I'd passed Rost Road many times on my journeys across Rte 50 in Wood County. Each time my foot would ease on the gas and my eyes would stray to the hillside on the left.
Crosses. Hundreds of them, all white, lined neatly up and down the hillside. Such a sight in the rural eastern part of Wood County is uexpected, to say the least.
Yesterday I was in a hurry as usual, but I had my camera with me and decided to stop a minute to stop and take a picture or two. I pulled into the road and as I did I saw a four-wheeler in front of me. I wanted to get a better view of the crosses, so I followed the small vehicle up the road. Too late, I realized that the road deadended at this man's house, and he was off the four-wheeler and looking at me.
I pulled up to him, stopped the car and got out. "Those your crosses?" I asked. "They are," he replied. "That's quite a statement you're making with them," I offered. "It is," he said. "The number is actually wrong today. There are four more."
I nodded. "My son is serving there now."
"Well, he's doing what he's been told to do. He's a good soldier. I wa in World War II. I did what I was told too. I believed in that war, but not this one."
I was surprised. The man in front of me looked to be a healthy 65 years old or maybe a little older. But to have served in WWII he had to be at least, what? 79?
I introduced myself, and asked permission to take a few photos. He introduced himself, too. "Rost. Just like the road. My great-grandfather owned this land. He came here by flatboat down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh. My grandfather built this house, and my mother was born here." The house is a Victorian beauty, well cared for. Mr. Rost led me across the yard to a good spot to photograph the crosses. We stood a moment looking at them, and I felt a strong admiration for this man who decided to make his opinion known in such a public way.
Mr. Rost laughed when I asked to take his photo in front of his home. "We're both aging pretty well," he said. He looked at the house. "Any house needs cared for, even new ones. This one takes some care. I can't leave it."
Mr. Rost isn't your usual war protester. He has a gun room, a target range and still hunts. He likes his space from his neighbors. "Neighbors are fine, and I like mine. I just don't want to see them unless I want to."
As usual, a little conversation revealed that we had friends in common. He had retired from the aluminum plant in my county, and knew some of my neighbors. It's always that way in West Virginia. Talk long enough, you'll know someone in common. Talk a little longer and odds are you'll find you're related some way.
A four-acre pond behind the Rost house is obviously a family gathering place. Some family members live on the land, others visit from out-of-state. "Did you build this pond?" I asked. He shook his head."When the state built Rte 50 into a four-lane, they needed a big source of water for all the dust. The state built that pond for me, in exchange for water for road construction." He grinned.This man likes a bargain, and he certainly got one in that deal.
As I was taking my leave, Mr. Rost pointed out his tool workshop. A small water heater was on the porch, obviously a project in progress. "When someone tells me I can't do something," he said, "they've got my attention."
I'm not sure what the project was but I have no doubt that he will work at it umtil he's successful. He's not a man of easy opinions or easy ways. His love of his home, roots in the land, commitment to his family and his values are cut clear and deep. At 81 years old, he still cares for his land and home, takes his dogs out hunting and is a pretty mean shot. He's another one of those West Virginians that form the backbone of our state--proud mountaineers who can take care of themselves, and stand up for what they believe in.
It took more than a minute to take my photo yesterday, but I came away with a lot more than a picture.