Day one (and a half), by Caitlin and Patrick Osborne
24 hours ago, the St. Andrew’s mission group had its orientation meeting at “Lovecraft,” the new volunteer center for Habitat for Humanity in Franklin, WV.
When I say “new,” I mean NEW! We are the first group to stay here, and our lodging is still under construction. We arrived yesterday as stoves were being hooked up, air conditioning was “almost” functioning, and the new shower rooms were still sporting wet drywall. It’s exciting to be here, to see the organization come together, and we pitched in immediately, mopping floors and helping wherever we could.
The building was formerly a medical center, a warren of confusing hallways, and our bedrooms still bear some marks of former use, such as the individual sinks clearly intended for washing up before an exam. We are sharing our space with a group from Philadelphia, and we are managing our challenges together (make sure not to leave the bathroom door locked when you exit, or it will stay that way, taking a valuable resource “off line” until the locksmith arrives).
We were oriented by Michelle Conner, who has been the director in this area for many years, joining the organization shortly after becoming a Habitat family. She told us her journey (House fire! Nine kids! Experimental hay bale construction!) and encouraged us to look for, and tell our own HFH stories.
Today’s work was mostly at a community site. Anyone else heard of this? I thought that HFH only worked on housing, but this is something different: We are helping rehab a drive-in movie theater!
Our hosts have told us its amazing story. Built in 1952, it is (to their knowledge) the only drive-in to have its screen constructed as an exterior wall of a house. The idea was that the manager of the theater would live on-site and be able to keep an eye on things just by looking out his window. The owner intended his son to take the job, but for some reason the house was never finished on the inside. However, the theater was a hit. Families came to the theater up to an hour before the show to socialize, eat at the snack bar (best burgers in town, apparently), and let their children play on the playground at the base of the screen. It was a community gathering place until it closed, only a few years ago. And, the closure wasn’t due to a lack of business, but to the insurmountable cost of upgrading the projector screens to from reel-to-reel to digital.
Fortunately, community activists are working to bring the theater back to life, and we are helping. Today our crew worked on painting the projection booth exterior (teal and bubblegum pink – RETRO!) and interior (boring white, but out of the sun. yay!), cleaning the countertops and foodservice area of the snack bar (Anne Thomas is Our Sainted Lady of De-Greaser), and cutting brush (led by – you guessed it – Frank Barksdale). Our contribution of labor helps by allowing them to save their money for technological upgrades.
Franklin is a tiny town. Of its 800 residents, 287 signed a book dedicated to gathering interest in reopening the theater. Not only is that statistically significant, but also of amazing human interest to think that this poll was gathered not on Survey Monkey, but by leaving a notebook in a corner store.
I feel incredibly lucky to be on a unique project, with both historic and community roots. I hope to be there again tomorrow, to paint the trim on a building that I love after only knowing it for one day. However, the group is rotating through a number of projects here in eastern West Virginia, so who knows what tomorrow will bring.
After cleaning up for the day at the drive-in, we returned to Lovecraft to shower and relax. Us kids decided to go for a quick dip in the river, which runs just a few blocks down from the center. After wading for a while, some of us stuck around to build cairns in the rivers while others returned to home base. After a good half and hour of building, Zach went back to grab a fishing rod and tube. In the mean time I had an unexpected visitor. A small dog had appeared out of nowhere. With a collar with no tag, this dog followed us around. After Zach’s return, we waited 20 to 30 minutes before the rain began to fall, and we returned to the center with a new friend. There was much excitement all around before there was an executive decision to let the little guy go back by the river and let him find his own way home.
Anne and Patrick hard at work, preparing woodwork on the snack bar for new paint.
Fr. Doug and Caitlin – part of the painting crew
Harrison and Steven attacking the junipers!
Frank and Zach – Directors of Juniper Removal!