I loved her so much.

But I was totally interested in cooking, and she delighted in sharing her know-how. To tell me, and show me, how things ought to be.

Way back yonder she must have been the world's best cook. In the decades right after the Civil War, she had to provide for and cook for a family of six. Right out of thin air and whatever she could raise in a garden and a barn yard.

She was smaller than I was by a good little bit.

I wasn't big at all, but grandmother was tiny and wrinkled, like a prune. But to me she was like a fairy.

She knew everything about a garden, about the things we were going to eat the next day and the next and the next.

That day in 1928 we sat on the porch swing at Aldrich, and I was helping fix the fresh vegetables for supper. (Dinner was the noon meal. Supper was the evening meal. Lunch was what you put in a paper bag and carried somewhere for dinner.)

Grandmother had a pile of string beans in the lap of her apron.

I had a clutter of new red potatoes on a flour sack where my apron lap would be if I'd had one.

I was scraping those potatoes because she told me to. I was being very careful to scrape lightly, so as to get only the pink outer skin, none of the yellow-white under-surface.

She said that was the best part of the potato.

She was right, too.

Today, nearly 70 years later, I still give away the fluffy, mealy, tasteless insides of a baked potato, and eat my potato skin and someone else's.

Well, you get the idea.

We had on the swing with us all the vegetables we'd gathered. A mess of okra, just the medium-small pods for flavor and tenderness.

Grandmother made me search the tassel-ends for worms, be sure to cut 'em away, and their 'tracks' too, after slicing off the stalks on the ends.

She showed me how the cabbage worms could be inside the head, without a trace showing--you had to strip off the outer leaves to find the traces.

She taught me to string beans and snap 'em up short. Grandmother labeled anyone who snapped beans long as lazy, shoddy.

And onions. Any half-gardner could pull up shallots, but it took an educated eye to know which onion plant had a big, nice bulb underneath those green tops.

She taught me how to shell out green blackeye peas. Hold it up and down at the top. With the other hand, gash it on the seam with your thumb, then slip that forefinger into the split from the back and pull down--and you've got all the peas shelling out into your palm and down into the pan.

With all her wondrous know-how, she was to me just a tiny mite too proper sometimes, but she soared above it all this day.

I was a country kid, not yet a teen-ager.

Sitting on the swing, just watching her shell blackeye peas, I absent-mindedly picked my nose.

Grandmother dropped her blackeye peas, r'ared back in the swing, made a horrible face and said, "Aaaaaaaaaaoooowwwww! You nearly make me puke!"

Now there was some real he-man language.

She made me go wash my hands.

I did, wondering all the while if she knew any more of the words that nice little old ladies didn't use, and if she did, which ones, and how...

Well, forget it.

But I never heard her say it again. Ever.

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09. CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL----------------------------------21 Mar 1998    p. 3C

Looking Back:
Covering provides comfort, memories


SHE'D have been more than a hundred years old when I was born.

That would make the coverlet more than a hundred now.

She was my great-grandmother, Susan Watson Flynn. While she died ten years before my birth, I've always known her personally--by proxy.

From sleeping under her coverlet, and from the first-hand tales about her from my mother--who knew her well.

As a wide-eyed child, Mother saw her raise, wash, card, dye, spin and weave the wool for the coverlet. And Mother helped her in those operations as only an eager little girl could. When I was a youngster, I heard the tale so often that it seems to be my own experience.

I still have the coverlet--faded, ragged, and now more than a century old.

I had it out recently and repacked it with cedar chips for "mothballs."

Wouldn't take a thousand dollars for it. You can't put a price on memories.

I've heard its story on those many occasions all during my childhood when we used the coverlet nightly.

My mother said she was about 7 or 8 (she was born in 1877) when her grandma asked "Mr. Vardaman"--Mother's father--for several sheep to
raise wool.

They lived on a square-mile homesteaded farm, and he got the sheep easily.

Ma said her grandma largely tended them--when they needed attention.

She told me the tale. "I remember Father shearing the sheep one spring day, and I remember oh how greasy and matted the big wads of wool were.

"Grandma smoked a clay pipe, and Father disliked the smell, so she smoked on the porch and by the chimney corner. The pipe would get greasy brown, until she put it in the fire and let it burn out clean--and I remember that I equated the greasy, brown look of that dirty wool with the greasy brown of the old clay pipe.

"Grandma got a whole pail of homemade lye soap and we soaked the wool in tubs of soapy water, then squeezed it out in the spring branch. It took several days to get the wool even slightly clean."

Mother said she helped her grandmother, who would have been 70 or 75 years old then, card the wool. Carding is combing wool out into straight-fiber pads, getting the knots and kinks out.

Then Mother watched as the old lady of many talents spun the fibers on the big wheel, manufacturing the soft thread, which became a bed cover to last a hundred years and more.

I can't remember if Ma said the wool was dyed before or after the thread was made, but cochineal was used for the red and I forget what made the everlasting green dye, so apparent today against the faint pink of the faded red.

According to the tales I heard in my early youth, it took more than a year for the old lady and the little girl to transform the hair of the sheep's back into a soft, warm coverlet.

And Ma always said that Susan Flynn had the pattern in her head, that she never used a sketched or printed pattern at the big wooden loom.

I learned most about the distinctive coverlet while sitting cross-legged on the floor behind Mother's sewing machine, being the "motor" for it--pumping the treadle--as she pieced another quilt for our beds.

She had cut old clothes into workable squares and was stitching them.

I sat and made the process faster by pumping the treadle on command. It all reminded her of her own childhood when she'd helped her grandmother make the coverlet.

She'd line up another square, get it headed right under the needle, and say "Go."

I'd go, and she'd flop another piece into place on the fly and we made that quilt-top grow with a will.

All the while she'd be telling me of squeezing out that greasy wool in the spring-branch, spreading it in tangled masses on the thorn bushes, and the whole story of a wonderfully well-made coverlet.

The cochineal-red has faded into a barely discernible light pink not after a century of wear, but the green--wish I could remember what made the green dye--remains clean and green today.

Our children slept under it as small people, great-great grandchildren of the maker, Susan Flynn.

I hope that some day one of our grandchildren will take it home to preserve for another, and yet another and perhaps another generation to sleep under, this ancient antique coverlet, handmade in its entirety by a venerable ancestor of us all.

Back to Table of Contents

10.  CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL----------------------------------6 May1995    p. 5A

Looking Back:
Memories soar from fortune cookie


COUSIN Oscar Luker and his battered fiddle broke out of a fortune cookie and carried me back 70 years.

We ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and the fortune cookie had a slip of pink paper in it, with an astute observation: "He who has imagination without learning has wings, but no feet."

Cousin Oscar.

He had wings but no feet when I knew him long ago.

He could fiddle the old-time square-dance tunes like no one else I ever heard. He could "call the figgers" as he whipped out the tunes, and through the music and the callin' you could see the whirlin', bobbin', swingin', swayin', high-steppin', and high-falutin' dancers swirling up a tornado on the barn floor as Cousin Oscar's wings lent them flight.

He also could tell tales by the hour.

And, he could recite some of the ancient Greek classics, though he'd never been to school past the sixth grade.

Wings, but no feet.

He could sing the old-time camp-meeting songs in a rich, rolling baritone without looking at a book. Then, he could swap his voice off into a near-perfect tenor to sing some of the Irish melodies he loved.

But with all his accomplishments, I never knew him to strike a lick of work.

At anything.

He just sat around on his fanny and let his wife, Mittice, wait on him. As much as she would.

He was about as uncouth-looking a slob as you ever saw, ordinarily. Mostly he had a two- or three-day growth of whiskers, jowls that folded over the folds of other fat around his neck, and a tremendous paunch in his lap when he sat down.

He generally wore a long-sleeved underwear top for a shirt, with chest-hair curling through the weave, which made him look scruffier than a mangy dog.

But he had wings.

Cousin Oscar had been a carpenter, I was told, and had built some fine houses, they said. Made a little money, they said, invested it wisely, and then quit walking and started flying.

He had read everything he ever saw that was written, and Cousin Oscar Luker could discourse on art and astronomy, law and legerdemain, medicine, money and metallurgy, opthalmology, predestination, quill-pen practice--even Xanadu and Zoroastrianism.

Imagination without learning?

He had little formal "book learning," but he had learning. His wings needed no feet. His soaring imagination, coupled with the prodigious volume of self-learned wisdom--his mind was as orderly as his frame was sloppy--his imagination gave Cousin Oscar a certain prestige in his community.

He was a son of my mother's Aunt Annie V. Luker, who wouldn't have weighed 100 pounds. One of her sisters was Aunt Cynthia, who would have topped 300, approaching 400. (Mother's by-word for a big woman was "big as Aunt Cynthy".) Cousin Oscar sort of took after her, I always thought. He would have weighed at least 250 with his shoes on, which they generally weren't.

He played the fiddle by laying it across his left arm, with the arm down in his lap, and bowing across his knees. Never put the fiddle under his chin.  "How can you call th' figgers with th' fiddle holdin' your mouth shut?" he'd ask.

His indolence, plain laziness, never fazed Cousin Mittice a whit. "Mittice, I'd like a cup of coffee," he might say. And she, pixie that she was, might say, "Well, while you're up, get me one, too."

And that's where imagination and wings gave way to footwork. To his eternal credit, in my mind, he never complained when she turned him off. Mittice always got her cup of coffee from his hand. And his fiddling WAS fantastic.

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Click on above site, and under search for Adrian Gwin , start p. 12, Blacksmith.

Last update August 8, 2006

Adrian Gwin Columns and Related Articles from the DM Archives


11--I should have looked first--wasted this one on one I'd already paid for and copied here!


Charleston Dail Mail  23 April 2006
Mary Louise Woodford

Mary Louise Woodford, 87, of Scott Depot, passed away on April 20, 2006, after an extended battle with cancer.

She was born Jan. 7, 1919, in Logan, W.Va., and raised in Huntington, W.Va.

She was a loving wife and mother as well as a talented artist.

With her husband, Rex, former City Editor/Executive News Editor of the Charleston Daily Mail, Mary helped create a column that ran for several years titled “Nature's Window.” Rex wrote the articles while Mary did the watercolor illustrations.

Mary was a founding member of the Kanawha Valley Tole and Decorative Artists Club. And she was a popular participant at the Capital City Arts and Crafts Fair as well as being an award winning Juried Artist at the Vandalia Gathering and the Cedar Lakes Arts and Crafts Fair in Ripley.

She met her husband in Huntington, where he was a student at what was then Marshall College. They were married on Feb. 24, 1939.

She was a member of the Teays Valley Presbyterian Church.

Mary was preceded in death by her mother, father, and two brothers.

She is survived by her husband, Rex Woodford of Scott Depot, as well as two sons and one daughter and their spouses, Michael and Tina Woodford of West Point, Va., Stephen and Coralie Woodford of St. Albans, and Susan and Bill Linden of St. Albans; five grandchildren; two stepgrandchildren; four great-grandchildren with another due in August; and five step great-grandchildren. She is also survived by one sister and several nieces and nephews.

Rex and the family would like to thank the people from Hospice for their wonderful help.

In keeping with Mary's wishes, her body will be cremated. There will be a private ceremony for the family at a later date.

Daily Mail Articles I have viewed and purchased from their Library
Date----------Article ID

06/26/2005 3bced748552

06/26/2005 3bced70acf

06/26/2005 3bced6b561d

06/26/2005 3bced5455de

06/26/2005 3bced3d958e

06/26/2005 3bced3c720c

06/26/2005 3bced1f9345

06/26/2005 3bced562b9

06/26/2005 3bced556651

06/26/2005 3bced3d5216

10/31/2004 3bced29d21c

07/24/2002 3bced4432c3

07/24/2002 3bced4432c3

07/24/2002 3bced44d3cc

07/24/2002 3bced4411b6

07/24/2002 3bced45b68

07/24/2002 3bced4617b

07/24/2002 3bced47c71


Publication: CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL publisher. "He loved every aspect of being able
Published: 05/07/2001
Page: P1A

Adrian Gwin, longtime Daily Mail reporter and columnist, died early today after a long illness at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, N.M.

