Coffee Talk
The never-ending quest to avoid certain members of the family
by Julie Cryser
 

    My husband has never met anyone from my extended family. My parents and brother and sister he knows, but that’s it.
That either tells you a little bit about my husband or a lot about my extended family. From my perspective, it tells me two things. My husband is afraid of my extended family and my extended family is a little scary.
    I asked him if he wanted to go visit some of my mother’s people on my week off this week. He just rolled his eyes, as if to say, “I’d rather eat glass.” I, however, think he’s missing quite an experience.
    My mother has three sisters and two brothers, all of whom live in Huntington. The last time I remember them all getting together was at a family reunion during the summer of 1991. It’s the first time I realized there’s a reason to avoid family reunions.
    Too many in-family squabbles and too few teeth. My one aunt hasn’t had teeth since probably the Kennedy era. She and my uncle pride themselves on their ability to chew peanuts and other hard foods without their falsies. I never believed them until I had to have all the teeth in my cat’s mouth pulled. After a few weeks of healing, he went back to eating dry food.
    Of all my mother’s people, my aunt Peg is the one who really sets the tone for any family gathering. She’s usually fighting with at least one member of the family over some little something. And if she isn’t fighting, she’s leading up a group of sisters in a discussion of six different things at one time.
    When my mother’s sisters get together, it’s like hanging out in a hen house, with at least two of the hens talking about something completely different. What’s amazing, though, is that every person knows exactly what’s been said in each conversation. And if they don’t, they make it up.
    A gathering of my mother’s people is always loud. When you have several different conversations going at the same time, everyone has to compete to be heard.
    Now, my dad’s side of the family is completely different. There are 12 of them, and they rarely get together unless there is a death in the family. We believe it is best that way. They are half German, half Scottish-Irish, a volatile mix at times.
The last time I remember seeing most of them was at my grandmother’s funeral. It was a lot like a Woody Allen movie.
My one aunt, (we’ll refer to her as Aunt A) who had the power of attorney over my grandmother, had been my grandmother’s legal watchdog for the past 10 years. My grandmother had long since become mostly a vegetable, but her heart was still strong and she wouldn’t give up, like the good German stock that she was.
    When my other aunt (we’ll call her Aunt B) came to our house for a wake, she commented that if she had to live like my grandmother had lived, she would want someone to smother her with a pillow early on. Taking great offense to that statement, Aunt A said she would be the first one there with the pillow.
    I’ve told all these stories, and so many more, to my husband. And perhaps that’s why he finds so many excuses to keep from meeting my extended family.
    Sometime, however, someone will die or there will be another family reunion.
Then, he’ll have to go.



Business leaders,
city officials need
a vision for downtown

    Right now, the old McCoy mansion sits empty along West Main Street in Clarksburg like many other empty buildings downtown. But one entrepreneur sees something more in this shell of a building than others see.
     Lisa Kovach sees promise. She sees a place for people to grab a sandwich or a cup of coffee. But her vision is even bigger. She sees her plans as giving downtown Clarksburg some identity.
 Kovach has leased the first floor and basement of the McCoy mansion and plans to open The Shoppes of McCoy mansion, which will include small shops where residents will be able to eat, drink, relax and buy gifts. She plans to open a boutique, a gift shop and a New York-style deli restaurant in the 535 W. Main St. building.
     “If we’re going to maintain this downtown as a healthy place for business, we have to do a little more; we have to give a little more,” she said. “We need to get a little hip around here.”
     Kovach, we believe, is doing something that other downtown business people and city leaders should be doing. She’s trying to give downtown Clarksburg an identity. And that’s something it will need to survive.
     We applaud Clarksburg city officials for hiring a firm to come up with a plan to revamp the downtown, including more green space, new lighting and walking trails. But the plan still fails to answer one big question: What will the downtown offer to draw people to it?
     Other cities where downtowns have been revamped have done so successfully by deciding what the theme of the downtowns would be. Charleston, for instance, has drawn coffee shops and unique restaurants to its downtown, while also revamping an old train station into an elegant farmer’s market. Fayetteville, near the New River Gorge, draws on its tourists and has opened antique shops, bike shops and earthy restaurants.
     We urge Clarksburg city officials and business people to follow Kovach’s lead. Business leaders and city officials need to get together to come up with a vision for not only what the city will look like, but what it will feel like.
     Will it be an entertainment hub? We have the Rose Garden Theater. Will it be a place where you can take a history tour? Will it be a place where professionals can go hang out during breaks in the day and after work, with small shops and revamped facades?
     Like Kovach said, with Fairmont State College’s new campus in the center of downtown and with the number of young and old professionals alike downtown, this city needs to be a little more “hip.”
     We hope Kovach’s enthusiasm sparks more discussion about what downtown Clarksburg should be. Because without everyone pitching in, nobody will be successful and the downtown will continue its decline, despite walking trails, green space and bricks.
 
This editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which consists of William J. Sedivy, John G. Miller, Julie R. Cryser, James Logue, Kevin Courtney and Cecil Jarvis.



Harrison school board
should review policy
on class attendance

    We have to give South Harrison High School teacher Mary Jo Short an “A” for speaking her mind: She told the Harrison County Board of Education that too many students are missing too many classes. And she told the school board it should review the county’s attendance policy.
    Short backed up her complaint with a legitimate point: When too many students miss too much, even students who  attend class can suffer. The reason: Teachers burdened with re-teaching too many lessons run the risk of shortchanging students who make it to class and are ready to move ahead.
    Short made other legitimate points, as well:
— All the missed classes are hard on teachers, too. “It can be disruptive to have to bring them (absent students) up to speed while keeping the other students on schedule. And it you have three or four students who miss different days each week, it becomes a real challenge.”
— Missed classes are even more troublesome under block scheduling, in which students attend four 90-minute classes a day rather than seven shorter classes. The result: Missing one day under block scheduling is like missing two days under the seven-period schedule.
— Extracurricular activities share some of the blame for missed classes. Students are excused from class to take part in everything from band and choir performances to sports events to academic competitions.
    Short showed real courage in taking on extracurricular activities. Block scheduling has plenty of opponents, but extracurricular activities, especially sports, are considered sacred in most schools. It’s true, as South Harrison Principal  Jerry McKeen put it, that “a lot of learning takes place outside the classroom” through extracurricular activities. But it is also true that most learning takes place in the classroom.
    In defense of extracurricular activities, it must be noted that high school students who are most active in them are usually the best students. Even if missing classes isn’t a problem for the best students, however, it can be a problem for teachers and other students, as Short pointed out.
    Of course, students who miss habitually for no good reason — students who are headed for a significantly poorer future because they’ll have no high school diploma or job training —are of more concern than students who miss because of extracurriculars.
    With all that said, Mary Jo Short deserves credit for speaking up about a problem she sees as a hindrance to learning in high school. The school board should heed her advice and look into whether attendance policy is hurting the quality of education in Harrison County.

Tim Langer
Telegram Editorial Board member



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Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999