Dear West Virginia

One Man's Dream

“One Man’s Dream” by Cheryl Tarrant. Used with permission.

This post is for anyone who has left home. I don’t mean to go to the grocery store or even for vacation. This is for folks who have packed their possessions, hugged their mammas and daddies, and pulled away from the curb with their cheeks wet and their eyes on the road because if they glance in the rearview mirror, they might not go. It’s for those who bookmark their hometown newspapers and like their native accents. It’s for the homesick, the diehards, people who would charter a plane or ride a mule, whatever it takes to go home at the holidays. This post is a love letter like no other. It comes from Jason Headley, today’s guest blogger.

*

Dear West Virginia,

I suppose this has been a long time coming. Looking back, it must have seemed abrupt. Twenty-two years we spent together, then I up and left with no real explanation. I probably owed you more than that. So I’ll try my best to explain it to you now.

We were perfect together at first, weren’t we? As a boy, I couldn’t have asked for a better playmate. Your hills and trees, your railroad tracks, rivers, and run-down factories. You could have killed me a dozen times, at least. I seemed to be asking for it. I was rough on you, but you gave as good as you got. My blood in your soil, your splinters and gravel under my skin. This is how we did it, becoming more and more of one another every single day.

I drew your initials in my notebooks in the sharp angles of the university logo. They weren’t just letters. They were you. I wore blue and gold, but those weren’t your only colors. You were green and white, too. Just like my Paden City Wildcats. You were orange and yellow and red, your hillsides alight with fire every autumn. You were the purple of the Ohio River, the sun’s last rays drawn deep. You were black, a night sky as endless as my imagination.

You were everything to me. My mom and my dad. My brother and my grandparents. My home and my school. All of my very first firsts. It was perfect while it lasted.

I wish I could tell you when things changed. That I could point to one moment. Maybe the first time I saw the ocean, standing there with my pant legs hiked to my knees, staring at the end of the earth. Maybe it was something I saw on television: a bionic man, a talking car, a chimpanzee sidekick, a girl in her underwear. Maybe it was the books, one of the stories that seemed so wild and strange and far beyond anything I could ever imagine happening while surrounded by the steadfastness of you.

That might be part of it. I knew, as sure as I knew anything, that you were never going to change. You’d spent lifetimes building mountains from flat, solid ground. You’d grown forests, had them taken from you, and grown them again. You were strong, stalwart, and set in the ways that worked for you. But I slowly began to realize they wouldn’t work for me.

I can’t actually think of a time beyond boyhood when I thought I was going to stay. It’s strange. Ungrateful, I suppose. You were the only thing I knew and somehow you weren’t enough. But my interests and ambitions grew beyond any realistic expectations. Far beyond the reach of your panhandles. And I suppose that changes a relationship forever.

The question is, did I begin to stand out because I knew I was going to leave? Or did I know I was going to leave because I was beginning to stand out? I fished your streams, but with little frequency and even less success. Friends and family stalked your forests for hours in the hope of bringing home deer, quail, squirrel. The interest never took with me. But there were bigger things. Ideals I didn’t recognize, some old-fashioned, some simply old. Disagreement with common-held beliefs. Those I saw as wrong-headed, and those I knew were just plain wrong. All of that combined to leave me somewhere in between. There, but not.

I know your state bird, your state flower, your state tree, your state animal. I know your state fish, for crying out loud. Every fiber of my being was forged, formed, and intricately woven by the experience of growing up with you: my basic values, my ingrained suspicions, my belief that good things can always happen to you, but don’t hold your breath.

You see, I’ve never had a problem being from West Virginia. I just had some difficulty being in West Virginia.

Still, now, the places we knew together are like songs to me. Just the names bring a flood of memories: Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley, Oil Ridge, Buck Run, Bickles Knob. And then the places that had no real title: the rope swing on the north end of town, the outfield of the far baseball diamond, the attic of my best friend’s house, and, of course, the few square feet of my bedroom. I papered those walls with dreams. That town. I sought your best places and poured endless meaning into some of your most ordinary corners. I did all of this, day after day, for over eight thousand days. And then, one day, it was time to go.