He was 84.

Gwin was known for his many talents from writing and speaking to performing feats of gymnastics. He had a fierce love for life and energy to match.

"Adrian personified what was right with life," said Sam Hindman, publisher. "He loved every aspect of being able to meet, greet and embrace people in his many years with the Daily Mail.

"No one loved life fuller or loved his wife, Dot, and family more than Adrian," Hindman said. "He was an example for all of us in work and play."

Gwin and his wife, Dot, moved to Las Cruces in November 1999 to be near his older son John and his wife, Sharon.

"It's good to know he's in heaven, bad he's gone," said Sharon Gwin, who admired her father-in-law's sense of humor.

He told her he had no use for computers or algebra and saw no reason why there should be 25 shades of the color red.

Daily Mail Editor Nanya Friend recalled Gwin's aversion to computers. Gwin started work at the newspaper in 1942. When Friend arrived in 1977, Gwin had already achieved special status on the staff and his name was a household word.

"Computers had recently arrived in the newsroom, and Adrian would have nothing to do with them," she said. "He was such a great storyteller that the editors didn't mind. They let him keep his typewriter, and someone else transferred his stories to the computer."

While Gwin's sense of humor was unmatched, he took his job seriously.

Earl Benton, retired photographer, began working at the Daily Mail in 1943.

"Going with Gwin on an assignment was the most exciting thing in the world," Benton said. "We worked as a team. We both agreed we would pay a newspaper to let us work. People don't understand how much we enjoyed it."

Benton recalls jumping on a firetruck with Gwin on the way to a blaze. Gwin, known for his great agility, once removed his shoes and scampered up a bridge beam with Benton's camera in tow to get a flood shot.

"Gwin was very spry well into his 60s," said Bob Kelly, former Daily Mail city editor and current political editor. "On occasion, he would demonstrate for the much younger crowd in the newsroom. Standing still beside a desk, he would leap into the air and somehow position himself so that he came to a perfect landing, in a graceful crouch, on top of the desk."

Friend added, "I've also seen him walk across the newsroom on his hands. I'll never forget the day he turned his eyelids inside out and lay down on the floor next to the city desk. He wanted to get a rise out of the usually unflappable Bob Kelly, who was then city editor."

Gwin worked as a reporter and writer for the Daily Mail until his retirement in 1981. Until his death, he wrote a weekly column called "Looking Back."

Gwin, author of the books, "Rovin' the Years With Our Man Gwin," "Never Grow Old" and "Once Upon Ago," was known for his ability to spin what he called "yarns" and was a respected public speaker.

"Gwin could go out in any direction from Charleston, spend a day, and come back with three or four yarns, as he called them," Kelly said. "These would be the product of his unique way of looking at things and people and his ability to engage people and get them to open up to him."

The Rev. Leroy Keeney, retired pastor of Highlawn Baptist Church in St. Albans, said Gwin was a charter member of the church, which was founded more than 50 years ago.

"He was a Sunday school teacher, a good swimmer and a good gymnast," Keeney said. "He worked with children a great deal. He taught kids how to whistle. He worked with the Boy Scouts for years and helped them with merit badges."

John Gwin added that his father "was a lifetime member of the Scouts. He registered continually every year." Gwin achieved Eagle Scout status in 1937 and once said he "tried to live as an Eagle Scout every day."

He said 1942 was a big year for his father. That was the year he graduated from Tulane University, got married, moved away from home for the first time, got his first professional job working at the Daily Mail, and got drafted into a shooting war.

He served in the U.S. Army and was a World War II veteran. He was a native of Selma, Ala.

Also surviving are son Patrick of St. Albans and five grandchildren.

The body is to be cremated. Arrangements are incomplete.

Writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith can be reached at 348-1246 or at

Copyright©2001 Charleston Newspapers Interactive

Adrian Gwin, longtime Daily Mail reporter and columnist, died early today after a long illness at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, N.M.

He was 84.

Gwin was known for his many talents from writing and speaking to performing feats of gymnastics. He had a fierce love for life and energy to match.

"Adrian personified what was right with life," said Sam Hindman,


to meet, greet and embrace people in his many years with the Daily Mail.

"No one loved life fuller or loved his wife, Dot, and family more than Adrian," Hindman said. "He was an example for all of us in work and play."

Gwin and his wife, Dot, moved to Las Cruces in November 1999 to be near his older son John and his wife, Sharon.

"It's good to know he's in heaven, bad he's gone," said Sharon Gwin, who admired her father-in-law's sense of humor.

He told her he had no use for computers or algebra and saw no reason why there should be 25 shades of the color red.

Daily Mail Editor Nanya Friend recalled Gwin's aversion to computers. Gwin started work at the newspaper in 1942. When Friend arrived in 1977, Gwin had already achieved special status on the staff and his name was a household word.

"Computers had recently arrived in the newsroom, and Adrian would have nothing to do with them," she said. "He was such a great storyteller that the editors didn't mind. They let him keep his typewriter, and
someone else transferred his stories to the computer."

While Gwin's sense of humor was unmatched, he took his job seriously.

Earl Benton, retired photographer, began working at the Daily Mail in 1943.

"Going with Gwin on an assignment was the most exciting thing in the world," Benton said. "We worked as a team. We both agreed we would pay a newspaper to let us work. People don't understand how much we enjoyed it."

Benton recalls jumping on a firetruck with Gwin on the way to a blaze. Gwin, known for his great agility, once removed his shoes and scampered up a bridge beam with Benton's camera in tow to get a flood

"Gwin was very spry well into his 60s," said Bob Kelly, former Daily Mail city editor and current political editor. "On occasion, he would demonstrate for the much younger crowd in the newsroom. Standing still beside a desk, he would leap into the air and somehow position himself so that he came to a perfect landing, in a graceful crouch, on top of the desk."

Friend added, "I've also seen him walk across the newsroom on his hands. I'll never forget the day he turned his eyelids inside out and lay down on the floor next to the city desk. He wanted to get a rise out of the usually unflappable Bob Kelly, who was then city editor."

Gwin worked as a reporter and writer for the Daily Mail until his retirement in 1981. Until his death, he wrote a weekly column called "Looking Back."

Gwin, author of the books, "Rovin' the Years With Our Man Gwin," "Never Grow Old" and "Once Upon Ago," was known for his ability to spin what he called "yarns" and was a respected public speaker.

"Gwin could go out in any direction from Charleston, spend a day, and come back with three or four yarns, as he called them," Kelly said. "These would be the product of his unique way of looking at things and people and his ability to engage people and get them to open up to him."

The Rev. Leroy Keeney, retired pastor of Highlawn Baptist Church in St. Albans, said Gwin was a charter member of the church, which was founded more than 50 years ago.

"He was a Sunday school teacher, a good swimmer and a good gymnast," Keeney said. "He worked with children a great deal. He taught kids how to whistle. He worked with the Boy Scouts for years and helped them with merit badges."

John Gwin added that his father "was a lifetime member of the Scouts. He registered continually every year." Gwin achieved Eagle Scout status in 1937 and once said he "tried to live as an Eagle Scout every

He said 1942 was a big year for his father. That was the year he graduated from Tulane University, got married and started working at the Daily Mail.

He served in the U.S. Army and was a World War II veteran. He was a native of Selma, Ala.

Also surviving are son Patrick of St. Albans and five grandchildren.

The body is to be cremated. Arrangements are incomplete.

Writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith can be reached at 348-1246 or by e-mail at

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive


Page 9a Charleston Daily Mail May 7, 2001

He learned you can't go back home again.

By Adrian Gwin

EDITOR'S NOTE: Longtime Daily Mail columnist Adrian Gwin had asked that this be his final column.

YOU'VE heard it. You've read it. It's true. You can't go home. Look, and go home, but "go back home"--never.

It won't work.

In youth, you could go home anytime you were away. Rarely was there no home to go to. Oh, some so-called "homeless" turn their backs on home.

And somewhere along the line, you learn that you can't go back home.

Once, as a boy, I was with my mother in the car in our old community neighborhood, when she turned off the beaten path.

"I'll just drive by the old home place and see it after all these years," she said. "I'm goin' back home."

Way out that dirt road we stopped before an old house with a lot of rotting gingerbread trim. Mother sat in the car, just looking. "That's the place all right--but it's not home."

We talked to the people there--shabby, ignorant-sounding. Mother wouldn't go inside. Back at the car, she said, "Let's go home."

This time, she was just going home, not going back to the ghost of the place where she had spent the first 25 happy years of her life.

I remember when Dot and I first realized that our children didn't come home when they visited us after marrying and starting families.

"Home" to our house one time on a visit from their New Mexico residence, John and Sharon said one day, "We're going home tomorrow."


Up 'til then, we had felt they'd be leaving home to return to New Mexico. Now it was more than obvious they'd be leaving our house and going home--their home.


More than 60 years ago, I learned something else about going home.

It was 1934, in Anniston, Alabama.

A stranger came down the sidewalk by our house. He was old, bearded, shabby, and marked by the calluses and scars of a rough, relentless life. But he looked clean.

He saw us on the porch, Mother and four young people. He stopped his shuffling gait before us. In a broken voice, he said, "Madam, I hate to beg, but I'm about famished for something to drink. Could you by chance give me a cup of milk?"

Mother held open the screen door and she invited him into our dining room. "We have a cow," she said, "and milk is our strong point."

We children all rose and went inside with them. I was fascinated by the old man's appearance--worldly, courtly, immeasurable.

Mother offered a piece of leftover chicken and two cold biscuits. I poured a tall glass of cool, rich milk and sat it before him. He bowed his head and murmured, then drank eagerly. I topped the glass with more.

He ate the biscuits and piece of chicken slowly, gracefully, gratefully. He sipped the milk, savoring it fully.

We didn't learn who he was, but we asked questions. Where was he going?

"I'm goin' home," he said. "I was raised down ..." His voice dropped, became husky, trailed off. He cleared his throat, sipped the milk.

"Left a long time ago. Been lots of places. Been gone a long time." The voice was low, barely audible, but he was talking to me. I heard him distinctly.

"Now I'm goin' home."

He didn't say going back home. Just going home. Then he straightened up, raised the milk glass as if it were a champagne goblet. Raised it to me.

"Here's to a long life," he said.

I was beside him when we went to the porch. He said to Mother with a courtly little bow, "Thank you." Nothing else. Just a sincere thank-you.

Stepping out to the sidewalk, he looked again at me.

"Yes, I'm goin' home."

They found him next morning beside a trash bin in an alley downtown. He was covered with old flattened-out cardboard boxes, for what warmth they would afford.

Mr. Lucas, the town policeman, said, "Now you look at that. You'd almost swear that's a smile on his face."

