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West By God This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

     "Do you like music?" he asked. "Yeah," I answered with an eye roll, one of my specialties. "Okay, Country or Western?" he continued. This time my eye roll was accompanied with a sympathetic laugh. "Since when is there a difference?" I asked. This conversation doesn't take place everywhere, but where small things matter. It is the part of our nation where there is one house for every two churches.

West Virginia is where my mother was born and raised. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her talk about her home, you'll learn about campfire shindigs and all her farm pets, her amiable brothers and entertaining neighbors. If you ever have the chance to hear about her life, you'll realize that there is more to West Virginia than mountains, churches and Southern drawls.

My family and I drive up the ridge to visit my grandmother. The ridge is more of a cliff on a road than anything. "Living in the boondocks" is a complete understatement - to the left is nothing but trees, and to the right the ground isn't visible. My life is over because there is no way I'll survive outside civilization, I keep telling myself. Yet, I can't help but notice how beautiful this place is. It is almost untouched. For the final four miles before my grandmother's house, my mother sits with her hand cupping her face, staring and smiling out the window.

My mother's soul belongs to West Virginia, but she left for New England when not many people even went to college. She was a celebrity in her county for leaving with a future ahead of her. I think that's why it's so hard for my mother to see people from her past, still living in West Virginia, who have no knowledge of any other lifestyle. Even though she is educated and lives hundreds of miles away, she misses the simplicity of this life.

"Dad! Go faster! That smell is making me sick!" cries my younger sister. I continue my unending insight, commenting, "Hey, someone is going to make a perfume of that smell, call it 'Barnyard Bathroom,' and make millions." My sister laughs, forgetting she is supposed to be whining. My dad ignores her because, being from Massachusetts, he is not accustomed to driving on mountains. As we pass cars, or really pick-ups, the drivers wave. As we pass houses, the occupants wave. The people here make us feel at home. Nice people are like that, selfless and welcoming. It makes me less homesick for Hartford's road rage.

My mother grew up poor. It wasn't a big deal then because everyone was poor and it was difficult to find good jobs. Yet, West Virginia is rich in many ways. It is a community that knows everything about everyone. With a drop of a pencil they can tell you your whole lineage, married and removed. My mom didn't have to feel ashamed that she had an outhouse until she was eight, because everyone did.

Most West Virginians go to church weekly, pray every day, and know the Bible from front to back. I visited a Pentecostal church there once. It was really small and could hold only 20 people at most. Church-goers went early in the morning and stayed until dinner, sometimes until the following day. When I was there, I almost bolted out the door because the Spirit got a hold of some of those people and wouldn't let go. They were having such a good time yelling, dancing, clapping and speaking in tongues that it made me scared to think about what happens at Christmas and Easter.

My mother's father, my grandfather, drowned when she was in eighth grade. She went through the territory of grief and frustration as well as the on-going search for his body in the Ohio River. By the time she was a teenager, she had already witnessed one of the most horrific bridge collapses in history. The loss of the Silver Bridge and most of the people on it is something she saw from only a few feet away. It is still something she wishes she could forget.

My mother's hometown is also the hometown of the Mothman, the green man with red eyes and wings, who presumably haunted Point Pleasant. It was a major event then, and even more so now that there is a movie about it. You can get a hot dog anywhere, but you can only get a Macho Mothman hot dog in West Virginia. If you ask the locals about the Mothman, they will swear he's as real as you are "a'walking and a'talking."

When we finally reach my grandmother's house, my stress level decreases. It feels like being at home in the middle of nowhere that I get from my mother. We eat all my grandmother's food and unpack. My dad and I make a trip into town to restock her refrigerator. This is painful because my dad and the locals don't understand each other's accents. I feel like a translator because I have the mixed blood. But my dad doesn't even need to open his mouth for them to know he's not from the area. They just know.

Now we are headed back to Connecticut. I should be happy, but I'm not. My mother is quiet and thoughtful, missing West Virginia before she even crosses the state line. And I sit in the backseat, looking out the window, counting the days until I can come back home to the mountains.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the September 2004 Teen Ink Travel Contest.

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the_Horsegirl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm
Ooh, very descriptive and evocative. I felt like I could see your family and the places you described in my mind.
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