When we moved from northern Virginia to the mountains of West Virginia in 1974, people (especially my parents) thought we were nuts. Didn't we know that the state was steeped in poverty, the people were ignorant and there were no jobs?
No, we didn't know any of that. All we knew was John Denver's song. An accidental trip over the mountains was all it took for me to fall in love. I vowed I would live here one day. It took three years to accomplish the move, but finally I was able to turn my back on the speeding, chaotic world that Manassas had become.
We learned the hard way. There were few jobs, and we weren't really trained for any of them. The people, contrary to the opinion of the folks in Virginia, were not ignorant at all--they were pretty damned savvy and we were caught green-handed many a time. Poverty, we found, is a relative term. People had less but they were happier, more satisfied and less stressed. All the kids wore the same clothes to school, and all of them had muddy shoes, no matter how much money their parents made.
What we found was a place where everyone supports the elementary school festivals, there is time to stop and talk to your neighbor along the road, and food is abundant if you're willing to do the work required. Hard work is admired, big talking is not. Family and church come first. Home is a close second.
Drought and the uncertainty of farm income sent me to work full-time and gradually we moved away from farming, although we stayed on the farm I have owned since 1976. Life got easier, but crazier as we juggled child care for a new baby, jobs, school, and other responsibilities. It seemed like it got crazier as the years passed, not better; although there was more money, there were more expenses too.
In the past few years, we've been making our way back to the way of life I loved so well. It feels very good, and as the economy crashes around us, we can look to the full cellar, freezer and woodshed with a sense of security. It's not everything a person needs, but it covers a lot of the basics for survival.
When we visited my parents in northern Virginia, I was always struck with a sense of make-believe--the too-big houses, fancy cars, incredible number of stores selling high-dollar wares, and everywhere a sense of people spending like crazy for...what? The place was crowded, full of traffic, roads lined with trash and billboards for new housing developments that promised "luxury living" and "restricted community" (ugh--what does that mean? I hate to think). A trip to buy groceries could mean taking life in hand to dodge traffic and angry drivers. Mothers in stores talked in loud voices about their child's various activities, the sale at a specialty store, and their latest golf outing, as if they needed to let the world know that somehow these things made them better than the rest of us. Or perhaps that was my perception because I felt alien to the things their life.
I was always glad to return home, where the road is bumpy, there is high interest in what a neighbor is building in his barnyard, and wood smoke perfumes the air. It's not fancy here, but it's real, and we are always surrounded by beauty. Those who thought I was nuts for moving here probably still think so. But I'll take my nuts country style; it's the flavor I like best.