A followup to “Dear Charleston”

Last week I wrote a note describing all the things I love about living in Charleston, West Virginia. That post has been shared on Facebook more than 3,000 times and drove my blog site views to about 2,500 the first day and to around 6,800 the second day after it published. That’s not exactly “viral” but it’s certainly well beyond the number of reader I typically get.  People from more than 15 different countries read that post. I got around 30 comments about it.

The popularity certainly was not because the writing was anything special. I think it was more a testament to the love West Virginians — those still living here and those who have moved on —  have for their home. I got a lot of notes from native West Virginians living all around the country and in other countries who are still pining for the Mountain State.

I get that. I was born and raised about 10 miles north of Charleston in Sissonville. After college I lived for a short time in the Lexington, Ky. area and in Ashland Ky. before moving to Charleston two years ago for a job.  I’ve never been too far from home, but even from a short distance, I missed it.

It’s a difficult thing to decide whether or not to leave home. Most often it’s not really a choice — people leave because they can’t find work or the right type of work here. It’s not a secret that West Virginia has a brain drain problem. I’ve seen it first hand. Several of my native West Virginia friends have left the state for bigger cities and better opportunities over the last year. I don’t blame them for that. As I said, I don’t know where life will lead me. One day my letter to this place could have a break-up theme.

But West Virginia is part of me. I’m not sure exactly what it is about this place that gets into your blood. Sure, the mountains are beautiful and just about everyone loves their home, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it has something to do with understanding and loving a place that, from the outside, seems so destitute. I think our affection for this place is a defiance of the worst-of lists and stereotypes they try to attach to us.

On the other hand, there are reasons for West Virginia to be on some of those lists. It’s a complicated relationship, for sure.

But most relationships are, aren’t they?

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A view of the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayetteville, It’s one of my favorite things in West Virginia.

Dear Charleston, WV (A love letter)

I know you don’t hear this enough. Your state tops everyone’s “Worst of” lists and someone even said your people are the most unhappy. You do have your problems, but you don’t get the affection you deserve. Even I sometimes catch myself complaining about your small size and a lack of things to do. But I really do love you.
I love your local coffee shops, Taylor’s and Moxxee and the way that locals congregate in them on Saturday mornings or after Sunday services. I can walk in by myself to write and never want for company or a familiar face.

Snow falls outside the window at Taylor Books, one of Charleston’s favorite coffee shops.

I love the way I feel safe walking your streets, even late at night. Despite the occasional bad news reports, I’ve never worried about walking home from the bar after midnight. Never thought to hold my purse close to my chest or to obsess over whether the car doors were locked. No one here has ever cut my purse strap and made off with my belongings while I wasn’t paying attention.

The corner of Virginia and Capitol streets, Charleston.

I dearly love your music scene and the people who play your open mic nights and the Third Eye Cabaret. I love how there’s always live music somewhere. I love the artists that I’ve come to know after hearing them play Mountain Stage.

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Singer/songwriter Mark Bates jams with the Coal River Yacht Club at the Empty Glass one Sunday night.

I love the Red Carpet, the local bar where reporters and lawmakers, hipsters and drag queens alike gather on Friday nights to unwind after a long week.  I love that I can be away for months and yet the bartenders still call me by name when I walk through the door again. I love your cat, even if she won’t go near me.

I love your historic houses on the East End and their inviting porches and yards. I dream of owning one someday.

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East End porch, Summer 2013.

I love the gold dome on the state capitol. I’m convinced it’s the prettiest in the country. Even when I was living away from you, I could drive into town and know I was home when I saw the sunlight gleaming off that gold.

Dear Charleston, I don’t promise never to leave. Life has a way of making those decisions for us. But I promise to always call you home.