Copyright©2001 Charleston Newspapers Interactive

Holiness Church. Burial will be in Adwell Cemetery, Ronceverte. Friends may call from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the church. Adrian Gwin Adrian Gwin, 84, of Las Cruces, N.M., formerly of St. Albans, W.Va., died May 7, 2001, at Memorial Medical...
Published: May 11, 2001
Words: 3550

District. $24,000. - Kathy R. Barnett to Lorna Corns Workman. Lot, Nitro. $32,000. - Rodger B. Hamrick and Sharon Hamrick Gwin to James Brian Young and Emily M. Shawver. Lot, St. Albans. $78,000. - A. George McQuain and Ivy Grace McQuain...
Published: August 08, 2001
Words: 1368

District. $57,000. - Ruby Cottrell, Executrix, to Nancy L. and John E. Atkinson Sr. Lot, Clendenin. $14,000. - Dorothy K. Gwin to Gary and Lori Rezek. Lot, St. Albans. $80,000. - Ethel M. Hurley to Linda J. Withrow. Lot, Union District....
Published: July 30, 2001
Words: 1143

is survived by his son, Rodger Hamrick, and wife, Susan, of Charleston, and their children, Tania and Ashley; daughter, Sharon Gwin, and husband, John of Las Cruces, N.M., and their children, Jeremy, Charity and Sarah; brother, Kenneth...
Published: May 25, 2001
Words: 3862


Published: 03/14/1990
Page: P1B
Headline: LOVED HER


That wasn't the only memorable thing to rise up out of the big 1927 flood.

Mother's bitch bulldog was the most amazing to us--and to most other people who encountered the dog.

She was a product of the flood, very obviously a tourist's dog who got lost from her family in the shipment of cars by train at the height of the high water.

Mother found the big bulldog lying on some feedsacks on our back porch one morning. At that moment, we had no dog. The perfectly huge, obviously BULLdog looked at my mother and immediately thumped her tail on the floor, at the same time trying to smile, we all thought later.

Nothing in life ever daunted my mother. She reasoned that the big friendly-looking dog was hungry, and that if she fed it, it'd go away or something. She fed the dog. Thereafter the dog was hers.

That dog tolerated us four children for the sake of being with mother, who never had really liked any dog, but could get along with any.

Our 1918 Buick was what was called a "touring car' and was open above the doors. When mother started the car to drive her to work as station agent at the railroad depot, the dog leaped effortlessly over the closed door on the passenger side of the car and seated herself beside mother. The car had leather seats, so mother didn't worry. At the depot, the dog walked at mother's heels into the office and lay down under the telegraph table. There was a little picket-fence gate between the inner office and the outside, and the dog stayed outside that gate.

That first day, a log-shipper started to go into the office to sign a paper. Dog leaped from her place and put her front paws on the man's shoulders. She growled like a hungry lion in his face. He had sense enough to wrap his arm in front of his throat and back quickly out. Dog went back under the table.

He said that the single strand of rawhide around the dog's neck was a chokestring, and you had to use it to make her let go if she ever bit anyone. Fortunately, we never had to use it.

That dog let us kids pet and wool her and feed her and play with her, but she reserved any real reciprocal affection for mother. She never let the car engine start without racing out and jumping into the front seat.

Because she was a sort of menace to people at the office, mother decided that we should tie her up at home. We tied a length of plowline around her neck and tied the other end to the leg of our big old upright piano. Mother started the car. Dog made a lunge and actually ripped the leg off the piano, leaving it dangling over the running board after Dog hopped in the car.

If mother ever did get started without the dog, she could watch in the mirror as dog effortlessly trotted behind the car to the depot. We had the dog for about a month, and mother afterward said she often took her pistol out of her purse and left it at home because the dog was such a fierce guardian of her adopted mistress.

One evening when we started home from the depot, we'd made Dog walk. Set trotted happily behind the car. Somebody who didn't like English sparrows had put out a lot of poisoned grain and had killed
hundreds of the little twitterbirds. That evening mother saw in the car mirror as Dog paused to pick up a dead sparrow. And of course she was dead the next morning, lying on the feedsacks on the back porch.

She would have weighed in in the heavyweight class, and certainly she had been owned by a woman, a tourist, who used her as a guardian. And somehow we all, including mother, were just a tiny bit relieved when she died, because she would not let anyone in that inner office but mother's kids. She never bit anyone, but it sure put mother on the spot when a would-be shipper came in to do business.

Funny thing about it all, we never gave her a name.

And for all her standoffishness with us kids, I remember feeling like crying when we buried Ma's Dog.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive

5A Charleston Daily Mail May 25, 1996

Patient Aunt Maude never went in hospital

By Adrian Gwin

Aunt Maude lived more than 90 years and never spent a minute in a hospital, as a patient.

Poor Aunt Maude.

She never knew what she missed.

I've been in lots of hospitals lots of times and wouldn't take a pretty for any of it.

Oh, she had her fun, and life didn't pass her by just because she never got in a hospital.

I remember the day in 1961, the day after the "big flood" when the creeks rose fast and furious and washed out everything and drowned several people and flooded lots of homes.

I sat with her on the porch of the old Stanley home on Campbells Creek, above the high water, while we watched the roiling flood come rolling down.

Another bunch of crossties and a section of rail went churning by, and Aunt Maude sighed.

"I'm lucky, I guess," she said matter-of-factly, "I saw the railroad go up the creek, and now I've lived to see it come down the creek."

She saw a lot more than that in her placid lifetime, without ever getting into a hospital.

Once in her young adulthood she walked between two strange men with drawn and cocked pistols, in the road before her front gate. Holding up her hands she cried calmly: "Men, there'll be no shooting here today. Put the guns away, and go back where you came from."

They put the pistols away, tipped their hats to the young lady, and went about other business. That's the way they did things in the old days, men as well as women. Today, getting between two men with pistols would be a straight ticket to the hospital. But Aunt Maude never got in one as a patient.

My first hospital term was before I went to school. I remember oh, so well, that they took out my tonsils. I remember waking up in my room terribly thirsty, and asking the nurse for a drink of water. My throat was a little sore, but when I swallowed that gulp of water, it cut my throat.

It was the most terrible pain I ever had in my tonsils, and it was in where my tonsils used to be. Lesson for a lifetime: Ask questions before taking action in a hospital.

I was about 8 when I got in the outhouse of a hospital. Ma had put me, deathly sick, on the train with instructions for the conductor to send me to the hospital in town in a taxi. He did. I remember the taxi driver helping me into the waiting room at the hospital, and I remember Dr. DuBose coming in, taking one look, and saying: "Put that boy in the isolation unit in the back yard. He's got the mumps."

But when I was 12, and got a dire illness of some sort, the hospital stay was pleasant, for the most part. They got me to feeling almost normal, then kept me for two weeks getting me well, and one of the "cures" was injection of a huge amount of mercurochrome into my bloodsystem.

The doctor told me it would turn my urine blood-red--and it did. I was fascinated with the red color and with watching it fade a little each day until it was back to normal in about a week.

But the best part of that hospital trip was finding the "Jalna," which began: "Wakefield Whiteoak ran on and on."

I went on to read that new 1929 novel twice, and afterward to read, over the years, all the Whiteoak books by Mazo de la Roche as they came out.

Army hospitals in World War II are best forgotten--but I still wouldn't take a pretty for my time in them. Educational, to say the least.

Once in Thomas Hospital here in South Charleston, I saw a woman being brought in who looked like she was going to have a baby--a baby elephant.

Later I overheard nurses say it was the biggest baby ever born there. So I wandered down the hall and spent two of my newspaper nickels on a phone call to Chuck McGhee, and he called the hospital and we got a story in the Daily Mail about that biggest baby instead of waiting for a routine news release.

That time I felt like being in the hospital got me a "scoop"--which didn't happen very often.

Rest easy, Aunt Maude; you never needed a hospital in 90-plus years--and that doesn't happen very often, either.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive


Published: 01/26/1991
Page: P9A


The sawmill was a reason. The very house we lived in was a reason. The one-room little red schoolhouse was another. The community watering trough was yet another.

The hen that laid her eggs in your hand was a mighty memorable reason.

We moved to Brown's in 1922 and lived there for 18 months or more.

I was nearly 6 years old, and had lived in town all my life.

To a city kid, Brown's was about as far from the city as you could get.

Take that sawmill: Nobody ever saw a sawmill in the city. This one was a half-mile down the road from town center in Brown's, and town center was the railroad depot, the blacksmith shop, Mr. Scott's store (which would have fit into the downstairs hall of the house we rented the upstairs of) and Kirby's big store, which was called "commissary,' though I didn't know why.

From the depot you'd walk a quarter mile down the road past the commissary and there was a road junction. Take the right hand road and curve with it for another quarter mile, and there was the sawmill.

There was a mountain of sawdust in a conical pile off to one side, and a galvanized pipe from the saw to the top of the sawdust pile. When the men who ran the sawmill were not there, we children could climb the sawdust pile. There was a memorable experience.

Your feet and legs would sink, and you'd get sawdust all over you and carry a lot of it back home no matter how hard you tried not to.

When the sawmill was running, we could stand behind the sawyer to watch him pull the levers that controlled the logs and made them into boards. Fascinating.

Mother rented the upstairs of a big old house that was a standard example of Southern living. The stairway in the wide front hall had a quick curve at the bottom for easy access. It also had a wide, slick-as-grease banister which was designed in heaven for 6-year-old sliders.

The back stairs and the front stairs almost met at the top, but the back stairs were enclosed from top to bottom, and there was no banister. But there was a heavy wooden door at the top of the back stairs.

The people downstairs had 12 or 15 chickens running around in the big back yard, and one of those chickens came up the back stairs every day to lay an egg on the top step right at the door.

We children found that she would not go back downstairs until she had laid her egg on that bare wooden top step. We further found that she enjoyed any of us for company. If one of us sat down beside her, she would "sing' the chortle-song that chickens sing when they're happy and feel like laying an egg. And we found that she would rise almost imperceptibly at the moment she laid the egg, and that she had nothing against us slipping a hand under her and catching the egg.

No other chicken anywhere ever did that in our ken.

The community watering trough was a typical small-community water trough. It was about 2 feet wide, 2 feet deep and 10 feet long. At one end was the pump, and we learned that when you got your bucketful of water, you were expected to pump at least a few licks into the trough.

I remember the honeybees and wasps and yellowjackets being at times almost all the way around the water's edge there in the trough, but they bothered neither man nor animal as they got their water.

The horse trough was right across the train tracks between the depot and the commissary, and of course the watering place was where you went to visit with anybody, because everybody came to the town pump at least once a day.

Altogether, Brown's Station was a perfect introduction to rural living back then, and the blacksmith shop was a lodestone attraction to the boys in our family.

No other blacksmith shop was more "typical' than this one, and it was right behind the depot, which was our bailiwick because mother was the railroad agent there.

My memories of Brown's are still vivid after 68 years, and I can still hear Miss Ola Bell Kirby's school handbell sounding out like Big Ben in the London Tower of Parliament, calling us back to the second half of the school day.
The school was the "typical' one-room Little Red Schoolhouse, with two johnnyhouses across the yard in plain view of the teacher as
she sat at her desk.

That was the day when pupils held up one or two fingers on the upraised hand if they wanted to go to the outhouse. I never learned then, nor down through the years since then, just why we had to signal the teacher our intentions. It still seems rather an invasion of privacy.

Brown's was where my brothers got out the long-barreled shotgun and bought a box of shells for target practice. Those shells were black-powder shells (this was before "smokeless powder') and they kicked like a horse, but I didn't know it. I just wanted to shoot that roaring cannon, and they let me. They and I laid the barrel through the picket fence on the top rail, and I slipped in a shell like I'd seen them do, then I aimed at the big cardboard box out across the vacant lot next door, and let 'er go.

For that one moment I'll never forget Brown's Station. (It was the only place I ever knew where you could shoot a shotgun in the front yard and nobody thought anything about it). Then I got up, bawling my eyes out, off the ground where the shotgun had kicked me.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive

Published: 04/18/1992
Page: P4A


THE breathless hyper-type of curtain time backstage at the theater on show night flushed over me last Sunday evening.

And I was only part of the audience.

In church at that.

But 50-year-old memories of four years of theater at Tulane University welled up an over me like the rolling waters of a tidal wave.

"We've Got A Show' drummed through my ears and my heart and mind as "8 o'clock" and "Curtain time" took me back more than 50 years. It was the truest evening of drama I've known since college days.

