My parents raised me in Buckhannon, WV. It is a really pretty, sweet little town. As a teenager, I hated it, of course. I hated how small it was. I hated how conservative it was. I hated that I couldn't get away with anything. It was smart, really, raising my brother and me there. Plenty about Buckhannon could have been worrisome for a parent: there was an incredibly high teen pregnancy rate, recreational drug use was pretty common even before the current opioid crisis began, public education was only so-so...but, in general, the good outweighed the bad. The local college raised the bar on cultural opportunities, the lovely downtown was contained and well-appointed and very cute, the people were kind and generous. All of that, I'm sure, is still true. I have hardly been back there since my mother died in 2005.
Mom and Dad were the outliers of their families. My mother was one of three (two half siblings) and the only one who left the Charleston, WV-area long term. My father was one of four boys. He and his older brother were the only two to settle away from the Charleston area, as well. As a child, we traveled the 100 miles from Buckhannon to Charleston regularly. We visited my mother's mother and her husband on Charleston's West Side, my father's mother in Nitro, WV, my mother's father in South Charleston, and my father's father in Clay County, WV. When I was very young, I also had three great- grandmothers. I have fond memories of Charleston and the surrounding areas. The shopping mall was incredible to me (Buckhannon certainly had no mall), the bridges and wide river seemed very beautiful.
I loved to go to places my mother remembered from her childhood: The Diamond department store downtown (where my great-grandmother had once worked in the cafeteria baking pies), The Boulevard that runs along the river (planned and built by D. Boone Dawson, mayor of Charleston and my great, great, great uncle), the Civic Center (which razed the neighborhood where my grandfather's family home was located), Spring Hill bakery, Dunbar (where my mother grew up with her oldest friend, L). The list could go on and on.
Hearing my mother's stories of growing up in Dunbar always filled me with a particular joy. I remember those stories very well. Each Saturday, she traveled with her mother and grandmother from what was then rural Dunbar to Charleston for her piano lessons. When her lesson ended, they stopped in OJ Morrison's to make a payment on their living room furniture, before having lunch at the Blossom Dairy. My father had stories, too. For a time, his family lived in a house that was eventually torn down to build the St. Albans Branch Library--still standing today. He was at the Grand Opening as a Boy Scout. In Nitro, where my grandmother lived with her mother in a house on the main drag, it smelled sour and gassy from the chemical factories. In Clay County, where my grandfather lived in a cabin built for summer vacations, the river drifted lazily across the backyard.
West Virginia is my ancestral home. It's where I was raised and where my parents were raised and where their parents were raised. Hell, even my grandparents' parents were raised there. It goes back a long way. We are West Virginians. It will always be a place where I am home. My body feels a certain comfort there that it doesn't generally feel in other places. However. However, I have never felt I fit in West Virginia. I love it. I love it the way I love my family. I love it the way I love those stories my parents told me. It is part of me...but, it is not where I belong.
For most of my life, I've been wondering where I belong. As much as I love West Virginia, that isn't it. I've lived in Maryland now for a decade, but it isn't here, either. It could be, I will not find the place where I belong (what if it's, like, Antarctica? That seems doubtful but you never know). Since I don't know, and since I'd like to know, I'm dedicating this next year to exploring the idea of belonging, fitting, and finding space for me. Home can be a complicated concept. I have a complicated relationship with the concept of Home. But I'm ready to try to figure it out. I'm excited to see what happens and I'm excited you're coming along with me.