Half-Runners, National Bean of Hoopie

A couple of things have put me in mind of writing about Hoopie. It has been awhile, and people probably need a refresher anyhow.

One was the passing of Bonnie Adkins Hoppel. I saw in her obituary that she was born in Midkiff, W.Va. Midkiff is located in Lincoln County, a scant few miles from Hamlin, the county seat and my mother’s hometown. This is Deep Hoopie.

Ol’ Food also was an Adkins, though no relation that I know of to Bonnie. Lincoln County is polluted with Adkinses, and quite a few of them migrated to East Liverpool, Ohio, and Chester, W.Va.

Bonnie’s obituary described her as “quiet and selfless, the glue that held everyone together,” a description that applies to many wives and mothers of Hoopie extraction, my mother included, though with her maybe not so much emphasis on the “quiet” part.

Bonnie was interred locally, though for years many people from Hoopie specified that their remains be sent “down home” for burial. Frank C. Dawson, East Liverpool’s funeral director emeritus, has, transported so many bodies back to the Koontz Funeral Home in Hamlin, W.Va., that the Koontzes probably consider him family.

HALF-RUNNER BEANS are the second thing that put me in mind of Hoopie this week. My Gas Valley neighbor, Truck Farmer Dan, planted half-runner green beans this year because, he said, so many of his vegetable stand customers asked specifically for them. He had no idea why they were so set on half-runners.

I can tell you why, Dan. It’s because the people asking for them are Hoopies, and if Hoopie was a country, half-runner beans would be its National Green Bean, just as paw-paws would be Hoopie’s National Fruit, black walnuts would be Hoopie’s National Nut, and persimmons would be Hoopie’s other National Fruit. (I think Hoopie can have more than one National Fruit.)

“The only good thing about your mother dying was that we didn’t have to plant half-runners anymore,” Honey has said on more than one occasion, mostly when she is breaking green beans. Don’t get the idea she didn’t love my mother, who lived to age 98. She did, or she would have made me quit planting half-runners years earlier.

I can say “breaking beans” instead of “stringing beans” because, you see, half-runners are string beans, and the beans we grow now, such as blue lake variety, are stringless. Though string beans are a pain in the butt, half-runners have a good flavor, and Hoopies raised on them believe there is no green bean but half-runners.

PERHAPS I SHOULD inject a bit of historical perspective for those who may not know who Hoopies are, where Hoopie is, and how that term came to be.

In the early heyday of the East Liverpool pottery district, ware was packed with straw in barrels for transport on the Ohio River to markets mainly downriver. Every pottery had a cooper shop to make the barrels, and every cooperage had a stinking vat of brine in which to soak the staves and hoop poles. Hoop poles were one-inch saplings split down the middle and notched on the ends, so they could be bent around the barrel and nailed in as hoops.

With Knowles, Taylor and Knowles, Harker, Homer Laughlin, and other potteries producing dinnerware by the millions of dozens, you can imagine the local supply of hoop pole saplings would be insufficient. The poor people in places south along the river – Sistersville, Pomeroy, Meigs County, St. Mary’s, Point Pleasant – would cut saplings and sell them in bundles for a nickel or dime to the packet boats coming upriver.

When the fathers or sons of these poor families came upriver themselves looking for work in the potteries, they were denigrated by East Liverpudlians as “poor dumb hoop-polers,” which was shortened to “Hoopie.” With the later automation of coal mines, they came upriver for work in the steel mills and rubber plants. (Akron has been termed “West Virginia’s largest city,” and the local joke was that schools taught “readin’, writin’, and Route 77,” because Hoopies used the interstate to go “down home” on weekends.)

“HOOPIE” is an area I would define as the Ohio River Valley and its tributaries approximately from Sistersville to Huntington, including both sides of the river. It is a pejorative term, similar to the name “Okie” given to describe destitute Oklahomans who migrated to California in the Dust Bow era. It is a familiar term in the Upper Ohio Valley from perhaps Pittsburgh to Wheeling, but outside the valley it is almost unknown.

Today the epithet has lost most of its sting, and many, myself included, are in fact proud to call themselves Hoopies. In the late 1980s I began writing about Hoopie in this column and speaking about it to clubs and community groups. One reader, however, was highly offended by my humorous treatment and demanded that I send an apology to the people of Hoopie.

I thought about it, but realized if I did so, they wouldn’t know what I was talking about, because Hoopies don’t know they’re Hoopies until they come north and are told they’re Hoopies.

I’ll delve further into Hoopie lore, culture and dialect in future columns. Anyone with personal stories relating to Hoopie may send them to me in care of The Review or post a comment at fredmilleratlarge.com.

(Fred Miller’s new book of 100 stories, “Falling Under Honey’s Spell,” is available from the website or locally at Connie’s Kitchen, Davis Bros. Pharmacies, Frank’s Pastry, Giant Eagle Calcutta, Green Marble Coffee, Museum of Ceramics, and Pottery City Antique Mall.)


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