The performance was the Holy Week Choir presentation of our (Highlawn Baptist) church, and at the risk of being called secular-minded, I say I felt and saw it again like a good play on Dixon Hall stage at the university.

Back then "We've Got A Show" was whispered from lip to ear backstage and into the back halls and to the Green Room of the university theater.

We could literally feel it when we had a show. A good show.

Ten to 15 minutes before curtain time the magnetic electric force of the magical aura on stage would burn into our ears, as the full-house audience buzzed and stirred, awaiting the mesmerizing moment:

"House Lights Down."


Before the jubilant applause of the theater-goers rose to a crescendo, and the audience held its breath waiting the opening lines of the play, we backstage all knew we had a show, and that the next hour would be a fulfillment with never a slow moment in the evening.

And despite the more than a half-century and thousands of worldly experiences later, the magic of that "We've Got A Show' feeling held up for the whole hour of a Holy Week program at the church. It was a Palm Sunday presentation by the regular church choir, but in a professional setting, and with professional finesse to weld and hold it together.

In my four college years I was part of every university theater play, mostly backstage, supporting the actors. The skin-prickling pronouncement of "We've Got A Show" manifested itself only on our best, but we got it many times.

On such nights, when the curtain-applause died down, the entire cast and crews had the all-overs like we could get only when we knew we really had a winner, a show that was electrified from the start I first felt it in 1938 when, as the soothsayer in a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar, I was on stage as part of the curtain-opener, and the show never flagged a moment.

It was like that last Sunday night. Even before the house lights were dimmed, I could feel that the whole presentation was a winner _ that the entire 600-plus people crammed into the church auditorium would enjoy the Easter Choir music to the fullest. And I felt--I knew--that the director, minister of music Terry Harvey, felt it, too.

He didn't need a house-manager to whisper-squeal into his ear, "We've Got A Show." He felt it, and we both knew that the singers felt it too, as they filed into The Living Cross for the presentation. How do we know, minutes before the beginning, that the show will be a winner?

It's always the feeling that the show's going to be good, and it's never there when there's going to be a dud.

I know that almost every church in the Kanawha Valley put on a choir presentation for Easter--but it took the one at Highlawn Baptist to flash like a burning arc-light into my dormant appreciation and shout to me over the years, "We've Got A Show."

Come to think about it, the Easter Story is the show.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive


Published: 11/13/1993
Page: P5A

BEETHOVEN came over on my grandson Jeremy's musical Mayflower.

In olden legend, the Seventh Son was considered someone
extraordinarily endowed.

And in that sense, I consider Jeremy as a outstanding example of the Seventh Son's personification.

He is a seventh-generation piano student of the man acknowledged as one of the greatest piano players, composers and teachers of all time--Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Beethoven, born in 1770, taught Karl Czerny.

Karl Czerny taught Franz Liszt.

Franz Liszt taught Theodor Leschentizky.

Leschetizky taught Artur Schnabel.

Schnabel taught Stefan Bardas.

Bardas taught Shirley Flint.

And Flint taught Jeremy Gwin.

Jeremy is a quietly modest young man who wouldn't brag about his music or teachers. I, his grampa, am the one who put Mr. Beethoven on Jeremy's Musical Mayflower.

I think it's something to brag about.

The name Beethoven is familiar to most of us. His actual life is generally unknown to many.

He is regarded as the "emancipator of music," an art which once was confined to the elite of the courts of Europe. Beethoven established his work as a dignified profession and added much to music that today is recognized as modern music but with Beethoven's basics as part foundation for it.

(Thus we can say that even Elvis and his uneducated guitar and vocalizing are in some small part a spin-off of Beethoven's fundamentals--if we classify Elvis and his performance as music.) Beethoven was a court organist at 14. At 17 he went to Vienna from his native Bonn, Germany, and there met Mozart. At 22, already a master musician and teacher, he settled in Vienna and studied with Joseph Haydn and other masters.

He became deaf in 1819, but from then until his death in 1827, he composed some of the greatest works of music, according to the encyclopedias.

Beethoven was mostly responsible for the shift of concert music from the drawing rooms of kings and princes to the concert halls.

And he often wrote for the performer, as is the situation today.

One of his pupils was Karl Czerny of Vienna, who lived from 1791 to 1857, and who was one of the teachers of Franz Liszt of Hungary. Liszt is remembered as the most celebrated pianist of the 1800s. He died in 1886.

Somewhere along the line, Liszt was a teacher of Theodor Leschetizky, who lived from 1830 to 1915.

The man with this unpronouncable name was a Pole who moved to Vienna and became renowned as a teacher more than performer. He developed his own school of piano and trained the famed Paderewski--and Arthur Schnabel, who became famous as a interpreter of Beethoven's music.

Schnabel died in 1951, after having escaped his Berlin home with the rise of the Nazis, and after having performed a series of seven concerts in Carnegie Hall, when he played all of Beethoven's sonatas.

One of his pupils was Stefan Bardas.

Bardas was, until recently, pianist in residence at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM, my grandson Jeremy's home. Bardas is now retired, but his musical credits would fill a 2-gallon jug.

He was an Austrian born in Berlin, came to the United States in 1938, and has been on the faculty of Illinois Wesleyan University, Northwestern University, North Texas State University, and New Mexico State.

He taught piano privately while continuing to perform, to conduct master classes and to serve as juror for piano competitions. And one of his pupils is Shirley Flint.

She is a musician with more than 30 years of teaching experience. She is a graduate of the University of Tulsa where she was a piano performance major. Her honors at the university would also fill that 2-gallon jug, and in more recent years of her teaching experience, she as produced a jugful of piano scholarship winners. Some of her former pupils are, in the Beethoven-lineage tradition, now performers and teachers in their own right.

Besides giving piano lessons, she has served colleges and universities in various capacities of high musical stature, from Canada to Japan to many of the United States musical centers in various states. Jeremy must have learned something when he had her for a teacher, for he is an accomplished pianist who, like his dad, our son John, rarely passes a piano without rippling the keys in a quick passage from something that flashes before him.

My own experience with music was, to me, tragic, in a manner. Mother played the piano passably well. My sister played both piano and violin. One brother played coronet and the other played violin and clarinet.

I wanted to play drums, and earned money at age 12 to buy a set of orchestral drums and traps. But a well-meaning woman friend persuaded mother that I needed other training before I took drum lessons, so mother sold the drums.

But I did play the 1-gallon whiskey jug in the "hillbilly band" at Boy Scout camp years later--and that is a real accomplishment.

And in Las Cruces, N.M., Stefen Bardas still lives a retired, but somewhat active life, and Shirley Flint continues to be the core of a musical-tornado life and a former teacher of Jeremy Gwin.

So it is that the greatest name in European music, the name of Ludwig Van Beethoven, still lives and influences the music of America from Las Cruces, N.M., USA, seven pupil-teacher generations down the line.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive




Published: 03/28/1998
Page: P3C

SOME restaurants today keep a little pitcher of honey on the table all the time.

Just to see them takes me back 65 or 70 years to a summer of boyhood and Mr. Eggeman.

We didn't learn much about the birds from Mr. Eggeman, but he taught us the bees from A to Izzard.

And the taste of honey today is like a camera to me--flashing pictures of the old beekeeper's acres of hives, and of him prying up
the lid of a hive to load out pounds and pounds of comb honey.

He had about a thousand hives, and he sold a ton or two or three of new honey every season.

And he welcomed my brother and me as students of bee culture and honey production. My brother J.V. lived with him one summer. I got in on some weekends and a couple of honey-packed weeks. It was wonderful living for a 10-year-old country kid.

Mr. Eggeman was Swiss and often told us about his first hive of bees.

He said he was just a little boy when his father coiled some tarred rope into a hive and dug up a nest of bees out of the ground. That started his honey business in the shadow of the Swiss Alps near the border of Germany.

The big, yellow "Italian" bees were his honeymakers. He said they were gentler and more productive than the little black bees of the wild, traditional "bee tree." And he said they packed more honey and separated the honeys of different blossoms.

We learned to see the difference in the combs of various honeys, and we learned to recognize when a hive was making up to swarm--and how to forestall it.

We learned how to cut out a developing queen cell, and how to divide a hive by using that developing queen cell as the lodestone.

Oh, we learned the bees and the honey from Mr. Eggeman back there in the middle '20s. When I see a pot of honey on the table, I can see him with his smoker and hive tool, prying up the lid of a hive, puffing in a whiff of smoke, and taking off 20 pounds of new, white honey.

He was so immunized by stings that another bee sting only raised a small red lump, while we boys would swell up and throb all over the place, it seemed.

We helped him slice off the tops of the combs of a frame, and place them in the extractor. Then, we'd be the power to turn the crank and whirl the honey-frames in the extractor.

We could set a gallon bucket under the spout and fill it with the golden goodness.

We learned all the big and the little parts of beekeeping and honey production, and for the next several years we had our own bees, four or five hives that produced all the honey we craved, and more.

Mr. Eggeman gave us enough bees to start our own hives, and forever afterward he was always with us in our thoughts as we practiced what we'd learned from him.

And I'm one of the few persons I know of who earned the beekeeping merit badge in the Boy Scouts, on my way to Eagle.

Mr. Eggeman lost more that 800 hives of bees in a tornado in the 1930s, and he was crippled by broken bones, so he sold what was left and went from middle Alabama to Oregon, to live with a sister there.

It is often said that we should look ahead, not back.

But in my senior years, it is almost magical to be able to relive a whole summer of beekeeping enchantment in a single glance at a simple honey jug on the table of a restaurant.

Thank you, Bob Evans.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive

P 5A Charleston Daily Mail August 6, 1994

Craftsman's products still in use after 31 years

By Adrian Gwin

ARTS and crafts fairs are really wonderful, for they keep alive the necessity and utility of handmade articles of yesteryear.

In the state's Centennial year, 1963, I found an ultimate West Virginia artist-craftsman: Oscar Peters, a split-oak basket maker.

And today, 31 years later, my family is still using, on a daily basis, two of his baskets.

A bushel basket and a double pie basket.

My son had the two little straight-backed kitchen chairs that Oscar bottomed for me with oak splits. And they're still in use, too, after 31 years of daily service.

Oscar Peters learned oak-split craftsmanship from his father in 1914, when Oscar was 13 years old. The father had been taught the finest of West Virginia arts and crafts by his mother. Obviously, she had learned it from a further-back ancestor.

And there was a pride in Oscar Peter's work that made his baskets better than any other I've seen in the state, ever.

Oscar made baskets for daily use, not as an art or a craft. "I bet I've got several hundred bushel baskets still in use over in Ohio, that they bought during the depression about 30 years ago to bring corn in from the fields," he told me.

After using our bushel basket for a clothes basket for full 30 years and more, I can believe that. I doubted it in 1963.

Oscar cut young white oak trees in the woods, skinned the poles he made of them on his old shaving-horse (a hand-made, foot-operated pole-vise you rarely saw even in 1963) and split out strips of material with his pocketknife and a razor-sharp drawing knife, sometimes getting splits 12- to 16-feet long.

And he always smoothed his splits down to the required thinness and slickness with the drawing knife and a big emery cloth. There was never a whisker or a splinter on any basket he ever made.

Oscar wove his baskets tightly.

"A loose-woven basket isn't first-class, nor a shoddy-wove basket, either," he said. If you're going to make an article for daily use, it has to be first-class, was his philosophy.

Oscar lived out on what once was known as Hoop Pole Ridge, overlooking the Ohio River by LeSage, Cabell County, where he got his mail.

His wife, Bessie, explained that the name in 1963 was Fairview Ridge. "Not many people would even know what a hoop-pole is," she commented dryly. (I gathered that a hoop-pole was a white oak pole from which heavier splits were rived out, from which the oldtimers made the bands, or hoops, which went around hand-made barrels, a common commodity of several generations ago.)

