Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Nice Place To Visit (but I'm glad I wasn't born there)

If you know me at all, you know I am a proud West Virginian. Some of my ancestors fought with the Union Army during the Civil War that created my home state. I’ve written before about my strong attachment to my native state, and how, despite its troubles, it will always be near and dear to my heart. From Hancock County in the north to McDowell County in the south, from Kenova at the western point to Harper's Ferry at the eastern point, I identify with the entire state.

However, my hometown is just across the river from the state of Ohio. I came close to being an Ohioan, and not just due to my proximity to the border. My father’s family spent time living in Ohio during the Depression and World War II (my grandmother served as a “Rosie the Riveter” building F-4 Corsair fighter planes in Akron), but thankfully they came home to West Virginia after the war. Had they stayed in Akron, my parents would have never met and I’d never have been born. Some other version of my father’s son would have likely been born in the Buckeye state.

Indeed, the industrial base of Akron was a prime destination for West Virginians looking for work for the first half of the 20th century. In my grandparent’s era, there was an old adage that the “Three R’s” taught in West Virginia schools were “readin’, ‘ritin’, and Route 21”--which was the road that led north to Akron and Cleveland. Once the northern part of I-77 was finished in the '70s, old two-lane U.S. Route 21 was demoted from being a U.S. Route, and became West Virginia Route 14 from Charleston to Parkersburg, as well as Route 821 in Ohio. [I saw a form of this same outward migration during my lifetime. After the completion of the southern part of Interstate 77 (and with air conditioning making the south more hospitable), Charlotte became a prime destination for West Virginians wanting better jobs.]

Ohio has some good things about it, and I certainly enjoy visiting and doing things there. Athens is a cool college town little more than half an hour away that reminds me of Morgantown (before the expansion WVU has experienced since I graduated). There are lots of interesting restaurants and stores, a top-notch film festival each spring, plus an ice rink and a hockey team. Halloween is a huge holiday there—we went once just to observe the creative costumes. I also wrote in my blog last fall about my first Ohio University football game and the talented Marching 110 band. As with any major college campus, there are always tons of interesting activities going on there.

Columbus has always been the closest major city to my hometown, and I can remember a few trips there back in the ‘60s. I also remember Dad listening to radio WTVN 610 AM (I think it was one of those 50,000 watt radio stations that could be heard in West Virginia) in the car sometimes. In my adult life, it has become a favorite weekend destination, with tons of interesting activities. Our favorite, of course, is the good folks at Shadowbox Live, which is hard to describe, but a bit like Saturday night live, except with more music between the skits ( Other favorite landmarks include COSI, the Columbus Zoo, the Santa Maria, the Art Museum, the Franklin Conservatory, etc. Ameriflora in 1992—a celebration of Columbus’s voyages 500 years earlier—was phenomenal.

Cincinnati and Cleveland are a longer drive, but each of these two metropolitan areas has their own unique attractions, such as the Underground Railroad Museum and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (just to name one—of many—from both). Dayton (Air Force Museum), Akron (Inventors Museum), and Canton (Football Hall of Fame) are other interesting cities. Put-in-Bay gives a tropical island feel even though it has Lake Erie weather. Although not located in major cities, the outdoor dramas “Blue Jacket” and “Tecumseh,” as well as the Ohio Renaissance Festival, the Hocking Hills area, and “the Wilds,” have been very entertaining. Finally, the sports fan inside me has to mention that I’ve been to Browns, Reds, and Blue Jackets games, in addition to races at about a dozen oval tracks around Ohio as well as NHRA events at National Trail Dragstrip.

What I’m trying to say is that Ohio has a lot going for it. If nothing else, at least people know it really is a state (some folks are too dumb to understand that West Virginia is its own state). Despite Ohio’s current economic problems (that everyone seems to be facing), it is still a prosperous and progressive state. Ohio often figures prominently in national politics and was the home of several presidents. It has always been a powerful state, with major league sports teams, and a perennial NCAA championship contender with the Ohio State Buckeyes. It seems that OSU has hardly ever suffered a losing season, especially in football.

While all of these things are wonderful, and the list should be even longer, the fact remains that I am glad I am a West Virginian. I am so thankful that the strong bonds to family and to these hills called my father’s family back to West Virginia after the war. Plus, I’m thankful that my mom’s side of the family had long been entrenched here—and it is through her that I have the two ancestors who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War to help create the state of West Virginia. Had the Confederates been victorious, the fledgling state of West Virginia would no doubt have been given back to the politicos in Richmond.

Much of my personality—my inner psyche—is tied to my native state, and the lack of full respect I feel it deserves. How many times do we have to be the punchline for a TV comedian, or be lumped into Virginia by some clueless sportscaster? I don’t know what it would have been like to have been raised in a state like Ohio that was seen as an important state. I’m especially glad I didn’t grow up in the flat regions of Ohio—flat land still makes me a bit nervous. Give me some hills for security!

I’m glad I grew up in a rural state, with lots of scenic beauty. If I want metropolitan areas and the cultural diversions they provide, they can be driven to when needed. In the meantime, I’ll stick to the West Virginia hills and the comfort they provide. Our citizens may not be the most educated or the most affluent, but there is an innate goodness within the vast majority of them.

And I’ll keep cheering for the Mountaineers, whether they are winning or losing, because that WV logo represents me. Losing seasons just make you appreciate the winning ones even better. There are good life lessons that come from the pain of defeat (or of disrespect), and I feel I had the chance to learn a lot over the years. It is just part of that "chip on the shoulder" that most of us carry. West Virginians have always had to fight a little harder than everyone else to prove we belong, going all the way back to our birth as a state (see my previous essay at It is who we are—and I am glad I am one, instead of a Buckeye.

That's me standing next to some of West Virginia's majestic natural beauty.  This is just one of a series of waterfalls along Deckers Creek near Morgantown.  It is a wild, wonderful state!


  1. Having lived in Fenzel House on the South Green at Ohio University, I guess I'm part Buckeye. I LOVE Cleveland -- and we're scheduled to watch the Yankees play the Indians in late August. However, what's somewhat better than that (now that my beloved Mariano Rivera is injured for what may, is knowing that I'll get to see the holy Rickenbacker guitars played by Geo. Harrison. Cleveland ROCKS!

  2. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.