June 17, 1936
My darling girl
Talk about being lonesome, I am sure it tonite you see I just came in from the shovel and the people were as thick as they could be you know like (we) used to do when we worked on Route #5.
I saw two young couples leaving in a Ford roadster … and they seemed to love being with each other like we do.”
“Look at those pictures … your dad tells me that one of the old man is Bill. I don’t recognize that old man. I reckon if Bob tells me it’s Bill, it’s Bill, but that’s not how I remember him.
“Now, I know the man in the black and white photo, in the hat? That’s Bill.”
Eunice Coleman Pinnell remembers her husband, what he looked like, how he was a gentle man and how he loved her. She just doesn’t see him as an old man.
Three photos of my grandfather, William L. Pinnell Jr., sit on a bureau among photos of family and greeting cards in my grandmother’s room.
One is a high school photo. Another is a black and white photo taken during a 1950s winter, in front of a trailer court. The third photo, the one she takes issue with, was taken a few years before he died.
This is how my 97-year-old grandmother started the conversation when I visited her over Thanksgiving in 2014.
It threw me.
She’d been doing so well, adjusting to her new home in a very nice assisted living arrangement near my parents in Beavercreek, Ohio. Eunice moved there from her home in Ravenswood for her families’ sense of security after a few accidents made it clear she couldn’t live alone anymore.
She misses her house, her friends and her French bulldog Roothie.
But she’s adjusting; though hard put to admit it, she’s feeling better and has lots of company — including Roothie.
“Oh, it’s a good place to be if you’ve got to be somewhere,” she says.Eunice is a sharp 97, with the ability to remember who gave her her first Valentine, which she still has … somewhere.
That said, you’re likely to get the same question, say, 20 times during a visit, usually involving food — “Have you eaten? Want a piece of candy? There’s a half a banana on the counter. Have a piece of candy. It’s good.”
But she knows WVU football, keeps up with the hometown paper, exercises nearly every day and is able to keep track of who in the family she’s mad at. Sometimes it’s me.
And she can tell wonderful stories about growing up in rural West Virginia, part of a big family on a big farm near the Ohio River, raising children in Helvetia and owning a trailer court in Ravenswood.
“He was a kind man, never bothered by anything. Not me, I get riled up, but Bill, he just went right along,” she says.
In the photo Eunice relates to, my grandfather is about my age, wearing a hat and looking off into the distance with the B&E Trailer Court behind him.
Looking at the photo, I realize it’s how I remember my grandfather, too.
While cleaning out a closet in Ravenswood, I found box of letters, mostly from Bill to Eunice from the years 1932-1938. The worn cardboard box, tied and knotted with string, was beneath a pile of quilts and fancy box containing a feathered Master Mason’s hat.
I confess to reading some of them before I gave them to her, but ask her about them anyway.
“I read them. There’s nothing bad in there,” she says — and by bad, I sense she means scandalous — and that’s about all she has to say about the letters.
Bill and Eunice met when she was 13 and he was 17, at her parents’ farm between Mount Alto and Point Pleasant. He and his father’s company, Pinnell & Pfost, were building a road nearby and Eunice’s mother would feed the crew.
At some point, he became a boarder, and the courting commenced.
Bill grew up in Cottageville, one of five children. After high school, he traveled the state, working in the family business, once rolling a truck off the side of a hill near Pineville in1932.
“I escaped with a gash about two inches long in the top of my head besides that all was well except I lost my hat. Ha! Ha!
“When I saw the truck was going to fall on top of me, I thought of you and my mother. I didn’t know what would happen. It reminded me of a hawk and a little chicken and yo
u know how that usually turns out.”
Eunice finished high school at Point Pleasant, playing on the basketball team, even though she’s only about five-foot-two. Later she went to Huntington and attended Marshall “for awhile.”
A lot of their correspondence involved when they could meet up. When he was coming home, would she be there?
“But sometimes, I didn’t know when he was coming in. Once, I went with Red to the show. When I wasn’t home, well, there weren’t too many places to find me, so Bill went to the movies and figured out I was there with someone else.
“He didn’t make a fuss, just sat down in the back of the theater and he just followed us home, then waited for Red to leave and came on in.”
He wasn’t angry?
“No, he just didn’t get bothered by things, or if he did, he didn’t let on.”
One cold and icy evening he came to visit and found he couldn’t get the car started.
“He came to the door and said ‘Eunice, I cranked and cranked but couldn’t get the car started.’ There was blood on his hand, because the crank on the car kicked back.
“Mother got out of bed and doctored his arm and said he could stay in one of the rooms in the guest half of the upstairs. It had feather beds, but no heat.
“He said he like froze to death.”
But he kept coming back.
Bill and Eunice married on Christmas Eve, 1936. They both enjoyed the outdoors and were avid anglers and hunters. Eunice still catches a trout or two on yearly fishing trips with her sons.
They raised three children while moving around the state before landing in Ravenswood, where they built a trailer court in 1956 to supplement Bill’s income from Kaiser Aluminum.
Bill died in June of 1999 at age 85. I didn’t spend a lot of time with him as a child, and my memories are of a gentle, straightforward man, with a quiet laugh and a good sense of humor.
“Now, Mother,” he’d say when she’d get irritated.
“Gee, darling, I wish you were here with me. I love you so much.
Brenda Pinnell is a Charleston artist and writer. She was born in West Virginia, but was raised in Ohio, which makes her a so-so driver. Her grandmother, Eunice Pinnell, is now 98.
This article was originally published in West Virginia South Magazine. wvsouth.com