Oscar retired from the ACF plant in Huntington and had by choice gone back to the old squared-log house where he and Bessie lived with their daughter, Dorothy.

While having a cup of coffee with them, I saw hanging on the wall a kitchen chair with a new bottom in it, and inquired.

Oscar said, "You know, a feller brought me those two chairs (another without a seat was in the corner) about 15 years ago, wanting bottoms, and I've never heard from him since."

I asked if he would sell me the two chairs. He was agreeable. Charged $2 each for the bottom and gave me the chairs to get'em out of the way.

In my old scrapbook, together with the picture of Oscar making my bushel basket that has served me so faithfully and well for 31 years, I found a note from the artist-craftsman of Hoop Pole Ridge in Cabell County. "July 11, 1963, Mr. Adrian Gwin, I will have the order ready for Sat. 2 clothes baskets, 3 pie baskets and have the chair ready. From Oscar Peters."

Fred Staunton, then publisher of the Daily Mail, wanted a bushel basket and a pie basket, and got them when I returned that Saturday. I hope they're still in his family.

And every time I go to another West Virginia arts and crafts fair and see a hand-made basket of any sort, I think of Oscar Peters of Hoop Pole Ridge.

Pure artistry and pure craftsmanship distilled down to the ultimate in utility was his trademark of excellence.

I know.

I have the 31-year proof of it.

finishes weaving oak splits into a bushel basket in 1963.
That basket still is in use today, after more than 31 years.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive

Published: 09/21/1996
Page: P8A


Male or female?

It's not like Mary, Sarah or Louise.

Or Bill, Tom, Harry or Jack.

And where did it come from, anyway?

If you're named Adrian, is it a plus or a minus for your friends to appreciate?

I've been named Adrian for right on 80 years, and there was a time, as a kid, when I had to fight for it. There were some kids who made fun of my name because to them it suggested something of femininity.

So I fought 'em for it. Not because I was ashamed of the name. No buddy. I was proud of it. Not because I resented the femininity they implied.

But sometimes kids just have to fight.

Secretly, I was kind of proud of the implied femininity of my name Adrian.

Because I really WAS named for my mother, Adrian Vardaman. And as a child I totally idolized her.

But how did SHE get the name, which is first and foremost a masculine name?

That's a story in itself. But first, something more recent.

During my active life as a newspaper reporter, I ran across another Adrian about once every unptadiddle years--not plumb rare, but not dirt-common, either.

Remarkably, two of them were close associates and daily acquaintances. One of 'em was an in-law.

Adrian Bolin was commonly known as Stretch.

Now a man doesn't get a nickname like that without some foundation, and Adrian Bolin had the qualifications. He was about 6 feet 5 and built like a battleship--muscular and wide-shouldered, with powerful long legs and flexible slender hips, mighty of muscle in every inch of his magnificent frame.

He was a pressman at the Daily Mail. A mild-mannered man with a sense of humor and a quick smile. He didn't mind being named Adrian, but he didn't mind being called Stretch, either.

The other was Adrian McGinnis, a Charleston policeman.

McGinnis, mostly known as "Mac", also was taller than 6 feet, built like a bull, and weighed well over 250 pounds--all of it muscle and might. But he was as agile as a teen-age acrobatic gymnast.

One day in a coincidental moment, Adrian Bolin, Adrian McGinnis and Adrian Gwin were in Detective McGinnis's office when a supercilious radio announcer got smart about the name Adrian. He was on a flagpole at a car wash, promoting the drive-through facility, when he said something to this effect:

"Haw haw haw! Here's a man named Adrian. Now why would a man have a woman's name. Haw haw haw!"

Mac looked at Stretch and me, and said, "C'mon! Let's all three go down there and tell him!"

We got to laughing so hard we never did do it, but it'd have been a good lesson to that idiotic radioman.

How I got the name:

Mother's mother ran a needle in her finger and got blood-poisoning about a month before Mother was born. They sent a boy on horseback to get the doctor, and he came in a hurry that January day in 1877.

He lanced grandma's arm, gave her some medicine, and stayed up with her all night till he was sure she would be OK.

Grandma vowed she'd name the baby after that doctor, and she did.

He was Dr. Adrian Goggins.

The name originated in the name of an ancient Roman emperor--Hadrian--which apparently was pronounced just Adrian. That's as far back as anyone had traced it, and nobody's ever disputed it.

It's about as masculine as can be, and nobody's ever disputed that, either.

In recent months, I read in the papers that the sixth baby in the litter of sextuplets--six babies at one time!--was named Adrian--Adrian Dilley.

He was a boy Adrian, the last-born of that bunch of six Dilley babies.

Now ain't that a Dilley.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive



Published: 05/23/1992
Page: P2A


DATING in college today is something I know nothing about. But ask me about dating at Tulane 50 years ago.

I lived in New Orleans, so the French Quarter was not, to me, all that "romantic.' It was just the place you went on a date. And money, of course, had a lot to do with the places in the French Quarter to which you took your date.

I remember a night in my junior year, feeling fabulously rich, I had a $20 bill to spend. My No. 1 girlfriend was the only child of a wealthy sugar planter, and she had a car, and she always picked up the tab for the car's expenses.

That night we made the rounds of the smaller nightclubs and got around to the 500 Club a little after midnight. She had ordered a frozen daiquiri, and I had a big Coke which we shared. I'd get a tiny sip of her frozen daiquiri and she'd get a good swig of my Coke. Then a cute little "Cigarette Girl" came by our table.

She looked to be about 16 years old, and she was telling fortunes for $2 a fortune. We had her tell both our fortunes. She sat next to my date, took her hand and began the usual routine that French Quarter fortune-tellers relied on. She had an unmistakable New York City accent, and she looked starved, sort of like she'd lost about 15 pounds recently.

I paid her the $4 after she'd said we'd get married and have eight kids and that I'd take a cruise across the sea.

All of a sudden I had an intuition, and I told her to stay right there with us, and I'd tell her fortune for free.

I looked at the palm of her hand and tried to look wise, and told her that she was from New York, had decided not to try for college, and had come to New Orleans for fun and to try for a job of some kind--and had found that the big bucks came from the dates she had to sleep with, which she wouldn't. So, I told her, she had become a cigarette girl to try to make money enough to get back home.

She started crying and said it was all true. My girlfriend came around the table to hug her and talk her out of the crying jag.

We wound up walking a block with her to her two-room apartment on Bourbon Street, just off Jackson Square. We could see that she was eating up her earnings in the most expensive rental area in New Orleans, so my date and I told her we'd find better rooms and we sort of adopted her as a worthy cause.

We talked her into raising her fortune-telling fee to $5 a whack, and we both gave her a lot of hokus-pokus talk that she could work into her "fortunes.'

And we talked her into dressing like a Gypsy-girl, with a long dress instead of that tutu-type frill costume of the cigarette girl. We saw her on several occasions after that, working the 500 Club, and she made a fine Gypsy fortune-teller.

The waiter, long afterward, told us she wished for us all everything she'd told us in our first fortune.

I also remember an astounding date one night when I was a senior. It was a night that could have--well, it's just as well that we didn't get caught, and that it happened 50 years ago.

I was dating a beautiful girl who wasn't quite a prude, but could have been understudying for the part. We were double-dating with Les Caran, and he was with one of the most popular of the campus belles.

It was a very warm night in the spring, and I had my brother's car. It was well on into the morning (the dance had been a 10-to-2 affair) and we'd been to one of the lakefront shrimp-and-crab joints before tooling out along the lake seawall to park in one of the many convenient pull-outs there.

We didn't notice that another car with four students was parked beside us, until the fellow nearest us in that car called out, "Hey. We're gonna go skinny-dippin' off the seawall."

And suddenly out of that car erupted two girls and two boys who were stark naked. They were laughing and giggling and sort of squealing, and they streaked across the Lakeshore Drive, down the steps of the seawall, and hit the water like a bunch of seals.

I think all four of us said "let's go too," and started pulling off our clothes. We were all bare in moments, and across the boulevard and down the seawall we went, to join our neighbors bathing in nothing but seawater and moonlight.

There was no bodily contact amongst any of us--a fact that Les and I found almost incredible days later as we mentally reconstructed the evening.

Suddenly, one of the girls gasped and almost screamed, "What if somebody sees us and reports us to the dean!"

We were all out of the water and dressed in another two minutes. Our clothes were wet, but they dried long before 4:30, when we took our dates to the Fishermen's Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral, after coffee at the French Market.

That was one of the most impromptu, improbable dates. Equally as believable was the fact that neither Les nor I could visualize later what our dates looked like without clothes.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive




Published: 10/30/1993
Page: P13B

T HE romance of the old-time steam engine railroad sometimes was just standing still.

Lucky us, we railroad kids back in the 1920s not only had the depot where all the passenger trains stopped (four a day down on "The Little Southern"), but we had the water tank, too.

Steam trains had to have water, and while I'd read about and seen pictures of the big hot-shot passenger train scooping up water "on the fly" from a long mid-track ditch, I'd never actually seen it.
Our engines had to stop under the spout of our water tank and get their water by hand.

We went daily to school on the morning train, No. 16, that came up from Meridian, Miss.

And Engine 926 almost always pulled 16.

Its standing there by the water tank was part of the taken-for-granted Romance of the Rails for us.

When Cap McMillan's big pet beast got there, Cap always got out to oil the places that had to be oiled.

And the big drive-wheels on that little engine were taller than he was.

More than 6 feet in diameter.

Every morning at 6:10 yonder came the train, and Cap would pull in under the water-tank spout at a creep. The fireman was already up on the tender in front of the coal pile, standing on the steel lid of the tender's water box. When 926 was in just the right position, Cap would shut 'er down, set the brakes and reach for his oil can. The fireman would pull the rope that brought the big tank-spout down into position. He'd put the nozzle-end into the tender's pot head, thus connecting the big water tank and the tender. Then he'd pull the wire that started the water. It took maybe four to six minutes to satisfy 926's thirst.

Those minutes were the minutes we kids were waiting for. Cap McMillian, in his pinstriped overalls, with a blue bandanna 'round his neck and his pinstriped engineer's cap on his head, would come backing down the three vertical steps of the engine, carrying his wondrous oilcan.

It would hold more than a pint of oil, and the spout was a thin tube, close to 3 feet long.

On winter mornings when it was still dark at 6:10, Cap would carry a Coke bottle filled with kerosene or fuel oil, stuffed with a
rag wick, to use as a light while he oiled.

I never saw him or any other engineer use a regular railroad lantern, and I always wondered why. But it was paramount romantic to us then, to see him use the flaming, smoky bottle as a flare to see by.

He'd poke the long-tubed oilcan between the wheels and oil something behind them, then move a foot or two and do it again, holding that flaming Coke-bottle torch high to see by. He oiled several places, then went around to the other side to do it all over again there.

For the traditional Romance of the Rails, you had to see an engineer sailing down the mainline like the captain of a battleship on the high seas. His left hand would be careless-like on the Johnson Bar, his right elbow on the padded sill of the window, with the engine blasting cinders and staccato sound like only a steam engine could.

That was the top thrill of a child of the railroad--but to see that same engineer carefully poking his long-nosed oilcan into the innards of his engine made you know that he nursed his engine like a baby. It was a thrill to compare.

And it was then we could see Cap McMillian up close. His wrinkled face was always aglow with interest in his engine. His greasy overalls testified to many leaning-ins behind those great drive-wheels. His sweaty bandana gave a touch of color and a flair of the working man to his composure.

And that kersoene-rag-in-a-bottle torch gave the ultimate romantic touch to a scene we never tired of watching.