You probably didn’t see it, because my back was to you as I drove, but I cried when I left. And not just because I was in Kentucky. I cried because I missed you already. I cried because I’d never been away from you for longer than two weeks. I cried because I was afraid. Because if I wasn’t a West Virginian, then what was I?

I had a tape recorder on the front seat to capture thoughts as I drove, alone, toward a new life. This is what I said as I left you behind: “If California is half as good to me as West Virginia has been, I’m going to be in pretty good shape.”

And I was right. But a dozen years here has taught me just how wrong I was about something else. I never stopped being a West Virginian. There are some things that can’t be undone. Not by all the gods in all the heavens. Geography be damned.

The other day someone wrote to me and said, “I’ll be coming to your state next week.” And I thought, “I wonder why he’s going to West Virginia?” He wasn’t. He was coming to California. But I still, in my marrow, think of you as “my state.” I only hope you still think of me as your son.

I have grandparents and great-grandparents buried in your ground. I have family living in the curves of your hills. I have pieces of me scattered all across your land. And I have the best parts of you locked here in my heart.

Maybe that’s not enough. Maybe all these words can never explain away what I did. Maybe abandonment is too great a sin to be absolved. Maybe. But I like to think not.

I like to think all your countless years have given you unbridled understanding, the likes of which I’ll never understand. That on a cold autumn night when the air smells like burning leaves and small town football, you miss me a little, too. I like to think that when I come home, you’re as happy to see me as I am you. And that the few days we get to spend together each year are like a gift, a time machine. Proof that old friends never fade.

That’s what I like to think.

Forever yours,
Jason

Jason Headley tells stories.


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827 Comments

  • Joan Koppenhaver

    What a beautiful story. I am from Lykens, PA, 4 hours from Moragantown, WV. Our daughter just graduated (May 2015) from WVU with a BSN in Nursing, and works at Ruby Memorial. I am so proud to call our daughter’s alma matter, WVU. What a wonderful university! It saddens me to see the poverty, outside Morgantown. And with coal mines closing, it scares me for the future of West Virginians. Although I have, and I see the changes of seasons in PA, I have never seen a more majestic sight, than traveling RT 68 in October, to watch a WVU football game. Truly breathtaking! Wild and Wonderful West Virginia!

  • Jill Weese

    Jason, what a lovely tribute to “Our” wonderful state. There is a saying that I’m sure you have heard… ” you can take the guy out of WV but not the WV out of the guy” this was Awesome! God Bless! Ya’ll come on back now, ya hear?!!!

  • Joann B

    I lived the first 63 years of my life in beautiful “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia”. I, like, Jason have relocated in California… There are many things I like here…. the choices, the opportunities, the energy, etc. not available back home in WV. But I sure do miss the trees, the seasons, the hometown atmosphere and the friendly people. There’s nothing like sitting on your front porch, watching deer, turkey, squirrels, chipmunks cross to the creek and pastures on the other side of the hollow. Nothing will ever replace those “West Virginia Hills”. Moving can make you feel like a traitor, but it also opens doors to new adventures. My car has a WV magnetic emblem on the rear… The other day, a man in a truck was honking his horn, and motioning me over to the side….. Fearing I had a flat, I did stop. He was soooooooo excited to see my WV emblem. It turned out that he visits WV every summer for a family reunion at his grandmother’s…. and in the very same hometown… Fairmont. I proudly wear my WV clothing, here, and when traveling. So many times, even in Italy and Ireland, I have been spotted because of it, and had a friendly conversation with a fellow WV native…. it’s a small world out there. I will always be proud of my roots and heritage.

  • Lemoine Klug

    Enjoyed your article, thank you.

