Judy Garland said it best while in character as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”
Growing up in an area known for its poverty (fiscal and emotional), I have found it difficult to express a sense of pride in my West Virginian roots (and don’t get me started on my “African-American” roots). In my travels if someone asked me where I was from I’d of course respond with the truth (however half-hearted), West Virginia, but I tended to lack the gumption to say it with any vigor. And aside from that, many people would then go on to say, “Oh, Western Virginia. That’s nice.” Of course, I would get a little flustered by their lack of geographic knowledge and typically spout out that “No, not Virginia. West Virginia, it’s a state—ironically enough, west of Virginia. It was once part of Virginia, but succeeded over the issue of slavery—or so say the history books we read in my childhood.” But it was like my words fell on deaf ears because it seemed that so few people knew about the state that I called “home.”
Earlier this morning I woke up and decided I needed a run. While I was on my way down the steep and winding hill, I ran into one of my childhood acquaintances—a girl (woman now) who used to live just two doors down from us, but who had subsequently purchased a house around the corner with her husband. When she (Misty) finally recognized who I was, we stood in the middle of the road and talked for a few minutes. It was a pleasure to hear about her life (as a married woman with kids) and about the evolution of our old neighborhood. Our conversation ended with the typically pleasantries and an invitation to stop by for a longer chat before I headed back to Florida in a few days (something I most assuredly plan on doing).
When I finally reached the bottom of the hill I put in my ear buds, turned on my ipod, and started my GPS watch. I really didn’t know how far I planned to run, just that I needed to clear my mind. As I ran past familiar landmarks, it brought back memories (some pleasant, some not so pleasant). I passed by closed houses and businesses. I ran over crumbling sidewalks, and what I saw were the continued effects of poverty. It saddened me that my hometown had become the skeleton of a once robust man. But more than anything, my run reminded me that home truly is where your heart is. Years ago I vowed to never return to West Virginia as a resident because I felt I had emotionally “outgrown” the state. However, I realized that I can always return to this place and feel the love and joy that comes from familiarity. True enough, the last time I had lived here was over fifteen years ago and I didn’t really miss the place, but I have realized that I missed the people I call friends and family.
Since returning home for a visit I have taken a few wonderful naps (and I’ve only been here a day). I’ve regained some of the appetite I lost over a week and a half ago. I have reconnected with family and friends. I have grown to appreciate my rural upbringing. I have made peace with my impoverished roots. And I have even shed some emotional baggage.
While Saint Petersburg, Florida is now my “home”, my heart will always be tethered to Charleston, West Virginia.
I can hear the voice of John Denver in the trees whispering: “Country roads/take me home/to the place/where I belong/ West Virginia/mountain momma/take me home/country roads.”