Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Here's an update from ABC News about the services being offered to the children who were highlighted on Diane Sawyer's recent report.

The update also mentions the Christian Appalachian Project. I'm still reading up on their website. It does look like they do good work.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Proud Auntie

These are my nephews playing last weekend at the WV Church of God competition. My 12 year old nephew is on the right and won first place in the Strings Plucked Instrumental category. His 19 year old brother is on the left.

We have quite a few talented musicians in our family. The list does not include me, but my brother, sister, brother-in-law, dad, aunt, and all 4 nephews play instruments. My son too is doing great with his guitar lessons! He loves jamming with his cousins when we are visiting WV!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Here we go

I watched A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains, the 20/20 "investigation" a couple of times. I'm going to try to just hit on a few points that made impressions.

I'm not sure of the newsworthiness of this story. There is nothing Diane Sawyer reported on with regards to Central Appalachia that could not be said about other parts of the United States. I wonder if this was some kind of "soul searching" mission for her. She's from Kentucky, although I'm almost certain her Kentucky upbringing was a little different than the upbringing of those she highlighted in her special.

She tries to tie it in awkwardly with the economic stimulus package, but knowing that she did 2 years of research for this broadcast makes you realize that is just an attempt to make it relevant.

Sawyer does bring out some statistics based on the last census. Of the 2.2 million people living in Central Appalachia, about 1/2 a million live in poverty. It is one of the poorest regions in the nation, she states. She says men and women in this area die younger than other Americans. She also mentions that in Central Appalachia there is a documented epidemic of drug addiction, cancer, toothlessness, alcoholism, and depression.

Yeah, toothlessness. Right up there with drug addiction and cancer. In fact, she says Central Appalachia is #1 in the country for toothlessness.

Sawyer seems obsessed with teeth. She points out the tooth problems of the former drug addict, Angel, who is 30 and the mother of three little girls. Angel is on welfare and she and her boyfriend walk 8 miles one way to attend a mandated GED class every day. Angel and her family are living with her mother. Twelve people live in that house. One of Angel's daughters makes her mom pinky promise every night that she won't leave her. The little girl is so worried about her mom leaving that it is heartbreaking.

But Diane Sawyer takes the time to talk about Angel's teeth. I'm thinking teeth might be the least of Angel's concerns at the moment.

Okay. I get it. Pop is bad. Mountain Dew is of the devil. The poor Pepsi company is focused on more than the makers of Oxycontin. Come on, Diane. The problem isn't that they're drinking Mountain Dew. The problem is that they don't brush their teeth or have access to dental care. You can't tell me that city dwellers who suck down Starbucks several times a day wouldn't have the same problem if they didn't have money for veneers or teeth whitening.

She even mentions "Mountain Dew Mouth" in her promo on ABC's The View.

It just seems like a stupid thing to focus on and it seems to miss the point. Focus on the lack of sound nutrition education. Talk more about the need for good dental hygiene. Lay off the Mountain Dew. All of that seemed like a red herring to me.

Sawyer also focuses on a young high school football player, Shawn, who lives in his truck to get away from his toxic family. When I watched his story, I was really rooting for him to get out. Not to get out of Appalachia, but to get away from his family. His mother seems well meaning, but his stepfather is portrayed as an alcoholic. The stepbrother ends up having relations with his 15 year old half-sister. I think getting away from the family is a good idea.

The boy gets a college scholarship, but ends up dropping out. He leaves college because he is overwhelmed, according to Sawyer. Shawn says "I found out I couldn't pay for the college. Had to come home."

I didn't understand this. Sawyer points out that, while Shawn is getting a scholarship, he can't afford the things other kids can afford like "supplies, food, and fun." It makes me wonder why he wasn't able to get some sort of loan to help him through. When I attended college, I received grants, but the majority of my education was paid for with student loans . That's not desirable (my husband and I are, in fact, determined to help our son avoid student loans), but accruing student loans is better than the alternative of no college education.

Shawn's story seems to highlight the lack of information and the lack of support he was offered by his high school and college. I'm wondering if Shawn had some type of counselor to help him through the process. I'm wondering why he wasn't informed about his choices with regards to funding for his education.

I'm a homeschooler and a proponent of homeschooling because I think there is a major breakdown in the public education system. I'll try not to go off on this subject which is near and dear to my heart, but it doesn't surprise me that Shawn struggled with the classes at college. Many students today (whether from central Appalachia or not) have the same issues because public school does not prepare them for the work involved. The work done in today's high schools and the work expected at a college level are miles apart, in my opinion.

