• oliviastelter94

Coming home is scary, but it shouldn't be

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Coming back home is scary, but it shouldn’t be.

I left Mountain City after I graduated high school. I was like most 18 year old graduates who swore they’d never go back to their hometowns. I said I’d make it big and never look back, not realizing I never really left.

In undergraduate school, I dressed the part. I fixed my hair, showed up, and gave it my all. You’re probably wondering why I said, “fixed my hair”, but if you know me, that’s a pretty big deal. I earned my B.A. in political science and told myself I’d make it to the White House eventually, but I wanted to learn more about where I came from. At Appalachian State, I learned how unique my perspective was. All of my classmates were from big cities. When my classmates said where they were from, no one had to ask, “where’s that?” Anytime it was my turn to speak, I would notice the looks around the room. I asked myself, “are they making fun of me? Is it the way I speak? Am I not as smart as them?” It wasn’t that at all. They were interested. A lot of times I sat with my friends after class, drinking a beer at our favorite place in Boone, starting sentences with “where I’m from”. My friends always seemed to be so fascinated with the stories I would tell, and most of them couldn’t believe that all my bridesmaids were friends I graduated high school with.

Luke and I moved to Virginia the weekend we got married. People were so friendly, but everything seemed so fast paced. It was like everyone was in a hurry, and I was always getting over in the slow lane. I started teaching Political Science at the local Community College, and I noticed my students giggling when I talked. At first, I was insulted, but I learned to embrace it. When I was teaching, I said, “y’all” and “ain’t”, not realizing that I was teaching my students to embrace their culture.

Then, we moved to Florida, and everything was faster. I worked at Starbucks for a while, and I quickly learned that an Appalachian girl like me was going to have to learn to think quickly on my feet and learn to speak faster than I was used to. After the six months working at Starbucks, I’ll never forget this encounter.

A man came up to the counter one morning, and I asked what could I serve him today. He said, “every time I come here, no one can understand my name or my order.” “Try me,” I replied. He said, “I want an iced coffee, ten sugars, and no classic. My name is Tim.” I smiled and told him I understood every word. I asked him where he was from and he said “eastern Kentucky”. I told him I was from East Tennessee. His face lit up, and we talked for several minutes. I realized when I talked to someone from Appalachia, I felt like I was at home.

I promised myself, my friends, my family, and honestly everyone around me that I could never go back to Mountain City, but the whole time I’ve been gone, I’ve been defending the very place I said I’d never come back to. All of the research I’ve done in college has been about East Tennessee. People would make fun of my accent, but I embraced it...I loved it. In every state the military has brought us to, I’ve always been drawn to those who “sound like me”. I proudly told those I would meet that I was from Tennessee, not realizing that I was going against the very things I told those I loved.

My culture has always been a part of me. I left the mountains, but they absolutely never left me.

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