“Daughter of Life’s Longing: An Appalachian Journey” is the inspiring and beautifully written memoir of a survivor.

Author Rexanna Ross Shumaker was badly injured in not one, not two, but three auto accidents. She suffered the loss of a child. A freak accident left her a young widow. But she refused to be defeated by any of the heartbreaking tragedies that were her lot.

Born and raised in Wyoming County, she was on her way to Christmas dinner with Danny, her fiancé, at the wheel when their car was hit by a carload of drunks. Danny “had several broken ribs, a badly broken ankle and a number of cuts and bruises,” she writes. “I had a head injury, severe facial lacerations and several broken bones.”

Before the accident, young Rexanna had moved to Huntington and embarked on a new life. Leaving hardscrabble Wyoming County behind, she enrolled in beauty school, rented an apartment and delighted in her new independence. The accident erased all that.

After three months in the hospital, she was sent home, clad in a full-length body cast. Her recovery would take a year and require major leg surgery. The fancy wedding she and Danny had planned was called off. Instead, they chose to get married by a magistrate and “get on with our life.”

The second accident happened when another vehicle, speeding past the couple’s car, clipped their car and sent them spiraling off the road. Thrown from the car, Rexanna, badly injured and seven months pregnant, landed in the median.

After the first accident, Rexanna and Danny knew they could rebuild.

“The second accident took more courage to keep on looking forward,” she writes. “It wasn’t so much the loss of the car, the horrible injuries or the extended recovery it would take to make me whole again. It was the loss of our child. Managing to smile and laugh again took years.”

Then came the third car accident. Rexanna and Danny had traveled to Wyoming County to attend her 10-year high school reunion. Driving home, Danny swerved to avoid colliding with an oncoming car and slammed into a hillside. Rexanna’s right knee was fractured. She was on crutches for a month.

But there was worse to come.

At Christmas time 1988, Rexanna last saw her husband outside, preparing to take down a CB antenna. She went inside for a minute, then stepped back out and “saw Danny flat on the ground — dying.” He had been electrocuted as he worked on the antenna.

All this might have left a weaker person permanently bent and broken. But not Rexanna, who’s made of sterner stuff.

She finished beauty school and launched a successful career, even opening her own shop. But that wasn’t enough for her. One day she told herself: “I’m done with hair. I’m out of here. I’m going to college.”

And she did just that, earning an MA in mental health counseling from Marshall University.

Today, she lives in Milton with her second husband, Charley, a retired Huntington firefighter. There, she tends to her 20-pound special-needs cat, Skeeter, and raises a rich array of flower and vegetable gardens.

And sometimes she looks at an old photograph of her young self — a little girl who, growing up, refused to let tragedy defeat her.

Shumaker will sign her book from noon-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Inner Geek at Pullman Square in downtown Huntington. “Daughter of Life’s Longing: An Appalachian Journey” (Mid-Atlantic Highlands, an imprint of Publishers Press, $14.99) can be purchased at the Red Caboose, the Inner Geek, the Capital Market in Charleston, from amazon.com or directly from the author at ross13@marshall.edu.

James E. Casto is the retired associate editor of The Herald-Dispatch and the author of a number of books on local and regional history.

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