The springtime songbirds are testing their voices, and minds are wandering toward outdoors and travel. But looming in the eyes of many are much higher fuel cost signs that could make far-away beach vacations extra pricey this year. What a wonderful opportunity to introduce the mini-vacation idea, or a term I will coin as the "Mountain State Mini."
Stress levels are always high among most Appalachian workers. With our West Virginia workforce almost always noted for being work-challenged because of changing shift times, long days and the fact that many families believe they have to have more than one or two jobs to provide for their needs, three-day jaunts that are nearby and offer exciting activities might be a worthy alternative to the Myrtle Beach scene. Indeed, the next few months' first Saturday articles will be devoted to Mountain State travel and will discuss enjoyable three-day getaways that could easily fit more families' schedules.
Factored in will be some genuine rest, because eustress (happy stress) can be had from doing too many pleasurable activities that actually multiply the stress load and cause distress. Anyone who makes Friday afternoon trips that involve going up Interstate 79 past Morgantown through West Virginia University and Fairmont State University territory, shopping mall stampedes, and 5 p.m. commuter route frenzies know I speak the truth. And moving onward, we will return to the kindergarten days of this Appalachian child as our travelogue unfolds.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Bennett
Fairgoers to the 87th West Virginia State Fair will be offered many enjoyable moments Aug. 12-20, including harness-racing exhibits, livestock competitions, foods, concerts and fireworks. According to the March l6 edition of ‘The Valley Ranger,’ a new discount ticket program is being offered now through May 31 where youth tickets (age 6-12) can be bought for $6.25 and adult tickets (age 13-plus) can be purchased for $7.25. These may be obtained online at www.statefairofwv.com.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Bennett
A new front awaits travelers to The Greenbrier, but the same, warm hospitality greets guests inside. The Greenbrier experience need not be expensive. Window-shopping and photography are allowed and an occasional chocolate-covered strawberry from the candy shoppe can make one’s visit a confectionary triumph.
Led by a little Jewish lady, my very large 5-year-old group spent the school year drawing, painting, singing, listening to stories, playing games and having snacks. For three mornings a week, we learned to get along with each other. The teacher's three assistants did all the necessary tasks of getting us lined up to go to the restrooms, braking-up spats, encouraging us to be involved, and took care of sicknesses as we had them. We had a great year and I had my first taste of being a leader, as I was chosen to direct the class as they sang a song in our Spring Recital. I also had to sing a solo - an old McGuire Sisters' song, "Sugar in the Morning," and I had to memorize a poem for presentation. Now, this was a lot of work for a 5-year-old, but I was excited about it and practiced diligently to have everything just right - no matter how much time it took. My mother would not let me do any less.
By the time I had moved to second grade, amid Saturday morning stays with my grandparents when my mom worked at her sheriff's department tax office head deputy job till noon, I was enchanted with TV's Sherri Lewis and her puppet, Lambchop. I determined that I could do what she was doing, and I set out to learn the art of ventriloquism. By Thanksgiving, I had mastered the skills and my dad ordered me a Paul Winchell Jerry Mahoney puppet I had pointed out to him in a Montgomery Ward Toy Christmas Catalogue. (We should never underestimate television's influence.)
Practice as a "latch-key" child continued every evening after checking in with grandma across the street. As I unlocked the door of my quiet, lonely house, I knew I was only a moment away from having Jerry talk. And, we were asked to do our first performance at West Virginia Wesleyan College by my church's WVWC student intern for his professor's retirement dinner. He, too, did ventriloquism. Jim Knorr remained in Upshur County to instruct vocal music at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, and has had an active life in civic affairs and county theater programs after retirement.
Performance invitations for Jerry and I came through the next few years from the Farm Bureau, Eastern Star, Extension Homemakers, PTA, WBOY-TV and county 4-H camps. Mom was instrumental in scriptwriting and she would spend evening hours helping me learn lines.
