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Connie Shortel: In the heart, very much still at home

On my walls here at work, there are pictures of paths.

If I could follow them, these paths would lead around the Cranberry boardwalk, down to the falls of Hills Creek, around the rocks of Beartown, down to the Hawks Nest overlook and to the site of my great-grandfather and great-great grandfather's homesteads.

But I'm miles and miles away, so these photos represent the path home, for West Virginia is and has always truly been home.

My ancestors first crossed the mountain from Winchester into the bosom of West Virginia long before she became a state. The Whites, Stalnakers and several other families settled around Beverly in the mid 1700s.

They fought man, beast and Mother Nature for the privilege of making their homes among her mountains.

They helped carve out her roads and towns, though at the time they were more paths and isolated cabins protected by a nearby fort.

So independent were the people of Beverly that in 1777 they petitioned Richmond for their own government. Their reasoning was both because the journey to Winchester or Monongalia County was long and dangerous, but more, as they said, because "we flatter our selves we are able to build and support all public buildings necessary for a County Town."

In 1778 my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Lt. John White, was shot from ambush as he searched for deserters during the War for Independence.

The dispute still lingers over whether this ambush was carried out by Indians or the deserters he was seeking.

My great-great grandfather fought with the 20th Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War, my grandfather for liberty in World War II.

My father and brother continued to protect West Virginia through their service in the State Police.

Another brother remains on active military duty.

Over the many decades my family has resided within her borders, they have farmed her land, surviving both drought and flood. They have logged her mountains and dug coal from beneath them.

My grandfather even turned down a tryout with the Cincinnati Redlegs to do so.

They've hunted her hills and fished her streams, never losing sight of the blessings she provided.

In the spring, they watched the snow give way to trillium, spring beauty and anemones, which yielded to the rhododendron and mountain laurel as summer took over the land.

In the fall, her hills glowed with the beauty of the season until the first snows brought peace and slumber to her as she gathered strength to repeat the cycle the next year.

I've never ceased to enjoy her daily show, beginning with the early morning fog and welcoming song of the cardinals, giving way to the views of her valleys as seen from the tips of her majestic mountains, and settling softly into the dusk as the deer shyly venture out to graze and her people settle in to enjoy their friends and families.

Family and other opportunities drew me away, but I yearn for the peace and joy I found among her mountains. All my memories DO gather round her, her splendor and her people.

I had hoped to return to her for her 150th birthday, but I take solace in knowing she is there, ever-enduring, grand and beautiful.

Instead I'll celebrate with a hot dog and chili made from the recipe of MY favorite hot dog stand and photographs of my favorite places in the whole wide world.

Happy 150th Birthday, West Virginia.

Shortel, a paralegal, was born in Webster Springs, grew up in Sissonville, graduated from Sissonville High School and attended Marshall University. She lives in Orlando, Fla., with her husband and has two daughters and a granddaughter. Her email address is cshortel@cfl.rr.com.


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