• Bre'A Belle

La La Land

So, contrary to popular belief, living in a small town can suck.

Everyone knows everyone. I came into this world with a black and white birth announcement in the Welch Daily News as "Little Sleeping Beauty," Bre'A Shicole Edwards Belle. I was the daughter of Tamika Belle. Rodney Bell, Karen Bell, and Pearlena Edwards were my grandparents. Garnet and Luvenia Edwards and Robert Jr. and Louise Belle were my great-grandparents. LaShawn Winfree, David Edwards Sr., Sarita (Hurt) Edwards, Ashley and Angel Bell, Dee Dee and Anthony Banks, and Corey Hairston were all of my aunts and uncles. DJ and Dazia Edwards were my cousins, and we were waiting for the arrival of two other cousins, Corey Hairston Jr. and Anthony Banks Jr.

By age 5, I was also the daughter of Shawn "Horse" Thomas Sr. and the granddaughter of Bay Bay and Boo Thomas.

If you know McDowell County, then you'd know that from Welch to Maybeury, some of the largest families are the Edwards' (Gray, Ward, Hairston, McCormick, McCallum, and Weatherspoon) family and the Thomas's (Foster, Duff, Wheeler, and Clark) family. The Bell/Belle's stuck around in Havaco, but most of them took off to Roanoke by the time I was born. It was hilarious that the only other Bell's in the county were Filipino and from Seattle, Washington and we weren't related until the eldest sister had a baby with my oldest brother. To sum it up, I'm related to almost every black person in the county. I hold a lot of distinct features from all of my families that make it easy for someone to look me in the face and be able to tell me who my mother and father are. Even on my step-dad's side, as the years went on, people swore that I looked like him and most of them knew that I was his daughter and never thought that we didn't share the same DNA.

Later on down the line when I got pregnant with Draven, I found out that four of Austin's sisters were related to me through the Thomas family, with one of his sisters being able to pass as Draven's twin still to this day because of the sandy orange/blonde hair that they have that came from the Thomas's (I realized that that's where it had to come from when Devin was born with the exact same hair color as Draven's. My hair would turn that dark orange color in the summer before I started coloring it on a regular basis). When it came to the white families, Austin was a Mitchem and the Mitchem's made up for the vast majority of white people from Kimball to Northfork.

Now you see why I found a white husband that was from Jolo, WV where they handled snakes in churches. Honestly, after my adventure on Ancestry, I'm not 100% convinced that Austin and Thomas aren't related somewhere in their lineage that immigrated from Germany.

Being a part of large families wasn't always a good thing though. If you were me, rumors spread faster than the common cold and I can't tell you how many skanky cousins people confused me for when I was growing up just because we favored or we had the same last names. At some point in your life while living there, you wished for the day to be able to walk away forever and have a fresh start. You spent most of your life entertaining the idea, but you never really came close to seizing the opportunity until graduation rolled around. A graduation from Mount View was the key to unlocking the door for a much better life. Unfortunately, a lot of kids ended up leaving college to come back and it's probably because of how far behind our county was when it came to education.

When I went into nursing school, I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. McDowell County nurses didn't make a lot of money and I didn't want to only work in a nursing home with no other option. Of course, it didn't take long for me to figure out where I wanted to go. I fell in love with Huntington in October of 2016 when I looked through a window in Twin Towers East, and I could see how much life this city had. I realized immediately that I couldn't prosper as a nurse back home because I would never make more than a little over minimum wage that would cause me to work the rest of my life away.

Everything I was doing back then was to shut up anyone that ever had anything to say about my love of being a mother, no matter how young I was when my first child was born. I rolled my big ass off of the labor and delivery table and eleven days later, I knocked them down and shut them up again wearing a gold cap and gown, with a brown tassel intertwined with a gold 14. That was all I needed to confirm that I was going to be more than people thought I was going to be.

I miss home sometimes, but going back is depressing. Welch is only a dry skeleton of what it used to be and it breaks my heart. The coal mines had shut down long before my birth. Before I went into elementary school, department stores were closing their doors and houses had burned to the ground. Welch Hill was decreasing in size with houses literally sliding off of the hill because of the trees that had been cut down causing huge mudslides in the Spring. Daycare centers closed their doors and all I can remember is the amazing woman named Miss Candi, that Mia and I absolutely adored, and she adored us as well. My mind isn't as sharp as you think it is, but I often get upset when I realize that certain memories are fuzzy. Standing at the mouth of Welch Hill near the AEP building on the right and Gregory-Page Funeral Home on the left, there sat what used to be the daycare center where Mia and I showed Momma and Daddy and anyone else just how rowdy we could be. I'm glad that my old high school is getting a new football stadium, but the closing of the original was bittersweet and it was hard to hold back tears as I stood on that field 20 years after I set foot on for the very first time with the girls that used to stand next to me in those brown and gold uniforms.

Calling Welch a skeleton isn't my way of bashing where I came from. My memories consume me whenever I look at how empty it is. I hate that everything is gone, but I recently found myself showing Draven videos of Welch and showing him where we used to live and go to school and catch the bus. I was shocked because of the warmth and comfort that filled my heart.

I know now that home will always be home even if it disappears. I'll hold on to the memories of partying at Raymond's until 3 in the morning or walking lap after lap at Vic Nystrom Stadium. I'll remember the days where dozens of Edwards children walked the halls of Mount View and if someone fucked with one of us, there would be a riot and they'd have to send every last one of our asses home.

I'll forever miss the days when Momma, Mia, Shakur, and myself were finally given the opportunity to heal after what seemed like a life time of hell. And when Draven came along, it was the first time since Paw Paw Rodney passed away many years ago that I saw the happiness return to Momma's face.

And I love Havaco the most, even if they called it "Little Iraq" back in the day because people that didn't grow up there were terrified to cross that bridge. There was always a basketball game going on in front of the mailbox where most of the kids kicked up dust and would return home covered in dirt and coal dust. I'll remember helping Paw Paw with the furnace by dumping the ashes as he shoveled more coal into the fire.

"Peaches off of Paw Paw's tree," is my fondest memory where I can still hear Granny's voice and picture Momma in grey shorts set with a big round belly that had our baby brother inside of it. I'll never forget waking up the morning of June 30th, 2000 for the much anticipated arrival of my baby brother and asking when he could be home. I was confused when I was told that he wouldn't come home until much later and as a distraction, Maw Maw pulled out her video camera and encouraged us to make a video for Momma, Daddy, and Shakur that they could watch when they came back.

Our trio was complete when my 5th and Mia's 4th birthday party came with Shakur finally in the video (and I still die laughing when I remember Mia holding a plastic yellow bat and wiggling her little butt when she went to take a swing at the pinata lying on the ground).

I thought I would never be able to blow the dust off of those memories, but considering the fact that I've been in rough shape and dwelling on negativity, it's been a good way for me to feel the happiness that I've been craving. Thinking about my life in McDowell County gives me so much peace and that's why I will never be able to forget where I came from.

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