This is about a place. A place that some folks who have never been here might think can’t possibly be real. A place which, if you do live here and try to leave, will either call you back over and over again, or cause you to swear “never again”.
This is a place that the outside world forgot when they were handing out directions. This is where the more rugged of our ancestors decided to settle down and raise their families. These are the people who loved and felt sheltered by the isolation of their mountain homes, and cherished their solitude and the freedom from the rat race of the outside world so much so that “Mountaineers are always free” became a well known phrase.
Next time someone asks you why West Virginia has so many smokers and drinkers and high school drop outs and drug dealers you can tell them this: Native mountaineers don’t want to be messed with. They don’t want to be told what to do by some city slicker in a suit who knows nothing of the miles of mud they slog thru to get to town, or the hard realities of life in the hills, living from hand to mouth. They might not feel like proper schooling is so important when the greatest skills they can possess are those linked to common sense and survival. It’s a stubbornness akin to religion mixed with a shortage of money that keeps the jails full to overflowing. An entire people who have been told they need to “live down” their hillbilly heritage by becoming like “everyone else”. People who have been made to believe that they must struggle to live like “the rest of the world” in a place that is not LIKE the rest of the world. People who have been ruled and regulated to the point where they simply AIN’T gonna take it any more.
Life in Calhoun County is a paradox. We have some of the worlds most beautiful scenery if you can overlook the insane amount of trash littering the highways. We have one of the lowest crime rates imaginable, yet somehow we have a serious jail overcrowding issue. The natives are mostly friendly and helpful and honorable, and they attend church regularly too, while their kids will rob you blind to get money to buy black market pills. The “good guys” have a way of turning out to be the bad guys, and vice versa. If you have a problem, the worst thing you can do is call the police. In a bad situation, a call to the cops will probably make it worse, while some of the biggest outlaws in the county would come to your rescue.
Hillbilly stubbornness does have it’s drawbacks. Some are still stuck in the superstitions of their grandfathers time. They fear things they don’t understand, and they don’t understand anything they weren’t raised around. And they were raised in a sheltered way, up a holler someplace.
These days there are an awful lot of wishy-washy West Virginians. The fakes actually believe that if they try real hard to live up to the outside world’s standards, somehow it makes them “better”. They think they NEED to be told what to do and how to live. They have been force fed the notion that they can no longer survive by their wits and must surrender to the “status quo”. But these folks are STILL under the influence of superstitions and the fear of things not understood. They have lost sight of their strength, their “freedom” heritage and “code of the hills”, but not their stubbornness. And THAT makes them quite dangerous. But even they are not immune to the pull and repulsion of these Calhoun County hills.
I’ve seen many a traveler become “lost” in Calhoun County. Such a strange and intriguing and surreal place can be quite hard to leave. You could have all the best intentions of having a short visit. Which then somehow grows into several short visits, until finally one finds themselves saying “maybe I’ll leave tomorrow”, but somehow tomorrow there is always some new adventure, some strange side-track, some new thing to learn. And some of us never left. If we try, it calls to us like some long ago lost lover, or the pull of an addictive drug…
“Lost in Calhoun County” seeks to share the stories of these hills with “The folks back at home”, wherever that might be. We’ll leave it up to you to decide where truth turns to fantasy. Or maybe it’s ALL truth. The only way you will know is if you dare to taste it for yourself. You might run away screaming, but you might never leave.