It’s been a long time since I have written a post. Most of the time I mull around things in my brain and occasionally say ‘hey, that would be a good post’. Today is something very near and dear to my heart. Over the course of the past few years, my life has come full circle for me. I’d be curious to know how many people have gone through a similar experience.
We had talked about how ‘West Virginia needed this’ or ‘West Virginia needed that.’ Suddenly, I needed West Virginia.”
In the fall of 2004, my husband and I found ourselves in a horrible job market and made the move from West Virginia to Hampton Roads, Virginia. After a few years there we thought we had really settled. Before we knew it, it was 2009. I had a job that I loved, friends that I adored and a solid church family. We had fun stuff all around us and practically lived where everyone loved to vacation. We never had trouble getting people to visit, that’s for sure.
You would think a person couldn’t ask for anything else. During this year, our prayers were answered and we found out we were pregnant. Something within me started to change. I became a little depressed. When I looked around all I saw was pavement. On previous trips home we had talked about how ‘West Virginia needed this’ or ‘West Virginia needed that.’ Suddenly, I needed West Virginia. Sure we missed our family, but for me it was something else. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew we had to get back as soon as we could.
Fast forward to now. I have found that I am reacquainting myself with my Appalachian heritage since we’ve been back. I was only gone 5 years but it seemed like I had a huge piece taken out of me that I’ve had to work hard to restore. One night, while watching my ‘redneck shows’ (as Rob likes to call them), I had my A-Ha moment and, believe it or not, it hit me pretty hard.
As a child, I grew up with a family whose weekends revolved around our family farm. Hundreds and hundreds of acres. We would go there and help my Papaw and Mamaw almost every weekend with their huge garden. During the summer I was there a lot. I don’t ever remember buying vegetables with my mother at the store. We didn’t really buy much meat either. Deer burgers were the norm. I had my fair share of Happy Meals growing up but some people think it’s weird that I didn’t even try Taco Bell until about the 8th grade when we started going to a church that happened to be down the road from one.
Now don’t get me wrong, I grew up in Dunbar, which is right outside of West Virginia’s capital city of Charleston. I didn’t belong to the FFA because my high school didn’t have it. But I didn’t need it. We had enough country in our lives that I was a country girl. My best friend’s family had a farm outside of Summersville and I had heard enough stories of toy-less Christmas’ and only making it to the 6th grade that I actually thought every kid’s grandparents grew up as poor farmers. I wasn’t ashamed of it, but I guess we just never talked about it.
Fast forward to high school. I met the man I knew I was supposed to marry. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But ever since I was a little girl I trusted God with this and I knew when I saw him that Rob was the guy. During that time, a lot happened. My Papaw was the most important person in my life and he had gotten very sick. We didn’t have that huge garden at the farm anymore but the family kept a smaller one and canned a LOT of food. Marching band and music took over my weekends so we didn’t get to the farm as much. My dad and uncle made sure it was taken care of but the visits slowly tapered off.
And right around the time that Rob and I had a brief break-up, I lost my Papaw. It was devastating to me.
My sisters talk about him more than I do. I had a dull ache, and I still do. It’s difficult for me to relate to other peoples’ losses because I sheltered his so much. I can still see him on that porch and hear his voice singing I’ll Fly Away … And knowing he did just that. There is no doubt I’ll see him again some day, but I guess in the midst of all of that — and trying to maintain some sort of normal — I lost touch with my roots. I wasn’t much different than any other high school kid. Rob and I went off to college.
You can take the girl out of the mountains but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl.
The fact is, now that we have three kids I can tell you exactly what moved us back to West Virginia. A lady in a shop in Virginia said it best. You can take the girl out of the mountains but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl. I am a hillbilly! When you say the word ‘farm’ to a city person, they think of flat acreage and huge John Deere tractors.
But to me, I’m talking about acres and acres of hills and carving out just enough of it to have a garden. If you don’t want to mow it, put cows on it. And don’t name them because you’ll eat one of them soon. Cry over your livestock losses and get angry when a coyote or neighbor’s dog gets after them. We have guns and we have a respect for them. We shoot food and eat it. We wear camouflage and ride four-wheelers. And we can also get dressed up and you’d never know the difference between us and a city-person until you hear us talk about where our food comes from.
We can make anything out of anything. We put emphasis on things like our faith, life experiences, and family. That kind of stuff doesn’t ever leave. And in this dying culture of ours, I want people to be interested in how I am. I realize now that SO many people never really knew the real me. People who knew me from high school on only saw a college graduate who decided to “hippy-out” and go back to the land. This saddens me! I want our children to grow up like I did. Keep your house clean but get out there and get muddy. Know that what you are eating was killed by your dad, your uncle or your mom and it ended up in the freezer. It was killed out of respect and thankfulness to the Creator who gave it to you to eat, and it’ll taste better than anything you can buy from the store.
I want my kids to have a fire for their culture. I want them to know that if the world goes to Hell in a hand basket they’ll take a look at the land around them and say, ‘we can make it.’ I want them to be generous enough to provide for people who have NO CLUE how to hunt or grow vegetables. They’ll pronounce ‘App-a-La-CHA’ the way it should be pronounced …Not the way some news anchor on the Weather Channel says it. This is why we moved back.
I want them to know that this culture hasn’t changed since 1863. We will never be adequately represented by any government. We are hard-headed. Our politics are not our nation’s politics. We were the original independents, but we were dependent on God. We are West Virginians. We are the only state in the Union that is made up of 100% mountains. Our people came here from Scotland and Ireland and we survived. We have been laughed at, talked down to, and made fun of for everything from our accents to our way of life. We have seen the trends and we’ll watch them pass…along with the people who created them.
I suppose this blog post is more therapeutic than anything. It’s giving me the opportunity to say that I am a hillbilly. I wish the people who knew me now could’ve seen me when I was a little girl. I wish they would have met my Papaw because there has never been another one like him. I certainly have my faults, but when I put my straw hat on, feed the chickens, tell my girls about their God or load up my guns and take them wherever we go … I think he would be proud of me. I am keeping my culture alive.