MEMOIR: Why ginseng hunters & trappers bearing bloody hides wanted in my house

Frank doesn’t work here any more. | Photo by Connie Kinsey of the original ‘W.Va. Fur and Root’ sign on her property.

By Connie Kinsey | | July 1, 2022

We are still the people what bought Frank Baird’s old place. We’ve been here thirty-six years now. We will die the new people. My son has left the area, so he won’t be able to enjoy being an insider.

I’ve always been an outsider other than the little groups of home I’ve forged for myself. My family. My few close friends. I observe and I see. Sometimes I’m front and center on the stage as people observe me. But they don’t see me. I don’t allow many folks to do that though I long for that intimacy.

I’m not sure the previous paragraph is true but aren’t the words pretty. My life is made up of words layered upon words.

Yes, we are the new people what bought Frank Baird’s old place. W. Va. Fur and Root.

Some folks would say we moved to West Virginia on a whim. I wouldn’t say that, though. It was predestined — part of a spell. I am quite simply in love with this place. There is so much wrong here. So much that goes against my values, but I love it with a passion that can’t be denied. My people out-migrated to Michigan from Appalachia generations ago. It’s in my blood.

This building that I call my barn used to be a business. W. Va. Fur and Root. Note the old-fashioned abbreviation for West Virginia.

I love that name. It speaks to my soul. I think it’s memorable. And I think it is apt for it is here that I’ve put down roots. I grew up with a nomadic childhood.

West Va. Fur and Root. Those words spark joy in my heart.

Frank had hung the sign so the trappers and ginseng collectors could find the place so as to sell Frank their goods.

This building had rudimentary electricity and only a few walls when we bought it. The walls were covered with thousands of nails. Frank Baird used to stretch animal skins to dry and then tan them. W. Va. Fur and Root. There was a bear skin when we moved in, but my husband said it was rotten and had to be thrown away. I don’t know if that if was indicative of Frank’s work, but he went bankrupt which is how we came to find the place. For sale by the bank.

We were oh-so-poor in 1986. We had over-estimated the job market when we moved here. We had been told it was bad, but we hadn’t realized how bad. We had a strong work ethic and no fear of hard work. Still. Minimum wage is minimum wage. We were so poor. And we had a young child. All of my salary went to daycare. But my job provided health insurance.

We decided to convert “the barn” into a house. It had nice lines. It would be interesting. Theoretically, it would be cheap. We could do things as we went along without going into debt.

Good Lord! It was hard. We were such babes. Or blind. Or both. Blind babies. We hadn’t a clue what we were doing.

No, the writer cannot help you with your bloody bear skin, nor is she interested in snapping up your fresh ginseng.

Some days, we were miserable. And on others, we marveled at the beauty of our surroundings. We held onto the promise of the finished barn.

But it dragged on and on. And took its toll on my marriage.

My kitchen was a motley assortment of salvaged mismatched cabinets, refrigerator, an old porcelain sink, and a hideously ugly work bench. I cooked in crock pots, electric frying pans, and hotplates.

As a person who likes to cook, it was torture. We eventually added a stove.

Outside the barn, hanging from two chains at the peak, was an old sign. W. Va. Fur and Root. Frank had hung it so the trappers and ginseng collectors could find the place so as to sell Frank their goods. W. Va. Fur and Root.

Periodically, folks would show up looking to sell. We would explain that Frank’s business was no more and no we didn’t know where Frank was now.

“I’m looking for Frank.”
“I’m sorry, you are in my home. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

One morning, I stumbled down to the kitchen when I heard a noise. There standing was an unkempt man holding bloody hides and smoking a cigarette.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m looking for Frank.”

“I’m sorry, you are in my home. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Is Frank here?”


He crushed his cigarette out on my waferboard floor and went outside still talking to me.

“I need to talk to Frank”

I explained though he scared me. I was alone with a man who knew how to use a gun. I was in my nightgown. I was afraid.

He left. Peaceably enough. But we took the sign down that day. It now hangs in my living room. It has bullet holes in the Os of the word root. I am very fond of that sign.

We eventually hired a contractor and went into debt to finish the barn. We divorced less than ten years later. I got the barn in the divorce. The barn is the second child I never had. I would have died had I lost it.

I love this pile of sticks. It’s mine and it’s paid for, and nobody will take it from me.

W. Va. Fur and Root.

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