    We left Wheeling in 1986, lived in Michigan for 2 years then moved to Florida for 21 years. We were always West Virgians, proud to wear the WV shirts and jackets where ever we lived. Always had a come back for the jokes about being hillbillies or one leg shorter than the other.
    We met so many West Virgians in Florida, most were snowbirds always returning to The Hills in April. Most folks retire to the South in their senior years, we did the opposite, we returned to “Our State”. We had a choice of cities to move to with daughters living in Wheeling, Moundsville, Fairmont and Paden City. We chose the later, our son in law living there restored an old house and made it into a perfect retirement home. We love being back home after a long absence, the cold winters bring back memories of our youth. Back when we were kids and even in our early married lives we enjoyed the winters. Ice skating on Big Wheeling Creek or Oglebay Schenk Lake, sled riding until our hands and feet were numb then building a bon fire to warm them up.
    Our friends in Florida, most were from other states, they always got a history lesson on the difference between Virginia and West Virginia.
    It has been 7 years since we returned home, happy to be back!

  • B Hess

    I was not born or raised in West Virginis..I found her. My father was in the Navy so we moved often, I never had a place to answer the question “Where are you from?” Long story short..it is now where I am from. I have had a great life here, raised my children here, and this will be my resting place. Thank you so much for reminding me of her beauty.

  • Tami Toothman Beall

    Thank you for sharing your memories. I, too, am a West Virginian and I was 21 when I drove south to Carolina. I still crave pepperoni rolls from home; am crazy about football and the smell of burning leaves transport me back in time. I know I’m lucky to have had the chance to grow up in those hills. And 35 years later on a cool fall morning I can hear the mountains, calling me home.

  • Sharon Julian

    Relocated to Florida after 72 years in West Virginia. My heart will always be there even if I am not. Beautiful article

  • Mike Vincent

    I was born and raised in Lumberport. Whenever I have told people that then I to say it was about 7 miles northeast of Clarksburg. You know, just over yonder across the hill and you can take the new road across the hill and it will take you into town. Now, the new road isn’t a new road. it has been there darn near 60 years and before that it was just a old dirt road and nothing more. When they made the road there was a lot of dust and dirt and we used to go to the top of the hill and ride down through about 4 or 5 inches of dust. When we got to the bottom all you could see was teeth and eyeballs. Loved it.
    There were so many things to do in those hills surrounding Lumberport. I don’t know where to start. We were always into something. Didn’t sit in the house and watch TV or mess with the computer. We didn’t have any. No air conditioning, just open the doors and windows and let the air cool us off. Even left them open at night, we didn’t have to worry about people breaking into the house. Didn’t have anything they wanted anyway. Everybody knew what everybody else was doing in the whole town.
    Bicycles were the big transportation for us back then. We went everywhere on them. In the summer is was swimming and in the winter it was riding our sleds from the top of Jack Run road all the way to the bottom of the hill and tried to end up on main street down town. We did that on the new road also but we had to be careful because there were train tracks at the bottom. We would ride our bikes over to Prospect Valley and go swimming in what was left of a big hole where they had cut out for coal. Jones Run was a good place to find for swimming. Lots of strip jobs up there. Mostly we swam in the Ten Mile river that ran through town. Sometimes it would be black water from the coal wash up the river and Sulphur was all over the rocks and you really could slip and slide all over the place. Wasn’t any fish in there except maybe Carp and Catfish. Really wasn’t good water. Didn’t have any sewage plant so most of the sewage went into the river. We didn’t care. Our favorite place was the behind the old glass factory. Nice swimming hole back there. B&O dam was another good place. Used to hang from the railroad bridge and drop into the water. Really cool.
    Fall in my home town was beautiful. The colors that the trees could come up with were so fantastic. Lumberport Hill was beautiful as well as up Jones Run and on up the other direction towards Dola. We did a lot of hunting wherever we could. I wasn’t into anything big. I liked rabbit hunting with my Sear/Roebuck 16 ga. shotgun. I still have it.
    I have been in West ByGod Virginia in a while. No matter where I went or where I was living it was always my home. I miss it a lot. A multitude of great memories are stuck in my head from there. Had something going on every day. Mom used to come out on the back porch of the house and yell for me to come to supper. I would leave the house early in the morning and be gone all day. Usually dark when I got home. Back in 1950 we had a snow storm that was the biggest that I had ever seen. It was about 5 feet deep. That was the only time that the school had closed and we didn’t have to go to school and we had a ball. I won’t go on any more because there is so much that I will never get it all down on this.
    I left Lumberport and West Virginia in 1960. I was 17 and had joined the Air Force. That was the first time I ever saw West Virginia and the mountains from the air. It was so beautiful, I will never forget it. I came back several times over the years to see family until all of them, Mom, Dad were gone. I still love the place and I miss it so much. When the song “Country Roads” by John Denver came out, the first time I heard it I had tears in my eyes. I was in Biloxi, Mississippi then. Everytime I would go bowling and as soon as I came in the door, some of my friends would play it on the juke box. They knew how much I loved the place.
    When I was in the service, when asked, I would always say, “I am from West By God Virginia”. I always got a laugh or two out of it but they never understood how proud that I was to be a West By God Virginia Hillbilly and Mountaineer. God did bless West Virginia.