While remaining very active in 4-H and having been a 4-H club (Jr. Mountaineers) president by sixth grade, I determined that I should enter the State 4-H Talent Contest at Jackson's Mill in the State 4-H Round-Up. I won my division and received a trip to the West Virginia State Fair to perform on the grandstand stage.
I had never been to Greenbrier County. I truly was attracted to the very large, rolling farmlands that enveloped that area. Dotting the landscape were all types of cattle (Herefords, Holsteins, Angus and more), and beautiful big white barns appeared around every turn. It caused me to remember life on the farm and how much I had enjoyed it. This rich experience has brought me back to that area many times. Most any excuse will do for me to pack the car and return there.
There are several ways to get to this area and there are many yearly events one can experience. With Lewisburg being the county seat, the easiest drive is Route 219 to Marlinton, Route 39 to Minnehaha Springs onto Route 92 toward White Sulphur Springs where one can take I-64W to Lewisburg. A second choice would be Cheat Mountain through Bartow and Green Bank that eventually connects with Route 92. History buffs will prefer Marlinton to Hillsboro and Droop Mountain. While the quickest route and good one to discuss with children is the famous Pearl S. Buck and Droop Mountain Battlefield, it is a bit tedious at spots with a few hairpin curves.
As I begin to describe Greenbrier County activities, one's best bet is to contact the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau at P.O. Box ll07, Lewisburg, West Virginia 24901 or call 1-800-833-2068 or l-304-645-1000 or email www.greenbrierwv.com. As I examined closely all that goes on in this area, I realized it would be impossible for me to describe everything. I will begin by explaining that there are at least four venues that will ensure any family a good time. I will relate these in order of price range: The Greenbrier, downtown Lewisburg being a second choice, and the West Virginia State Fair giving the most activities for a bargain price.
A fourth alternative I have done many times is to walk to the end of Lewisburg's shopping area, window shop (mom taught me this when I was little and drove to Clarksburg's downtown on Sunday afternoons when nothing was open, and appreciated the beauty of the colorful items only wishing for something I saw.) I buy some water and walk back on the other side returning to the top of the hill to sit on a First Methodist Church park bench feeling rich because of all the money I did not spend. I am very happy to have met shop owners and pedestrians who are cheerful and genuinely happy to greet others and help them. There is an aura of OK-ness in this town, and one has a sense that everyone is working together for the same cause. They want people who visit there to have a delightful experience in total. They want them to return. This may be why their entire business district is thriving. Now, to expand on the other venues.
The Greenbrier. My visits here began 36 years ago when I traveled in seven southeastern counties as a West Virginia Board of Regents Talent Search Counselor visiting 29 high schools to help identify talented, disadvantaged high school students and help them complete required forms to gain needed monies to attend college or post-secondary trade schools.
Stopping by the Greenbrier became a ritual to photograph the grounds, buildings, etc., while breaking the monotony of driving. Usually, my Greenbrier stop was after working most of the day at either Greenbrier East or Greenbrier West high schools. I started very early in the mornings driving 60 miles from my Beckley area location.
Even with the recent changes at The Greenbrier, its now completed front maintains its stately presence and captures one's attention as they round the first curve and note the flags waving loftily in the gentle breezes. The lawns are expansive and the 300-year-old white oak trees line the quiet thoroughfares like soldiers guarding God's peace. Nature pops out at one everywhere and colorful flowers sit beside greening shrubs. Birds of many species prop themselves on branches. One finds themselves looking higher, higher as the old colonial and Georgian columns rise upward into the sky. The massive hotel has enough rooms to house many hundreds of visitors.
If the outside decor is not enough to take one's breath, an indoor walk and view of the massive ballrooms and dining rooms will. Ladies can gander at the powder rooms in the place, which are one of its best features. And, eating spots - several - all with superb serving staffs and delicious foods most carefully prepared and delightfully presented on the plate. Why will one feel they are royalty here? Because they are treated like so.
