Shannon Adkins, Owner/ Adkins Alley Thrift & Variety Shop; Oak Hill, West Virginia:
“My husband and I are self-employed. We own a store out of Oak Hill, West Virginia. It’s a thrift and variety shop. [Has been running the store] About four years now. [Before that] I worked in the medical field as a receptionist.
I was born in Beckley, West Virginia in ’79. I spent very little time in Beckley. We moved around quite a bit, bouncing from places like Odd, West Virginia which is down the river from Ghent here, to Oak Hill, back to Beckley, Mount Hope… several places.
We had an outdoor childhood. There wasn’t much technology, and even if there was, we really couldn’t afford it. We made our own entertainment, built tree houses and climbed trees and all of that good stuff.
The reason that we bounced around quite a bit, was my stepfather was a jack-of-all-trades. He’d have employment for a little while, and then he would move to another area because he would lose his job. He liked the bottle a little bit too much, but that was the main reason why. He just couldn’t hang on to it. He worked in the coalmines for a few years, and once the coalmines died, I think he just kind of lost hope.
My high school days was split between Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, and Oak Hill High School. I was a little wild, missed a few days of school. Graduated on time in the top half of my class, but it was fun.
I was mischievous. I did a lot of writing clubs, reading clubs, things like that. My last year of high school I traded all of that in, and was busy taking care of my sisters and getting in trouble. [Has] two sisters.
My sister and I, she’s about a year younger than I am, she liked to borrow my clothes without my permission. It used to make me so mad. We got into a knock down, drag out fight and we broke every door in my mom’s house putting each other through them.
She’d taken items that weren’t hers, and refused to give them back. And then she lied about it and said that, ‘I didn’t take it’ yet I found all of them packed away in her room. It ended up being quite a brawl, so my mom ended up calling the authorities. They came down and gave us quite a talkin’ to.
I wasn’t a bad child, but boy, she could get under your skin. And, she smashed my fingers with cinder blocks when we were kids, so maybe that was my payback to her. She was rotten.
[After high school] I went to college. I started out majoring in social work, and then changed my major to psychology and then ultimately, changed it to criminal psychology.
I didn’t finish my degree, had lots of credits, but just couldn’t get there. I left college, went to work, got married, got divorced, got married again and that’s where I’ve been for quite some time.
The closeness. That is what makes it [Appalachia] special. No place that I’ve ever visited in the world can you knock on the door at the neighbor’s house and still be able to borrow a cup of sugar. I think that the communities here are very close knit. If you’re an outsider, sometimes it takes a little while to be able to integrate into those neighborhoods. I think that that way of life is no longer in other societies.
They’re [the people] are down to earth. No one is competing against each other. It’s not a rat race, it’s very laid back. Our expectations of people is that you are as good to us, as we are to you. You don’t find that anymore.
I have family that lives in Texas, and when they come to West Virginia they’re so fast paced that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to live here. They’re just go, go, go, go, go. I think the likability of the people, the friendliness, that is what makes these residents special.
Yes I do [consider myself a hillbilly]. What it means to me is that we’re friendly, we’re intelligent, we are still giving. You don’t find that anymore. It means that you run the mountains, and you might be barefoot. It does not mean that you’re unintelligent. It does not mean that we’re slow. It makes us a special type of person.
The media’s no one’s friend. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. When it comes to Appalachia, they portray us as hicks, ignorant. The stereotypes are mind-boggling.
What I would tell them is that we are not ignorant. A slow dialect does not dictate that. We’re indeed intelligent, resourceful, we’re caring. We have that something that the rest of the world has lost.
I like to sew. I like to surf the internet, spend time with my family, fish, hunt… little bit of everything.
It’s [her store] called Adkins Alley. It’s a thrift and variety shop. We carry thrift items, we carry new items. It stemmed from the economy here in West Virginia. For every job that we had, it was downsized.
There were layoffs, the company didn’t exist anymore, it was bought out… and we became tired of it. So we took matters into our own hands. We took $1,000 of our income tax return, we started out with a building and $1,000, and now we’ve grown to where the business can support itself, and it supports us and our family.
