west virginiaHappy Birthday Mountain State!

I was born in West Virginia, and lived there until I completed medical school in 1990.  My wife comes from a family of coal-miners, proud and solid.  My ancestors were there as far back as the late 1700s, well before it was a state and when it was still a wilderness, full of opportunity and peril.  They were subsistence farmers.  Though I live elsewhere now, a piece of my heart always beats for home.

So, today, I wish West Virginia a Happy Birthday!  I am proud of my home state.  And I’ll tell you why.  It’s people are durable.  They have faced battles and disease, natural disaster and economic devastation, socialism and corrupt politicians, abusive employers and reckless unions,  and yet, they go on.  They have provided natural resources for the nation, most notably in the form of coal;  and they have suffered in that endeavor as well.  They died from lung disease and accidents, and they were treated as little more than indentured servants for much of their history.

They are patriotic.  West Virginians serve America in time of need, and they win decorations for valor. They don’t shrink from a fight, even if it is a losing one.  We may even like those better.  Deep sorrow lives in our hearts, and gives us odd comfort.

My people in West Virginia are predominantly Scotch-Irish, and they love sad songs and beautiful stories.  They love children, good food and drink.

West Virginians are people of faith, who are not ashamed to use shocking, hurtful words like God, Jesus, sin, grace, heaven and hell.  My home-town of Huntington was once called ‘The City of Churches.’  They are not afraid of what we believe, even if others are.

And they are undaunted by the jokes that are among the few remaining acceptable stereotypes in America today.  You can’t insult anyone:   gay, black, Asian or otherwise.  But everyone laughs at an inbred hillbilly joke, don’t they?  ‘Did you marry your sister?  Do you have all your teeth?’

Well, we could care less.  We’re tougher than the ones telling the jokes, and we aren’t afraid to say so.

West Virginia is also a land of immense beauty.  I can still see the mountains in my mind, and hear the wind blowing snow through the trees as I played in the woods as a child.  I can hear the creek over rocks, and feel the humid air, buzzing with insects in the summer when I mowed our lawn.  I can still smell honeysuckle and rain.  West Virginia is still a place where the wilderness is sufficiently vast to be lost, and dangerous. And we need dangerous places, in my estimation.

I may never live there again; only God knows the future.  But wherever I am, I will always be a West Virginian.  My heart will always beat a little for the hills, valleys and rivers.  And for the juxtaposition of delight and sadness that always lives under the surface of hill-people.

My home has struggles yet to face.  Economic and political struggles for freedom and commerce.  Educational struggles to liberate her youth and yet keep them coming home to build and renew, to populate and seize a beautiful state from the hands of those who would drag her into dependency and despondency.  Legal and social struggles, to throw off generations of entitlement and drug abuse.  But it can be done!  Because West Virginians are capable, even if their leaders have lost their way for a while.

So Happy Birthday home! You can keep your urban sprawl, your Ivy League, your progressive, intrusive coastal cities.  You can keep your snooty arrogance about Appalachia.

I am from West Virginia.  And I always will be.

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