Saturday, June 4, 2011

Where Country Roads Lead

For a number of years I participated in a service learning project through Molloy College, wherein faculty, students, and alumni journey to "America's Third World" - the Appalachian Mountains of Southern West Virginia.  The Appalachia Project, together with the Big Laurel Learning Center in Naugatuck, WV provides (among other things) recreational activities to disadvantaged children living in the Appalachian mountains and hollows of the area.  During the 1-2 week visit, members of the Molloy community are introduced to life in "Coal Country" and learn about it's history, its people, and its culture.

Hatfield McCoy Museum
 When people think about West Virginia, there is usually some negative connotation attached to their association, and why not? What do they know? I was guilty of the same crime, until I became better aquainted with her and felll in love.  Most living in extreme poverty.  All living in a world I did not know exhisted, except as depicted in movies like Deliverance, or as the punchlines of jokes about Rednecks, hillibillies and the Hatfields and the McCoys,  until I arrived to this foreign place and discovered all of its wealth.  The majesty of the mountains that seem to reach far into the heavens, the richness of family and community and tradition. The value of hard work and resilliance, and the fruitfulness of faith - all seeming somehow more preserved there than in other places. 

Mime Tipple at the base of Marrowbone Ridge

Generations of Coal Miners, risking their lives to produce the  essential natural resource.  Some see the profession of Mining as their destiny, to continue a multigenerational tradition. Others, like Homer Hickam, choose the sky instead of the earth.  Hickam was born and raised in Coalwood, WV, in McDowell county and was the son Olga Mine's Superintendent, John Hickam.  The film October Sky, is based on Homer's novel Rocket Boys, in which  he describes life in a coal mining town, as a coal miners son, and his love of rocketry.  Singers and songwriters like Loretta Lynn - The Coal Miner's Daughter, who's love of music brought her from poverty and hardship to fame.  Academics, like John Nash, the Nobel Prize winnig Mathematician and the subject of the Academy Award winning film A Beautiful Mind and atheletes like Olympic gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton - all Mountain State natives. 

The people, the history, the beauty, all peppered throughout the region and the State. Maybe that's the value of economic hardship - personal and cultural preservation and perserverence. 







  1. Have you read Adriana Trigiani's Big Stone Gap trilogy?? I loved the world she created, of the coal miners and mountain state eccentrics - didn't want to leave her world :)

  2. Thanks so much for reading and for the info. Haven't read it yet. Thanks and spread the word!