My husband is a transplant from Michigan who came to West Virginia. He worked in the auto parts industry as far as selling tires, auto parts, service writer, but even those jobs were hard to hang on to. He had a son by a previous marriage. He did not want to raise his child in Michigan, so he moved to West Virginia where he had a better support system and it wasn’t quite so dangerous to raise kids here. His father is from Cabin Creek in the Summersville area.
My paternal grandfather I never met. My grandmother is still living on that side of the family. She is a Godly woman. She now has dementia, but she raised a brood of children. All of them are military. I think there were five all together.
My mother’s father was a coal miner. He was my pawpaw, I loved him dearly. He passed when I was age five. My grandmother was a homemaker and was wild as anything you could ever think of. She definitely had no problem bucking up against a man if he did something wrong. They divorced, and he remarried and she never did. When they passed away, they were still buried beside each other, even though they were divorced.
He [her grandfather] was a buffer. He loved us, protected us, gave us whatever we wanted. He was just a good man and it’s hard to believe that you can remember back that far. But when someone makes that type of impact, you remember them.
I can remember he had an LTD. We used to ride everywhere in that thing. I can remember dancing in the living room. He owned an old coalhouse and we would dance and sing and he would frequent the bars. He would just do little things, buy us candy. We never really watched a whole lot of TV, but when we did, our favorite show was Hee Haw. That was his thing. As a result, I still watch it whenever it comes on TV.
The happiest time [in my life] was when I had my son. That was the happiest day. He’s six, thinks he knows everything. Six going on thirty.
My best friend had a son who died of complications of leukemia and this’ll be going on the second year [since] we lost him. He was nine. I can remember when he passed ‘cause I traveled, she’s from West Virginia, we travelled to Kentucky.
He’d been raised here for the first seven years of his life. He had made it about nine, ten months into his treatment. He’d broken out into a rash and no one knew what it was. The CDC got involved; they were trying desperately to figure out what was wrong with him. He had LCH, which is where the white blood cells attack the organ’s soft tissue and everything in the body.
Ultimately, it killed him. He was only probably the fourth or fifth person in the world to ever have complications of LCH during the time in which he was receiving treatment. So that was hard.
I asked her, ‘I’m going to come down and see you, what do you want me to do?’ and she said ‘Well I need you to be in the room.’ So myself and her and her husband and two of the other children that she has, were there. I said, ‘are you sure that you just don’t want it to be family?’ and she said, ‘well you are my family.’ He passed. She has good days and she has bad days. She lives in Shepherdsville [Kentucky].
I would have to say I was taught durability. I was taught strength. We were taught to be trusting of our family, and to be loyal and to be aware of people outside of that. I think that’s with most families in West Virginia. Perseverance. So those are the things I think that were handed to me.
Mountain food. My grandmother used to make a thing called fried bread. It was a staple in her household and, now mind you, she was born closer to the Great Depression so they didn’t have a lot of food. So you just mix flour and water together. You fry it like a pancake and then you can put jelly and things like that on it. Deer of course is a staple. Venison is always a thing here in the mountains. Good lean meat. And squirrel. Sometimes you get squirrel. Turkey is another one. But I’m more partial to the deer and the fried bread.
[On where things will be in 10 to 15 years] As a state, as a whole, I see [West Virginia] as a tourist attraction. That’s where it’s going. There’s been a lot of issues with closure of the coal mines. There’s been a lot of talk about our sale of shale, fracking, but even now they are having a hard time getting that type of employment into the state. The EPA is fighting them. I look for it to become a tourist destination. And it’s disheartening in a way.
I love it here. I cannot imagine living anywhere else and I’ve visited places… Michigan, New York, Jersey, Bahamas, and this is just home. It’s comfortable. It fits like a glove.
I feel relived [to see the mountains after being away]. I’m always happy to see home. I feel like I can slow back down and collect myself. I do, I feel relief when I come home.”