On home (nostalgia is a liar)

I went home today, almost to the very patch of ground where my parents raised me. What is it about the years that stretch out memories so that they have holes we must fill to make sense of things?

I fill in mine with good things that make me long for home, even from 10 miles up the interstate.

When I am lost or lonely, I drive the back road past my old high school, my church, my grandmother’s house. Or I browse the internet for listings somewhere off the main road where there is land. I dream of raising a dog there until I am loved and love enough to raise a child.

I’d take her berry picking, or firefly catching on the same Appalachian hill where I grew up. We’d look for the same constellations my father once pointed out to me.

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Credit: lgbsneak/Flickr

But Nostalgia is as big a liar as Someday.

That boy who first kissed you, he took a wife. I heard they live in a house on the same property where his parents are. They look so happy in the Facebook photos.

At that church down the gravel driveway from your house you learned  to say the Our Father and to love God, but you didn’t learn to love your neighbor well.

They say you can’t go home again, but that’s not true. You can. But you might not recognize home any more. And it sure doesn’t remember you.

 

 

Guest post : Who says there’s nothing to do in West Virginia?

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Here’s the third in a three-part series in honor of West Virginia. Thursday’s guest post was about leaving West Virginia. Here’s a post about staying, by my friend Dave Humphreys:

Ever since my teenage years, I’ve heard people close to my own age talking about how they “couldn’t wait to get out” of our state because there is “nothing to do here.” My response to that has always been “why not stick around and make it better?” West Virginia has to be one of the most exciting places in the country to live right now because, thanks to those that chose to better it rather than evacuate, we’re left with a rare and valuable type of younger generation that is concerned with both preserving history and progressing forward.

Charleston is working hard to become an artistic hub, and as a result, you’d be very hard-pressed to find a place full of creative opportunities that are more easily accessible. It’s almost impossible to overstate how fortunate we are in that regard. There isn’t the sense of exclusivity you’d find elsewhere; our people are as welcoming as they are talented. Today’s Charleston is a place where any visual artist with the will to create is blessed with numerous opportunities to have their work publicly displayed and seen by anyone who passes through our city. We’ve got a great live music scene that, again, is highly accessible, and a world-class concert series in Mountain Stage. In a city that supposedly never gets any good concerts, I’ve discovered a ton of great artists playing less than ten minutes from my front door.

I’d also like to mention an area of impressive growth that isn’t brought up often enough. One of my favorite things in the world is attending comic and various other pop culture conventions. It always drove me nuts that we live in an area where people are so passionate about their interests, but the closest cons were in Columbus or Pittsburgh. Within the last few years, not only have we gained the ability to complain about Michael Bay while flipping through longboxes with guys dressed as Stormtroopers without leaving our borders. Now, we even have conventions in many different subgenres – Comics (Tri-con, Huntington), Steampunk (Vandalia Con, Parkersburg), Horror (ShockaCon, Charleston), Anime (Tsubasacon, Huntington), general pop culture (WV POP, Morgantown), and more I’m sure I’ve left out.

Speaking of Vandalia Con, I can’t think of an experience that better sums up my love for the state. While staying in the historic Blennerhassett Hotel, I was fortunate enough to befriend quite a varied group of people who live here – sideshow performers, fire dancers, war re-enactors,  storytellers, and a couple of magicians. I toured the catacombs of the Smoot Theater- a 1920s era Vaudeville palace – with them, played cards for coal mining scrypt, and swapped stories over drinks while watching impromptu bluegrass jam sessions until the sun came up. To me, this is exactly what West Virginia is.

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There’s nothing to do in this state? This weekend, I plan to visit the Mt. Zion Drive-In, one of our last remaining drive-in theaters and a beautiful and surreal place that, despite being only an hour outside of our capitol city, sets under a starry sky that has to be seen to be believed. The following morning, I’ll head to Capitol Street for the kick-off parade of FestivALL, our city’s annual week-long celebration of the arts. Then I’ll throw on my proton pack and the rest of my Ghostbusters gear to join the Causeplayers – a West Virginia-based group of superhero re-enactors for charity who visit children in hospitals – in a fundraiser for statewide foster care and adoption that’s sure to be a blast.

