It never sank in that those people, those names, belonged to the past, or that the past of all peoples carried some greatness.

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We told our children that we were God's chosen people—Appalachian Israelites—even if we didn't go to church very often. We thought we were given a secret, living out here. We thought that the code to unlocking that secret was fossilized in a piece of falling rock.

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The legacies of coal and sawdust and politicians passed through our blood and our breast milk, and the stories of our mountains ennobled even the least of us. We thought we were special.

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