Then, of course, all the while, old 926 stood there just purring the soft song of all steam-train engines at rest, with steam up, ready to go. It was a sort of interior rumble-purr-whisper with a regular-spaced throbbing tick interwoven--a sound that can't be duplicated by a human, can't be described in words.

But it can't be forgotten, that sound of a powerful steam engine standing without hitching, waiting faithfully for the caressing hand of the engineer to move it out down the line.

When the fireman slammed down the steel lid of the water-box on the tender, Cap knew it was time to go, and as the engine pulled up that last hundred feet into the station yard to put off and take on mail and express and to discharge and board passengers, we kids always felt like the man at the throttle was kin to us.

And he was, and they were, all trainmen, because they'd known our dad, a train conductor killed in a wreck, so they all acted like a dad to us.

I remember the most remarkable incident ever to happen to Cap McMillian there at the water tank.

It was a chilly morning right after school started in the fall. Cap went around the front of 926 to oil the other side and saw a small boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old, wedged against the coupling-bar UNDER THE COWCATCHER.

He was so cold he couldn't talk. Cap called some men around the depot, and they got the tiny kid out by putting him flat on his back and sliding him backward several feet, to find a place big enough to slide him from under the engine.

They put him in the warm coach and took him to the hospital in Selma. The doctors kept him several days, we heard, but said he was OK and his parents came for him.

He was running away from home, and how he ever got under that cowcatcher was always a mystery. But he was part of the romance of the steam engine days to me, and of Cap. McMillian and old 926 that hauled us four railroad urchins to school.

Even today, every now and then, I see the figure 926 somewhere and

Well, I get to thinking--and looking back.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive



Published: 05/04/1996
Page: 05A
Of all of Mother's beaus (when I was a kid), I liked Mr. Benny the best.

Not that he was perfect. I didn't want Ma to marry him. But the others had bigger drawbacks then he, and there were only two that we kids thought she really considered.

One was a dope fiend, a morphine eater. Back then (in the 1920s) they called a spade a spade.

Ma tolerated that dope fiend until some other railroaders told her about his habit--then she ditched him like a pot of slops.

The other beau was too fat for us and had too much family for both her and us. Four kids. Ma told him she would never try to live with eight kids under the same roof, 'specially since we didn't like them and they didn't like us.

But Mr. Benny was different.

He was good-looking. Personable. Acceptably likable, acceptably human.

Mr. Benny had only one hand. His left hand was off just above the wrist. Talk was, he shot it off to collect the insurance. Despite all this, he could do almost everything anybody else could.

He lived about 5 miles across the woods from us, and his house was an antebellum home. That meant it was built before the Civil War, had six big white columns across the front, eight huge rooms and a kitchen in the back yard with a covered walkway connecting it to the house, and about 2,000 acres of countryside around it.

He was divorced, with a son and daughter about the ages of me and my sister. They--Earl and Jenny-Mary--lived in town with their mother, but spent most of the summers with their dad. Earl would saddle Sparky, and Jenny-Mary the mare, and they'd come get us, to ride double to Mr. Benny's where we'd spend maybe a week at a time.

It was a fascinating place, with five or six families of farmers and workers living near the big house, and a farm full of animals everywhere.

For what he had, Mr. Benny would have been a good stepdaddy. But I saw him once slap his son plumb out of his chair at the dinner table for some minor misconduct. That I didn't like a little bit.

Mother liked him a lot, but she called him a rascal to his face. By that we knew she'd never marry him.

He had a big herd of white-faced cows, and often referred to himself as a cow farmer. Other people called him a cattle farmer. But I once heard one of his "ranch-hands" say, "I seen Mr. Benny sit up there by the desk in the kitchen winder and figger and figger, and when it don't come out right, he'll up and sell a load of cattle."

That was all he kept the cattle for, for when "it didn't come out right."

Mr. Benny sold wildcat oil wells for a living. And a rascal he was, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

He'd put a three-man drill crew on a rig on a leased piece of ground in Sumter County where nobody had ever heard of oil. There wasn't anything but limerock and water underground there.

When the well-hole got drilled down several hundred feet, he'd go all around the county selling shares in it to the people who lived there. Then, after all the legalities had been met, he'd pull up a dry hole, move the rig maybe 500 yards or a quarter-mile, and start selling shares all over again to the same people.

Today, he'd be called an entrepreneur. Mother called him a rascal.

When we moved, and Mr. Benny became a thing of the past, we read long afterward in the Birmingham papers about a gas strike he made in Jefferson County. The well caught fire and blew a flaming tower of gas straight up for several days.

"Flaming oil well," said the caption under the front-page pictures. He got a million dollars worth of publicity out of it, and maybe sold that many shares in his next dry hole.

Long afterward, we ran across his old drill chief in the Piggly-Wiggly store in Birmingham. He said that when they hit that pressurized pocket of gas, Mr. Benny jumped 10 feet.

"Strike a match. Strike a match," he hollered to the crew, "and I'll go call the newspapers."

And they did, and he did.

A rascal--or a fast-buck artist?

What's the difference?

I was always glad Ma stayed a widow.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive



This wasn't any ordinary bridge

It was so ordinary a bridge, to be so extraordinary. The McDowell bridge over the Tombigbee.

Southern Railway bridge.

It preceded the Tenn-Tom Waterway by a long many years, but ultimately became literal part of the Tenn-Tom by virtue of a big towboat's misadventure.

Our home was on the bank of the Tombigbee there at McDowell, Ala., a quarter mile below the bridge. We could see it any time we looked up that way.

It looked just ordinary.

Then, when a steamboat whistled, it became exceptional. They called it a "drawbridge"--but it didn't draw anything. It was a turntable bridge, the first one I ever saw.

A "bridge tender" lived on our side of the bridge, right beside the railroad tracks. He had a family and we played with his kids, about our ages.

The bridge tender made the bridge go up when the steamboats whistled. He would wind it up like a clock.

At low water, the river was low enough for all steamboats to go under, but let the river raise just a few feet, and the bridge had to be "opened"--turned a quarter-circle, so the upper structures of the boats would clear as they went.

Mr. Ray, the bridge keeper, had a routine for that opening.

First, he had to put out lanterns and flags on the railroad tracks to keep any trains from diving into the river.

He'd grab a red lantern and light it, race across the bridge, set the lantern and flag between the rails on the far end, then run back to post the "near" side the same way.

Then, he'd run to the center of the big, middle span to unlock the mechanism. A steel pole with a crossbar on one end and a wrench-socket on the other was locked down between the rails, right above the hollow middle pier.

He'd unlock that winding-key pole with his switchkey, then drop the wrench-pole down a pipe in the pier. After turning it a few turns to unlock the mechanism, he'd pull it up and put it down the mainspring shaft.

Then he had to walk around and around in a six-foot circle, pushing that crossbar, and the great gears down inside the pier began to turn, and the bridge began to swivel around. It had a big ball bearing or little wheels on a circular track, upon which the huge span was delicately balanced.

It was always a wonder to me that trains could cross it. It took maybe five or six minutes of round-and-round walking, pushing on that crossbar, to get the span turned up and down river, thus clearing a space for the steamboat to pass.

Sometimes, we kids would be at Ray's when the time came, and we'd help him turn the span. Other times, we'd be at home when the Helen Burke came upstream, biggest of the river packets we saw.

And while she stopped and waited right in front of our house, we'd all go to the front porch for the show.

The chef--complete with white apron and high white cap--always went topside to the Texas deck to give us a five-minute show. It was tap dancing and foot shuffling, and we'd clap and whistle and shout while Ray turned the bridge. To country kids, the little impromptu dance put on by "Cookie" of the Helen Burke was almost as extraordinary as Ray turning the bridge.

We moved from McDowell, and in 1928 or 1929, a big towboat, either the Montgomery or the Cordova, accidentally hit that huge round, hollow, center bridge pier.

The McDowell bridge collapsed into the Tombigbee and the railroad never replaced it.

I wonder if there's anything left there, 70 years later, to tell those traveling the Tenn-Tom waterway, of the McDowell bridge.

To me, it's always extraordinarily wonderful that one skinny old man, without steam or electricity, could move a whole bridge whenever a steamboat whistled to go by.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive



Published: 06/12/1993
Page: P5A
HE was ingenious, creative, resourceful, adaptable, thoughtful,
compassionate, outgoing, good-natured and remarkably well-adjusted
My oldest brother, James.
Born 83 years ago this month.
I recall when I was not quite 5 years old James got a bicycle. And he learned to ride it (he was 11 years old) in short order and would take me as a passenger on "the bar" for rides up the street, and sometimes would ride me all 14 blocks to school when I was in kindergarten.
He had our grandfather's little book,The Boys' Toymaker, and when we moved to a sparsely settled country place, James built flat kites and box kites, fire balloons, and fish-traps. We all helped, for he loved to share experiences as well as what our grandmother called "plunder"--any object a child owned and treasured.
From that book he learned how to make a "figure-four trigger" of three sticks, to put under a weighted box trap and catch rabbits, cats, skunks, coons, and other varmint that nibbled on the bait and sprung the trigger-sticks.
We wanted a wagon, but had no wheels.
James took all of us to the woods and we found the roundest-trunk tree ever, sawed it down and propped it up to season, then skinned off the bark and saw-sliced four discs off the tree.
And how were we going to bore the holes for the axles?
James got a poker, heated it glowing red and found the exact center of each disc by marking off diameters, and we burned our holes, made a fine wagon, with foot-wide wheels.
One day mother told us kids to bust up a lame-legged old table for kindling. James determined the top was one solid piece of rock maple under the coats of cracked varnish.
With a pair of calipers (he was 15 then) he measured what he needed, and with a coping saw, several chisels, and gouges, he carved out the top piece of a violin that would have made Stradivarius envy the boy. In several months, working in spare time only, he shaped and shaved and put together a real violin.
He had taken lessons since he was 10 and was a pretty good player.
It didn't have the tone of a Stradivarius or Amati, but it did have a mellow, soft voice that we all loved. And I cannot remember whatever happened to it.
James went to Auburn for two years but had to drop out because of ill health.
When we moved to New Orleans, James took over the washing and ironing machines when we ran a boarding house to get my other brother John through medical school.
James washed 28 sheets and 16 pillowcases twice a week and ironed them on our "mangle"--and never complained.
After we gave up the boarding house, James read up on pottery and built a gas-fired kiln in the back yard, a huge beehive-type structure. He made agreement with a French Quarter shop and taught them how to make plaster casts of two hands placed dish-wise together (usually a man and a woman) and then he'd make pottery-clay dishes. And he got five of the $10s they brought.
He was in love with a wonderful woman, so he got a "regular" job as orderly in a big hospital, later was named a surgical-dressing technician, and later became an inhalation specialist. He and Evelyn built a three-room house in Metairie on a lot that his pottery had paid for.
James hauled all the house-lumber on a bicycle with a little red wagon trailer, from the used-lumber yard two miles distant. He built the whole house, foundations, lumberwork, plumbing, wiring and glazing.
James loved to tell stories. He and Evelyn loved kids. He became a Metairie Volunteer Fireman and stayed with it for years. He became the mall Santa Clause for pictures with the toddlers and stayed with that also for many years, and later became the mall bunny at Easter.
James and Evelyn raised their daughters, Juanita Kate Gwin and Betty Gwin--whom they adopted when she was in her teens--by adding three small rooms on an already small house. He hauled in a car-trailer from middle Alabama two sets of bedroom furniture--antique bed, dresser, and wash stand of our grandmother's (bought by our grandparents secondhand in 1870) and Aunt Maggie's "parlor-bedroom" bed and dresser of the 1906 era when she and Uncle Jeff built their new home in Alex City, Ala.
The children grew up and married and moved away and in time James retired from his hospital job and then Evelyn passed on and James lived on for several years in the little house he and she had
built from scratch.
March 1, 1984, was a beautiful springlike morning in New Orleans and Metairie.
The sun was up early in a bright clear sky and there was a nip in the air, but warming fast.
Next door, the redbud tree was popping into purply-pink color, the birds were singing in the cypress and holly trees in the corners of the yard.
It was a perfect morning such as James loved--he loved to be up early to see the new day coming in. It was his kind of day.
So he got up early--before 6 in that perfect morning, and without a sigh, without a regret, without a doubt, but with his head held high as he had always held it in the sight of men and of God, he ventured forth into Eternal Happiness, and went out to meet again his beloved wife, and to walk with her hand-in-hand in the presence of their Lord.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive



