I don’t know if it’s possible to be homesick while still living at home and in your hometown, but it happened to me twice. Both instances involved the radio and lonely drives in my 1996 Buick Century. Crimson red with a soft interior and the wide hips of an overfed geriatric, I named my car the “Shopping Cart Destroyer” because the previous owner had been a half-blind old lady who only drove to the store and back. When I got the thing, I put a lot of miles on it. There were many trips from Cheat Lake to Morgantown and from Morgantown to Fairmont. I drove from Vermont to Pittsburgh in it twice, and I made four trips from West Virginia to New Hampshire in that hunker. But still, there’s two drives in particular that stick in my disused wad of gum upstairs.

The first one occurred on a rainy morning sometime in either 2009 or 2010. My friend N. and his girlfriend J. were moving to Oxford and they had asked me to give them a ride to the Pittsburgh airport. I showed up at their house early, as is my habit. They either weren’t home or still asleep, so I sat in the thin sun and fog and listened to the college radio station. It was Sunday because the music they played was old time swing and big band. The DJ didn’t interrupt a lot; he mostly kept his comments to factoids about such and such song being the number one hit back in 1946. The uninterrupted music made me think about the nights back in middle school and high school when I experimented with falling asleep with the radio on. All the rock and roll and heavy metal I normally listened to kept me up, so I would switch to classical or old jazz in order to fall asleep. Even to this day I associate that music, especially ’40s jazz, with dreams.

For what had to have been an hour, I sat in my car and just listened. N. and J. lived in one of Morgantown’s older neighborhoods, a land of red brick and small, neat lawns. The place was a time warp that somehow managed to stop from being swallowed up the town’s professor class and their demands for unlimited ethnic restaurants. As such, it wasn’t hard for me to imagine what life would’ve been like in 1946. With boys just back from the war, Morgantown would have been a sea of green and white uniforms and smiling faces. Music would’ve throbbed from every house, and on Sunday mornings after church, families would’ve gathered around big meals that could last all day.

I kept that image in my head during the entire drive to Pittsburgh. It was one of those perpetually gray days that the Tri-State area gets all the time, so it wasn’t hard for me to keep my private movie going. The only thing that snapped me out of it was my newly acquired GPS suddenly dying not far outside of Canonsburg (the birthplace of Perry Como and Bobby Vinton). The mechanical malfunction only foretold of sadder things to come. Much like N.’s sister, I was weirdly emotional after seeing N. and J. off. Although I knew I’d see them again (well, I actually haven’t seen J. since, but she did send me a postcard when I was in boot camp), I still felt like I was putting part of my life to rest. I blame it on the music and the rain that always seems to happen in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

On the other occasion, I finally found out what West Virginia means to me. As with most of my people, West Virginia is place of love but also a place of exhaustion. I love my dirty, poor, put-upon home state like a battered wife loves her abusive husband. The long process of defending it has sure felt like a fight, and an uneven won at that.

Sometimes I give up the ghost and tell people I’m from the mysterious land known as the “Greater Pittsburgh Area.” Throughout this grand ole republic, telling people you’re from Pittsburgh rarely elicits much of a reaction. Pittsburgh is known for being a tough, blue-collar town with successful sports teams and the good fortune of being one of the few former Rust Belt cities that has managed to surmount crippling unemployment and the type of hopelessness one finds in places like East Liverpool, Ohio or Flint, Michigan. The worst thing I’ve ever heard about Pittsburgh from people outside the region concerns its Yinzer dialect, which most outsiders think of as atrocious.

West Virginia is a whole different story. After admitting that the place of my birth is the decaying former mining community of Fairmont, West Virginia, I’ve received a wide assortment of jokes concerning the various ways in which cousins can copulate. I’ve been asked semi-seriously if there’s inbreeding in my family (I hate to break it to you, but there’s inbreeding in most families, especially noble ones), and on more than one occasion, I’ve had to preempt lousy, tired jokes by pointing out the shoes on my feet and the mostly white teeth in my mouth. In short, the place of my birth has helped to increase my blood pressure, lowered my tolerance for annoyance, and given me a complex that I can only term “sick-of-this-shit-itis.” You know that whole 2016 election thing? That was the long-awaited “fuck you,” fueled by several strands of “sick-of-this-shit-it is.”

Of course, there’s hypocrisy in this gripe. More than anybody, I’m guilty of slandering my fellow Mountaineer. Being a boy from the supposedly more civilized and cosmopolitan North Central Region, I’ve done my fair share of Hillbilly shaming. I used to think that anywhere south of Clarksburg had the discreet charm of Afghanistan, and when I would visit my grandparents in Elkins, I always approached the trip from the point-of-view of a reluctant general, with strict timetables for withdrawal.

It was while coming back from one such trip that I had a revelation. It was after Christmas, and since I never liked staying too long in Elkins with nothing to do but watch football on TV or work out at the YMCA with my grandfather, I decided to drive back to Morgantown despite wintry conditions on the roads. Somewhere on I-79, I turned the radio in my Shopping Cart Destroyer. I stopped the dial on the Italian Hour with Nick Fantasia.

For those of you who don’t know, Nick Fantasia had a voice that could turn off a crack-addled prostitute. Caught somewhere between nasally and ghoulish, Fantasia’s pipes were a religion in Fairmont. On Sundays, Fairmont’s original Italian Hour would play music from the old country as a way to connect with Fairmont’s storied Italian past. Although I’m not Italian, I often felt Italian when I was growing up because of my first neighborhood and first set of friends. (When I worked at a private Fairmont golf course that catered to former miners, high school coaches, and the occasional bookie, I REALLY felt Italian.) Still, I never listened to the Italian Hour that much, but on that morning it just felt so apt. More than that, it reminded me that I was an insider with firsthand knowledge about a state and a culture. Unlike most people on the coasts, I know that Italian-Americans exist outside of Boston, Providence, and New York City. West Virginia’s Eye-talians—we call ‘em “Tallies”—have a unique gastronomy (Google “pepperoni rolls”) and have managed to maintain their Catholic heritage in one of America’s most low church, evangelical states. There’s a lot of cool stuff in West Virginia, you know. We have a mountain town called Helvetia where the Swiss German residents still celebrate Fasnacht. The Festival of the Seven Fishes is a big deal in Fairmont and Clarksburg, and when not making apple butter or hunting for ginseng, our hill folk know a thing or two about Flatfoot and buck dancing.

I’m not sure there’s any real message here. Personal essays always mean more to the writer than the reader, and since my mind operates in the realm of suggestion and mist, I’m positive that most of the more meaningful things to me are nonsensical to others. This has all been chalk outlines on the cave wall, but that’s what most of life is, right? While others hear a name and think of their first love, I see a 1996 Buick Century and think about jazz music playing on a Sunday morning among lost friends. I drive I-79 in the snow and think about what it means to carry home in your heart’s blood.