    Mike Vincent
    Keatchie, La.

  • Mark Lynn Ferguson

    Mike, I’m not even from West Virginia, and this made me swell with pride. Thanks for sharing.

  • John Cecil Green

    Like you I left those beautiful hills at the age of 20. I then spent 30 years serving in our country’s Air Force. I traveled the world, saw places and things I read about in school. Quinland and Madison grade schools and my Skyhawks of Scott High School. In all those travels my heart and soul remained in those beautiful hills. My siblings still reside at Uneeda, in Boone County. I now live in Florida, but my wife and I still try to visit each fall when those beautiful hills are aflame with color. My college team is still and will always be the mountaineers of WVU. To all my friends and family that read this I’m still a hillbilly at heart.

  • Zara Ann (Rice) Sawi

    Great story! I was born and raised in Huntington. Left around 1973. Still visit whenever I get the chance.

  • Paula Nelson

    Thank you for giving the world a glimpse of what it is to be a West Virginian. In 1974 my then future husband and I resisted the pull of Cleveland, Ohio where a lifetime job was promised. We stayed the course and remained in this place where children grow up among the hills and family. It hasn’t been easy to stay, given the opportunities offered elsewhere, but it has been well worth it. We recently celebrated our 40th Anniversary with our friends, our children and grandchildren-all blessed to be living in our Wild,Wonderful West Virginia.

  • Kathy

    What a lovely story, I never had the privilege of growing up in WV, but both of my parents were from there. I’ve listened to endless stories from them about their childhood growing up there. Dad was born in 1932 so you can imagine the stories he could tell. He came to Chicago in the 50’s and met my mother who was already here and there you have it a new generation of West Verginians born in the city of Chicago. Many people ask me where I’m from, and when I answer I’m from Chicago they say where’s the southern accent come from. I laugh a little and say I don’t have a southern accent, but I guess when your raised in a house full of West Verginians no matter where you live your bound to pick up some of their dialect. I tip my hat to you Jason Headly, Your story made me smile today.

  • Jerry Tackett

    I to am from West Virginia. Reading this story has really made me even more proud to be from there. I left in 1972 to a job and raised a family, but my heart still longs for home again. Thank you Jason for this. One day i hope to return home to live out my years. God Bless West Virginia and God Bless America.

  • Tim Nicholas

    I enjoyed Jason Headley’s memories. I was born in Wood County, West Virginia, and grew up in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. In 1982, when I was 22, I moved to South Carolina to live near family and start a new life. I live in the low country of South Carolina. My memories of growing up on our family farm near Lewisburg are dear and ever alive. I draw on them every day. Our farmhouse sat at 2,320 feet in a mountain 10 miles north of Lewisburg. We were surrounded by 155 acres of farm land, cattle, a few horses, and many other animals. I remember our family’s cider mill and fresh glass mugs of apple cider to enjoy for months on end. Going to sleep at night during the summer was heaven. When the fog settled down in our mountains turned blue by the evening sunset, the windows open, light breezes flowing through my bedroom, I would go to sleep listening to the distant barks of coonhounds as they ran across the south hollers of our farm. Just a couple of memories of my dear, dear mountain home of Greenbrier County, my mother’s canned vegetables, fresh blackberry cobblers and rhubarb pies — yes, I am a West Virginian through and through. Thank you for this site and all of the memories of our Appalachian homes.

