“Family – Like branches on a tree we all grow in different directions, but our roots remain as one.” ~Unknown
Two years. That is the length of time since my last Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Sure, I traveled and I spent time with friends. We had turkey, pie, and all the fixins. But it wasn’t really the same. I loved Idaho, but I missed my family. Every. Single. Day. Some do not understand my unabating need to go home. No matter where life takes me, there is a constant pull on my heartstrings, a violent longing for a place comprised of those things which I love so ardently. Perhaps it has to do with my upbringing. West Virginia is a special place, almost like a time capsule in some ways. It’s full of small towns that people never leave, and even if they do, they tend to not stay away for long. Family is sacred. Everyone knows everyone. You were probably raised as much by your neighbors and friends parents, as you were your own. Kinship is strong in this state. (Go ahead…make a joke about incestuous hillbillies….we all know you were thinking them.) Joke if you will, but I don’t know a single person who has actually married a relative. Come on folks…this is 2016. I have digressed… moving on.
Kinship – feeling close and connected to others. Last I checked, that wasn’t a bad thing. Actually we could use a little more of that in the world. It feels like our society has become so superficial. We have ‘friends’ on social media that we never talk to. We keep our noses glued to our phones, tablets, and computers. How many real, true, deep relationships do we have nowadays? How many people do we take for granted? West Virginia may not have the best internet access, but we know our neighbors. We care about the people next door. We come out in masses to help those in need in our communities. Need proof? Read about the recent flooding in West Virginia and the response of our citizens who promoted the phrase: West Virginia Strong.
In West Virginia, people tend to have your back. The idea of a complete stranger stopping to help you might be a novel concept. Some may wonder why the inhabitants of this great state do stick together so tightly. In my studies of psychology and sociology, I came across the subject of Group Identity. This idea of bonding with those who are similar to ourselves may be ingrained in us from a young age. As part of the In-group, perhaps we see all the inhabitants of this state as an innate part of ourselves. We are Mountaineers, we are family, we are West Virginians. We protect each other as we expect others to protect us. Is this the only place in the world filled with kind people who are willing to help others? Of course not. But West Virginia is certainly one-of-a-kind in my eyes. We grow, we change, we leave, we return, but we remain steadfast in our ideals, morals, and family values. Our roots remain planted in the beautiful, majestic, West Virginia hills.
You may be wondering why I left if I supposedly love West Virginia so much. Good question. I never thought I would leave. It nearly broke my heart to do so. But, I needed to get away for a while. Somewhere along the lines of broken dreams, love lost, and too many memories…I snapped. All of a sudden, I needed a new life, a different life, somewhere far away. I needed to go where no one knew who I was or my history. Now, I am not a convicted felon and I was not in the witness protection program. But, those of you who grew up in a small town know how it is. Sometimes life happens, you get your heart broke, you can’t come across a single street corner that doesn’t contain a memory, or a person who wants to know your most intimate thoughts. Sometimes you need to get away, to bask in loneliness, to think deep confusing thoughts, and to put the pieces of your life back together. That is why I left West Virginia. It remains one the hardest and best decisions I have ever made. I made a new life. I found peace in the solace of nature. I found happiness even in the absence of the life I once knew. After a while, Idaho felt like a home away from home. I could have been happy there for many years. But life doesn’t always go as planned. It has a way of reminding us who we are and where we came from- even if we were trying our best to run away and to forget.
Last summer, my dad got sick, and everything changed. I knew what I had to do. It was time to come home. It was time to put my family first. So I packed up my life yet again, and headed East. My heart breaking all over again for those I was leaving behind and for the hardships that I knew were yet to come. It has been difficult to say the least, starting over. I feel that I have left pieces of my heart in so many places that I may never feel whole again. The one thing that has not changed, is West Virginia. It was still here in all it’s majesty, waiting to welcome me home. I don’t regret leaving. I found an inner strength and sense of adventure that I didn’t know I was capable of. You learn to be strong when you have to stand on your own two feet without the support network you were accustomed to. Neither do I regret coming home again. My family is more sacred to me than ever before. Being away has given me a new sense of thankfulness for every second I am blessed to have with them. My family will always come first and West Virginia will always be our home.