First things first: I’m a West By-God Virginia boy from Boone County. My dad was an attorney there, in Madison, and he told me stories of the White family. D. Ray White was a regular around the record room in the courthouse because they had a Watts line you could use for free and he used to make his long distance calls there.
This is D. Ray, for you unfortunate souls who don’t know:
One of D. Ray’s sons is Jesco White, the Dancin’ Outlaw. He’s the subject of several documentaries, the first of which was The Dancin’ Outlaw and the most recent of which is the Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.
If you haven’t seen The Dancin’ Outlaw, this will give you the general idea:
Jesco’s movies travelled with me to Arizona where I met Jen. Being a California girl—and being Jen—she was so fascinated by Jesco, she adopted many of his sayings into her vernacular, like referring to her sunglasses as her “costly shades,” or referring to having a few drinks as “huffing gasoline.” She even wrote a song about Jesco’s adventure in Dancin’ Outlaw II – Jesco Goes To Hollywood. We named our album, Outlaw after Jesco.
So naturally, when we went to visit my old stomping grounds in WV one winter, she wanted to meet Jesco, and she was insistent. I wasn’t sure it could happen, but we asked my Dad about it and he dialed up an attorney friend in Boone County who gave us a pretty good description of where Jesco could be found. We borrowed my grandmother’s Buick, and off we went.
The bartender at the Pioneer Inn told us more or less which dirt road to follow to Jesco’s but we actually had to knock on a few neighbor’s doors and ask around to get an exact location (only in the back hollers of West Virginia can you really do this). Finally, we got some reliable information, drove across a creek (in my grandmother’s Buick!) and arrived at a gate with this sign:
At this point, though we’d come a long way and gone to a lot more trouble than I expected, I was genuinely considering giving up the ghost. I did not want to get either or both of us shot or killed for trespassing, and I knew that Jesco would have guns, and he would be wary of visitors. I also knew that he had a history of violence. Jen waved this off with a bravado worthy of Steve McQueen. She argued that if we ARE going to get killed, wouldn’t this be the way to go? I had no effective rebuttle for that air-tight logic, so we abandoned the Buick and continued on foot to Jesco’s trailer.
We traipsed through the snow for a while until we arrived at this trailer. The neighbors we had pestered must’ve tipped Jesco off because he came outside while we were quite a distance off and, predictably, he had a rifle with him. I yelled across the expanse at him, fervently hoping he would hear and understand.
“Is that you, Jesco?”
“Yeah! Who is it?”
“My name’s Ikner. My daddy knew your daddy.”
That was all it took. He welcomed us like long lost family.
We hung around his trailer a bit, gave him the Christmas present we brought (a yard-sign that says “How Bad can I Be And Still Get to Heaven?”) and called his sister, Mamie. Mamie suggested we pick up their mom, Birty, and come over to her place in Gordon to party. So, Jesco, Jen and I piled into the Buick, stopped off at a gas station to pick up some booze, and headed for Van, WV where Birty lived, then on to Mamie’s.
At Mamie’s, we sat and visited, drank too damn much Smirnoff Ice, and Jesco started dancing right there on the linoleum. Jen’s head nearly exploded at the excitement of it all. Naturally, she threw up in the driveway. Birty, The Miracle Woman, comforted her: “Oh honey, we’re mountain folk, we all do that from time to time.” At this point, Jen was ready to move in and stay forever. They would have let her too. But, being from Boone county I knew that, under circumstances like these, it’s wise to get out of the holler before dark. You don’t want to stick around so long that things reach peak weirdness back there. So, I convinced Jen to leave her new-found family, though not without a fight. They sent us off with a signed Jesco T-shirt and we exchanged numbers with promises to stay in touch. Which we did. The White family were all quite hospitable and genuinely lovely folks, and though it’s been a few years since we’ve seen them, we still think of them like family.