I originally jotted this entry down in November, 2006; ever since then, I see Appalachia in southwestern Ohio whenever I stop living inside my head and start looking at the window. . .
I remembered something today.
I was driving though the cornfields of Ohio, up and down small hills, looking for the state route numbers when I remembered.
I’d never been to Middletown, Ohio, before. I was on my way to one of my university’s branch campuses to sit in on a first-year writing class as part of a teaching practicum I’m taking. I saw the smokestacks of the steel mill from the neighboring town of Trenton. I had heard that Middletown was “depressing,” “poor,” “grey.” Actually, it was home. Middletown, Ohio, was Prestonsburg or Pikeville, Kentucky; It was Huntington, West Virginia. It was where my family comes from.
I saw an older man–greying is the word most people would use, I think–wearing a homemade UK sweatshirt, white painted letters on a Kentucky blue background. He was carrying trash to the curb, in front of one of the many shotgun houses built in Middletown to hold the influx of factory workers who emigrated across the Ohio river when the coal mines busted. I saw a UK paw magnet on a van when I reached the campus, and a well-worn UK ball cap on one of the students in the writing class.
The entrance to the branch campus is at the top of a large hill (University Blvd.); much of Middletown, in fact, consists of hills and valleys, what in Kentucky would be hollers. I wonder if that landscape helped lure Kentuckians to AK Steel. . .the familiar dips and rises of Appalachia transposed onto the Midwest’s factory towns.
The connection between southwestern Ohio, and Appalachia is obvious to me. Is it an anomaly? A dirty secret? A dream? Nightmare? Why does it matter to me so much?