WV flagSaturday was West Virginia Day. Don’t worry, gifts aren’t expected. (Although one of those little black bears carved out of coal is always nice.)

We had friends over for dinner and served food seasoned with WV sea salt (no, it’s not a joke–check out JG Dickinson Salt Works.). There was a bouquet of rhododendron (the state flower) on the table and we listened to a Kathy Mattea CD (she’s a native). The shortbread peach cobbler was baked in a cast-iron skillet and, yes, I did sing, “Oh Those WV Hills,” much to my husband’s mortification.

But we West Virginians are nothing if not loyal to our home state. I’m astonished to realize that I’ve now lived in the Carolinas longer than I lived in West Virginia, but once a hillbilly, always a hillbilly. And proud of it.

I’ve shared this poem before, but in honor of my home state’s birthday, here it is again. An ode to the Mountain State, previously published in Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine.


There is truth in the trailer park
and honesty in the car on blocks.

Starvin’ Marvin and “as seen on TV”
live cheek by jowl with the likes
of handmade quilts and apple butter;
old-time music and the oral tradition.
Some folks say it isn’t True,
isn’t the way things used to be.
But lose a grandfather to the mines,
an uncle to the war, your mother
to a cancer that gnaws at her soul—
lose a child for no reason you can see.
Then you’ll find the fragile beauty
in the never-ending yard sale.
You’ll learn to love the tourists
who buy corncob pipes, coonskin caps,
and lumps of coal carved like bears.

When the giant timber companies
run the local sawmill out of money
and Aunt Eunice can’t remember your name—
when your best friend moves to California
and minimum wage is doing alright, man.
Then you’ll find the potent wisdom
in workers’ compensation, food stamps
and tonight’s lotto number—
dear God let me win.
A one in a billion chance is better
than watching the land your ancestors
cleared wash away . .  . no wish away
on the promises of strip mines
and a future you can’t afford to wait.

At night, the lights from Wal-Mart glow
like the promise of a better tomorrow.