Home Among the Hills

by Kelli Steele

(The story behind our Home Among the Hills print)

My maternal great-grandmother was a Hill who married a Lucas. They were the best of friends who were full of affection, and their marriage remains an example. They worked together to build a home up a narrow holler in southern West Virginia. They had his-and-hers vegetable gardens. They built a picnic shelter with a stone hearth for cooking, a wash basin, and an outhouse with corn cobs and a Sears & Robuck catalog strung from the corner rafter. All this allowed them to host countless family gatherings, reunions, and community picnics. For decades, anytime I’m asked to imagine somewhere I feel most at peace, I imagine myself on their side porch in a metal glider, listening to the drone of cicadas as the backdrop to my great grandmother stringing beans and my great grandfather whittling.

As an adult, I met another older couple named Hill. No relation. They lived a few hours away, and we met while serving on the same team for a statewide ministry project. They were my parents’ age, and became mentors and dear friends. They recently moved to a nearby town, but before that, for two decades I knew if I was in their area I would be welcomed warmly with a freshly-baked meal and a warm bed. Their home was a refuge - a place people came to breathe, rest, and receive hospitality in its purest, simplest form.

Whenever I’m returning from a road trip and return to the Appalachian mountains, I breathe a sigh of relief. These hills offer a sort of refuge, a protection. I’ve heard from folks who grew up in more open terrain that the hills can take a while to get accustomed to - that at first they can feel confining or suffocating. But for those of us who were raised here, they are a comfort.

There’s a song, written in the 1960s, called “My Home Among the Hills” by E. W. James, Jr. of Clarksburg, West Virginia. It’s typically sung by choir, and while written about West Virginia particularly, the description is fitting for the entire region of rolling hills.

There's a land of rolling mountains
Where the sky is blue above
And though I may roam, I hurry home
To those friendly hills I love

I can’t hear the song without getting a tear in my eye. Both for the hills I’ve always called home, and the Hills (and the under-appreciated others like them) who offer a type of hospitality that welcomes you home.

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