Recently I was talking with a friend who mentioned that although she had traveled widely in her life, she always wanted to come home to West Virginia. I know what she meant. On my porch I have a slate that reads, "If you're blessed enough to live in the mountains, you're blessed enough."
I am always eager to return to my home in the mountains and to my own front porch. My house is small and certainly not convenient. Internet service isn't dependable, the road is in rough shape, mud is a constant enemy, it is a long way to town. Why does it mean so much to me?
I've lived here for almost 40 years. Prior to when I moved here, the land had its own history. We found arrowheads in the gardens, testament to passing Native feet. Initials are carved in a tree on the bank of our little run. A neighbor now deceased told me about a dead baby found under the schoolhouse on an abandoned road that borders our property. No one knew whose baby it was, she said. Later when I asked her about the story, she did not recall ever having told it to me, or even the story itself. Was it true, or did she confuse it with something that had happened somewhere else? I will never know now because she has passed away. But I remember the story, and continue to tell it because her telling was so vivid and detailed. It is true to me.
Over 70 years ago hardworking people used to live in a log cabin on the same abandoned road where the schoolhouse used to be; when I explored the cabin I found the walls were papered with newspapers from 1938. The people who papered those walls gave the road its name, Bucket Run, because they were paid with buckets of pickled corn and beans when they worked on local farms--or so another neighbor told me, and I like to think it's true.
No one knows exactly when but certainly before 1900 a family named Fulmer had a cabin and a stone cellar on what is now our land. It was below where our house stands. This hollow got its name from the Fulmer's, but only the older people remember it. We did not know there had ever been a house here when we bought this place, and I think how odd it is that we chose to build very near that dwelling site. The Hinzmans bought out the Fulmers and used this side of their ridge land holdings for sheep pasture, and to grow corn, wheat and sorghum. At that time the land was almost completely clear of trees; When we bought the land from a descendant of the original Hinzman owner, it was growing up in brush. Now it is almost all forested.
Along the side of our run and driveway you can still see the faint trace of the wagon road that took travelers from the ridge down to Bucket Run and on to Trace Fork. You have to look close to see it. It is a good place to sit and listen, imagining the rumble and creak of farm wagons, the huffing of horses pulling heavy loads through the mud, and the encouraging words of the drivers.
We have made our own imprint on this land, planting trees, cutting brush, making gardens and putting up buildings. Future generations will dig up marbles, nails, and other oddments and will probably wonder who left these things in the dirt. Like me, they will make up stories and mental images of the people who lived here before them. I hope they paint kind pictures of us.
Family stories like ours are why so many West Virginians who live elsewhere long for home. This is a state of storytellers who pass on from one generation to another the memories of who they are and where they came from. These memories root people to this state, even if they have never actually lived here themselves.
It is the stories, after all, that make a place “home.” It is our history, and the histories of all those who passed before us that make where we live a place to return to again and again, even if only in memory. It is not the buildings, the flowers, or the furniture. It is the stories that bring us back to the place we call “home.”