World War II brought heart ache for many, brought the United States really out of the Great Depression, and brought many from the hills of Appalachia to the cities of Dayton, Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, and other large cities where there were jobs and the promise of a future. Leaving the beautiful hills, they also found themselves torn between the chance at financial security and terrible homesickness. The hills of Kentucky are beautiful, lush and green, thick with woods and delicate undergrowth. The twisty turny roads are fun to drive, but make transportation very difficult for industry.
Yesterday I left suburban Ohio, where the melting pot of commerce has created such diversities as multi-story malls (wondrous things), every kind of restaurant you can imagine and some you can’t, as well as businesses that bring people together from all over the world. I left this and drove to a beautiful part of eastern Kentucky. Yes, the Appalachian mountains. Yes, the foothills, a green swath of pastures and fields, children’s play places, and family cemeteries. Yes, the place where too many are ridiculed by ignorant individuals as being “hillbilly”, “hicks”, “rednecks”, “backwards”, and “stupid”. The people left the mountains, but they didn’t leave their customs behind. They came with them, tucked into the car just as much as the Sunday suit and guitar were. These people have settled all over, for heaven’s sake – I live in Iowa. But, those who lived close enough would travel back as often as they could. They would return to visit family, take care of the younger and older, help in the gardens and around the farm. They would go to hear the sweet familiarity of it all.
When I go back now, I often feel as if I have a stand which is straddling both worlds. One is quite comfortable with working in a corporate office, making small talk, dressing for the job, and networking. The other breathes in the smell of honeysuckle, vetch, and wild spring roses with deep breaths as if I can breathe in enough to last me till my next visit. There have been times that that has been a stance which has felt wobbly, with one side or the other pulling me too far in one certain direction and then the other. But, last night I had a moment when it all came together. I put aside the perception of the outside, aside the perception of pre-conceived notions, and just let the moment occur. It was a family get-together and cook out at a cousin’s house. The food was great, the company was wonderful. To see the children take up with each other, cousins, was beautiful. They were teaching each other songs before the night was out. Then, the cream on the top, the priceless moment occurred, as one, two, and then three guitars came out. Then, a mandolin and then a fiddle. Voices blended in song, praise and lament, remembrance and hope. The ideas were never named so expressly in the music, but this was their purpose. With skill of fingers at making strings on an instrument strike a certain chord, the voices blended on top. “There will be peace, in the valley for me some day. There will be peace in the valley, for me O Lord I pray. There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no troubles I see. There will be peace in the valley for me.” That is only one that was played and sung while sitting around in a front yard, under a large walnut tree, swatting gnats, and indeed we were in a valley. The fireflies started coming out and the children were gathered up to take back, clean up, and put to bed. I wondered how many could look past the differences, the differences we allow to separate us, the perceptions we allow to close us off to these beautiful things. I feel as if I am on a migration route as well, like a bird come home to gather nourishment.