My female lead in Coming Home to You is Tansy McPhail, born in West Virginia, in a section of the country known as Appalachia, (I didn’t know it was pronounced Appa-lat-cha.) She comes from proud Scottish stock, her ancestors settling in the southwestern hills, and working the land for over a century.
I knew very little about the area when I began the book, but having driven through a small slice of the state on the way to somewhere, I remembered the natural beauty and its back roads winding and narrow.
With not much of the story being set there, I didn’t think I’d need a working knowledge of the land, only the people. Was the hillbilly label warranted? Who were these Americans who were caricatured in such a negative way?
The more I read, the more I wanted to know. Several books later, I know the people there are proud, love family and their community, work hard but have progressed very little since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Nestled in the valleys, they became isolated from the rest of the world and their history is one of struggle.
A big part of their story is coal. Land was taken from the natives by the conglomerates, those outsiders who had money to burn. They developed towns in the surrounding areas, and owned the houses and the stores, and set the stage for the stage for the pillage of natural resources, netting profits at the expense of human life. Rivers and streams are thick with sludge, coal dust clings to everything. And today they are removing the mountain peak by peak. Where there used to be a whip-poor-will’s cry, bubbling brooks, and the whispering of the leaves, it’s now the sounds of heavy machinery coming to claim the mountain that serenade the citizens, clogging waterways with tons of mountaintop debris.
Many have left the area, driven out by poverty, and the jobless rate but many are staying, some working the mines like their grandfather’s did before them, some fighting for their history, their heritage and their future. It took a hardy people to settle the land here, and it sounds like they’re bringing all their grit and determination to win the battle.