12 April 2007

A Mountain State Confession...

It's the funniest thing - while I feel no real need to conceal my recovery, I have always found that making another admission has the tendency to be a bit more problematic and often, I don't even offer the information up at all unless there's just no way out of it and someone connects the dots and my carefully constructed cover is blown. The admission I speak of goes something like this: "My name is Susie and [lower voice to a whisper] I'm from West Virginia".


I have to admit, I still have problems with that one. It's not something I plan on writing a book about - "My struggle with growing up in the Mountain State" or "John Denver was geographically challenged and other quirky facts of life in the wild, wonderful, chemically-noxious hills of the Kanawha Valley". I can't imagine I'd be invited to a book-signing in Charleston, WV for that one...

It's true, I've never been particularly proud of my where my roots were planted but, fortunately, they were short roots and not the type to lock one in, because my family was always moving. Before my marriage, we moved often, but in-state. After my marriage, we moved even more often, to many states.

I've even been known to skirt around the issue and, when queried about my accent...rather than proffer a bold-face, outright lie, I would mention that I moved here from Texas and, well, should the person asking questions draw the conclusion that I may be Lone Star in origin, I have never really found the need to correct it. I can't help it if they don't follow-up with, "But where are you really FROM???"

Tuesday Night, however, something changed. We were invited to dinner at the home of two natives that any state would be proud to call a native son and daughter. Don and Betty Johnson graciously entertained us with a real West Virginian home-cooked meal and, after stuffing ourselves on every food I count among my favorites, Don pulled out his handsome, Martin guitar and, in a scene straight out of "The Andy Griffith Show", he plucked and sang some songs that every self-respecting West Virginian knows by heart. The only thing missing was a porch-swing and a mason jar with collected lightning bugs.

What a wonderful evening and so much about that night tickled memories from my childhood. Even though it was a Tuesday, Betty served up what I grew up calling a "Sunday Dinner" - the kind my mother lovingly served after church when, more times than not, we had company which generally consisted of neighbors from towns we used to live in and a few relatives sprinkled in and sometimes those people would be one in the same because, as everyone knows, just about everyone in West Virginia is related one way or another though my parents still maintain they are in no way "blood kin" which heightens the mystery of how they turned out a kid like me. :-)

I remember so many times after dinner when my parents would say something like, "Susan, play (fill in the blank) on the piano" and, before I could think of ten excuses, someone else would 2nd that nomination and offer to sing, so any protestation I might launch was futile, at best.

When we retired to the living room after dinner this past Tuesday, I was leafing through a book that Don had just started reading, "The History of Medicine" and, lo and behold - even though there was a beautiful piano within spitting distance, I heard my mother make a musical request but, oddly enough, it wasn't directed at me. In fact, it was meant for Don and his guitar. I looked up and smiled - pleased to be off the hook and then, within seconds, wondering why she was suddenly uninterested in my services?

Like any respectful West Virginia boy, Don kindly obliged and played several songs that lead each of us on our private, individual sentimental journey down memory lane. He played beautifully and sang well, on top of it. I was astonished at how many flashbacks pleasantly passed through my mind. Good memories. Happy times. Each one the creation of an experience in a state I often deny a connection with.

Now, as a few people know, my family arrived in Wilmington courtesy of the May 2000 issue of "The National Geographic". No, seriously - that's why we moved here. We were living in Amarillo, Texas and one day in May, I was innocently leafing through the May 2000 issue of NGS and read a small story on the relocation of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. I realized that for as fond as I was of Amarillo and West Texas, it occurred to me that I was just about as landlocked as a person could be and, even though the landscape in Amarillo is flat and a bit on the sandy side, and gosh knows the wind was pretty constant, it didn't carry even a hint of salt and I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard a wave crash, though in reality it couldn't have been more than 18 months because we'd only lived there (again) for 18 months.

Within a few days of receiving that issue of NGS, there was a "For Sale" sign in the front yard and within six weeks we had sold the house and had Wilmington in our sites. I did try and make it a democratic process and actually took a family vote and, though my Dad is a great sport, he wasn't pleased with the outcome; the vote was 4 - 1 in favor of a move East. My Dad still maintains that Amarillo is the best place he's ever lived, though I do believe Wilmington has grown on him quite a bit.

Betty and Don Johnson came to Wilmington by another way - medicine. Though both Betty and Don are West Virginia natives, they hail from different parts of the state. Don grew up in the southern part of West Virginia and his growing up years were spent near where my parents were raised. In fact, my Mom and Dad were acquainted with his father before they were actually acquainted with each other.

