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Greenbrier Co Mask Mandate

Downtown Lewisburg

On Oct. 16, I drove to West Virginia from my home near Richmond, Virginia, to visit the grave of my mother, Sharon, who died in 1987 and my step-father, Carrington, who died in 2014.

While visiting both graves was emotional and sad, I was shocked to see the state of my native West Virginia.

Arriving in Lewisburg around noon, I stopped at Walmart to purchase flowers. Of course, Walmart, and Lewisburg proper, were very busy. Driving from Lewisburg to Pence Springs was an empty experience. From Lewisburg to Alderson, I literally passed one car. In Alderson, I saw but a single vehicle.

From Alderson to Pence Springs, not a single vehicle. From Pence Springs to Clayton, one vehicle. From Clayton to Judson, one vehicle. After stopping at the Elk Knob Church cemetery, I then drove on to Hinton, where I saw two cars on the way.

In Hinton, I saw a single moving vehicle. One.

From Hinton to the on-ramp of Interstate 64E at Sandstone, two cars.

A Saturday afternoon, in Southern West Virginia, and nearly no one, outside of Lewisburg, out and about.

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That wasn’t all that was shocking. I saw many tattered and faded Trump flags. I even saw Confederate flags (remember, West Virginia separated from Virginia and was loyal to the U.S. Constitution).

I can only imagine that people, since not out and about, were inside consuming social media, where they are fed an endless stream of lies, conspiracies and hate. The political shift of West Virginia is shocking, in comparison to the times I recall growing up there.

When I moved to West Virginia in the mid-1970s, the state was known for having some of the worst roads in the nation. At least that hasn’t changed. Many of the roads I traveled were in awful condition. In addition, I saw many of the scars of the “pipeline to nowhere,” including through the farm I grew up on, that now crisscrosses the state.

My home has changed, and not for the better. At both cemeteries I visited, there are past generations from my mother’s and step-father’s families who would not recognize what West Virginia has become.

Of course, things change, but the values I remember growing up with should still matter. How a state can support a former president who did nothing for the people of West Virginia still baffles me. How we continue to put politicians in place to crow the virtues of the dying coal industry and not pursue other options, amazes me (and not in a good way). How opposition to an infrastructure plan that would improve the highways and byways of West Virginia, while creating good-paying jobs and economic stimulus for the entire country is beyond explanation to me.

My trip to West Virginia was hard, and not just because of visiting the graves of my deceased family members. It was hard to see what we have allowed ourselves to become. I saw little hope. That was the hardest part of it all to accept.

John A. Ellis, of Petersburg, Virginia, is a Hinton High School and Marshall University graduate. He served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 2015, retiring with the rank of colonel.

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