West Virginia is turning 150, and true to form, many Mountain State residents will be celebrating.
Thirty years ago, I would have rolled my eyes and questioned why anyone would care about a state’s birthday.
But thirty years ago, I didn’t know West Virginia.
At the time, I was a shy, awkward adolescent trying to recover from culture shock after my parents moved our family from Oregon to West Virginia.
I was truly baffled when complete strangers acted as though they already knew us. I understood common courtesy, but West Virginians were truly friendly to everyone.
I argued that the nickname Mountain State was inappropriate. To me, real mountains reached higher than 10,000 feet and were snow-covered all year. You couldn’t convince me that the steep hills were ancient mountains that were worn but wise with age.
And I was afraid I would pick up the distinct West Virginia accent that television and movie actors never get quite right.
Yet at some point, despite my resolution not to become attached to West Virginia, that accent began to grow on me.
West Virginia had befriended me by charming me with its character, its beauty and, most of all, its history. As a state born out of the Civil War when it seceded from Virginia, its residents have never forgotten what the motto “Mountaineers are Always Free” really means.
I may never understand the appeal of a pepperoni roll, why anyone would want coleslaw on a hot dog or the allure of the smell of ramps, but I will always be awed by the New River Gorge Bridge, the gold dome of the state capitol building and the eery beauty of Dolly Sods.
Living in the narrow strip of land between Maryland and Virginia, I often cross state lines several times a week. Yet every time I cross back into West Virginia, I always break into song. John Denver wasn’t from West Virginia either, but “Country Roads” expresses the feelings of so many who call the Mountain State home.
It may not be Happy Birthday, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be singing those lyrics tomorrow.