Have you ever heard a song and thought to yourself, wow, I know that feeling. And I am not talking about how whiny emo kids listen to a song and think “I need to believe my life conforms to this so I can pretend to be sad.” I was listening to one of my favorite songs earlier today: You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive by Brad Paisley. The song is about a town in eastern Kentucky called Harlan. According to the narrator of this song, Harlan was a tough town to escape from. He described his grandfather’s family who had lived in the town. When his grandfather finally got his family out of Harlan and started farming tobacco, they fell on hard times and his grandfather had to go back to Harlan and work in the coal mines, sending his family money. And while some of the family escaped Harlan, the narrator’s grandfather never did. This is a song I have heard over and over again, but it never dawned on me how closely I could relate to this song…Until now.
My brother recently had to do a project for one of his college classes where he had to map out our family tree. With a little investigative researching, my brother was able to find all the way back to the late 1840s. He found out the first Snyder in our family to live in the United States moved to Southern Illinois from Germany in 1848, bringing only a infant son with him. The infant son of the German immigrant had kids of his own. One of his kids fought and died in the Spanish-America war in the 1890s. The oldest one gave birth to my Grandpa’s Grandpa (My Grandpa’s Great Grandpa was the first of us born in the U.S.).
The family continued living in the area all the way to my Grandpa and his family. When my dad was about 10 years old, he moved his family to central Indiana. Where they lived for many many years. My grandpa died in Indiana around 1995. My dad grew up there, got married, and had three kids (I was the middle child). My family was raised in Indiana for a large chunk of my life.
The summer between my 7th and 8th grade years, my mother had a hard time finding work. My dad, being a truck driver, had work and could find some anytime he wanted anywhere in the nation. My mom, though, had been a factory worker all of her life. She had worked at the same factory from the time she was 20 until it was shipped over to Mexico and Asia for cheaper labor. Not being able to find a job, my family moves back to southern Illinois, just five minutes from where my family first landed in 1848. The reason they moved back here was because of the abundance of factories. Close by in (about two hours drive) south-western Indian there is a Toyota plant. So between our small town and this Toyota plant, the path is littered with factories that make different parts for cars. After being unemployed in Indiana for a year, she found work at a factory that, among other things, made speakers for cars. And so, once again, my family settled back down in southern Illinois where my Great great great great great grandpa had first moved.
My brother, the one who had researched my family history, just finished up a degree in Mechanical Engineering. My sister-in-law, his wife, just finished her degree in Chemistry Secondary Education. I thought that with an Engineering degree, my brother, if he even stayed in Illinois, would at least move to a big city like Springfield or Chicago. But what does the boy do? He moves his pregnant wife back to town and begins work at a factory making car parts. Of course, his manager told him that he could a become an engineer at the factor relatively quickly, since he has a degree. But my brother is very intelligent. If he had moved somewhere bigger, he could have made something of himself. He could have gotten an engineering job right away. So why did he do it? He could not explain it to me.
This town, this county, or this area…Is there a hold? Does it latch onto you and hold you here? Or is it a mentality of home? Living here and watching people leave just to come back makes you wonder. What is it about this place that draws us back and keeps us locked in an eternal hold?
Genealogy research through Ancestry.com
You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive by Brad Paisley lyrics