Published: 10/16/1993
Page: P5A
Y OU might have smelled me and the others a mile away.
We smelled that good.
Like a rose garden.
It was my freshman year at college when I was a member of a Shakespeare play.
I was the Soothsayer in a modern-dress version of "Julius Caesar."
Our philosophy professor, Iradell Jenkins, was Caesar, and for this version of the Shakespeare classic was a riot. He was a riot anyway, if you ever saw him lecture a class.
He was about 5-foot-4 and 110 pounds. But--for this play (remember this was the autumn of 1938), he was Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, the tyrannical Italian dictator, with olive-green soldier uniform, black Sam Browne belt, .45 automatic in a belt-holster, and brilliantly burnished high-top black boots.
No sandals. No toga.
No olive wreath on a bald head for THIS Caesar.
I got the Soothsayer part because I could scream loud and long, holding a certain note that a solo clarinet reached and held while I screamed.
That Soothsayer opened the show, literally.
All other parts were cast when I applied to the university theater director. He said "What can you do with your voice?"
I said "Whadda ya want?"
He asked the orchestra director to have the first clarinet hit and hold a certain high note. I was to scream the name "Caesar" in as loud a voice as I could, exactly matching (if I could) that clarinet--and hold it for 15 seconds.
Professor Morrissey had written the entire overture and was directing the whole show's music.
When the orchestra fell silent except that one insistent clarinet, Morrissey cued me--pointed his baton at me. I took a deep breath and let go.
And I matched it perfectly.
Try holding a high pitch for 15 seconds.
The director, Dr. Monroe Lippman, laughed aloud and told Morrissey "I knew we had to find a real windbag for this one."
Now picture our opening night: Curtain is closed, houselights on. Last patrons being seated. Orchestra far along in that stirring overture.
Backstage, Doc Lippman cruising noiselessly around to match his huge opening cast to the music--the critical part of the show.
"Places. Places. Half a minute to curtain."
"Houselights DOWN."
There is the usual round of applause as the auditorium lights fade to brownout. Footlights still flame against the still-closed curtain.
Inside on stage the scene is ready.
The Forum steps.
Caesar and entourage, about 15 cast members in Fascisti uniform, motionless on the steps. Caesar down center.
A crowd of Roman citizens frozen in place, bottom of steps stage left.
Soothsayer hidden in that crowd. Music building toward my opening cue. Stage manager passes word at the switchboard:
Total darkness, backstage and in auditorium. Music almost to crescendo. Stage manager: "Curtain."
In that Stygian blackness with the orchestra still full-throated, the curtain opens silently.
Suddenly the orchestra slams to a stop, except my cue-clarinet, and I pick up and do our thing together in all that darkness--the clarinet wailing its tremolo shriek, the Soothsayer matching it in his screaming Caesar-call, a literally hair-raising 15 seconds in the absolute darkness.
Everything stops.
Then, WHAM.
Four 2,000-watt carbon-arc spotlights from the balcony and a dozen overhead floodlights hit the stage like the sun at midday.
The actors move not a muscle. The tableau is frozen for a count of five, to give the eyes of our blackout-conditioned audience time to adjust. Then Caesar, turning toward the crowd, barks, "Hah. Who speaks?"
From the crowd steps out front and center the Soothsayer. He is ragged, long white hair and beard. Stooped, humpbacked.
He raises a hand, points a bony finger at the face of the mighty Roman dictator.
"Beware the Ides of March."
Il Duce-Iradell-Caesar thrusts his chin upward, looks down his nose at the Soothsayer."The Ides of March are come."
"Aye, Caesar. But not gone."
Caesar snorts, dismisses the Soothsayer with a perfunctory wave of the hand, then he and his corps of bigwigs march off in stiff-kneed parade-ground lockstep, churning through the plebian citizenry.
Soothsayer has disappeared, and the crowd begins to thin out as the curtain closes.
Running time for that opening scene: less than one minute.
But the audience went wild with standing, stomping, clapping, and loud cries of "Bravo."
Like I said, you could have smelled us a mile, it was that sweet to them and to us.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive



Published: 08/29/1994
Page: P2A

Add one more item to retired Daily Mail reporter Adrian Gwin's list of achievements.
Gwin was inducted Saturday evening as an honorary member of Retired Firemen and Policemen of West Virginia, said Jerry Johnson, president.
A reporter for the Daily Mail for almost 40 years, Gwin retired in September 1981, but still writes an occasional column for the paper. He is also the author of several popular books.
Johnson, a retired patrolman for the Charleston Police Department, said he first met Gwin when he was a desk sergeant and Gwin was the Daily Mail's police reporter. "He used to come in and look at the police blotter, and we just sort of hit it off," Johnson said. "He's been very good to us over the years."

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive




Published: 03/22/1997
Page: P6A

I got started telling dialect stories by a fluke of alphabetical
absence - and a magnificent repertoire of 24-karat folk tales.

I knew such stories as a boy, but didn't venture into the
story-telling field until years later.

When you're a little boy, and have a nurse - that's what they called a
baby sitter when I was a baby - it's great to have a nurse who's

And we did.

There were four of us and only one nurse, but she was a good one. She
was black, sort of heavy and could hold all four of us on her lap
despite the fact that James was 10 years old.

And she could tell stories.

Laura was the only name we ever knew her by. She was our surrogate
mother, nurse, housekeeper, cook and companion.

I was 5 years old and not in school yet when Ma went back to work, a
widow in 1922 with four kids.

She had to be gone from the house 10 hours a day, and a nurse for the
kids was a must.

Laura came.

She made our breakfasts and dinners and suppers and made the beds and
made us happy. And she told us stories in the big rocking chair.

Years later, I recognized one of her stories - the one about the
tug-of-war between the bear and the terrapin - as one of the "Uncle
Remus" stories of Joel Chandler Harris.

It made me realize that Laura got her stories, including this one, not
from a book, but from listening to storytellers. Her father told them
to her as he had heard them from his father. Because I knew that Laura
couldn't read.

Remembrance of her stories is so vivid that I had no hangups years
later when, on the spur of an unsettling moment, I stood to tell one
of "her" stories with no special preparation.

It was a speech class at Warren Easton Boys High School in New
Orleans. We were to have a five-minute speech ready, but I knew that
the teacher called for recitation in alphabetical order of the class
roll, and he went strictly by the book. There were quite a few ahead
of me on the roll book, so I'd not be called on until next time.

But this time absences were many -- it was "flu time" - and without
warning, the roll started with me.

"Mr. Adrian Gwin," intoned the professor, and I'd made no preparation
for a five-minute speech.

My head was as empty as a drum, and my heart skipped a beat. I had to
get an A in that class, and if I didn't make an acceptable five-minute
speech, I was plumb dead.

So I got to my feet. My seat was in the back of the room and I started
walking slowly to the front. But my mind was going like 240 on the

I thought the only thing I could talk on for five minutes would be one
of the stories that Laura used to tell back in my childhood.

At the front I turned to face the class. A long pause. A deep breath,
Then, a little-boy voice,

"Uncle Remus, tell me a story."

The deep chuckle of the old storyteller.

"Well, it seem lak Br'er Fox been chasin'atter Br'er Rabbit all dese
yeahs an's he ain' cotch 'im yit. An' dat bein' de case uv matters,
whut do he do?"

Everybody listened.

They sat up bug-eyed at Br'er Rabbit's adventures, and when the tale
was finished, some clapped.

Prof beamed, and I got an A.

Got more than that. I realized that here was great asset to entertain
- children or adults. Since then, I've told Br'er Rabbit stories
hundreds of times to all ages, and have been acceptably received,

Once in recent years, I was flattered beyond flattery when the Dean of
Folktale Students, Della Brown Taylor, then a professor at West
Virginia State College, requested a tape of my tales after hearing the
Tar Baby story.

She had made three trips to Africa to study origins and evolutions of
African folktales, and she knew the stories.

She also knew the dialect.

And I knew the stories and they came to me from a genuine
word-of-mouth folkstory teller.

Laura, our family baby sitter of 1921-22.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive



Published: 11/06/1993
Page: P5A

L OOKING back over 50 years to 1943, you can see him tower over
their heads.
Over the heads of the heroes of all the other conflicts.
Back to the harshest war this country has ever known, to the
throes of the life-and-death situations of World War II _ to the time
when millions of just Americans fought tooth and toenail down to the
wire. Fought for themselves and their families and their homeland,
the United States of America.
Back you look, over all their heads to Herbert J. Thomas, a hero
of 1943.
His picture hangs on the wall of the entrance foyer of South
Charleston's Herbert J. Thomas Memorial Hospital. Beside it hangs a
copy of the citation for his Congressional Medal of Honor, his
country's highest decoration.
Herbert Thomas was 7 years old when his family moved to South
Charleston from Ohio. He went to grade school here, and he graduated
from South Charleston High School.
His sister, Audrey Thomas, who still lives in South Charleston,
remembers he had a South Charleston High sweater with his athletic
letters on it, and that afterward, when he was away and returned, he
always wore that old sweater.
Herbert played football for South Charleston High, and played
well. Well enough that he was accepted at the prestigious Greenbrier
Military Institute where he played football.
Now, 50 years after the heroic sacrifice of his life, his sister
said, "I think Herbert was born in 1918. And I think he graduated
from South Charleston High in 1938.
"Yes, he went on then to Greenbrier Military, and played
football there; I think he was a quarterback.
"After playing at Greenbrier Military, he went on to VPI and
played football there. He loved to pay football. While he was there
he joined the Marine Corps Reserve, and he left school in his fourth
year, after his unit was activated.'
Audrey Thomas works at Gorby's Music Store on 7th Avenue in
South Charleston, and it was there that she graciously talked with me
She recalls, "Herbert was just a typical neighborhood kid when
he was growing up. He always loved people, and the kids he ran with
often tented overnight in each other's yards.
"As I remember him, he was just an average student, but he
loved people, and he loved to dance. He was a good dancer.'
Another who knew young Herbert Thomas is Rhoda Ford Tawney, who
remembers that he had a particular pal in one phase of his young life
"Herbert and Tom Burdette were real buddies at one time. We
lived on Rosemont Avenue then, and they ate many meals at our home
. Both of them were particularly fond of french fried potatoes, I
remember. Yes, when they went to the service, both boys joined the
Marine Corps Reserves at the same time.'
I asked Audrey if he was buried overseas or if he was brought
back here.
"He's buried here,' she said, "in Sunset Memorial Park.'
The citation for the Medal of Honor tells all the rest. It is
signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, and if you pause for a few
minutes in the hospital foyer, you can read it there just as I read
it the other day, in this 50th year since he literally gave us his
life so that others might live.
"The Medal of honor, presented posthumously to Sgt. Herbert J
.Thomas, Marine Corps Reserve is set forth in the following:
"For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry above and
beyond the call of duty in service with the Third Marines, Third
Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the
battle of Koromokina River, Bouganville Island, Solomon Islands, on
Nov. 7, 1943.
"Although several of his men were struck by enemy bullets as he
led his squad through dense jungle undergrowth in the face of severe
hostile machine gun fire, Sgt. Thomas and his group fearlessly
pressed into the center of the Japanese position and destroyed the
crews of two machine guns by accurate rifle fire and grenades.
"Discovering a third gun more difficult to approach, he
carefully placed his men closely around him in strategic positions
from which they were to charge after he had thrown a grenade into the
"When the grenade struck vines and fell back into the group,
Sgt. Thomas deliberately flung himself upon it to smother the
explosion. Valiantly sacrificing his life for his comrades.
"Inspired by his selfless action the men unhesitatingly charged
the enemy machine gun and with fierce determination killed the crew
and several other nearby defenders.
"The splendid initiative and extremely heroic conduct of Sgt
.Thomas in carrying out his prompt decision with full knowledge of
his fate reflects great credit upon himself and the U.S. Naval
"He gallantly gave his life for his country.'
Herbert Thomas, who loved to play football, who loved to dance,
who loved people and loved to live with them, didn't become a hero on
purpose. He didn't "grandstand' his Medal-of-Honor death.
He was flawlessly a quick-witted quarterback accustomed to
making quick, selfless decisions.
I saw a little combat in that same war, and I know approximately
what he was thinking. In that scant three seconds before the grenade
went off, he most consciously realized that the explosive had been
thrown by him, and that every one of those buddies with him would die
by his hand when the grenade exploded.
He realized there was one way, and one way only for him to
prevent this _ and that the action had to be instantaneous.
He did not pause a fraction of a second. Within the blink of an
eye he precipitously and deliberately took the full impact of the
grenade, with the full knowledge that he would die, and as certain
knowledge that they would live.
Today as I pass his picture in the hospital foyer, I think of
a poem written back about the turn of the century by a man named
Henry Van Dyke. I doubt that Herbert Thomas thought of any poetry in
all his military service, but to me, it epitomizes the thoughts
behind the reasons that he and millions of others fought and gave
their lives in that turmoil.
"So it's home again and home again, America for me! My heart is
turning home again, and there I long to be, In the land of Youth
and Freedom beyond the ocean bars, Where the air is full of sunlight
and the flag is full of stars!'
Thank you, Sgt. Thomas.

Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive



The Charleston Daily Mail

16 Jul 1994, pg. 7A

By Adrian Gwin
Any small child would have trouble pronouncing the name "Vardaman.'
My mother, whose maiden name was Adrian Bell (known as Adabell) Vardaman, knew that from her earliest childhood.
The tale I'm telling I heard many times from her, as a Tale Of Long Ago, even then. In my time, years later, it had for me a poignant ending in the harshest yet tenderest reality of life.
Ma was born in mideastern Alabama in 1877, on a mile-square section of land her father homesteaded right after the Civil War. The nearest neighbors were half a mile east and half a mile west of the Vardaman house, which she always referred to as "the old homeplace."
Neighbors on one side were white, surnamed Burnett. On the other side, the neighbors were black, and while I once must have known the surname, the only names I can come with now are of the two children, Sam and Zephyr.
In telling how she first met those two, mother said she was quite small, maybe only five or six years old. She said she heard the knock on the kitchen door one morning right after breakfast, and watched and listened as her mother, my grandmother, answered the door.
There stood two small black children, strangers then to my mother. They were about her own age, mother said. The little girl spoke first. "Mis Vottom, Sam wants a biscuit.'
Then the boy, maybe a year younger, spoke. "Mis Vottom, Zephyr wants a biscuit.'
Ma remembered that her mother smiled--she had little to smile about then, perhaps, and said "You wait right here!'
When she gave each hungry child a big light biscuit, she had split each, and liberally smeared it with butter on one side and gooseberry jam on the other before making a sandwich of it.
"Now scoot. Go out and play," she said in the same tone and the same words she often used to her own Adabell.
Mother scooted, too, from the kitchen before grandmother closed the door, and quickly caught up with Sam and Zephyr before they'd finished their biscuits.
Then the three of them walked on, out to the roadway before the house, and soon they were racing on the road to see who could run to the big pine by the wooden ditch-bridge and back first.
Shortly, Della Burnett came along. Together the four played most of the morning, racing, skipping hopscotch on the sandy side yard of the smokehouse down toward the springbranch, or sliding down on the pine needles of "the slidey hill".
They climbed trees and waded in the cold water of the trickling stream, poked at crawdads in the shallow pools--oh, they played at anything that came to mind then and on many other mornings when the always-hungry two little neighbors came to the door to ask for biscuits.
Ma said my grandmother never refused the biscuits. She knew Sam and Zephyr's hard-working parents and the four or five other children that relied for a living on the small farm their father worked, and that hunger was no stranger to them.
So the sunshiny years of her childhood rolled happily by, with my mother playing out on the sand road or back in the hardwood forest or down in the broad cornfields with Sam and Zephyr and Della.
Inevitably they all grew up, suntanned, strong, virile, healthy, and happy in their free-running childhood.
Before mother went away to college to learn telegraphy at about age 20 or 22, Sam and Zephyr's family moved away, and they two were lost forever from my mother except in pleasant memory of many idyllic childhood years.
But the Burnetts stayed on, and later mother heard that Della had married and settled somewhere in the old neighborhood.
Adabell "Vottom' Vardaman Gwin worked for years for the Southern railroad, married a railroader, and after his death returned to telegraphy to raise her four children.
At her passing we honored her wish to be buried in the Smyrna cemetery not far from "the old homeplace." There was a goodly crowd at the service there near Goodwater at the little white "Hardshell" Baptist church where her father had attended, taking little Adabell with him.
From up near the church at the Vardaman family plot, we could see, down by the edge of the woods in another old section of the cemetery, another funeral being conducted at the same time. And some of us after the service walked down between the graves to meet and talk to some of those from that other funeral, as they walked up toward us.
Thus we learned that Adabell Vardaman and Della Burnett were buried at the same hour in the churchyard they both knew as carefree children years before.
The eyes of my mind could see two little girls of long ago as they walked away from us together, down the sandy road there by the little white church.
And by their sides, happily munching Mis. Vottom's biscuits, went little Sam and sister Zephyr.
Copyright©2000 Charleston Newspapers Interactive


Most Unforgettable

By Adrian Gwin

[John M. Gwin NOTE, Mar 29, 2016: Last month, almost 15 years after he died, I found in one of Dad’s file cabinet drawers the copy from which I am transcribing this: five double-spaced pages on old Daily Mail newsprint in Dad’s unmistakable typewritten style.  I don’t know if it was ever published, but it was in the same format he used to submit his work that WAS published, so maybe it was.  It is undated, but the clues in the story get us pretty close, probably in the mid-1970's.]

    I saw him only once, though he is mine for eternity.  
    It was daytime, and I was sitting on the floor behind the screen door, looking out as the street car rolled to a stop.  I must have known that he was coming home.  
    He stepped down, carrying his old leather grip and a brown paper bag, and he strode across the unpaved street and into the yard, up the steps, and then he set the grip down and with one great arm he picked me up.  I was still crying.
    His voice when he spoke was like the voice of the big steam engines which pulled his trains—like the rumble of the trains themselves: big and powerful and overwhelming and yet soothing, comforting, and reassuring.
    “What’s the matter with my little man?” he said.  And then he reached into the paper bag and handed me a huge red apple, the biggest, reddest red apple I ever saw, even to this day.
    And with my face so close to his, I saw him.  I remember him for that time only. 
    That one time I saw my father.
    He was a railroad conductor, and a good one.  When the circus trains came into Alabama, they always asked for Big Jim Gwin to handle the trains.
    When a special was being made up for an excursion, Big Jim was always assigned to conduct the train.
    He started work for the railroad when he was 14, and he was a man then, big enough to carry off the 18 years that he told them he was.  He needed the job, and he lied about his age to get it, as a brakeman.
    He paid for the lie.  Before he was 17, his right thumb was smashed off in a link-and-pin coupling, an accident of inexperience, of immaturity.  But he worked for 35 years for the railroad with no thumb on his right hand, and his handwriting was as smoothly flowing a script as that of a Spencerian scholar.
     He had a phenomenal memory.  He could walk along a string of boxcars on a siding and minutes later in his caboose, he could jot down the numbers of the cars from memory, and identify each one as a boxcar, a flatcar, a “gong” (gondola), or “reefer” (refrigerator).
    He was a lusty big man, and he enjoyed living, enjoyed railroading, enjoyed working—my, how he could work!
    Once when he was riding the top of a boxcar, the wind tousling his thick, black hair, he started to roll a Bull Durham cigarette—left-handed, of course, because he had no thumb on his right.  And the train passed a little station called Brierfield, and Big Jim’s heart got caught up in the briar patch.
    The pretty young woman telegraph operator waved to him as he passed the station, and he waved back to her with his right hand, as he twisted the cigarette in the fingers of the other hand, and licked it, then with a sweeping motion, he struck a wooden match with one swipe across the seat of his overalls, and lit the cigarette.
    They were married in 1909, and I was the fourth of his children, born seven years later.
    And so I was perhaps four years old, and the year was about 1920, when I saw him that time.
    “What’s the matter with my little man!”
    I saw him, and I can see him today, just as he looked in that magic moment in time when I was so close to him.
    Nor do I remember ever really seeing him before, or since.
    There must have been other times, but they do not recall themselves to me even when I try to remember him.  I do remember holding onto his perfectly huge hand with both of mine, and running my fingers over the great round stump of his thumb, and then shivering with the delighted reassurance  that his was indeed my dad, so identifiable among others because of the missing thumb.
    We have pictures of him, several as a young man, some taken only a few years before he “went away”, as my mother always referred to it.  But the pictures do not look like Dad looked that time I saw him.

    He went away in October of 1921.
    He had been on his regular run for three days,
and when he carried his grip into the depot to check out and go home, the agent at the terminal handed him a note.
    A brother conductor was ill and could not take the short overnight run to Akron, and would Jim take it for him?
    He did.  And 30 minutes later, the train wrecked on a broken rail, pinning him from the waist down.
    I remember that Aunt Kate held me up to the casket to see my daddy “for the last time,” she said.  I remember there were dark places on the face of the man in the casket—and I remember asking why.  But I cannot remember what the man in the casket looked like.
    I know now that during all the years I was growing up on the railroad, in the little depots along the Southern in Middle Alabama, in the three-car passenger trains that carried me to and from school for several years, the railroad men treated me like I was one of their own children.  All of us, they did.  We were Jim Gwin’s orphans, I know now, and every flagman, every conductor, every porter, every baggageman and fireman and engineer was looking out for us—because we were Big Jim’s kids, and he was their brother who had given his life for a fellow conductor.
    All this I know now, more than fifty years after he “went away”.
    When I was a stringy little kid, I often talked to him in my prayers, for that was the only time I could talk to him, don’t you see?  He was up there with God, and when God was listening, wouldn’t Dad be listening, too?  It may sound a
little sacrilegious to say such things, but I’ve talked to Dad off and on for more than 50 years—and the only time I ever really saw him was that once in 1920.
    I remember standing beside him once in the bathroom as he used the commode.  I was holding his hand, and my eyes were level with the source of the stream he was putting into the commode, but I do not remember what he looked like that day.
    I remember that one day he came into his bedroom and found me absorbed in punching hatchecks with his ticket punch, and I remember that Mother spanked me for it.  But I cannot remember what he looked like that day.
    I remember one Christmas season when he came home bearing big bundles of packages, and I remember him setting them down in the front living room, but I cannot remember what he looked like.
    But I can see his big rough face as he held me on this shoulder that day and said, “What’s the matter with my little man!”—see him as clearly as if it were happening right now.
    It was the only time that I ever saw my dad, and it is enough, for I have him today, though he’s been “gone away” for more than 50 years.
    When I see him again, I know he’ll look exactly like that—for he is my dad.