Betty was raised in the northern part of West Virginia. Don and Betty's paths crossed at WVU - when they were both deep in medical school. Betty is more formally known as Dr. Betty Johnson, who for years practiced as an anesthesiologist at New Hanover County Regional Medical Center and Don or, Dr. Donald G. Johnson, was one of the founders of Delaney Radiology and, a few short years ago, served as chairman of the radiology department at the same hospital.

Both have since retired (at a very young and tender age) from medicine and pursued other interests. In addition to being the proud parents of their son, Steven, who lives and works in LA in the film industry and daughter, Marsha, who lives and works in London, England, they still manage to keep quite active and busy.

A few short years ago, after a well-respected career in medicine, Don must have been bored or something because he headed back to the classroom and enrolled at UNC-W as a student where he picked up a BA degree in history and went on to earn an MA degree in European History. Just for the heck of it, he added a degree in Public Health and Tropical Medicine from Tulane University. He's now installed as a part-time professor at UNC-W where he teaches courses in history, when he's not running, biking, reading or typing up Betty's genealogy research notes, a passion my father highly approves of and shares with her.

These two are extreme over-achievers and yes, to reinterate, they are both from West Virginia and, like my parents, I'd bet they aren't related to each other, other than by marriage, of course. I know there's a lot of jokes made at West Virginia's expense and how we all tend to marry our cousins and the number of teeth we possess number in the single digits, but I have to tell you, if I were to find out I was in some way related to these two, I'd certainly not argue the point. I'd probably just smile and nod, kind of like I sometimes do when people "assume" I'm from Texas.

A special thank you to both to both Don and Betty for a wonderful evening and best wishes for their upcoming trip to the London and tour of Ireland next week, when they fly over to spend some time with their daughter.













Betty, Susie, Barbe & Maxine - 10 April 2007















Don, Susie, Barbe & Maxine - 10 April 2007

And to update - I'm still looking for a job and welcome any job offers and may well begin entertaining proposals because being a "kept woman" is starting to look less offensive. The insurance alone might be worth the bother. :-) If you're interested in offering me a job, e-mail me for a resume. If you're interested in making me a kept woman, I'll need to see your financials and last three years of tax returns and, of course, proof of health, dental and vision insurance which will cover your intended spouse (me) should everything else check out.

What do I bring to the table? Though I have no real domestic skills, I like to fish, love the beach, will brag on your culinary skills, have above average kite-flying skills and as long as I have an adequate (subjective) stipend for books and tea (with lemon), I'm generally quite easy to live with. A beach-front house will ensure that your application merits special consideration. Oh, and I do prefer men with cutting-edge computers and the wisdom to give me adequate space to write. See? I'm entirely low-maintenance!

3 comments:

Shane said...

Kudos to you! I'm so glad you have publicly declared your true roots....Wild, Wonderful WV. We used to feel the same way. We kept that info under wraps. Now, however, we're proud of our roots. It was such a wonderful place to grow up. We actually miss the mountains.

Bill said...

Greetings Suze,

I would submit that the Johnsons are proof positive that not all West Virginians have one tooth, pick the banjo, and can draw their family tree with one stroke on a ruler edge.

Moreover, as an active member of American MENSA, I might be considered as one with above "Mountain State" intelligence, as it were.

When I was young and growing up in the Kanawha Valley, I dreamed of distant lands and getting away from Charleston. I realized that dream when I enlisted in the Air Force, as I traveled all over the world. Yet I cannot recall a more beautiful and comfortable place than I left in my own back yard.

If we look beyond the stereotypes and jokes that are associated with WV, we can appreciate the true wonder and excitement that abounds.

Those who can find nothing but jokes or lamenting about WV have never:

Kayaked down the Gauley River

Scaled the face of Seneca Rocks

Walked through the meadows of Dolly Sods

Stood thigh deep in the Blackwater River waiting for a trout to rise.

Enjoyed the fragrance of Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron on Glade Creek.

Swam in the crystal clear water of Crab Orchard Lake.

Suze, until they've enjoyed all of these things, then their quips about the Mountain State falls on my deaf ears.

Perhaps West Virginia cannot boast the culture one might find in NYC, Boston, LA, et al. You won't find fine metropolitan art centers, museums, theaters, or concert halls. But I've always thought that those were for people who couldn't find anything interesting to do outside.

My 2 cents.

Love Bill

Bert said...

Wonderful story, Susie. I was born and raised in Morgantown, attended WVU, then escaped to California. I remember the aroma of Charleston in the late 50s and 60s when our family went there to visit our aunt and cousins. I had a wonderful childhood. My dad was a prominent lawyer in town. And I do get misty-eyed when I hear that song