    Tim Nicholas
    Walterboro, South Carolina

  • William

    I grew up in Malta, 0h which is hop, skip and jump from the WV stateline near Marietta/Parkersburg…right up st rt 60 following the Muskingum River. These words also resonate with me and stir something meaningful and passionate deep within my soul. Notice how these sentiments are NOT rooted in shiny expensive material possessions…its funny how with time and advances (alot of good ones too mind you) still dont hold seight go the honest and genuine simple things in life.

  • Virginia

    I loved your story probably because it’s my story too.

    It was never in my plans to stay in WV and when my husband and I left, we never looked back. Eventually, after time spent in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I returned to my hometown to regroup and start over. That decision saved my life but it wasn’t long before I knew I had to leave. West Virginia was still the place I called home and loved but I couldn’t stay there. I wasn’t that girl anymore. I finally understood the phrase “you can’t go home again.” And so I left a second time. But this time I did cry and I missed the place desperately.

    I called Caifornia home for 17 years and upon retiring, moved, not to West Virginia, but to Georgia. I visit West Virginia about once a year. I visit all my old haunts. I drive up the hill and past my parent’s old house. Visit the cemetery where my parents are buried and drink in the smells, the views, the friendliness of the place. It feels spectacularly good to be home.

    And then, after hugs all around, I head south to Georgia and look forward to the next visit

    West Virginia will always be the home of my heart.

  • Billie Billie Millard

    I loved your story, it sounds alot like mine, only I am from eastern Kansas, about 15 miles from the Missouri line. I grew up on a farm that consisted of about 320 acres and I and my brothers and sisters knew every crook and rock and hill and cliff of that old farm. It was not really ours, it was the property of a much more well-off individual who also managed therural electric company. Our house was the only one that I could become aware of that had no electricity well into my teenage years. Finally when Mr Underhill said it was to be done, the electification of the old underhill farm , it held no great wonder for me. I kind of enjoyed the evenings that I did my homework by the light of the little coal oil lamps and in the summer time we had the most delicious home made ice cream that of course was cranked by hand by the Dads and Grand Dads out on the front or back porch, depending on which ever direction the breeze blew from. If we got to go out and listen to the stories told by the old guys crankin’ the freezer we always learned something…….

  • Debby King

    Many years ago when my first husband was in the service, we moved to Laurel, MD, between DC and Baltimore. We lived there for approximately 10 months. I returned to WV briefly, then we moved to Camp Drum, NY on a TDY for 3 1/2 months. While living ‘out of state’ any time we came home, I could tell the difference in my attitude when we crossed that state line and saw the ‘Wild, Wonderful West Virginia’ signs. No matter where you go, if you are a ‘Mountaineer’, there is NO place like ‘home’…. she always welcomes us with beautiful mountains, clear mountain streams and just the feel of ‘home’.

  • Denise

    Thank you, Jason for this tender, truthful, poignant and lovely article. I’ve been gone from east TN for 50 years, but have the exact same feelings as you describe. I once heard an author say that he thought there were “two kinds of folk — those who cannot leave where they are from and those who cannot stay”. I knew long ago that I could never stay, but I so cherish those trips back “home” at least once a year. Yes, you can take the person out of the hills, but the hills remain forever in the person.

  • D. Conner

    Thank you, Jason for this tender, truthful, poignant and lovely article. I’ve been gone from east TN for 50 years, but have the exact same feelings as you describe. I once heard an author say that he thought there were “two kinds of folk — those who cannot leave where they are from and those who cannot stay”. I knew long ago that I could never stay, but I so cherish those trips back “home” at least once a year. Yes, you can take the person out of the hills, but the hills remain forever in the person.

  • D. Conner

    Thank you, Jason for this tender, truthful, poignant and lovely article. I’ve not lived in east TN for 50 years, but have the exact feelings as you describe. I once heard an author say that he thought there were “two kinds of folk — those who cannot leave where they are from and those who cannot stay”. I knew long ago that I could never stay, but I so cherish those trips back “home” at least once a year. Yes, you can take the person out of the hills, but the hills remain forever in the person.

