For 150th birthday, West Virginians share why they cherish life here
CHARLESTON – West Virginia, my home, happy 150th birthday. You are not perfect but I love you anyway.
I love your birth from rebellion. I love the story of your secession from a secession.
I love how you got your start on the right side of morality.
I love the image of Abraham Lincoln walking corridors in his nightgown and fretting about your existence.
Were you Constitutional? I’m not sure, but you were the right thing to do.
I love your crazy shape. No one would mistake you for a square.
What is that shape called, anyway? I say it is an Appalachalese Infinitangle.
I love how you don’t quite fit in among the states around you. Are you north or south? Are you Midwestern or mid-Atlantic?
Who cares? Anyone wanting to pin you down is welcome to walk across the mountains for a quick debate.
I love how your very existence is a test of geography and history for so many of the unenlightened. “Is that near Richmond?” Why, yes it is – sort of.
I love how “Country Roads” misses some facts but captures your spirit.
I love your motto. “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” So true.
You are West Virginia, and you are unique. And if you are from West Virginia, then you are unique, too.
I love the can-do country spirit of flying ace Chuck Yeager and the deadly aim of basketball icon Jerry West.
I love that rascal Randy Moss and the big-smiling charm of Mary Lou Retton – that perfect 10.
Speaking of weird, I love state politics.
I miss the days when we had a senator who played the fiddle and a Congressman who liked to clog.
I like having a governor who eats barbecue and rides an all-terrain vehicle.
I like seeing my congresswoman at Kroger. I love that we are small enough that this happens.
I love how we are too small to honk angrily in traffic or to toss rude gestures at each other. (Usually.)
I have no favorite in the debate over official state food.
I love it all – those pungent ramps (awesome in potatoes and eggs), the delightfully portable pepperoni roll and a hot dog – yes – with slaw. I love Grandma’s half-runner beans cooking all day in a pot. I believe I just described the most perfect meal.
West Virginia, thank you for being a comfort.
I love the idea that within easy distance of home I could go skiing, whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and hunting – although most of the time I don’t.
Our state inspires people to jump off a bridge into a gorge – and that’s considered a good thing.
I love traveling far from home and unexpectedly encountering a West Virginian. For we are family.
I love coming home from a long trip and having the gold dome of your Capitol greet me.
West Virginia, you are not heaven. But without a doubt you are almost heaven.
Happy birthday, and here’s to 150 more.
— Brad McElhinny, a native of Parkersburg, is the editor-publisher of the Charleston Daily Mail
Grateful for W.Va. friends
In 1999 my husband and I moved to the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. He had recently retired from the space industry and we had lived our whole adult lives in the Washington, D.C. area and Houston, Texas and we were looking forward to a new phase of our life and learning new things in a community that we had very few ties.
We bought a house just on the Jefferson-Berkeley border and over the next 14 years developed deep ties to the entire panhandle region. Business ownership, community commitment and service organization membership was, indeed, a new phase but we found eager new friends, customers and allies. When my husband died in 2006, I was comforted by so many that it made me acutely aware that we had found a very good home. Last year I relocated to Florida but maintain very deep and committed ties to my West Virginia friends.
The first time I drove to Charleston, I was delighted with the vistas. A trip to Elkins was equally exhilarating. The New River Gorge, the path along the Potomac in Shepherdstown — every place I have had the privilege to view stirs something deep within me.
West Virginia is “almost heaven” and when you live far away from it, it really is “heaven” when you return.
– Barbara Bradley owned a quilting shop and volunteered for the non-profit Good News Mountain Garage before retiring to Ormand Beach, Fla.
Something good from war
I hate the Civil War although I recognize many amazing and positive things came out of it, including West Virginia. Without the Civil War we would be stateless. Or worse. We would be an exploited colony of Virginians.
Ours is a most ancient land, some of the oldest on the planet. Our slice in the east is the edge of Atlantis that slammed against the former inland sea, scrunching it into a rippling sheet of jumbled mountains and careening hollers. In spite of this natural age, West Virginia is young in statehood. More than half the country — all the east and south, including Texas, plus California and Oregon — were states before us.
West Virginia began life as the western expanses of the cradle of American civilization — Virginia. The Eastern Continental Divide served as marker point for early treaties between English colonists and the tribes of the Six Nations. The Alleghenies were the first mountains to be conquered, and West Virginia was America’s first frontier. Then came the Civil War, or the War of Northern Aggression as it’s known in various nooks and crannies of the state. Ripped away from rebelling Virginia as political punishment, West Virginia bears the scars of a child of divorce. The animated Virginia dandy in the prize-winning film “Gilligan’s Appalachia” defines the relationship between the two states: “you’ll be the butt of our jokes forever.”
Astrologically a Gemini, West Virginia exhibited the duality of that sign in much of its early state history. There were two Constitutional Conventions, two votes for liberation and a capital city that couldn’t make up its mind. First the capital was Wheeling, then it was Charleston, back to Wheeling, and finally in 1887, Charleston. Not only is the state’s name made up of two words, but it was the second name given. The proposed state’s working title was Kanawha until replaced during the second Constitutional Convention. Even today there seem to be two West Virginias — the one we experience living here and the one the world thinks it knows.
There are interesting days ahead. West Virginia appears more and more as a safe haven. Many “come home” over the next year, either literally returning to their native state or arriving home for the first time. It will get increasingly difficult to describe West Virginia in words but everyone will feel it. Celebrate 150 years on June 20. Begin the next century and a half on June 21.
— Jeanne Mozier’s book: “Way Out in West Virginia: A must-have guide to the oddities and wonders of the Mountain State” is available from wvbooks.com. An e-edition of the book is scheduled for release in September. Jeanne lives and works in Berkeley Springs.
