West By God, Again

Welcome to West Virginia

Our Move Across The Country

Up until last November I have lived in West Texas my entire life. I’ve been proud to say I come from God’s country—the wide-open spaces, the mesquites, the real cowboys (shout out, Dad), the rolling plains, the larger-than-life cotton farms, rusty pickups, backyard barbecues, lake days, Friday Night Lights, chips and salsa, margaritas and Chiltons, bourbon and Topo Chico. Place has played such a big role in my identity. I’m a fifth generation Texan and grew up on a ranch that’s been in our family for more than a century.

Texans are a proud breed. We’re quick to tell a stranger we’ve just met—I’m from Texas! Our smiling eyes saying the rest—the greatest state in the whole damn world! We have no state income tax, beaches, mountains, big cities and small towns. And we’ve got Willie. I’ve traveled the country to share the stories and the beauty of the Lone Star State with travel planners and media. I’ve promoted West Texas for just about all of my adult life. Space travel, Big Bend, oil rigs, fresh-rolled tamales.

Two years ago, I took a leap of faith. I followed my heart and started writing full time. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. My freelance career has kept me busy, kept food on the table, and has fulfilled me like never before. It’s given me the flexibility I seek in life. I don’t like to be tethered to a specific location or time frame in a day. And, it’s allowed me to pick up and move when it’s best for my family.

Last fall, my husband was offered a job that would move us temporarily across the country, to a place we’d never been and knew little about. West Virginia. A quick Google search told me it was “The Mountain State” and the only state fully in Appalachia (which I’ve learned to pronounce like a local—Apa-latch-a—not Apa-lay-sha). The only thing I knew about Appalachia was from the movie Deliverance, which on its surface is an awful stereotype of people living in the rural South.

In two and a half weeks, we cleaned out a three-bed two-bath house we’d lived in for nearly ten years, found tenants to rent our house to, found a new place to live, hired a moving truck, figured out how to ship a car (come to find out is not so easy), notified banks, utilities, blah, blah, blah. And, during that time our beloved cocker spaniel nearly died. It was a blur of exhaustion, excitement, blood (moving big furniture can be dangerous), sweat, and tears.

We stretched the twenty-hour drive over five days and made it to our half-way point, Memphis, on Thanksgiving Day. That cocker spaniel that nearly died paraded through a gasoline puddle at a roadside stop outside Little Rock so we drove the next two chilly hours with the Jeep windows down, our documents we deemed worthy of personally driving rather than trusting to the moving truck swirling behind us. We had dinner reservations at The Peabody and when I called to push it back an hour I found out there was a dress code. All I had was a pair of jeans and workout clothes. But, we were determined to have a good dinner. It was the least we could ask, having to miss spending the holiday with our family. The only place open on Thanksgiving was the Walmart in West Memphis. We rolled up just in time to fight the early Black Friday shoppers, because now apparently it starts a day early. I elbowed my way through swarms of people lined up for TVs and game consoles and waited in an infinity line to buy the first pair of black pants and cheapest dress shoes I saw, hoping they’d fit.

We marched into the beautiful Peabody looking rough and reeking of gasoline, unable to blend in to the elegant people around us. I was just grateful the ducks were not in the fountain as I pictured that sweet, smelly cocker spaniel topping our day off with his own Thanksgiving feast of duck a l’orange right there in the lobby.

In case your dog decides to step in gasoline, you should know those Dawn commercials where they save birds in oil spills are legit. It’s the only thing that gets the scent out of their fur. I gave him five blue bubble baths before we finally sat down to dinner.

“Welcome to West Virginia, Wild and Wonderful,” the sign read as we arrived in our new home state. Woohoo! All these trees! And mountains! A stark contrast to the flat horizon we’d lived on in the Texas Panhandle. Our first nights in West Virginia were spent on an air mattress in an empty apartment eating frozen dinners cross-legged on the floor. The moving truck arrived a few days later.

My new office looks out to a hillside covered with grazing cows behind a stream and grove of trees. Soon after settling in, as I was writing one day, I spotted a hawk in those trees. He returned every day after that for about a month. I couldn’t help but smile and feel at peace. Every time I see a hawk or an eagle or a V of geese or a scissortail or a monarch butterfly I think it’s Mom dropping in to say hi. She would literally stop the pickup in the middle of the pasture road if we saw a red-tailed hawk nesting on the way home from school. To me, it was her reminding me that home is not a place.

Home is the family and friends we keep in our hearts. It’s the lessons we learn, the experiences that shape us. The memories we hold dear. It’s the scent of rain, the warm sun, and gentle breeze that follows us wherever we go. It’s our relationship with other humans. Our relationship with this planet. Our relationship with God. These connections can be taken anywhere.

People here say, “West By God Virginia.” When I asked why, many shrugged. “It’s just what we say.” Some say it originated from chants at West Virginia University football games, other say it came about when West Virginia separated from Virginia during The Civil War because those on the west side of the state wanted to be part of the Union rather than the Confederacy, becoming its own state in 1863. Some say it’s because God brought them to this beautiful part of America and blesses them with some of the most stunning land in the country.

I’ll agree with that last way of thinking. I know God has placed us here for a purpose, and it is gorgeous countryside. This state has world-class outdoor adventure—mountains to hike and bike, rivers to raft and fly fish, waterfalls and old barns to photograph. But it’s the people here that make me feel as if I never left West Texas. They have welcomed us with arms wide open. They’ve been quick to invite us to their favorite rivers and restaurants. They’ve invited us to church and into their homes. They’ve sang for us. They’ve played banjos and fiddles and bones for us. They’ve greeted us with friendly smiles and big hugs. I’ve discovered, West Texas or West Virginia, I’ve always been exactly where I’m supposed to be.

He made it!

He made it to West Virginia!

Brenda