Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy birthday, West Virginia!

I'm not a native Mountaineer, but my dad was born in Huntington, so I'm halfway there. My husband, who was born 12 miles from our current home, is a full-blooded native son. Hershey was born in Kentucky but we call her a West Virginia Brown Dog anyway.

West Virginia attained statehood on this date 151 years ago. It's a state holiday – county courthouses and state government offices are closed to celebrate West Virginia's independence from the Confederacy.

Huh?

Yes, it's true, despite the Confederate flags you'll see adorning front pick-up truck bumpers and flying in front yards around here. Virginia was part of the original Confederate states, but union sympathizers in the western part of the state worked valiantly to break away when the Civil War began, finally succeeding – and seceding – in 1863.

The Rev. J.T. McClure offered the state's inaugural prayer 151 years ago:
We pray Thee, almighty God, that this State, born amidst tears and blood and fire and desolation, may long be preserved and from its little beginning may grow to be a might and a power that shall make those who come after us look upon it with joy and gladness and pride of heart.
That didn't exactly happen, now, did it?

I'd love for West Virginia's reputation to grow to meet those lofty expectations, but it hasn't happened yet. We're making progress, certainly, and we have so much to offer. Tourists come for the rivers and mountains and fishing and hunting, but they leave because, while West Virginia is a great place to retire, it's not exactly an area families flock to when looking for job opportunities.

That's changing, though. West Virginia has the 3rd fastest growing economy in the country. That's pretty cool, and if you're on the outside looking in it may be hard to believe. And, frankly, it doesn't much look that way here in the southern part of the state. But some areas are booming – Bridgeport/Clarksburg, Huntington, the Eastern Panhandle – and that's good for the general economic outlook.

We make up for our lack of jobs with an abundance of natural scenic beauty. The West Virginia Hills, one of our four state songs, could have been written about Summers County, where I live. (Honestly? I thought Almost Heaven was the state song when I first moved here. Took them until this year to make that happen!)

I don't know how much longer it will take for the rest of the country to not stereotype West Virginia. You know what I mean, right? I don't have to go into detail. I'm originally from Ohio, and I know how I used to view my neighbor to the south.

When my dad died, in an emergency room in Princeton, WV, one of the nurses comforted me by saying he really must have loved West Virginia, seeing as how he was born here and chose to die just nine miles from the southern border, on his way back to his then-home in Florida.

He really did love this state. And I'm really learning to.

Happy birthday, West Virginia. Montani! Semper! Liberi! Mountaineers are always free!

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