 

Suffice to say, there’s a lot more to see than the things we learned about while studying for the Golden Horseshoe test. I couldn’t be more excited to see where we go next.

Dave Humphreys is a graduate of the Marshall University School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He has worked as a production assistant and makeup artist for the Huntington-based film-making group Brainwrap Productions. Dave is also a history buff, pop culture fanatic, guitarist, and lover of all things retro. He lives in Charleston, W.Va. 

Guest post: On West Virginia

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Note: I asked for your thoughts about the best parts of West Virginia and you didn’t disappoint. This will be the first of three posts for West Virginia Day. I liked this one, from my brother Daniel Kersey, too much to edit down to fit in a list. Check back tomorrow for a list of what you all said are your favorite parts about West Virginia and Friday, for another guest post.

Having moved away three years ago, my opinions might not fit well with some residents of West Virginia that stayed but being away allows for a different perspective.

I spent my childhood to my mid 20s roaming those mountains hopping from Summersville to Richwood to Marlinton to Snowshoe then to Canaan Valley and back home. I’ve tramped among the virgin hemlocks of Cathedral State Park in Aurora and swam in the cold waters of the New under its bridge. Studying at both West Virginia University and Marshall University, I was able to see a mountain town proud of its team and its history and also a town trying to get back to its glory years prior to the 1950s.

As a child, I was fortunate enough to ride in a Ford Model T through the streets of Ripley on the Fourth of July during America’s “Biggest Small Town Fourth of July Celebration.”

I’ve witnessed billions and billions of stars over Dolly Sods give way to our closest star as it rose above the mountains to the east over round, wind-shaped, rocks.

My friends and I have been followed by river otters (If my memory serves me well, a friend mistook it for a platypus) as we floated down the Greenbrier River in kayaks during some of the hottest summer days that I can recall.

West Virginia is a beautiful place and I am fond of all my memories I have of it stored up.

And then there are the bad parts. West Virginia has one of the highest (if not, the highest) drug overdose mortality rates in the nation and a pair of cities that continue to land in the top 5 of the most unhealthy or unhappy cities in the United States. Fifty years after the start of the War on Poverty, many West Virginians are still waiting to see how this “war” will affect them by ridding hunger or alleviating the crippling depression caused by year after year of hardship, but nothing changes.

Coal and oil companies move in, promise a few hundred jobs, lobby Washington to change the laws to fit their needs, pollute the waters and lands, remove mountains, fill in valleys, cover up streams, take a bulk of all earnings to other parts of the country and then leave the place a mess for someone else to deal with.

Big corporations promise low prices which may seem like a good idea but the cheap products need replaced sooner than later and the wages generated are marginal at best and really do not help the employees get out of the cycle of poverty.

I simply cannot argue with anyone who says they want to leave the state in order to find a better life. Ask me three years ago, just as I was driving that U-Haul truck out of town and toward Cincinnati, when I would return to live in West Virginia again and I would have said “as soon as possible.” Ask me now and I may ignore the question as to not upset any of the great people from West Virginia who have labored and endured their entire life in hopes of a better tomorrow.

I do not feel like I am turning my back on my state (yes, I still consider it “my state”). Ask my wife, I still get excited when I see a WV license plate on a car here in Cincinnati. I love West Virginia. I love the Herd and the Mountaineers. (Tell me I can’t love them both. Try it).

I love the mountains, the streams and the wildlife. I also love that I am not living there being forced to flush my water pipes in my home because a chemical company decided that my health was not worth plugging a hole from which hazardous chemicals leaked into the Elk River and straight into the water supply. To me, West Virginia has become a getaway. I am glad that I do not have to deal with the issues that plague the area but my heart still aches for those struggling there among the beauty.

Daniel and I grew up in Sissonville, W.Va. He now lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Gabby, two cats and two dogs. The image here is his own. See more of his work at http://www.kerseyphoto.com/.

A followup to “Dear Charleston”

Last week I wrote a note describing all the things I love about living in Charleston, West Virginia. That post has been shared on Facebook more than 3,000 times and drove my blog site views to about 2,500 the first day and to around 6,800 the second day after it published. That’s not exactly “viral” but it’s certainly well beyond the number of reader I typically get.  People from more than 15 different countries read that post. I got around 30 comments about it.