  • Lorinda Brewer Stutheit

    Sadly, I had to leave West Virginia at 4 years old. I am now 56 and still miss it everyday. It is home. I was fortunate that my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and many cousins never had to leave, so we were back often as I grew up. It is the only place in the world that actually, physically FEELS right to me. I am a nurse, and joke that my body achieves homeostasis in West Virginia. My Grandmother used to say, “Honey, you have the hills born in you.” So true. My (Brewer) family has been in Marion and Wetzel counties for at least 250 years. My son, an Air Force Major, was recently stationed 3 1/2 hours from home- Fairmont, and this fall we drove there to visit (from Alabama). Being that close- I had to go home first! Driving through Fairmont, then Barrackville, then on to Monumental for the first time in around 10 years was a spiritual experience for me! There is a lot of truth in the phrase “Almost heaven!”

  • Rosanna Lantz

    Thank you Jason for sharing how all West Virginians feel about leaving the state they love. I am also from West Virginia. I moved away in 1988 and am counting down the days until I can retire and return home. I have lived in Virginia for 27 years but have never called it home.

  • Vicki Murphy

    I lived in Williamson (Mingo County) for the first 17 years of my life and it is still home to me. I have lived in Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia and now in Ohio again (this time it has been for 35 years). We still go home when we can, but fewer and fewer of our family is there now. We still own family land that was claimed when our Irish ancestors arrived and treasure it.

  • Dawn

    Oh my you told it just as I feel……I am in NC now my new home by will always be a wv girl …..miss it every day, and love it here same time.

  • Craig D Straight

    Wow you got my story written. I love West Virginia and
    My sweet town of Paden City.I would love to move back
    There.

  • mindy wilson

    I was born in Parkersburg and have family in Fairmont. I moved to S.C.when I was about 10 with my mom and step father.I was away from home for many years but every time I return I get an overwhelming sense of peace and happiness in my soul. The beauty of the state in a whole, and the memories of a life that made sense. West Virginia will always be my home.

  • Jeff Whetzel

    Jason! Man, you absolutely nailed it. I grew up in Moorefield and Romney. I was on a surprisingly similar path as you. That was, armed with the plan of moving to SF to learn to make films. Life began to happen, and I just couldn’t make the commitment; to live as either a successful filmmaker, or to live my life buried under a massive load of debt. I knew that I couldn’t work in a factory eviscerating chickens, so I threw away a few dreams (and maybe a bit of talent) and joined the Army.

    Much like anyone else who has ever made a decision, I don’t regret it.

    I can’t allow this to turn into an essay, but it’s really great to see someone go so far into trying to articulate that special-sauce that WV has. It’s a reminder that it’s not just any old case of homesickness, but rather, WV really is THAT special.

    Best of luck, I’ll be sure to check out your site.

  • Bean

    Same here Dawn, WV to NC. I miss the hills, old friends and that rope swing.

  • Anonymous

    I relocated to Florida summer Of 2015 but I’m a mountaineer. I bleed blue and gold I love everything bout West Virginia and I Miss it the mountains Hell I miss everything bout it

  • F. Joan Hall Townsend

    I bave been away for 63 years, Traveling arooound tne world but there is no-place like Walkersville WV. Thank you for the trip down Memory Lane,
    Joan Hall/Townsend

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure I’m not the only one far from “home” with tears streaming down my cheeks as I read this.

  • Mendy Weatherford Haver

    This story is my story too! I was born and raised in Fayetteville, but after graduating college, the pull of a steady job took me to Charlotte, NC, then further south to Greenville, SC. I’ve been in SC for 20 years now, but WV is and always will be home!!

  • Dale Brown Jr

    I sent the majority of my first 20 years in Morgantown but I packed up and headed to Fl. I still look for WV licence plates (on the snowbirds cars) always great to run into people from there.

