My grandfather’s farm, in Magoffin County, KY, USA, located in the heart of Appalachia, is no more now in 2018. It was located at the intersection of the small dirt road, Birch Branch, and a county road that was only a little more well-traveled, Burning Fork. My grandparents have been gone now for many years and the farm sold off. I only have one reason now to go back to Birch Branch and that is a much-loved cousin who still lives in the area. I guess a second reason is to gaze longingly at what used to be the farm and wish for things that used to be. I feel less and less able to do that and more likely just to remember it in my heart and mind.
Today, unless you can remember Birch Branch and my grandfather’s farm in what used to be lovely eastern Kentucky, you wouldn’t recognize it. The road is the same, dirt and some gravel. But where my grandfather’s and great uncle’s farms were beside it, now there is a trailer park. Not a well-maintained trailer park, but trailers with neglected little children running around in dirt yards and dogs tied out in the heat on chains. Usually, there are men sitting on the steps of the trailers, during the day when they should be working. There are no jobs. The unemployment rate in the county is upwards of 33 percent. They either don’t think of it or don’t have the means to travel to find a job like generations before them did.
You’ve heard of the opioid problem in the U.S.? You’re looking at it when you view what is now where my grandfather’s farm used to be. Instead of working, these men are taking pain pills. OxyContin, Percocet, Hydrocodone, any of the codeine or morphine=based drugs they can get. Most of them aren’t just temporarily high because of some sort of problem. They are the long-term addicted. If they ever had job skills, they lost them long ago. Generations of men just like them lost them long ago. It is the cycle of poverty and drug abuse.
Such things had never been heard of when my grandfather farmed this land. If you couldn’t find a job around home, you joined the military or you left home and worked away. You didn’t give up and sit on the steps of a trailer stoned out of your mind day after day after day. I find these people and this lifestyle disgusting.
The creek is still there, filled with trash. I can still envision the part of the land that was my great-uncle’s. He had a beautiful collie dog named Lassie who I played with as a child in the green pasture land. The horrible drug trailers populate that land now.
Some of you may think that the loss of coal mining is responsible for this problem. Not so. Magoffin County is not a coal mining county. The loss of self-respect and the availability of drugs is responsible for the problem. When I visit, I want to scream at these people to get in their cars and find a job. It wouldn’t help.
Politicians can discuss the opioid problem, but until they can find jobs for these people, the opioid problem will remain. It may, right now, be too late. I hate to sound cynical about an area that I loved so much, but I don’t expect this social and cultural problem to be solved in my lifetime. Magoffin County, KY is certainly not the only county in an area as big as Appalachia to have exactly the same problem.