The real ones are rare. Being born on the land doesn’t guarantee you will grow into a true West Virginian woman. Soft and callous creatures, tempting fate and sustaining on old dreams passed down from our great grandmothers. The Cherokee bloodline combined somewhere with the Irish heritage.
The dreams are haunting, terrifying, and true.
She is the truth holding light in the darkness. A white candle in a bleak, blacked-out bedroom. She knows how to stretch the dollar and the credit. How to rob Peter making sure Paul gets his due. She’ll ensure there is always food in the fridge, and clean clothes folded on top of the dryer. Her days are long and tiring. She’s whispering to the Almighty Man Above as she takes on her second and third job. Her babies are growing too fast. They’re constantly needing shoes and shirts, pajamas and pants. There isn’t much for her to rely on, but the ever present mountains and seemingly never-ending exhaustion.
Not western Virginian. Not remotely southern. Barely genteel. These are coal miners’ daughters and granddaughters. Those miner’s long hours are somehow bred into these women as they rarely sleep. The dirty coal dust is the base coat priming their existence. Its constantly keeping hands from ever feeling clean and soft. Fingers, no matter the size, are reaching for dishes, the sewing, and more work. Selling heirlooms stitched in quilts, tied together with strings and scraps. Delivered with a homemade pie. In the fall, there are pumpkin logs (you may call them rolls, we call them logs).
And when our men fall, we’re the women staying strong. The woman dug far into the ground. She’s the firm, everlasting foundation. Her lips believing in words like: This too shall pass. Sometimes, it does pass. Other times, she finds a way to make a grave inside her skin-and-bone vessel. There are things us women have tattooed on ovaries. She permanently carries these scars deep under her breasts. She hides her memories there; on her child-birthing hips and under thick thighs.
There’s never been too much she actually believes in, besides faith. Faith in God and self. She always managed to scrape by on bloody knuckles and bitten tongues. She’s kept the lights on one month longer. Her hair is washed and curled up for Sunday. After church, her table is serving suppers to anyone who stops by for a visit and is hungry. Offering polite manners and stern warnings: Because it has been far too long since ya stopped by. Don’t go so long in between visits. Don’t be a stranger. We’re family, whether by blood or choice.
There are holes in her clothes. There are bras with wires cutting into her skin. There are hopes the one little black dress she owns still fits her constantly changing shape. There’s a closet full of shoes, but she’d rather her soles touch the cool dirt. She rather feel God’s green earth between her toes. This land means something to her, although she hasn’t quite figured out what that something is yet.
Late at night, all she knows are her worries. These thoughts are her comforting friend and closest confidant.
How is she going to keep surviving?
How can she comprehend a world which is often more cruel than those oak paddle and belt whippings she used to receive?
She prays and tries. She doesn’t want her son to be one of those men she seems to always attract. The ones stripping her of paychecks and dignity. The men who always thought they could get one over on her, because they think she’s just another dumb girl from the holler. The men who give themselves all the credit while laying on their backs and watching a woman support their family. “Son, please don’t be like all those men. Be better. More loving. Be kind.”
She goes about trying to become better, and raise better in her child.
She just goes.
On and on.
Each day feeling similar to the one she finished yesterday.
She is the woman. The one stronger than a man. The one with too much love. The one with tired eyes and anxious momentum.