Dam on New River
Long way down...
Hawks Nest State Park is the West Virgnia’s version of visiting the New River Gorge without the assistance of the National Park Service. Set amidst an inn and banquet facility that more resembles a stark and cubic university administration building, the restaurant overlooks the gorge and a tramway that shuttles visitors to the river below for jetboat tours on the New River.
Between the state park and Carol’s old high school near Winona, the scenery rarely changes from hilly mountain passes, rough and austere mobile homes, and a Baptist church about every 400 yards, or so it seems.
“It’s the Bible Belt here”, remarks Carol.
“I saw a Catholic church back near Glen Ferris.”
“Yeah. The Italians (long “I” in her pronunciation) came here to work in the mines. See all the stone work on the buildings and the stone fences?” I indeed did. “Italians. All of it.” I took particular satisfaction in this, as the stereotype is that Italian immigration to the United States exclusively centered around Boston and New York.
“Do you have any Jews in Fayette County?”
Carol said she knew of two from her childhood days. There is a synagogue in Beckley, twenty or so miles away
New River Bridge
Longest something-or-other bridge in the hemisphere....
in Raleigh County. Yep, this is certainly the Bible Belt alright.
The convenience store in Winona offers a wide variety of Budweiser products: Bud, Bud Light, and gets really exotic when a few errant cases of Busch and Natural Light pop into sight. I would not waste my time to ask if there are any six packs of Beck’s or Bass in the back. The checkout counter sports a photo of a man dressed as a white trash can. It goes to prove that people here can look at each other and laugh.
The rest of the day was a series of twists, and turns down empty back roads that do not exist on any road atlas. Carol often complained that is was time to blast another beaver dam out again, for the flooding was causing property to go under water and was threatening to cover the road in some spots. Black families are rare in Fayette County, as I was taken to where a few lived up on a hill above the center of Fayetteville. Now whites live among them, but it is hard to tell; economic conditions are so rough in places that they do not
Hawk's Nest State Park
Off Season...Hardly disappointing...
discriminate upon race. Neither blacks nor whites are seemingly dealt any advantage. Economic hardship here knows no color.
West Virginia is our most misunderstood state and not all about coal mines or jokes regarding incest. Its people, unlike New Englanders in many ways, do not try to hide their imperfections. Yet, they approach outsiders with a polite, however take-it-or-leave-it attitude. It is a state that constantly boasts of its unique identity while having to defend it even more often. This pride was best on display on a raw Saturday afternoon in Morgantown. Jerry West, the NBA great and championship general manager for the Lakers, appeared before a packed house at halftime of the West Virginia University basketball game against Louisiana State. As he spoke during the ceremony to retire his jersey, number forty-four, the crowd turned silent. His humble words resonated throughout the arena and belied his elegant suit and sophisticated appearance. He spoke not of his playing days, scoring records, or his success after leaving Morgantown. Rather, West conveyed his deep appreciation for being from West Virginia and that he has never forgotten from where he hails and its people remain true to him. His words were simple, poignant, and direct.
Just like the state the raised him.
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