Chapter 2. Only in America: Seizing Opportunities and Finding Silver Linings

I was born in the fall of 1961 in the foothills of Ohio's Appalachian Mountains. My mother had spent the day with a number two pencil, filling in row upon row of multiple-choice questions on her Nursing Boards Exam, only to return home and fill the air with the kind of heaving screams that bring new life into the world. It was October 20—and the beginning of everything.

As poor timing would have it, my father had been drafted to serve in the U.S. Army's effort in the Berlin Crisis of 1961, effectively leaving my mother to be a single mom struggling against the unrelenting poverty that strangles Appalachia to this day. Rather than staying in our little house alone, she packed up our few belongings and escaped to the comfort of my grandmother's home.

I use the word "comfort" here relatively. True: It was a comfort for my mom to have an extra pair of hands to help wash me and prepare dinner. It was a comfort to have another voice to echo hers and a mother's wisdom surrounding her, rather than the lonely sound of solitude that rings like thunder when your body aches for company. But comfort did not include the modern conveniences we've come to expect in this country.

Even in 1961, my grandparents, Ula Mae and William Herman Eschman—and by extension all of us—were living in a small wooden home with an outhouse and no running water. A hot bath meant boiling pan after pan of creek water and letting it splash into ...

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