  • Jeanette Kettlewell

    Hello, Jason! This is a wonderful article that obviously resonates with so many WV expatriots and residents alike. I grew up in Huntington and graduated from WV Tech (now WVU Tech) in the tiny town of Montgomery. I met my future husband (from New Martinsville) there, but life in WV was not to be. Both my parents had worked for the “Chessie” (Railroad) System in Huntington and were transferred to Jacksonville, Florida in 1986, upon merging with Seaboard-Coastline to become CSX. I was beginning my junior year at Tech. After two summers of working for the WVDOT in relation to my civil engineering major, future summer work would be in Jacksonville. What a change – big city life after growing up in suburban Huntington. After graduation I began working for a small civil engineering company in Orange Park, FL. My fiance and I married in the church I grew up in in Huntington, but after a lovely honeymoon on the Maine coast (that’s a long drive from Huntington in a Mazda pickup truck), we settled in Jacksonville. For all of 6 months. The big city and very little change in the seasons did not sit well with us. After visiting my husband’s sister in Charlotte, NC, we looked for jobs in that area. We made our home in Rock Hill, South Carolina, about 25 miles south of Charlotte. This is as far south as we plan to live, and we’ve been here since March 1989, if you don’t count 11 months in Newark, Ohio, after my father-in-law passed away. As another commenter mentioned, things like the smell of burning leaves in the fall, or the raucous cries of crows take me right back to my childhood home. I doubt I could move back, but I will always treasure the memories and the family and friends I grew up with. They made me who I am.

  • Paula price

    Oh how I loved your life story I am 52 and left home in 97 I miss it . There are no one like west Virginia’s they love their neighbors and help those who aren’t even their neighbors. We never met strangers. We have awesome memories growing up. I miss those mountains but more so I miss the people. One day maybe those country roads will take me home

  • Chuck Dodrill

    Chuck Dodrill here grew up in Nicholas and Webster counties. I left in 83 and have traveled the world. I was in the tunnel in Paris 2 hours before Princess Di was killed. I have walked the streets of London and been in the tower. I have lived in Germany and drove like a bat out of hell on the autobahn. I have traveled Europe been to the Mideast lived in Cuba and have seen most of the United States but West Virginia will always be home and Jason sentiments are mine to the tee. To proof the point even tho I live in Florida for now there was ramps to go with the pork roast for dinner tonight.

  • Penny Lahr

    Born in New Martinsville and moved to the Steel town, Weirton, when I was in the 2nd grade. Graduated from Weir High, got married here, had children and they graduated from Weir High. My husband went to West Liberty and then WVU for his masters and my son graduated from WVU. Son lives across the river in Ohio but daughter and her family live in Weirton. We have a retirement home in Bradenton, but I will never move there. Like Dorothy once said, “There’s no place like home!”

  • Martha Martin Daugherty Jones

    Marti Jones
    Left WV when I was 13 but have always gone back at least once a year. I too feel the joy and peace when I go back. Would love to go back to live but my family is now established here in Ohio
    for the most part. I’m now 74 but am still proud to be from Russellville, WV. There isn’ t much there now but good memories. Love you WV.

  • Gretchen

    I was born in Charleston, WV, my mother’s hometown, while my father was in Viet Nam. He was a Pennsylvanian, and after the war, he returned to WVU (where he met my mother) for dental school, where I spent four years being steeped in the Monongalia valley. The rest of my childhood was spent moving all over the Southeastern U.S. and Europe, following my military father. I went to WVU myself, met my husband, and picked up moving again as the military and now the Foreign Service have brought me to other states, Cameroon, Germany, Hong Kong, Ghana, and now India. Still, after all this time, I remain a West Virginian. My sister and brother have settled there. My grandparents are buried there. Every few years, it seems, I have an opportunity to return – for university, for a law clerkship, or for a summer. I wear my blue and gold. I set my Blenko and Gibson glass collection out carefully in my new home. I make buckwheat pancakes around the time the festival rolls around. About a month ago, I was in an upscale grocery store in Mumbai (Bombay) and I heard “Country Roads” on the music reel, and joined in in the freezer aisle, almost in tears. I will always wander, but when I do, I carry West Virginia in my heart with me.