I'll refrain from going off on that particular tangent.

It's obvious Shawn had different expectations of school. When Sawyer says he can't afford supplies, food, and fun it just made me wonder why he is going to college. Fun was not in the curriculum at my college. The fact is I didn't have a car on campus. I walked several miles to get to a convenience store if I needed something. I didn't have an endless supply of food in my dorm room. I ate at the cafeteria that my room and board paid for. You can make it through college and sometimes you have to sacrifice. But the sacrifice is worth it. I wish Shawn had someone to tell him that. It's obvious his broken family unit wasn't going to help him with that, so I would have hoped someone at his high school or college (or even Diane Sawyer herself) could have filled the void.

Sawyer focused some on the coal mines too. She never quite conveys what living with coal mining is like. Maybe you can't tell it; you gotta live it. Still I wish she would have given these hard working guys more credit.

She talks about an 18 year old coal miner who is trying to provide for his wife and baby and makes it sound like this kid is on the road to nowhere. No doubt it's a hard life he's chosen, but would working at McDonald's or at a department store be more worthy?

She talks to a group of miners, asking them questions about what it's like to be in the mines. "How dangerous is it?" Stupid question, but typical. She asks about black lung. She says in her voice over that mine officials are just off to the side while she is speaking to the coal miners and that the miners seem to be looking at the mine officials before answering her questions. She's implying, of course, that the miners can't talk freely. Of course they can't. You're speaking to them at work. Those guys standing nearby are their bosses. Does she just say whatever she wants about ABC News?

What Sawyer doesn't say is that coal mining is a valuable industry in Central Appalachia. You can't spend time talking about how horrible it is that people in the area are selling Oxycontin for $120 a pill or how many welfare recipients there are and then turn around and bemoan the one industry in the area that consistently gives people jobs.

I have my issues with the coal industry too. My father worked for a coal company that made him a boss right before they laid all the bosses off. Good times. He was hurt in the mines too, as was my grandfather. My father-in-law lost his leg in the mines. My husband's uncle was killed in the mines. Can things be done to make the conditions better? Yes. And, I may be naive, but I truly believe that is happening. I have no problem with people or agencies staying on top of the coal industry to be sure safety is their number one concern. Coal is necessary. People who mine coal are necessary. You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

There has been progress in recent years. The cases of black lung disease are down. I interviewed Dr. Donald Rasmussen, one of the forerunners of study in the black lung area, when I was in college. There will never be a time when black lung disease is eradicated. There will never be a time when mines are 100 percent safe to work in. It's just not going to happen.

Rather than dumping on one of the few industries to offer jobs in that area, how about mentioning that it is one of the few industries in that area? I don't recall Sawyer tapping into that. Someone (who is not credited) mentions that education is valued in the area, but the prevalent mentality is your options are working fast food or in a box store, so why not just skip college and start earning money? She does mention more about what the area needs in the taping of the View. She talks about the stimulus plan.

"You're looking at a huge stimulus package and maybe some jobs for people who don't have college educations. . ." Sawyer says. "What if some of these people could be helped with these jobs? What would it do? What if those jobs that go overseas could come back?"

Again, that's her quote from her appearance on The View and that's the highlight of the story. It didn't make it as part of the 20/20 broadcast. Then she started talking about "Mountain Dew Mouth" again. Okay.

Wouldn't it be wonderful, though, if this economic stimulus package would focus more on jobs and less on everything else? Obama is so concerned about Abraham Lincoln. How about looking to FDR and try to come up with an even Newer Deal? You have the benefit of seeing the problems with the New Deal. Use that history to make it better. Any type of hand up for that area has to offer something effective that will put people to work. Good jobs would solve a lot of problems.

One of the bright spots of the program was hearing from Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies. He had the best quote.

"When the banking industry melts down, it's like, 'oh, no, we have a structural problem.' When folks in Appalachia or the inner cities are poor, it's their fault. Why don't they pull themselves up by their boot straps?"

There was value in the report Sawyer put together, but it wasn't honoring in anyway. These people don't want the judgments of others who don't understand the life showered on them. They want what anyone wants. Opportunities and respect.

Of course, this piece was supposed to be about poverty and its effect on kids.

What is more helpful is when those raised in Appalachia choose to highlight the good, along with the struggles. Beckley, West Virginia native Morgan Spurlock did an excellent job with that for his show 30 Days. The third season's first episode was Working in a Coal Mine.

