By Steve Criniti
(Note: This is the first installment of an occasional column titled “Only in Wheeling.” The backstory is this: When my family first moved here from Pittsburgh in 1990, I was absolutely dumbfounded by the way in which things in Wheeling just seem to work differently from those in other places (and in all the right kind of ways). I’ve always thought that one of the most positive things about this little town we live in is the unique set of interactions that occur among residents, and I’ve always felt as if there were things that happen here in Wheeling that you just don’t find in other places. The stories featured here will be stories of the quaint, quirky, weirdly alluring things that happen in a unique town like this. The column is intended to be a sort of celebration of the “magic” of Wheeling life and of the people who make it so worth being here.)
I don’t know anyone more meticulous about his lawn than my father. For him, “lawnscaping” is more than just a hobby – it’s a source of pride, an outward statement to passersby of the dignity and self-respect felt by those dwelling within. In most respects, my father is an unassuming man. He wears modest clothes, drives economical cars, and generally tries to avoid drawing too much attention to himself. But when it comes to his lawn, only the thickest, greenest, and most lush yard can truly convey the requisite pride. This is why the contractor-grade grass seed that had been planted outside of our new, two-year old home simply would not do.
When my family first moved to Wheeling from Pittsburgh in late July of 1990, we moved into one of the relatively few post-Victorian homes in town. The house had been built about two years previously, and because the house lacked a permanent owner during that time, the lawn left much to be desired. As a result, my father’s first order of business after unpacking and settling in was to locate the local landscaping supply store.
At that time, Beckett’s Landscaping was still perched atop Chicken Neck Hill. My dad and I hopped into our gray Oldsmobile Delta 88 and headed down National Road. Within minutes we arrived at Beckett’s and began picking out bags of grass seed, decorative shrubs, and even a small tree to plant in the front yard. At the checkout counter, we were greeted by Bill Beckett himself. My dad paid for our purchases, making some small talk all the while. Then, pointing to our Oldsmobile in the parking lot, my dad asked Mr. Beckett if it would be OK for us to leave some of the supplies beside the checkout counter temporarily, as we would need to make two or three trips to get all of it home in our mid-sized sedan. Without hesitation, Bill Beckett thrust his hand into his pocket, retrieving a jangling set of keys and replied, “Why don’t you just take my truck?”
My father and I were utterly flabbergasted. Here we were newcomers to town, just arrived from the big city. Surely, Mr. Beckett must have noticed the Pennsylvania plates still adorning the car to which my dad had just gestured. We were not old friends from the neighborhood or even frequent customers; it was our first time in the store. As far as Mr. Beckett was concerned, we were total strangers. And yet, he didn’t hesitate to hand us the keys to the company truck — the landscaping equivalent of the shirt off his back.
Most men would have paused to consider the possibility of theft, the insurance implications, or the sheer inconvenience of being without the use of his truck for who knows how long (He had no way of knowing we lived only a five-minute trip away.) None of that crossed his mind. He saw only a person in need, and he filled the need. It was a small but meaningful gesture.
We may not have entered that store as old friends from the neighborhood, but at that moment I think we became “old friends from the neighborhood.” That small, seemingly insignificant moment was our first real introduction to life in Wheeling, W.Va., and we were instantly hooked.
Only in Wheeling could a business owner hand over the keys to the company truck to a pair of out-of-town strangers. And that’s why I live here.