The popularity certainly was not because the writing was anything special. I think it was more a testament to the love West Virginians — those still living here and those who have moved on —  have for their home. I got a lot of notes from native West Virginians living all around the country and in other countries who are still pining for the Mountain State.

I get that. I was born and raised about 10 miles north of Charleston in Sissonville. After college I lived for a short time in the Lexington, Ky. area and in Ashland Ky. before moving to Charleston two years ago for a job.  I’ve never been too far from home, but even from a short distance, I missed it.

It’s a difficult thing to decide whether or not to leave home. Most often it’s not really a choice — people leave because they can’t find work or the right type of work here. It’s not a secret that West Virginia has a brain drain problem. I’ve seen it first hand. Several of my native West Virginia friends have left the state for bigger cities and better opportunities over the last year. I don’t blame them for that. As I said, I don’t know where life will lead me. One day my letter to this place could have a break-up theme.

But West Virginia is part of me. I’m not sure exactly what it is about this place that gets into your blood. Sure, the mountains are beautiful and just about everyone loves their home, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it has something to do with understanding and loving a place that, from the outside, seems so destitute. I think our affection for this place is a defiance of the worst-of lists and stereotypes they try to attach to us.

On the other hand, there are reasons for West Virginia to be on some of those lists. It’s a complicated relationship, for sure.

But most relationships are, aren’t they?

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A view of the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayetteville, It’s one of my favorite things in West Virginia.

D.C. in a day: a how-not-to

If road trips are fun, spur-of-the-moment road trips with friends are even more fun. That’s why I’m glad my buddy Michelle agreed to come along with me this weekend on a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C.

I had not visited the Nation’s Capital since my fifth grade patrol trip and Michelle hadn’t been at all.

It’s about a seven-hour drive from my home in Charleston, W.Va. We left Sunday afternoon and stayed the night with my aunt in Canaan Valley, W.Va., which is on the route and about four hours away from the city.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • Pro tip: If you’re staying with family, be sure to change your alarm ring tone from “Blurred Lines” or don’t rely on the snooze button. Otherwise, Robin Thicke will yell “I know you want it,” over and over in your 70-something aunt’s otherwise serene mountain home at 5 a.m. while you shower because you forgot to turn it off. Yes, this happened.
  • The best part of the drive to D.C. is without a doubt, Canaan Valley and the surrounding areas in WV.  Thomas, Davis, Elkins, Hampshire County. All beautiful.

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  • When someone says hey, let’s go to a major city hours away from us and try to take it in in one day: don’t do it. Technically we did it in two days, but we still were in the car about 10 hours altogether Monday. We were on the road from Canaan Valley at 6 a.m. and on the D.C. Metro by 10:30 a.m. We saw the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, the White House, Washington Monument (from afar, as it’s under repairs because of earthquake damage) and the Holocaust Museum but could have used more time to see the other museums and sights. And it would have been nice to see the downtown section of the city, not just the tourist traps and monuments. 

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  • Growing up in Appalachia prepared me for a lot of things, but using public transportation is not one of them. I spent hours the day before I left trying to plan and get over my apprehension about taking the Metro. Michelle and I didn’t have any trouble (save for a taking a long while finding a place to park my car) taking the Metro into the city. Coming back, though, we went to get on a rail car and got separated. I was two steps behind her and she had made it on when the doors began to close. I had my arms through and, had I left them there, I’m sure I would have lost them because there was no stopping or reopening once they were closing. All I could do was watch as her train car pulled away from the station. Don’t panic,. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Her phone was going dead and there was no service anyway so I didn’t even try to call or text her. Luckily I caught the next car and we met at the station where we had parked.

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  • I wonder what Abraham Lincoln would think, all these years later, if he knew that we honor his memory by taking selfies in front of a huge marble statue of him.
Michelle and I do a selfie in front of the Lincoln Memorial. September 2013

Michelle and I do a selfie in front of the Lincoln Memorial. September 2013

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