Charleston, West Virginia

In decades of trips to West Virginia to visit my grandparents and extended family, I have never, to my knowledge, walked around downtown Charleston. Until the mid-2000s, our trips to WV were limited to the southern region of the state – Greenbriar County and the New River Gorge area – where my grandparents had a farm for 30 years in Meadow Bridge and eventually relocated to the small town of Rainelle. When Mamaw and Aunt Gloria moved to Charleston, they bought houses in the suburbs, so going to the state capital wasn’t a thing.

Dad wanted his remains split between three places – East Tennessee, which we accomplished in November, the cemetery where his father is buried, and old family cemetery behind the farm in Meadow Bridge, where his grandparents are buried. When we set the date for a trip to West Virginia, we booked a hotel in downtown Charleston.

We arrived Thursday night, and after dropping off Mom at Mamaw’s house, we checked into our hotel and walked to the revitalized historical district. I had a few things on my Must See list, and one of them was a bookshop (naturally).

The shop was so delightful that I went twice – once that evening and a second time the next morning. Next door to Taylor Books was Pies & Pints, where we ate dinner. It was delicious!

Our tour of the downtown area continued the next morning before going to Mamaw’s and the next evening after leaving her house. The weather couldn’t have been better, so when we weren’t catching up with family, we were touring things in the city where we’d never been.

Before going to Mamaw’s house, we stopped at West Virginia State University to see the statue of Katherine Johnson, who passed away last year, and was made (more) famous through the film Hidden Figures.

Our tour of the city concluded that evening at the capital building, which had been under construction for years. The dome was surrounded by scaffolding when I was there in 2018 to run a half marathon, so this was my first time seeing it completed.

The boys walked around the capital grounds with me and remarked that they didn’t expect Charleston to be so beautiful. Honestly, I didn’t either. I don’t know what I expected, but I acknowledge that my frame of reference for West Virginia had always been limited to wherever my grandparents lived – Meadow Bridge, Rainelle, a house in the suburbs. My point of view was limited to rural living, framed by farming, fishing, and family.

The boys and I experienced a new side of West Virginia together. I’m proud of my farming, coal mining, military family, and I wouldn’t trade a second on the farm for a day in the city. But I saw West Virginia through new eyes this week, and it made me more proud to connect this wild and wonderful state to my name.

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