Words by: Holly Denning
Pictures By: Holly Denning & Lindsay Conley
Every morning, at the break of dawn, a rooster somewhere in town would start calling out.
I know the sound of that particular rooster fairly well. It lives in Clendenin, West Virginia, a small town about twenty miles out from Charleston. There were many crisp mornings where I would wake up and go outside, and hear that rooster saying ‘Good morning!’ to the entire town. It’s one of the small things that I miss about living in the small town that I grew up in.
My first destination in the mornings was usually the local 24 hour Speedway, where I would drag my sleepy self into the building to get a cup of coffee. I knew all of the cashiers, and they were used to seeing me on weekdays before school. I always mixed my coffee with hot chocolate, and would drink it in the car on my way to class. Other mornings I would head over to Tudor’s Biscuit World, to get a heart-attack inducing biscuit sandwich and a cappuccino. This was my breakfast routine for six years.
In the afternoons I did one of several things. Occasionally I would walk to the Dollar store to get snacks for the evening, and then check the mail at the post office next door. It was not even a five minute walk from home, but I usually parked my bike right outside on the sidewalk. Other times I would go outside with my friends and play along the riverbank behind my house, or ride in the church parking lot, or go to the swing set at the church so that we could go as high up as we could before jumping off.
That church lot holds a lot of memories for me.
Later in my life, when I started sleeping in until noon, I would occasionally be woken by the sounds of music and announcements coming from the lot. I always knew what was going on, and would dress myself before wandering over to look at all of the old timey cars people were showing off, and maybe buy a hot dog from the vendor standing outside. I don’t know anything about cars, but it was interesting to see them all lined up in the grass and in the parking lot.
There was a woman who went to that church every single day to sit among the picnic tables. I knew she visited every day to feed the stray cats that roamed the town. One day I was sitting alone on the swing set, so that I could have some time to myself, and my cat came up to me and meowed.
The lady who fed the strays came over too, making a remark about how she had never seen that one be friendly to anyone. I just shrugged, and said that he was my cat, and for that matter, so was the fluffy orange one and the calico that would come over for the free food. She was surprised that the cats weren’t strays, and rightfully so. None of them wore collars.
When I was eighteen I started roaming the streets at night. There was a curfew, but it no longer applied to me. The curfew was understandable, even for such a small town, seeing as the area has a problem with meth users.
I had run into a few of them, but never at night. One night, while I was walking to the 24-hour Speedway in the dead of night, a cop stopped me as I was crossing the bridge that halved the town. He asked me for my ID, and where I was going. I complied, and was sent on my way.
On my way back, in almost the exact same spot, the cop stopped me again to ask where I was going. I held up my bag from the Speedway and told him that I was on my way home.
He told me to hurry up, and drove off.
A few minutes later, when I was on my street, the cop stopped me again to ask where I was headed to. I was annoyed, and told him that I was almost home. He told me that it had better be where I was headed. To this day, I’m unsure if the cop in question was bored, or he thought that I was up to something illegal.
My friends often complained of driving to Clendenin because of the cops. One of them admitted that she would start slowing down in her car several miles away from the town, with the fear of a cop pulling her over. A cop one day did pull her over, while I was in the car with her, and solemnly asked if she was a member of Al Qaeda. She said that she wasn’t. Apparently, according to that cop, a lot of people in the area have to think about their answer for a few seconds before saying that they aren’t a member.
One of my fondest memories of Clendenin took place when I was about sixteen. I had invited a friend over to my house for the night. She was excited to see what my town was like. That afternoon we had peeked outside to see a large group of people in the church lot. There was an abandoned house on the edge of it, next to the house that was pressed up against mine, and evidently, it had been donated to the volunteer fire department for practice.
A fire truck was parked in the grass, and someone had gone inside to carefully light the house on fire.
People had dragged their lawn chairs and their coolers out onto the road, sidewalks, and the parking lots, and some were watching from their porches. My friend and I went to the Speedway to get some snacks, and returned in time to watch the fire really get going.
We sat outside all evening, drinking our energy drinks and joking about the house as it burned down.
The firefighters were careful to make sure the flames didn’t go anywhere they weren’t supposed to. The house burning went on for hours, and people came and went. As night fell, the burning house was strangely beautiful.
Clendenin is small, and not a lot really happens. When something does, like a burning building, a car show, or a small festival on Main Street, we all came together to have a good time.
Even if you weren’t a citizen of Clendenin, you were warmly welcomed to the festivities without much thought. Even if you were like me, someone who never quite fit in, people recognized your face. The librarian had known me since childhood, and the people in the yellow house across the street were always happy to see me on Halloween.
The ladies who worked at the Dollar Store knew me well, and when I moved away, I had gone to say goodbye to her. The dentist was familiar with every single one of his patients, and the post office employees knew my P.O. Box number without me having to tell them.
The people working at Speedway saw me grow through my years of stopping in for coffee and pepperoni rolls, and most of the drivers for the one public bus that came through town made cheery conversation with the passengers.
It’s a cheery town, even with all of its downfalls, and I’m glad to say that I had the pleasure of growing up there. It’s a shame that I never found out who that rooster belonged to though.