Way down a sloping gravel driveway a big woman with white hair stands by a barn with her hands on her hips, her muumuu billowing in the breeze. I jog up and down the hills of Cow Creek Road contemplating the trailers in muddy ditches with ‘80s-era swing sets, rusty tricycles, and shells of old cars piled in the front yards. Across the road are gated brick mansions with landscaped lawns, pools, and Hummers in the driveways.
My grade school classmates who lived in the big houses would only stay for a year or two until their dads were transferred again. Now all my other old friends have moved away too. As kids we'd dig crawdads out of muddy creeks in the summer and pile in sleds to fly down snowy hillsides in the winter. Now they’re married and working as nurses, pastors, or accountants. I avoid visiting their Facebook profiles because links such as “Al Gore Invented Global Warming” upset me.
“It’s only for a few months,” my mom laughs. She grew up in an impoverished mining town in the mountains and is content with an upgrade to suburban Teays Valley.
I grew up to a soundtrack of roaring interstate with interludes of bellowing train whistles. This place I consider home doesn’t even qualify as a small town. It’s more of a highway stop-off with gas stations, a couple of truck stops and motels, and a representative of about every fast food establishment in the Southeast. Fifty years ago it was rolling farmland. Today Teays Valley is a district of 13,000 people who live in subdivisions crammed with look-alike houses.
My mom’s phone rings as we pull in the garage of our brick home in New London Commons.
“Hi Janet,” she says to her friend from church.
Janet drove a school bus for 30 years and can’t go anywhere without seeing someone she knows and stopping to chat. She collects fairy lights and nurses wild animals back to health. I can hear her voice on the other end.
“They say it’s gonna be hotter than a hen on a hot rock this weekend,” she says. “Are you and Michael still planning on going out hiking?"
That evening Michael, my dad, comes home from work to pick up my mom for Wednesday night church service. He’s a physician at a rural public clinic nearly an hour away. Although he grew up with a Harvard-educated professor father in a college town, he sometimes speaks in the Appalachian-hollow dialect of his patients. My parents bought a house in Teays Valley because it was a couple of miles from their church and the adjacent Christian school, where they sent my brother and me.
While my parents are at church a storm hits. “Do you hear water running?” my dad asks hours later.
But he goes outside and sees water flooding from our house. He calls Frank, Janet’s husband. He’s a trim, white-haired Korean War veteran who can fix anything.
“Sounds like you got a loose pipe that needs fixing,” Frank says. “I’ll be right over.” It’s 11 p.m.
Frank drives over in his truck. He goes out in the downpour to shut off the main water line in our front lawn. The next morning Janet calls. “I thought y’all might be interested in some hot showers,” she said. “Come on over ‘cause we got some hash brown potatoes, scrambled eggs, and biscuits too.”