Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Birthday West Virginia!

On this date (sort of--look it up) 152 years ago, West Virginia seceded from Virginia back into the United States, thus becoming its own state. Sadly, many people don't seem to realize that little tidbit of history. If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked if I live near Richmond, I would have a lot of nickels. Definitely enough to buy an atlas to prove to these people who ironically love to joke about how dumb and backwards West Virginians that we are, indeed a state of our very own. We aren't the western part of Virginia. We are our own state and we are, justifiably proud. So today, I want to make some observations. These aren't those interesting facts you'll often find on Facebook or anything. They're just my own ruminations.

We're one state, but we have multiple personalities. We are proud of our singularity and unity, but each region of West Virginia is somewhat unique. In many ways that is because we are part of multiple regions of the country. My part of West Virginia is in the Mid-Ohio Valley, right across the river from Ohio and is, as such, part of the Midwest. The northern panhandle and just below the Mason-Dixon Line (look it up) tends to gravitate north toward Pennsylvania, specifically Pittsburgh. The southwestern part of the state, including Huntington and Charleston is part of the southeast and tends to identify with Kentucky. The southeastern part of the state is so much a part of the Virginia part of the south that there are actually tracts of land that are still to this day the matter of a conflict between the two states as to which state they are actually in. The eastern panhandle is firmly in the Mid Atlantic, identifying with northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland.  It kind of proves the old saw that we are the most northern of the southern states, the most southern of the northern states, most eastern of the western states and most western of the eastern states. Notice I didn't mention central West Virginia. That's because that's the part of the state that is most truly its own state. That's where all the high mountains and misty hollows--or, as we say here, hollers--are that everyone who isn't from West Virginia thinks of when they think of our state. Kind of like how people tend to think of Manhattan when they think of New York City. Only way different. 

Kind of related to that, despite the popular misconception, there is no one "West Virginia Accent." People who meet me and find out where I'm from invariably express surprise that I have no discernible accent. Though it's not 100% true, where in the state you're from will predict your accent. I have to admit, though, that I went to school with kids who, even though they were only from the far southern end of Wood County, had more of an accent than I do. But go south and you'll definitely hear that southern drawl, though it's not quite the same as you'll hear in, say Georgia or Mississippi. It has a taste all its own. Kind of like the difference between clover honey and orange blossom honey. They're both sweet, but still unique unto themselves. 

Despite all our regional flavors, when we leave the state, we're all one group. Last week I was in Louisville for the AP reading and started talking to someone from Princeton. Our Princeton, not the snooty one up north. If you know anything about geography, you know that Princeton and Parkersburg are about as far apart as they can be and still be in the same state. But we were each still excited to find a fellow mountaineer. At home, we may be heated regional sports rivals, but meet up somewhere else and it's, Hey--West Virginia!"

We are, in many ways, our own worst enemy. I'm talking about living down to the worst stereotypes people espouse about us. I'm talking about the drunken couch burning boneheads who too readily prove what many outside our beautiful state believe about us. But I'm also talking about the fact that, while tourism has the potential to be the lifeblood of our state, many, especially in the interior mountains, are beyond reticent to welcome visitors.Don't get me wrong--we are justifiably seen as a friendly people, but many would rather live in squalor than allow laws that make it easier to grow tourism in their region. 

Finally, and this is a fact, West Virginia is the best place in the world to be from and to live. I have so many students who say they can't wait to get out of here and never come back that it makes me sad. But many of them end up coming back--or never leaving. To me, where I live is the best of both worlds. We have that small town feel where everybody waves and is quick to help out a neighbor, but we're also never more than a two-hour drive from all the hustle and bustle we could ever wish for. I often joke that when I retire, it'll be to somewhere with an ocean view. But that's only partially true. I may go south for part of the year, but I'll never fully leave West Virginia--and it will never leave me.

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