Someone left me a voicemail the other day.
He deemed my column a drag, a knock on our fair state. I think I know what he meant, basically. The only other thing I remember was, “If you hate West Virginia so much, why don’t you leave?”
My column dealt with the stridently liberal denizens of Portland, Oregon, and how we might do well to emulate them in certain, very specific ways. They are pure nuts in others.
I don’t hate West Virginia. Or Charleston. There is a comfort and a proud identity that comes from being here. You belong to a club if you live here, no matter how many people are leaving it and how few are trying to join. There is an odd bonding agent at work when you’ve been part of collective verbal abuse your entire life.
So, in honor of my favorite holiday, let me tell you why I’m thankful for the only place I’ve ever lived.
- Lack of pretension. Only a few of us have any real money, so there is little need to posture or preen. Another place might be too prosperous to be interesting. It’d be nice to have a nice suburban home outside a big city — maybe — but it all seems so white-bread boring. Falling in line with conformity. Joining this and that to fit in. West Virginians don’t do that.
- No one to impress. Exceedingly normal people with money don’t get me, nor I them. They bore me. They’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. I love to watch good acting but only on stage or screen.
- Shared inferiority. Deep down, many of us were raised poor or close to it, or from difficult family backgrounds. We carry some shame, although no one likes to talk about it. It’s not all innate. It comes from the daily, monthly, year-by-year, incessant message reminding us we are poor, isolated, irrelevant and undereducated. It’s a vicious cycle. The more you hear, the more you believe. Yet we go on.
- Mountains. I never know how much these hills mean to me until the rare occasion I’m somewhere else. In Indiana several years ago, I felt like the roach I surprised in college when I got up to get a middle-of-the-night drink of water. Give me cover! It was all boring and flat, with nothing to block the light. And, to be honest, Southern Indiana can’t make fun of us much.
- Holding doors. That simple gesture makes me feel good. Heck, some West Virginians will do a long-distance door hold. They see you from 10 yards away and keep that sucker open. You’re obliged to break into a trot.
- Kindness. This occurs after we trust you. We assume you’re not like us, because ...
- who is? If we think you’re here because you like it and want to be, you’ll find a home.
- Lack of people. Yeah, I’m always pining for the days when folks swarmed on Capitol Street and packed Laidley Field, but if you’re going to make lemonade out of lemons, Charleston is handy these days.
It’s part of me, all the contradictions here. I can be kind or gruff; closed-minded, open-minded; trusting at times, suspicious at others; able to let things roll off me one day and upset me the next; and so on. If I could eliminate the negatives, I’m sure life might be a little smoother — same goes for our state.
So, Happy Thanksgiving, fellow West Virginians. Be thankful to God, or whoever you thank, that we have what we have.
We have cool towns, such as Hinton, which, unfortunately, has a pesky sinkhole at work. Wondrous nature. An economy showing signs of life, even if it is in other parts of the state.
So eat and have fun Thursday. It’s just another day, but they slip away at the same rate, whether you’re in the southern coalfields of West Virginia or the haughty environs of Greenwich, Connecticut.