Fifty years ago, I was on the outside looking in. A young man in awe of a state knit so tightly and beautifully – a place whose people are so closely connected but welcomed me and shared their treasured home.
A place where the mountains touch the heavens and dirt roads lead to home. Suppertime is family time and neighbors always give with both hands.
Where summers mean 4-H camp and sugar maples glow in the fall. Winters test resilience and the sound of spring peepers bring us joy.
It’s a place where glass is blown and handmade quilts get blue ribbons. Buckets of blackberries end up in cobblers. Ramps have their own festival and buckwheat does too.
Where doors are held open and smiles are shared generously. Where we call friends “aunts” and “uncles” because they’re just like our own.
A state whose pride wells with the crack of the Mountaineer’s musket. Who cherishes a university that grew strong out of impossible tragedy.
It’s where John Denver sang of misty moonshine and Rocket Boys reached the sky.
Where we know the sound of train whistles and the smell of newly-baled hay in the sun.
Where we raft our rapids and fish our streams. Hike our trails and ski snow-covered slopes. Climb our peaks and camp in valleys.
It’s a state where weddings are planned around football schedules and prayers said every night. Kids catch bugs in mason jars and know the state song by heart.
Where friendly small towns make us proud and front porches have swings.
Where veterans are hometown heroes and patriotism means more than waving a flag.
It’s a place where hard work is marked by empty coffee thermoses and coarsely stained hands.
Where coal lives beneath our land and underpins a way of life. Steel has been forged and helped build a whole nation.
Where struggle doesn’t mean defeat; it inspires us to fight harder. Where tough times bind us together and we shout our successes from the mountaintops.
It’s a peaceful place where the mountains hold us close and the view from our window reminds us we’re part of a larger story – of something special.
We ache for it when we’re away. And we smile when the words “Wild and Wonderful” greet us at the state line.
On West Virginia’s birthday, I am thankful for my state. I found myself at her potlucks and in her hollows. I found my life’s passion, a call to public service, in her people – work I am deeply grateful to have done for 50 of her 150 years.
I found my forever home.