By KaLeigh Underwood
Once upon a time, there was a girl who hated where she was from. The two main streets, and three stoplights of her hometown were too small for her big town dreams. She loathed that everyone knew who she was, that every adult she met asked who her parents were, and that she was constantly compared to her older brother in school, who of course, had the same teachers when he was there that she did. She couldn’t wait until the day she could pack a bag and never look back.
As you probably figured out, that girl was me. It wasn’t until my second year of college that I realized I live in the greatest state in the nation, and that my hometown was to be cherished, not ridiculed. During my sophomore year, I took a class that changed my entire way of thinking. When my advisor originally suggested I take an “Intro to Appalachian Studies” course, I scoffed, but enrolled anyway hoping for an easy grade. It was because of that class that I am now an Appalachian Studies minor. It was because of that class that I now consider myself a Kentucky enthusiast and a small town life preservationist.
So what was in the course that made it so life changing? First, learning about the stigmas that are placed on us as Appalachian people by people who don’t know us, and realizing I believed those same social standards existed. Second, reading about the hardships and poverty that so many people in Appalachia face, and while I couldn’t relate personally, I had seen its existence in the masses throughout my small town. Third, and maybe the most important, meeting other people who came from towns just like me, who seemed to have a sense of pride I had never seen before.
The course was taught by Alan Banks, someone who will probably never read this and that’s okay. But he deserves to know at some degree the real impact he had on me as a person, and my life as a whole.
It seems impossible now that I used to be that person. That I hated everything about Olive Hill. That I couldn’t wait to leave for a metropolitan city and only visit on holidays. I used to be a person so full of hate for my small town, that I classified all small towns within that hatred.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to travel. My curiosity about the world hasn’t been squandered in the slightest. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to take my first trip on a plane and see an entirely new culture to what I’m accustomed to. I do still want to live in a big city, for awhile. It’s a part of the curiosity in me I can’t seem to shake. But, I know eventually I will go home. When it comes time to settle down, I know where my roots are, and they are dug deep into the small town lifestyle.
I want my future children to have the childhood I did. The kind of childhood with church on Sunday morning with the same 40 people every week, and after church you go have lunch with your grandparents. Where you go fishing in the creek, take lots of four wheeler rides, and you can sit on the front porch swing listening to bull frogs and whippoorwills on summer nights. A childhood in a place where there’s more yard than you know what to do with, and the woods are only a stones throw away.
While that may not necessarily be in Olive Hill, this girl knows home is where the heart is. And my heart belongs somewhere with two main streets, and three stoplights. In a place where everyone knows who she is, and who her family is, just by asking her for her last name.