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Jack Simpson - Family member returns home

Kate is a family member. She recently bought a second home in Appalachia, of all places! Her regular residence is in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Why the new acquisition?

Students of American history know Appalachia has been a kind of forgotten place since the Great Depression. Visitors returning there get the impression that it is a place where time has stood still. Few changes are evident in the old homeplace. Being among those born and reared in northern Cambria County, Penn., many of us didn't know in our youth that we were part of a community stretching all the way from New York to Alabama.

Our families were hard working, many immigrants from Europe, making a living in the hills and forest by mining coal or cutting timber. A few citizens were teachers, nurses or insurance salesmen, and none fit the area stereotype as rubes or hillbillies.

People were poor. We had no fancy clothes or expensive cars and no one I knew had a country club membership. There was one drug store, a grocery, two clothing stores, a five-and-dime, several banks and two movie houses, so our choices were limited. We were happy with what was available. If an occasion arose where we needed more variety, we drove to nearby cities. Our fire department was staffed by volunteers and the nearest hospital was a 15- or 20-minute drive away.

It is true. We did eat squirrel, rabbit, deer and trout, and even an occasional baked opposum if we got hungry enough! It was a time of depression, remember? Times were tough and sometimes bread lines were long. We grew a good many of our own vegetables. Yes, the people of Applachia had guns for hunting and they prayed and went to church. It had nothing to do with bitterness that we could tell.

Most families stayed in their homes for a lifetime except for youngsters who had to leave to find work. Jobs were scarce. Indeed, there were a few moonshiners in those hills. That is how some people earned a living. Some bought those clear jars of homemade hootch and got drunk on Saturday night. Folks danced to the music of the Big Bands, went to their cookouts, parades and family picnics. We loved our country, flew its flag and were patriotic.

After Pearl Harbor, many of the small town's young people volunteered to serve their country. Oldsters stayed home awaiting the safe return of loved ones. They made their own contributions to the war effort.

So, perhaps Kate bought a second home in such a place because of old memories and because a small town in Appalachia offers stability in a hostile world. It is an escape and a return to familiar haunts and friendly people. It is peace and quiet in a neighborhood where the same families have lived for many, many years. It is a simple life where one can rock on the front porch, greet old friends passing by and where all can walk to the bank, post office, grocery, or drug store. It is a place where residents have shared hard times together, survived and have helped one another weather and overcome hardships in one of the most economically deprived regions of the United States.

Successful and in her later years of life, Kate may feel as many old timers do. She has fought her battles and now wants to rest and return to the place of her roots. She seeks the familiar, the remote, the safe-and-secure, peace-and-quiet of a small town in Appalachia among family and old friends. She wants to rekindle a sense of belonging, and spend her later years drifting through life at her own pace, putting hard work and achievement behind her. She will continue warming her hands before the fires of life, but in a more serene and tranquil setting in the land from which she came. Home. A safe place where she will be accepted as she is and welcomed.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcment officer. His column appears each Friday.