(note: the Hampshire Review is West Virginia’s oldest newspaper and the parent company of the Spirit of Jefferson.)
The moving of the offices of the Hampshire Review has some of that publication’s writers looking back over their relationships with that publication. In her column, Nora Kimble, who has been with the Review since May 1963, says that the Review staff seems like a family.
Though I’ve only been hosting Far Muse in the Review for just over a year and spend little actual time with the staff, I’ve nonetheless come to feel the same way. My position, though, is more that of a long lost distant cousin — a black sheep perhaps — welcomed back into the fold.
My father was from Logan County, W.Va., and no doubt was involved in much adventure and mischief in his youth. However, he always recounted the family’s history so as to be a shining example of how my generation should behave. Lacking the color and life of West Virginia storytelling, these tales were like something from the old Fifth Reader. Bo-ring. I was finally introduced to the real “West Virginia Spoken Word Tradition” (a delicate euphemism) at what would seem an unlikely place by an equally unlikely individual — West Virginia’s own Professor John Nash, about whom the motion picture A Beautiful Mind was produced.
On another occasion, I also met, then Hampshire Review Editor in Chief, John Ailes, a mere 50 feet from where I met Nash (who gave the appearance of being merely an eccentric street person.) There is only one place on Earth where this was geographically possible; the campus of Princeton University at Princeton, N.J. No, I did not attend Princeton University — not by invitation, anyway. I was merely a local urchin from one of the outlying rural communities. In that place and time, the community that I grew up in was so blue collar that the subject of a college education just never came up.
I’ll write a remembrance about John Nash if he doesn’t outlive me. “Doc” Nash is now 84 years old so don’t let your subscription lapse. It almost seemed … well … as though West Virginia wasn’t done with my family and so had pursued me right to the lawn of Nassau Hall, to Blair Arch, the roof of Edwalds Hall and the all night Beatnik coffee shop in the cellar of Murray Dodge.
Princeton hosts a reunion for its alumni. At least in those days — the early/mid 1970s — these were held outdoors with areas cordoned off among the old buildings and courtyards according to classes of graduation. It was sport then for us local young folk to try to infiltrate these reunion parties in order to take advantage of the food and open bars.
“Crashing” the reunions as we called it was quite challenging as security was tight. Once inside, it was equally difficult to maintain a credible conversation with your “fellow classmen” of, say, 1958 when you didn’t look a day over twenty-two. I guess the alumni expected us. This had been going on for generations and was probably just considered part of the Princeton Experience. We were a part of tradition at old P.U.
During one of these crashings, as the night wore on and the alcohol flowed, the borders around the reunions of the various years softened and the alumni from different classes mixed. Security pulled back and the campus became one large party as the folks walked about visiting.
Well into the evening, I was discussing my newfound interest in West Virginia with a fellow crasher. I had been visiting that state often and had a favorite campsite near the town of Romney. An older alumnus joined our conversation. “Do you visit West Virginia often?” he asked. I replied that I had been so doing.
“Where … Romney?”
John Ailes (Class of 1936) and I compared some notes about the geography and a few especially colorful locals — I was probably being quizzed for authenticity. A bawdy sing-along erupted nearby which effectively ended our conversation. We slowly wandered off in different directions.
Fast forward to the late 1980s. Eventually, I left the state that was home to Sinatra and Edison and moved to the land of Gilligan and Barney Fife. I was now living in Hampshire County, W.Va., married with three children, a financed home in its second year of payments and a new mobile tractor repair business. Business was a little slow and I thought that a newspaper article about my business would help stir things up. I visited the Hampshire Review and was shown into the office of the Editor in Chief, John Ailes. There sat Mr. “Where … Romney?”
But I was too overcome by the seriousness of what I was trying to do at that moment to connect all the dots. I stated my business and we went from there. He gave no indication that he remembered our first encounter—considering the exquisite quality of the liquor served at the event at Princeton, I’m a little surprised that I could.
Mr. Ailes asked me what I thought was so significant about my new business to be worth him writing an article about it. I wasn’t prepared for this question since I had seen what I considered to be less interesting new businesses featured. I still wonder if anyone else was confronted in this manner or, if Mr. Ailes saw something different in me (as editors tend to do) and expected more. This can really be a pain in the butt when you’re just looking for free advertising.
I was politely dismissed from his office. Again, this was about advertising a new business, not writing for the Review—that was never addressed or even remotely considered. I don’t recall his exact words as I left the office but the message was “come back when you have something worth writing about.”
So I did.