My wife and I are visiting family in West Virginia. She and I were raised in the Mountain State. Our family histories lie deep in the mists of the Appalachians, and under the soil here lie our sires, settlers, miners, farmers, educators, teachers, preachers, soldiers, mothers, fathers and all else. Jan and met and fell in love at Marshall University, I have a degree from MU, she has two. I have a degree from WVU. Our pedigree is West Virginian to the core.

We moved, like so many West Virginians, to South Carolina. Not because we dislike or disdain our home; but for opportunity, for hope, for a place that seemed to revere success more than our home. And for a place where malpractice insurance was affordable.

We’re visiting this weekend. We just went to Waterways, a water-park near Madison/Danville, WV. It’s a tradition of ours. My in-laws live here, and every summer we slip and slide, and float around the lazy river reminiscing about this place and its people. And we watch the people.

They’re good people. Hard-workers, proud and patriotic. They have an unwavering tendency to go to war for the United States, the less patriotic citizens of which usually thank them by ridiculing either their accent, traditions or ethics; and by accusing them of in-breeding and stupidity.

And somehow, as we observe floating around the water park, the people have absorbed that external loathing and turned it inward to self-loathing. Young men and women cover their bodies, not in artistic tattoos, but in cheap ones, with lewd images or badly drawn faces; with Chinese symbols they don’t understand or with the wings of angels on their backs, in hopes that they may be somehow angelic themselves. They wear barbed-wire around their arms to appear menacing and dangerous, or fairies on massively overweight back-sides in order to appear spritely and dainty.

Admittedly, the apple falls in close proximity to the tree. We ate at the snack bar, and Jan and I both remarked that sometimes, cheap hot-dogs and fries are just the ticket. And that even if that yellow stuff isn’t exactly nacho ‘cheese,’ it’s still darn good eatin’. But then again, we eat it in small doses, like a delicacy rather than a buffet. Many of my fellow mountaineers make that sort of fare an everyday…’a-fare.’ The collective masses of those struggling to remain in their stretched bathing suits suggests that nachos and cheese may be a popular local diet plan.

Fine, I’m hardly skinny myself. I’ll take a hit, too. I eat the wrong things; I exercise too little. But the problem I have with my fellow West Virginians is that they are beautiful and strong and capable and tough, and give themselves away too easily, too cheaply.

They pierce and tattoo because, I fear, they have not love for themselves; they use Oxycontin like Skittles because life is less hopeful, or they have learned that goals, dreams, jobs and education are for other people. They young men and women have children out of wedlock, and have multiple partners because they have not been taught, for generations, the value of love and connection. Indeed, they have not learned the eternal, inestimable value of…themselves!

In some ways, it’s Almost Heaven to us. West Virginia, to West Virginians, is more genetics and less geography; more blood and less location. Driving through the mountains gives us a deep sense of awe, a sense that wherever we go, we are somehow inextricably rooted to this place.

I just wish that those still here could be told, taught, preached, convinced that they possess a land and a heritage that could be the envy of all the transient, smarmy, smart-alecky moderns of the nation. If they would just look at themselves and say ‘I’m better than that. I’m valuable. And I’m too beautiful to mark my body, too abuse myself with food, or to neglect the potential God gave me.’

Country roads, take me home! Sometimes I wonder, where do I belong?


Hear John Denver sing Country Roads! Follow the link below.

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