My husband and I watched that show with pride. It showed the hard work. It showed the tough choices. It even showed the lack of opportunity, but it did so in a way that made us proud to be from a West Virginia coal mining background.

Whatever else you say about those living in Appalachia, they're proud.

One of the coal miners Sawyer spoke with reminded me a lot of my father-in-law. Sawyer asks him what he hopes his kids will be one day.

"I don't know," he says. "Anything but a coal miner."

That's what my father-in-law said about his 7 children. He worked in the coal mines. He gave a lot for his job. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade and, while he understood the opportunity that coal would bring his family, he also knew he wanted something better for his kids.

All but one of his 7 children graduated from college. None of them have ever worked in the coal mines.

And every single one of them still have their own teeth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I'm going to have to brace myself

I'm a West Virginia girl and I now live in Georgia, so the Appalachian region is definitely near and dear to my heart. I love all things a little bit "country". I can't help myself. I try to be the college educated, sophisticated, suburbanite wife and mom, but I can't quite carry it. I sometimes feel like I should be on a mountain washing clothes on a washboard and cooking on a wood stove. I can't help it. Mountain music makes my heart soar. It's who I am.

That's why the way the mass media portrays people from West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and even Georgia gets on my nerves. I swan! These people just don't get it!

So I'm cringing while I'm wondering what Friday night's 20/20 will bring, as Diane Sawyer reports on A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains.

I have my TiVo set to record it, so I will definitely be watching it. I plan to report back on how I feel about it. Diane Sawyer was raised in Kentucky, so I'm hoping it won't be the usual condescending look that is typical of a high powered news organization covering the poverty of those living in the Appalachians.

I'm not trying to bury my head in the sand here. I know there are people who are in need of some type of hand up. I know there are education issues, employment issues, drug issues, poverty issues related to that area. But those issues extend to every single area of these United States. It's not limited to the Appalachian region.

What bothers me is that many of these stories tend to overlook the proud history of those born and bred in these areas. They completely discount it, assuming that the only life worth living is the one that is surrounded by malls, restaurants, and all the other trappings of modern living.

I am touchy about this. We visited a church nearby and I refused to go back to it because they have an outreach program to the "poor deprived children" of West Virginia. I hope those kids benefit from what they are receiving and I assume the church has the best of intentions. So often, though, the result of these charity programs or newscasts is teaching the children and people of these proud and historic communities to be ashamed of their heritage. That helps no one and does a great disservice to the hardworking people who built families and lives in those majestic mountains.

Maybe the best solution is to have people who grew up in these areas give back where it is needed.

Sorry for the "no outsiders" mentality. I suppose I have to work on that.

Anyway, I'll be watching on Friday night and plan to report back.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

West Virginia homeschoolers

This article about homeschooling in my home county of Raleigh County in West Virginia might be of interest to some of you WV homeschoolers.

I think it's funny that the lady from REACH they are talking to starts off one of her quotes with "That's the beauty of homeschooling..." When my son and I are doing schoolwork and we do something that he wouldn't be able to do if he was at a public school, I say "That's the beauty of homeschooling."

I say that quite a bit.

I have never homeschooled in WV, but my sister has been homeschooling in Raleigh County for about 13 years or so. Her oldest son (maybe proud Auntie has mentioned this before) received a full scholarship to Concord University based on the work he did at home, his ACT score, and an essay he wrote competing for the scholarship.

I can't remember who my sister met when my nephew was receiving the scholarship, but whoever it was (a dean of some sort, maybe?) told her that Concord is a very "homeschool friendly" university and that his own children were homeschooled.

I was pretty impressed with that because Concord is not only my alma mater, it's also where I met my husband! Of course that was back in the days when it was just old humble Concord College. ;)

Oh, and I'll also add my nephew took 6 classes last semester and made 5 A's and 1 B!

I think he takes his academic excellence from his Auntie Tina.

Okay. Maybe not.

Just Be There

My oldest sister sang "Just Be There" at my grandmother's funeral. It's a beautiful song that she also sang at her son's homeschool graduation ceremony in June. I found the song online. Follow the link and listen to it when you get the chance.

My grandma loved the song and my sister did an amazing job singing it. I can't believe she made it through the whole song without dissolving into tears, but God really helped her through it.

I'm going to write some more about my trip back home later this week. At some point I intend to stop blogging about my grandmother passing away. I'm not at that point yet. Bear with me.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

She's gone

I had hardly finished my post Friday night when my sister called and said "She's gone."

