Almost heaven. That’s what we call our home, here in West Virginia. The Almost of our Heaven is both a space of longing and of possibility, that forever resonance in which we’re caught, between ceolum and infernum, enchantment and collapse, these booms and busts we have come to read as our given, not chosen, inheritance.
Perhaps the appeal, to us twenty- and thirty-somethings going about life like it's one long home-ec class, is that georgic chores like composting food scraps or butchering pigs are just beyond our memory's reach, but not so far beyond it that we can't imagine them. The distance makes them perfect focal points in our digitized pastoral.
There, chef contestants use the eponymous pan to re-imagine traditional ingredients and recipes into creations that evoke the spirit of New Appalachian cuisine, dishes like greens in sweet-and-sour vinegar sauce, beans in mole sauce, and custard-filled corn bread. Anne Hart, the chef/owner of Provence Market, a French restaurant in Bridgeport, West Virginia, has submitted entries like moonshine haute chocolate, ramp bisque, and (coming full circle) squirrel nachos.
I imagine biting into my first pepperoni roll as a girl was probably a shocking moment. My naïve eyes may have seen only a smooth, buttery roll, but at first bite, would have discovered a surprisingly spicy and salty interior. My dad was always a lot like that; neat-looking and polished on the outside, but stuffed tightly with pungent layers that could explode when heated. I blame bad seams.
I interviewed Scott McClanahan not long after he filed his divorce papers. His apartment sounded empty, like there were no pictures on the walls. He told me that he hadn’t left his apartment in two weeks, and he’d lost weight. “Maybe I should get divorced more often,” he joked. I looked down at the recorder thinking that marital complications aren’t the brightest of opening topics. He then told me he felt like a chunk of coal and compared himself to the country singer Billy Joe Shaver—“Gonna be a diamond some day.”