A PERSONAL ACCOUNT BY THE CHARACTER WHO IS THE HEART OF
WISH ME HOME WEST VIRGINIA
INTERVIEWER: With me this morning is Percy Bigler, a native of Elizabeth, West Virginia and a participant of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s highly acclaimed, yet widely controversial, Civilian Conservation Corps. Good morning, Percy.
PERCY: Morning, ma’am.
INTERVIEWER: I know the purpose of the CCC is to take young men off public assistance, to provide for their families financially, and to build or improve the country’s infrastructure, among other things. How did you come to enroll in the program?
PERCY: When the stock market crashed back in 1929, it took a while for its effects to trickle into West Virginia. During the five years since, that trickle’s washed away livelihoods, swept food off the tables, and drenched folks with fear. My family managed to tread water until 1934, but when the incessant flow hit flood stage, it was time for me to man the lifeboat and get them out of harm’s way. It was President Roosevelt who tossed the ropes to me, and it was in the form of the CCC.
INTERVIEWER: That’s an unusual way to frame the consequences of the Great Depression.
PERCY: Flooding is all too common in the hills and hollows, so I reckon that’s why it seems a fitting comparison. Truth of the matter is that some counties in West Virginia have unemployment as high as eighty percent.
INTERVIEWER: Oh my. In that case, flood stage may be an understatement. Tell me about your experience with the president’s program.
PERCY: Some people are downright scornful when it comes to the CCC, but I’m proud of the work we’re doing. Sure, it takes a heap of money to set up a work force like President Roosevelt designed, but we’re saving forests, preventing fires, building roads and dams, and employing conservation techniques that protect our land. A hundred years from now, when someone snags a fish out of a lake in a national forest, or a father takes his family camping at a state park, evidence of our work will remain, and I hope those folks know that it was the men of the CCC who prepared the way.
INTERVIEWER: Is it true that you have been the subject of disciplinary action?
PERCY: Yes, ma’am. I’m embarrassed to say that the sergeant overseeing my training at the conditioning camp and the camp commander in Nevada both took me to task.
INTERVIEWER: Would you mind sharing what happened?
PERCY: I’d rather you got to know me a mite better before I spill the story, especially since my defense won’t sound credible without retelling the events that led up to each indiscretion. I will say that I’m a peaceable person who practices compromise, but in both situations, I ended up on my backside before I could offer another remedy. It’s funny how fast things can go downhill—not that either occasion was laughable. That’s not what I mean.
INTERVIEWER: My notes indicate your education ended after the eighth grade. How do you account for your vocabulary?
PERCY: I may not be schoolhouse smart, but I’m what the folks in the hollow call book learned. They pronounce that ler-ned. When I saw the hundreds of books at the CCC camp library, it set my mouth watering. Shelves overflow with books about history and science, and good reads by authors like Mark Twain. A good story can take you anywhere, don’t you know?
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever imagine your real life travels would take you to Nevada?
PERCY: No, ma’am. It’s as hot out here as the tin roof on Bigler’s General Store, but this is where the CCC sent me, and I aim to make the best of it.
INTERVIEWER: What about your personal life, Percy? Do you have a sweetheart waiting for you to come home?
PERCY: No, ma’am. I will say that I met a nice looking gal who lives here in Hawthorne, but she’s nothing like those from back home. Pretty and smart as she is, I think she scares me more than she entices me. I reckon I’d be better off with one from my own neck of the woods, one who delights in the simple things in life. One like . . .
INTERVIEWER: Why, Mr. Bigler, I think you’re blushing. Would you care to enlighten our readers?
PERCY: No, ma’am. That’s all I have to say on that subject.
INTERVIEWER: Then, let me ask one more question. What do you fear, and what to you hope to find, when you finish your work with the CCC and go back to West Virginia?
First off, I try not to worry. It takes more effort than living the day that’s
set before me. That said, I hope the depression ends before I go home, because
I’ll need a job once I get there. I hope that when I return, I’m just a
grown-up version of the country boy who left. I have faith that regardless of
what I find when I walk into the only place I’ve called home, the Good Father
will determine my next steps.
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INTRODUCING ARCHIE JACKSON, A DASHING INDIANAPOLIS DANDY
WHO LIVES WITHIN THE PAGES OF MAKING UP TIME
I realize we’re still settling into the past, dear readers, but after traveling one hundred years in the space of three hundred-some pages, it’s time for our appointment. I suppose the ginger-haired dandy standing near the finish line is the fella I want to interview. Why don’t you all take a front-row seat in the stands?
Good morning. Are you Archie Jackson?
Yes, I am. I’m pleased to meet you, but confess I didn’t expect you to bring a crowd.
Don’t mind them. Like me, they’re curious time travelers. Can I start off by asking why you wanted to meet at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
Anyone who knows anything about this city would want an interview at either the track or the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. They’re our most notable landmarks. Since I’m more madcap than solemn, I picked the speedway.
For a moment, I thought you might be a race car driver.
No, not me, although I wouldn’t mind taking a lap or two in one of the local Marmon cars, or maybe a Stutz. The country’s most prestigious racing event happens on these bricks. Can you imagine what it’s like for those crackerjacks? Last year Howdy Wilcox set the record at eighty-eight miles per hour. It’s unfathomable.
I’m sure. Is everyone who lives here a fan?
Everyone except Emmett Sterling. He’s one of my two best friends, but he’s a peculiar duck.
You have two best friends?
Do you plan to add more or lose one?
Neither. I’m working up the nerve to ask the female part of our threesome to transition from friend to mate.
As in wife?
As in absolutely and positively. I am absotively stuck on Sally.
I see. Does she know how you feel?
When the three of us go out, she doesn’t show favoritism between Emmett and me, but recently she and I have enjoyed some private time that suggests we might have a future together.
Good for you.
True, but not so good for Emmett. He’s got the same notion as I have. I keep trying to dissuade him, but he insists that Sally is the doll for him.
What does she think about having two suitors?
She doesn’t know about the second one. You need to understand that Emmett is practical, dependable, and bent on living a well-ordered life, and while those are admirable traits, he’s about as exciting as a chewing gum wrapper. Regardless, he figures that he has the means to fill her every need.
You don’t sound like you believe that.
I’m here to tell you, the man is all wet. Frugality and routine are overrated. Every woman needs adventure and romance, dancing and—heavens to hooch—a sip of moonshine now and again.
What about Prohibition?
I’m not saying I imbibe, and I’m not confessing to being acquainted with any local hoodlums. I’m just trying to make a point. I’m the spontaneous one of the group, the one who makes the others laugh, the one who instigates memories.
I can see you have that potential.
I take that as a compliment.
Do you worry you’ll lose your friendship with Emmett?
Well, since we’re standing on the speedway bricks, maybe I can respond accordingly. Seated next to every race car driver is his riding mechanic, the man who pumps oil into the engine as they tear around the track, and who warns the driver of the goings on beside and behind him. My friendship with Emmett is like that, both of us working together to bring out the best outcome. The way things stand, we might have to sacrifice that camaraderie if either of us has a chance to take the trophy.
Trophy? As in Sally?
That’s the crux of it.
I think I have the winning entry, but I’m biding my time until Emmett sees he needs to withdraw from the race. That way, we can remain a threesome. Why don’t you climb on up in the stands with the friends you brought along, and I’ll expound a bit. Wander through the Making Up Time prologue, turn the next page, and see what happens when Indianapolis and Archie Jackson roar.
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