Thursday, June 20, 2013

West Virginia Day

Shawn -

When I was in third grade I found out that my cousins in Ohio didn't celebrate West Virginia Day.

It seems silly now, but when I was a kid West Virginia Day was a big deal in my community. People were off work and there were special things that happened around town. The radio station would play "My West Virginia Hills" and people would sing along. A nine year old kid thinks the whole world is just like the part of the world immediately around him, so I thought West Virginia Day was something that people all over the country celebrated. It never seemed strange to me that we didn't celebrate Ohio Day, because I'd been to Ohio and it was nothing special to my eyes. I had been taught my whole life that West Virginia was indeed something special and so I thought it was logical that the whole world would pause on June 20th and observe the momentous occasion of its founding.

"We're the most northern southern state," my mother told me, "and the most southern northern state; the most eastern western state and the most western eastern state." Surely that alone was a designation that was worthy of a national holiday, I thought.

And my eyes could see the beauty that was all around me, and in my travels to other states I had never seen anything as wonderful as Cranberry Glades, Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley, Spruce Knob, Seneca Rocks, Summersville Lake or a dozen other places that I had seen as a young child. I was certain that the state we lived in was a blessed gift to the world and it was worthy to be celebrated.

It was only after I became a young adult that I began to realize that West Virginia was not universally loved and appreciated. At some point I began to realize that people from other places mistook our unique way of speaking for ignorance. They mistook our simple lifestyle for abject poverty. They mistook our preference for staying in West Virginia to find a way to make a living for lack of ambition. And with all of these mistaken presumptions came a negative view of our people and by association, our state.

But I know better, and so do most West Virginians. While some of our own people buy into this fatalistic self-view, I believe that many more of us are quietly counting our blessings that come with living in a place so richly blessed with beautiful natural resources and wonderful people. We grouse about our politicians like people do in every state in the union, and we wax nostalgically for the good old days like people do everywhere. But at the end of the day there is no place we'd rather live and that is why we stay.

If people around this country were allowed to see the real West Virginia, I'd bet they all really would celebrate this day.

Happy 150th, my beloved homeland.

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