A Climb Full of Ghosts

When The Climb from Salt Lick was released into the world, almost immediately I heard from two people on Facebook with connections to the book.

Here’s what Jen wrote on April 2:

Got this in the morning mail. Already 1/3 through it. Lots of memories of people and places from childhood coming up as I read. I wasn't expecting it when I stumbled over my mom's name in a paragraph then my dad in another and I had to pause a little while because ... emotions. Nancy fueled my mom's passion for photography in the best way. People stay with you but so do places. WV gets in your heart and never leaves.

Jen’s parents, Larry (everyone called him Crow) and Mickey Cullison, had a farm on the west side of the Cheat River. In the winter, home was often accessible only via snowmobile. Crow worked for the phone company and played bass in local bands. Mickey loved the color purple. She had an artist’s heart. Both died too young.

Dirk wrote:

Thank you for your wonderful book ... my range of emotions from joy to grief reflect your perfect style and tell a story of a time when our generation believed we could make a difference and still have a good time.

Dirk’s comments were posted on April 6. His name isn’t in the book but he’s there, in Chapter 14, Mary Jane’s beau. The book doesn’t say that they married and had two children. Mary Jane, Nathan, and Holly were killed just before Christmas 1985 in a violent car accident.

Dirk came to Huntington when I read at Empire Books a few weeks ago. It had been 33 years since I had last seen him. At Mary Jane’s funeral. She and baby Holly had shared a coffin. It was heartbreaking. I remember that my words to Dirk then didn’t seem to comfort him.

“I’m sorry if I brought up painful memories,” I told Dirk at the reading.

“No,” he said. “It’s good to remember.”

On my book tour in Parkersburg, Tammy, a friend from my WVU health sciences center days, listened as I read “Pot Roast.”

“Eugene?” she said. “Did he work in Fairmont?”

“Yes!” I picked up the book and flipped to the photo.

Tammy already knew it was him. She looked up at me and we exchanged stricken looks. Eugene had also died too young. A golden light extinguished.

The Climb from Salt Lick is full of ghosts. But even when it makes me sad, it feels good to remember these souls, to say their names out loud, to talk to the people they loved and who loved them.

(In the photo above, Eugene is helping Mary Jane get ready for her wedding.)

Abrams Nancy