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: 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 few of my favorite (West Virginia) things

A couple weeks ago a friend and I were having a drink at a Charleston bar. We were minding our own business, when an argument between a couple other bar-goers caught our attention. An angry drunk man was arguing about West Virginia with a couple other people. Angry Drunk Man had apparently grown up here, moved away, and was visiting from Florida.

He was essentially berating the other people because they still lived here rather than move away. It was your typical West Virginia complaints: “there’re no jobs here,” “there’s nothing to do,” and the relatively new but well-established, “they poisoned our water.” He talked as if Florida were the freaking Promised Land and we were still wandering in the desert. It was kind of amusing until he turned his attention to us, and picked the same argument.

“You’re obviously educated people,” he said, after hearing what we do for a living and noting our choice of drinks. “Why do you stay here? Get out of this place.”

Whether or not you run into Angry Drunk Man (and I hope you don’t), we West Virginians are used to hearing negative things about our home.

In honor of West Virginia Day coming up next week (She’s turning the big 1-5-1) and to spite Angry Drunk Man, I’m compiling a list of the best things about West Virginia. I’d like to hear from you. Whether you’re a lifelong resident,  you moved away years ago, or you’re new to the Mountain State, what do you love about West Virginia?

You can leave them in the comment section, on Facebook, or email them to lorithebrave@gmail.com. I’ll post the responses Friday, June 20th.

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.

Dear Charleston, WV (A love letter)

I know you don’t hear this enough. Your state tops everyone’s “Worst of” lists and someone even said your people are the most unhappy. You do have your problems, but you don’t get the affection you deserve. Even I sometimes catch myself complaining about your small size and a lack of things to do. But I really do love you.
I love your local coffee shops, Taylor’s and Moxxee and the way that locals congregate in them on Saturday mornings or after Sunday services. I can walk in by myself to write and never want for company or a familiar face.

Snow falls outside the window at Taylor Books, one of Charleston’s favorite coffee shops.

I love the way I feel safe walking your streets, even late at night. Despite the occasional bad news reports, I’ve never worried about walking home from the bar after midnight. Never thought to hold my purse close to my chest or to obsess over whether the car doors were locked. No one here has ever cut my purse strap and made off with my belongings while I wasn’t paying attention.

The corner of Virginia and Capitol streets, Charleston.

I dearly love your music scene and the people who play your open mic nights and the Third Eye Cabaret. I love how there’s always live music somewhere. I love the artists that I’ve come to know after hearing them play Mountain Stage.

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Singer/songwriter Mark Bates jams with the Coal River Yacht Club at the Empty Glass one Sunday night.

I love the Red Carpet, the local bar where reporters and lawmakers, hipsters and drag queens alike gather on Friday nights to unwind after a long week.  I love that I can be away for months and yet the bartenders still call me by name when I walk through the door again. I love your cat, even if she won’t go near me.

I love your historic houses on the East End and their inviting porches and yards. I dream of owning one someday.

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East End porch, Summer 2013.

I love the gold dome on the state capitol. I’m convinced it’s the prettiest in the country. Even when I was living away from you, I could drive into town and know I was home when I saw the sunlight gleaming off that gold.

Dear Charleston, I don’t promise never to leave. Life has a way of making those decisions for us. But I promise to always call you home.

So what if I want to be childless?

Women choosing not to have children has become a hot topic lately.,  Time and Slate have weighed in on the issue. Are women selfish for not wanting children? Am I, at 28, a neglecting my womanly duties by not settling down, getting married and popping out babies like the rest of those I graduated high school with?

In short, no. I’m pretty content how I am. I’m not saying that won’t change.  Maybe some day I will meet someone I actually want to have kids with.

But honestly, I don’t see what the appeal is sometimes. I’ve watched my sister and her husband become parents over the last couple years. They could give safe-sex seminars to teenagers with the stories they tell about their toddler daughters. Once they were in a restaurant when their 2-year-old soiled her pants. In my sister’s attempt to take her to a restroom to clean her up, some of the the, uh, mess, somehow made it onto the table. Before my brother-in-law could stop her, their 4-year-old daughter had it in her mouth. Forget those crying dolls they give high school students so they understand parenting, these kids need to hear that story. I’m telling you, they’ll never have sex without a condom again.

Then there are those times when I’m in the restroom at the shopping mall overhearing a mother talking to her child while she’s going to the bathroom. I understand the need to keep the child in sight at all times, but every time it happens it’s a reminder of the privacy you give up when you become a mom. It starts at the very beginning – childbirth, when a team of doctors and nurses stare at your hoo-ha waiting for the baby to appear (or at least that’s how I imagine it to happen. What do I know? I’m childless).

And honestly, I don’t understand the argument that women who don’t have children are selfish. People bring children into the world for selfish reasons all the time. I commend my friends and family who are rocking parenthood, but not everyone can. Raising children takes a lot of time, energy, love, affection and money that not everyone has.

There’s a reason the foster care system in this country has so many kids.

I have enough trouble taking care of myself and my cats.

Things townies hear

It’s been almost two years since I moved back to the county where I grew up. I left the state, but not the region for a few years. I now live in the state capital, not the nearby smaller community where I lived as a child.

It’s good to be home. Still, it’s a little strange running into to people from my past all the time. And I do mean ALL THE TIME. They’re everywhere. It’s like they live here or something. They’re a constant reminder of the awkward, shy girl I was in high school and they always make for uncomfortable small talk.

Here are a couple awkward encounters I’ve had:

*The babysitter – I hadn’t had a sip all night. Actually, I was purposefully avoiding alcohol, even though a show at a bar put me in arm’s length of it all that night. I didn’t need the calories, for one thing. But when a cute friend suggested we take a shot together, I caved. (Did I mention he’s cute?). So it would be the exact moment he handed me the tiny glass filled with fruity liquor that a woman with long dark blond hair and a vaguely familiar face approached me.

“Are you Lori?” she said. I assumed we knew each other from my day job, which puts me in contact with lots of people. Or from the stage where I’ve been singing lately with a couple friends.

“Yes,” I said, smiling.

“I used to baby sit you at church,” she replied.

Yes, she did. I remembered then. She helped supervise in children’s church when I was a small thing. I remember her as the infinitely cool, but tyrannical teenager with long blond hair and an attitude.  I’m sure she remembered me as the home-schooled little girl with a homemade dress and a sparkly purple and yellow kids’ Bible.

Now, there we were, 20 years later and just 10 miles up the road from the teetotaling congregation where we grew up. My, how things change.

“Cheers,” I said, clinking my coconut rum shot glass against her Magic Hat bottle. At least she wasn’t drinking grape juice.

“Buy you another?” I should have said.

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*”Do you want to dance?” There’s a bar here in town where you can find me nearly every week. One Thursday evening I noticed a somewhat familiar face in the crowd. I couldn’t place him. Thought maybe I’d graduated with him but when he approached me I found out otherwise.

“You may remember me from Husson’s Pizza. I hung out there from 2000 to 2003,” he said. I did not, in fact, remember him. But his thick, rural Appalachian accent took me right back to my hometown. (Sounds a little like this guy).

“Oh, OK. Hi!” I said.

I later turned down the offer to smoke pot with him and his repeated, repeated requests that we dance to “Sweet Caroline,” which was blaring over the bar speakers. (No one else was dancing, I might add).

In that moment, in a way that’s difficult to explain, it was like my entire hometown was hitting on me.

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A favorite scene from my hometown.