  • Liz Carpenter

    Born in Parkersburg WV and raised in both Parkersburg (Wood County) and (Ritchie County) I have many similar memories. I left in 1989 thinking I was going on to something better. I’ve been in North Carolina every since but go “home” for visits.
    As we get older I believe we start to reminisce for the happier and simpler times in our lives. I have so many good memories of West Virginia but we were so poor that I didn’t appreciate or realize what happiness we had.
    My sister moved to NC with me a few years after I arrived here and then she moved on to FL. She and I travel back home as often as possible. It used to be once every few years then once a year and now we find ourselves traveling back home every few months when we can.
    There’s nothing like family life and the memories of West Virginia and since we miss it so much my sister purchased the 50 acre family farm that our family was close to loosing and then she went to a neighboring town and purchased an old theater that her daughter lives in and has a store in the bottom portion.
    We would love to retire in West Virginia for the spring and summer months but we aren’t quite there yet. So in the mean time we just visit as often as possible.
    Thank you for your story and remember that we are from West “By God” Virginia and we are a special kind of people.

  • Anonymous

    Jason thank you for reminding me why I never left!! Although I to was faced with leaving WV behind at one point I choose to stay for all the same reasons you documented in your post. Jason just remember WV is home!! & always will be!! Never forget her & always find time every year to visit & embrace her.

  • Diane

    Jason, Thank you for your awesome letter to West Virginia and the walk down memory lane. I was born and raised their and left in my early 20’s for “better climb”. However , there is no such place. I wept as I read your affection for my home. Take me home country road….to the place I belong!!

  • Carey

    This is a wonderful article! I left Charleston, WV in 2010 to come to FL. I miss this WV hills so much at times that my heart aches. I love the FL weather but sometimes I long for snow, the smell of fall and the newness of spring. WV was my home for 31 years! All three of my children were born there and my parents still live there. I don’t get to go back as often as I want to but those mountains live in my heart.

  • Rhonda McPherson Duggins

    I left West Virginia to come to North Carolina to attend college in 1980. I grew up in Beckley, WV. During college I met my husband, we settled in his home town and raised our family. West Virginia will always be my home. You can take the girl out of WV but, you can never take the WV out of the girl! My twin sister lives in Morgantown, WV so when headed north we go through/bypass Beckley. It brings back many memories of what Jason write about. North Carolina is where I live but West Virginia is where I’m from…born and bred!

  • Sandra

    I have lived my entire life in northern West Virginia, and I have never regretted it. I thought about relocating to NC once, and I even traveled to Phoenix for job interviews. However, when I actually had to decide to move to the South or the desert, I just could not leave the beautiful state of West Virginia and the people I knew so well. I am ready for retirement now, and I could join some friends who have moved to Florida, but I can’t leave the four seasons and especially the people who live here in WV. Thank you a beautiful article. We welcome all former West Virginians to come and visit anytime. Also, we would love to have you return to,your former home here if possible.

  • Marsha Bowles Lobacz

    Jason, I know she misses us but understands why we had to leave. Like a loving parent, she’s happy to see us visit. WV knows what she could have been,..should have been, but she’s battered and worn, without jobs to support us. She holds her head high, with beauty and dignity of a great lady. She knows we did not have the skills to turn her in to the polished gem, that never got to shine as she should. But her beauty and noble spirit live on in the good people and the trees reaching to the heavens.

  • Lorraine

    I am proud to be a West Virginian. I left for the last time almost twenty years ago. I cried until I fell asleep. My kids to hear stories of my childhood in West Virginia. Of the flooding of the Ohio River into our basement. Of the bonfires my friends had, of the beauty of Grand Vue Park. I’ve visited several times, and still cry when I leave. West Virginia will always be ‘home’ and she will always be beautiful to me. To me, West Virginia is ‘almost heaven’ with her forests of beautiful fall colors, the smell of the bonfires in the fall, to the smell of the coal smoke and fresh clean rain. She will always be MY home.

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