Tuesday, August 28, 2018

MACK-dowell County

It's spelled McDowell, but how you tell if someone is from the southern most county of West Virginia is how they pronounce it. "MC-Dowell" isn't native. We natives say "MACK-dowell" and mean it. It's the "Mack" that matters to us. I don't know why. It just does.

McDowell County is where I grew up. It is 535 square miles. Rhode Island is 1214 square miles.. Nearly half the size of the smallest state--McDowell County, if you flattened it out, pushing all the mountains down, would be the size of Connecticut!

And it was where I grew up until 18 and off to college. And I loved it. So lush and green in the summer, so full of snow in the winter. So amazing in the 4 month spring and four month autumn--Winter and Summer were two months only. McDowell was farther south that Richmond, Virginia, but up in the 2000 foot mountains, so the seasons were much different.

But now...now, the county that had a population of 98,000 when I was three years old now has a population of 18,000, Try to imagine that.

And 39% of the people still left are below the poverty line.

And McDowell County, of all the 17,321 counties in the USA has the highest percentage of deaths from drug overdose.

Anawalt, where I grew up, had 1383 residents when I was 3. Today, it has 202.

Try to imagine the empty houses and boarded up houses and burned out houses left there,

Where I grew up, the building is gone. Like so many others.

This is where I grew up. I remember wondrous nature, incredible people, a perfect place to be a child.

And now....?

And now?

Coal died--and no matter what the President says, coal is not coming back, not deep mining, which is what fueled and fed McDowell County. Those mountains were full of coal--deep down. And deep mining is gone forever.

And the place where I loved to grow up is a shadow--a dim shadow--of that place.

(It is also the county in the 48 contiguous states with the highest average age and the lowest life expectancy. Ponder what that means....Only old people are there and they die  younger than most people in the US. Astonishing. Deeply painful for me.)

That spot on the earth--all 535 square miles of it--was heaven for me as a child.

And now.....Lordy, the pain to know what it has become....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.