I visited Milton, WV, for several days.
I was welcomed into my uncle's house after not seeing him for at least ten years. There on the wall, still, are pictures of my brothers, sister, me, my dad and mom, grandparents, cousins, uncles, second cousins....
This was home. The hills and ridges surrounding Milton were home to my family for generations. People made their hard, simple living by hunting, fishing, and farming their own land, often earned as bounty land for military service.
My grandfather (b. 1887) and grandmother (1902) lived this life, just as their parents did, and their parents did. I'm the first generation in hundreds of years that wasn't raised on a subsistance farm.
Those farms are mostly gone, now. The one-lane dirt roads have been paved, and the homes being built on these picturesque mountainsides are for the upper-middle class and wealthy. Where my grandmother's farmhouse was, with woodstove heat, hand-pumped water in the kitchen, and outhouse "plumbing" is now a mansion with an equestrian center.
Still, life in Milton is entertaining.
My uncle had been driving me around to visit with the cousins I used to play with when I was a kid. We pulled up to Mike's trailer and knocked on the door, and he welcomed me in with a smile.
"I know'd you was in town," he said.
"Oh, you must've talked to your sister this morning!"
"Naw, they ran your plates over the scanner last night."
Around town, farming and gardening is still the key to conversation. At a local restaurant, my uncle walked in to hear nearly every patron ask him by name how he'd been doing, and how his garden had worked out this year.
"Well, I tell ya what. Them turnips did okay. I was gonna give my friend a bushel of em, but it seeemed a shame to cut one of em in half."
A friend responded with similar complaints about his radishes. "Yeah, I know whatcha mean. I let one o' my radishes stay down too long, and when I pulled it up a rabbit had set up a den in it."
"Well, you can have some o' mine. Just bring the backhoe."
A good deal of the time spent in Milton was spent with a collection of geneological information compiled by the family over the years. Pictures of my great granddad and his clan from the 1800s. 300+ years of names of simple farmers living simple lives.
With this generation, though, it all ended. My uncles all served in the wars, then sought degrees, and worked as teachers and administrators for most of their careers. Their sisters left the state with their husbands.
We're no longer hillbillies, as my brother (who was also raised on that farm) said when I saw him for the first time in over twenty years. "We're Appalachian-Americans, thank you."