My parents were always going home. Home was not where we lived; home was West Virginia. Every free weekend they could manage saw us loaded into our rusty Oldsmobile. Separated by my sister’s car seat, my brother and I enjoyed our Happy Meals and, through the wind of the rolled down windows, we sang along to country radio. We squealed when we saw the state line’s “big blue bridge” and we counted the mile markers until we reached exit 34.
Things were different in West Virginia than they were in Big Prairie. Mom and Dad were more relaxed and we were free to jump into whichever creek we could find the fastest. No one, in West Virginia, made fun of the way I pronounced words. Still, I kept check of myself because the laughter of my second grade class reading group never, even as an adult, left my mind.
After my brother and I graduated from high school, my parents returned to West Virginia. I found myself joining them a couple of times during my many transient moves and I fell in love with it. My connection to Appalachia grew so strong that I knew, no matter where I went, I would return. While living in Boston and in England, I would dream about the day I could buy an old fixer-upper in the majestic Appalachian mountains. Though I doubted that day would actually happen, a few years ago my dream came true. With my immigrant husband in tow, the little country dream house, complete with babbling stream and breathtaking scenery, became ours.
We knew, from the previous owner and from court records, that the house had flooded and that it had been repaired to meet codes and ordinances. With the creek in the yard, we did not suspect any odd reasons for the flood. Locals told us that the flood was a fluke and that measures were taken to make sure it did not happen again. Almost as if they didn’t want to relive such a horrible memory or as if I had crossed a boundary, conversations about the flood were quickly ended.
After living here for about a year, my husband pointed out a strange looking mountain to me and I began to research. I was utterly mortified by what I found. My house was flooded because a coal company did not properly secure impoundments.
I was already aware of and opposed to the practice of Mountaintop Removal coal mining, but I did not realize that I was in the thick of an area where it had been practiced. Though mining has halted here for now, I live in fear every day that they are going to resume again. I live in fear that the environmental damage already done will cost my husband or my son or myself our lives. Naturally, I get extremely upset about it. This was supposed to be my dream. This is my home.
I think of my fellow mountaineers in places like the Coal River Valley who have been told not to consume food from their own gardens due the the contamination from blasts. I think of women like Maria Gunnoe losing part of her family’s land to a coal company created “act of god”, and I think of how 4,000 Appalachians a year die from diseases related to Mountaintop Removal pollution. I think of these people who are being sacrificed for 7% of our nation’s coal and my heart breaks. I know that any one of these people could be me should the right permit be issued.
Though I had hoped for this blog to showcase the good, the unique, and the beauty in West Virginia, I can no longer remain silent like I did for the majority of second grade. Every day in Appalachia human rights are being violated and it has to stop.
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