I hate cliche country songs about growing up in Appalachia. I mean… really hate. Maybe I’m not supposed to hate anything, but I hate any song about a dirt road and somebody’s Daddy and Bud Light. Not because Bud Light is awful (it is) and because I’ve got Daddy issues (I do) but because songs like that are just awful. They’re terrible. So, when I sit down to write about being from Appalachia, I have to make sure that I don’t reinforce these assumptions about Appalachia. For example, I have amazing teeth and I love shoes and I’m not on the draw. I know lots of folks like me, believe it or not.
Considering how opposite I am from a lot of folks around here, people ask me why I stayed. Well, I’ll be really honest — I didn’t want to stay. I never thought that I would. I got a bangin’ job right after I turned 22 and just recently passed my 8th workiversary (10 years total — I worked part time from 2006 to 2008). I had this big pact with myself that when I turned 25 I would take a look at finances and where I was and decide if I wanted to stay in eastern Kentucky. I didn’t do that. You want to know why? Because I was comfortable, perhaps a little complacent, and more than that, I was home.
See, no matter where I go, these hills are home. I absolutely love to travel and experience new places, new people, new sounds, new food (omg food), but by the end of my journey I ache for the familiarity of what I’ve always known. When those hills come into view, no matter where I’m coming from, the feeling comforts me like a big plate of starchy carbs. Yeah, I just compared the hills of eastern Kentucky to starchy carbs. They are that good.
I have nothing against anyone who has ever left. Lord no. There’s not much here and it’s getting worse by the day. Friends are leaving because there’s no work, the best and brightest move to bigger areas for opportunity, and I get it. I get it and sometimes, I get jealous of folks who start to build a life away from eastern Kentucky. See, I honestly thought I would be somewhere doing something with more value, but I’m not sure I ever really gauged what ‘value’ meant in that equation. Sometimes it’s hard for me to wrap my head around that I just answer a phone for a living. Now, this is just about me and nobody else, I earn an honest living just like my coworkers and we work hard, harder than most people realize. I just, I guess I really thought that I might have a different path and more of a voice. Good news is, I’m only 30, so there’s still plenty of time left to find that voice. I hope.
But, I think that voice has to be meant to do something here. I get so mad at it, but I love this place. I love how we get the best of every single season, I love summer and the haze that lingers against the greenery, I love winter and a snow that covers every tree limb, I love fall and how the colors paint the hills for weeks and then bleed away, and most of all I love that I can go see my Mom, my sister, my brother, and my in laws in one day and come back home and sleep in my own bed. I love ‘y’all’ and ‘I don’t reckon’, and I love that I hug people like a true baptist and beat your back off if I don’t watch myself. I love that Paintsville inexplicably has three Mexican places, but I hate that none of them have the right about cilantro and spice in their salsa (Toro Loco does, however. What’s good, Louisa?). I love my accent and how I cannot say a single word with a vowel and not make that one single, solitary vowel sound like fifteen vowels. I love that I can’t hide that I’m from Appalachia, because it’s not something I am ashamed of or ever want to hide.
We’re pretty good folks out here. I worry on a regular basis about what will come of us and these hills, if we’ll ever find an industry to replace coal, and if we’ll be okay. Some days, I don’t think we will be. I think about if I will have to move, if my family might have to leave, and what will still be standing in a decade. For as long as I’ve roamed these back roads, we’ve figured it out, one day at a time. I’m not sure how to keep us going and how to sustain life around here, but I want to help figure it out in any way that I can. The page has turned for us, and if we keep flipping back through the book wishing for previous chapters, we’re going to completely knock ourselves out of ever learning the rest of the story.
Appalachia is a special place, whether people want to believe that or not. We’re a heck of a lot more than fast food restaurants and Walmart. Some of the most intelligent, talented, artistic, kind, all around best people that I’ve ever known live up a holler somewhere carved out in these hills. For as much as I get frustrated, I believe I’m exactly where I need to be. I am doing what I was picked to do and I don’t think that has anything to do with my career path.
Also, my Diary Queen has the best hotdog with mustard, sauce (chili? do you call it chili? you’re a terrorist), and slaw, so why aren’t you coming to hang out like right now?