Saying goodbye is tough
Just over two weeks ago, I left West Virginia to start a new job in New York. I miss my home state very much and am more aware now than ever that it will always be a special place to me. I had the rural upbringing that so many West Virginians can claim: farm, family, lots of friends.
I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood and am so blessed to have learned the lessons that came from growing up where I did. Life wasn’t always easy – helping out on the farm, picking peaches, baling hay and tending to my father’s garden were just a few of my many chores. But from those tasks sprang a great work ethic that I share with my fellow mountaineers along with the realization that good neighbors are never too tired or busy to lend a hand.
I never took for granted the natural beauty of West Virginia and knew even as a kid that this must be the prettiest place on Earth. Surrounded by majestic hills of blue in the summer, large fields of green and tall trees, I always anticipated the beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red that autumn unveiled. Even in the cold of winter, I loved the snow-blanketed hills and the peaceful stillness of my home.
What I appreciate most about West Virginia is the sense of community that is so palpable across the state. People care about each other and seek out opportunities to make the load lighter or the path a little brighter for those around them. Generations ago, the people of central Appalachia learned to depend on each other for survival; I am so proud that this culture of kindness and selfless giving still courses through the place I know and love.
— Matthew Barney grew up in Berkeley County and worked in Jefferson County until moving to Cobleskill, N.Y.
W.Va. family tree expands
Ask me where I am from and I’ll say Maryland; I was a Balti-moron: I sat out on the stoop as a boy and rooted for Boog Powell and Brooks and Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer, and ate steamed crabs and snuck sips of my father’s Natty Bo when he wasn’t looking and I’d walk out onto the frozen Back River in winter to retrieve trinkets trapped in the ice and I knew all the great hiding places at Fort McHenry. But who were my kin? Well, that was another matter.
A trip to West Virginia was a visit with kin. A trip to the Potomac Highlands or to the Northern Panhandle was a car ride of several hours, our destination only made real by the gradual rise of mountains; they and the darkness of hours would enfold my sister and me encamped in the backseat as we made our way toward this wild and mysterious place.
The journey to Preston County took us to see our great-grandmother, Lulu, mother of my mother’s father, Thomas Grimes, great-great grandson of another Thomas Grimes, the one who’d crossed into the Ohio Valley from Pennsylvania and who’d taken to raising a peculiar golden pippin he’d found growing on land he’d bought in the 1790s near Wellsburg, the original name of which was Charlestown. Grimes apparently bought the apple’s seeds from John “Appleseed” Chapman or it was Chapman who had planted the tree when he worked for the farm’s previous owner, Edward Crawford, years earlier. Nevertheless, the little golden apple has put the family’s name into the history books.
Grimes’ great-grandson, Archibald, was no apple picker. He made his living tuning pianos and in his retirement he had bought a mountain in Preston County where he’d built a small cabin on a hump of earth under a canopy of trees and took to raising blackberries.
As a boy, this cabin and the mountain and the farm down the lane held me in thrall. A dirt road at the bottom of the mountain that rose sharply into its veil of trees might as well have been no part of this Earth, indeed, to me it was not — to me it seemed as if to rise up the mountain along the cranky, rutted lane was to step into a magic wardrobe, or to climb a giant beanstalk, to arc sharply into the night sky toward Neverland; that tree-shrouded mountain to where the cabin rested on its far side seemed to hang suspended from the Earth like a floating ship of dreams, a magic, holy place.
Of course, it wasn’t. Returning years later, I saw my boyhood playground for what it was — one of several wooded mountains that rose above a grid of fields and one-lane roads and furrowed streams just a little past U.S. 50, with a dirt lane carved ziggurat-like into it, farms beside it separated by fences.
And I was just a visitor there.
But, just this month, Christine and I welcomed into our expanding brood its most recent member, Laura-Elyse Caroline. She’s all of 20 inches long and 8 pounds heavy, born June 5, the same day 165 years earlier that that first Thomas Grimes passed from this world, and she’s all West Virginian, the child of a Musselman High grad (with its Red Delicious apple mascot) and a scion of this state’s oldest apple family, like her grandmom is and her father, Thomas Grimes, and every Thomas Grimes before her.
These apples don’t roll so far after all.
— Robert Snyder is the editor of the Spirit of Jefferson
West Virginia is nothing if not a dual-natured state. On one hand, it was during the “War between the States” that a dedicated, wily few decided to form a new free-leaning state – finally wresting unsuspecting Eastern Panhandle slavery-leaning counties from the Old Dominion by hook or by crook to secure the railroads heading west.
On the other, it is the state where, in 1898, an African-American attorney, J.R. Clifford, successfully argued before the West Virginia Supreme Court on behalf of an African-American teacher, Carrie Williams, that racial discrimination was illegal – the first such ruling in United States’ history.
There are bucolic pastures and leisurely flowing rivers along with sharply descending and precipitous cliffs. Even its name, “West Virginia” is somewhat duplicitous. The word “west” suggests a forward-thinking state, yet its name retains the colonial heritage of Virginia. The state’s motto “Montani semper liberi” or “Mountaineers Are Always Free” could also indicate dual meaning. Upon the state’s formation, were mountaineers free from something or free to do something? I prefer the latter. You may fight to become free from something, yet find yourself in a predicament you didn’t anticipate.
Aspiring to be free to do something opens up possibilities. That aspiration, the dream to do something other than what had come before, to break with comfortable traditions and a way of life, the jump into the future in the midst of a Civil War, speaks volumes about the state. From my front porch I can hear those lonesome trains, and reflect upon what they represent. A state cut within and from the mountains, forging a future for itself that is still being realized.
Many made sacrifices for the state – the price for which is lost in the mists of time.