I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world and no matter where I go, as soon as someone finds out I’m from West Virginia, they start singing “Country Roads”. Before that song became so popular, most people had no idea our state even existed. Toward the end of each trip, I am usually singing the song myself, truly ready to go back home, to the place, where I belong.
During the summer, while chasing waterfalls, I spent a lot of time maneuvering those West Virginia country roads and I found out that “home” is a lot bigger place than I’d once thought. It’s not just my house, my community, and my city. Home is West Virginia and the people and the rolling hills and valleys. It’s every one of those twisty, country roads filled with potholes and bordered by wildflowers that dance in the wind. It’s the sparkling creeks, the forested parks, and the foggy mornings. It’s a cup of good coffee on the front porch while the dog chases squirrels in the yard. Home is just a good place to be.
When we left Babcock State Park two weeks ago, our drive took us down some small country roads that I’m sure I’ve never been on before but the scenery seemed familiar because it was pure countryside, West Virginia, and small town, USA. We passed gray, weathered barns, sadly collapsing on overgrown farms, rusted tractors parked in fields, and empty houses with boarded up or broken windows. Trailers sitting on neatly mowed lawns with flowerbeds were mixed in with trailers surrounded by junky, old cars and trash. The beauty of fall wildflowers growing in the ditches couldn’t quite mask the ugliness of the litter lining the road.
Occasionally, I saw a modern, new McMansion sitting on top of a hill, a special kind of eyesore in an otherwise humble setting. I found myself wondering if those monstrosities belonged to a local-made-good or to an outsider, looking for space. Each small community had a little church, an old, empty schoolhouse, and a Main Street lined with shuttered stores. On the outskirts of each town, a Dollar General glaringly advertises the only shopping opportunity for miles.
My day was brightened when some old folks, sitting on the front porch in their rockers, threw up their hand in a good morning wave. I can remember when we used to wave at every car that went by the house, getting a friendly toot or even a yell out the window. Now, traffic on our road is heavy, the cars fly by, and people just don’t gawk like they used to. It may have been just a few steps beyond normal, but for the rest of that trip, I started waving at every person I saw. And you know what? They all waved back!