Now comes the time when life goes on without her.

It's easy to mourn, isn't it? Easy to feel sad about losing someone. It's easy to miss her.

I couldn't sleep Friday night. I couldn't watch TV. Nothing seemed to settle my mind. I read the Bible for a while, remembering a night when I had picked up the Bible to read to her, just a few weeks ago.

She was unsettled that night. Most of the family was with my aunt at a hospital in Charlottesville, VA. My grandma just couldn't rest. She was up and down, worried about my aunt, worried about her own health, struggling with her physical pain. Nothing seemed to comfort her.

I saw her Bible on her nightstand and asked if she wanted me to read some to her. She said I could if I wanted to.

I didn't do a great job. I couldn't find anything to comfort her. I tried Psalms, but nothing seemed to be soothing. I knew it was just my ignorance, but I just couldn't find the right passage. Still I read some, hoping just the familiarity of the King James version would help her.

I really don't know if it did. I guess I was naive to think it would be some magic pill that would take away her pain and worry. I just read a few verses and put it down. She said it helped, but I think she just said that to make me feel better. I remember feeling sad that I couldn't take her misery away from her.

So Friday night was my turn to feel unsettled and a little miserable. I was sad that she died in that hospital. Sad that I didn't see her, couldn't kiss her one last time. I was worried about my family, my parents and siblings. I was thinking about making another trip to WV, another trip to that cemetery, another funeral to get through.

I looked up some scripture online. I picked up my husband's Bible and read. I couldn't find the right passage and it reminded me of that night I had failed her, so I put it down and picked up a book I had been reading all week, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.

I read about Corrie, but thought about my grandma. I hoped someone remembered to tell her I loved her, but realized that didn't really matter. I thought about my conversation with my sister.

"She's gone," she said.

"Did you get to see her?" I asked.

"Yeah, but I think she was gone before I got here."

"How did she look?"

"I don't know. She looked okay."

Why did I want to know how she looked? It hadn't even occurred to me to ask, really. It just came out. As I read The Hiding Place I wondered why that had mattered to me at that moment. I wondered why God couldn't help me feel settled about it. I knew she was in heaven. Why was it so hard to accept that she was rejoicing and peaceful and happy?

I was at the place in the book where Corrie finds out Betsie has died. She's standing in the window, hardly able to believe it's her sister the nurses are carrying away. She walks because she doesn't know what to do. She wants to go to the washroom window where she knows the nurses will carry Betsie, but she's afraid. She doesn't want to see her beautiful sister dead on that floor in a row with other discarded people.

I turned around to see Mien running after me. "Corrie, I've looked for you everywhere! Oh, Corrie, come!"
She seized my arm and drew me toward the back of the hospital.
When I saw where she was headed I wrenched my arm free. "I know Mien. I know already."
She didn't seem to hear. She seized me again, led me to the washroom window, and pushed me in ahead of her. In the reeking room stood a nurse. I drew back in alarm, but Mien was behind me.
"This is the sister," Mien said to the nurse.
I turned my head to the side -- I would not look at the bodies that lined the far wall. Mien put an arm around my shoulder and drew me across the room till we were standing above that heartbreaking row.
"Corrie! Do you see her!"
I raised my eyes to Betsie's face. Lord Jesus -- what have You done! Oh, Lord, what are You saying! What are You giving me!
For there lay Betsie, her eyes closed as if in sleep, her face full and young. The care lines, the grief lines, the deep hollows of hunger and disease were simply gone. In front of me was the Betsie of Haarlem, happy and at peace. Stronger! Freer! This was the Betsie of heaven, bursting with joy and health. Even her hair was graciously in place as if an angel had ministered to her.

Reading those words that I have read dozens of times in the last 20 years finally gave me some peace. I may not see the miracle that Corrie saw when she looked at her sister. When I see my grandma at the funeral, she may still look thin and the ravages of her disease may still be visible on her face.

But that earthly body is not what she is any longer. She's released and she's free. It doesn't really matter if she heard me say I love you. It doesn't really matter if she thought she was coming home. Those last few hours, minutes, seconds of her life only matter to those she left behind. We are the ones struggling with the memories, with the decisions that were made, with the sadness and impossibility of these last few months and specifically these last 4 or 5 weeks.

My grandmother is fully alive now. She's reunited with her family. She's with the husband she's been separated from for over 30 years. She's with the daughter who went ahead of her.

She's with the Savior who made it all possible, with the gracious and good God who ordained it all.

And she's settled and she's resting and she's at peace.