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Locking Eyes with Lafayette

January 17, 2017

Editor’s Note: Kathleen M. Jacobs is the 2017 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. Kathleen was born in St. Louis and moved to West Virginia as a young girl. She received degrees from WVU-Tech and WVU Graduate College, and has worked as a teacher at the high school and college levels. Kathleen’s writing has been published in various journals and periodicals. Her first book, published in 2016, is a young adult novel called “Honeysuckle Holiday,” and her second book is due to be published later this year. Kathleen will be a guest of Lafayette Flats through the end of March and during her stay she plans to work on a children’s book that is set in Fayette County. This is her first contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog.

“I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”  –Eudora Welty

Having arrived at Lafayette Flats earlier this month as the 2017 New River Gorge Winter Writer’s Resident has introduced yet another “daring” moment – three months of working at my craft in a space that welcomes not only my physical presence with its warm and inviting appointments, but with a spirit that suggests its own “daring.” For it dares me to look at all things with fresh eyes: a town quite different from the thousands of Bridge Day visitors that spotted this landscape on an incredibly picture-perfect-postcard autumn day last fall to its early morning sprinkling of snowflakes that gather and will eventually carpet the streets and alleyways and mountains and grassy knolls of the Fayette County Courthouse.

A “daring” moment, because a three-month excursion into the depths of this place called Appalachia is not something I’ve ever before experienced. A few weeks here and there and even a month spent living only with Honeysuckle Holiday’s manuscript when it was in final edits is the extent of my self-directed, dedicated writing retreats. And now that Lucy and Caroline and Grace are forever etched into the pages of my first published YA novel, I sense their whispers of encouragement and resolve, support and endearments. They are missed, but it’s time to explore this terrain that the characters of my first children’s book will travel, as I walk with them through the hills and valleys of this place I call home – a place that will become new for me once again, as it did when I first came here as a child many years ago.

The Gateway Arch in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri sits at the site of the city’s founding on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Construction began in 1963 and was completed in 1965 – the year before my family moved to Charlton Heights, West Virginia. In the summer of 1974 construction began on the New River Gorge Bridge. It was completed in the fall of 1977. The steel arch bridge reminds me of the Gateway Arch, and I find both a quiet zeal and a near-reverence in that single commonality. And I am anxious to begin this “daring.”

As I gaze out the window of the Flats, my eyes and those of the Marquis de Lafayette (whose formidable stance is both certain and watchful) meet. And I am suddenly transported to a day – a sunny, warm summer day – in 1966 shortly after my family had just moved to Fayette County from St. Louis, and my sisters and I were being escorted by our parents to a Judge’s chambers to ask if we wanted our new father to adopt us. This awareness of a place so entirely different from where I had started my life was filled with excitement and adventure. And over the course of the ensuing years, it would not disappoint on any level, just as I’m confident that my time spent in a place that was so mesmerizing to me as a child, with its creeks and mountains and music and its own unique culture will once again open its doors to me now, as I rediscover these treasures from an entirely different perspective.

Standing in front of the Marquis all these years later, surrounded by an entirely different landscape of unique treasures to explore, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and follow the Marquis’s command to move forward to the unknown, yet very familiar. Locking wide-opened eyes with Washington’s French advisor during the Revolutionary War, I read the etched words on the front plaque inscription, not feeling one bit overwhelmed, but quite in awe.

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