One of the newest additions to The Greenbrier is the Forum, an Italian-style Bistro featuring coal oven pizza, antipasto-style salads, or sandwiches with fresh melon and berries, and rich desserts. Draper's is the long-standing lunch destination and they have an array of good soups, salads, sandwiches, light lunch entrees and desserts. If a quick chicken salad sandwich and delicious coffee are desired, a stop at the Greenbrier Gormet is in order. One of 14 delightful places to buy goods, other Greenbrier bottom- floor shops include those with clothing, jewelry, books, souvenirs, shoes, outdoor wear, home furnishings and candy. The Prime 44 West Restaurant and Greenbrier Dining Room will cost plenty, but everything is a la carte, so it does depend on exactly what one wants and how much of it.
Upcoming events at The Greenbrier are the Mrs. America Contest, April 12-14, the Greenbrier Golf Classic, and Easter events. The gates will be open to area children who will hunt Easter Eggs on the lawns as the resort's owner tries to involve the community in their endeavors. A similar event is hosted at Christmas with spectacular light displays not unlike that of Wheeling's Oglebay Park. According to Tim Rooker, an assistant housekeeping manager, "Holidays are always special at this vintage resort because family members from all parts of the world meet there annually to re-acquainted themselves with one another."
They do not have the luxury Appalachians have of visiting daily or weekly, because we live just down the road or around the bend.
Visitors are always welcome and parking is available across the road from the Main Entrance near the Train Station. And, by the way, Rooker continued to explain, "Owner Jim Justice has just had a C&O 614 Engine refurbished in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, for $15 million, so a train can run from White Sulphur Springs to Washington, D.C., daily. Hoping to be in operation by next summer, this will be an added dimension to the resort," he explained.
Required over-night stay or group participation is the stipulation for Casino visits. It is hoped that this will keep this element of the operation low key and not a dominant attractor. Most around Lewisburg want the establishment to maintain its Old-South Antebellum flair and demeanor where courtesy is standard and beauty is boundless. I know I found it to exhibit these traditional qualities during a recent visit. And Mr. Justice is doing a good job keeping the resort a West Virginia treasure, while trying to maintain a payroll for 800 to 1,200 employees with benefits.
A closer look at Lewisburg comes your way. As if it were not enough to become the second West Virginia Certified Arts Community, Lewisburg has recently been named in a national contest the "Coolest Small Town in America." It is truly unique.
The smell of fresh-made breads and pastries permeate one's walking path and 12 antique shops beckon buyers. There are art galleries galore and Carnegie Hall, an established Arts Center with nearly 20 employees, boasts perpetual exhibits, musical performances, and artistic magic on a daily basis. On June 2 - 4, "Rhythm, Blues and All That Jazz" will be presented.
Sitting across from this hall is the Old Stone Church, a Presbyterian landmark known as "the oldest church still in continuous use west of the Alleghenies." Founded in l896, it sits beside a stately cemetery that provides another field trip. An entire historic district supports these attractions.
The gift shops are absolutely endless. If one likes Christmas in July, go there. There is something for everyone on a list, and discounts/specials are common. A favorite stop of mine is Harmony Ridge Gallery that also serves a good cup of coffee or tea.
Upcoming town events will be their Chocolate Festival April 9 (tickets at l-800-833-2068), The Battle of Lewisburg May 22 (information at www.greenbrierwv.com), and their wonderful Taste of the Towns (T.O.O.T Festival) Oct. 8. There is no West Virginia town any more beautiful in autumn colors than this one. It is worth a look and one will know they are part of enchantment.
As a weary traveler ends the day, several wonderful restaurants are close at hand. The General Lewis Inn offers a full menu at very reasonable prices with very considerate service. At the other end of town, Food and Friends also has very tasty selections with a menu that does not stop. It is equally priced with economy in mind and has excellent service. Many other food locations exist. One will not be disappointed with what they eat in this small, but rich, charmer.
Another very important and happy place near Lewisburg is the annual West Virginia State Fair. About three miles out of town, its gates will open for onlookers, competitors, food connoisseurs, music lovers, learners and anyone who appreciates agriculture and homemaking skills. The fair, in its 87th season, offers much more than entertainment. It is like walking through a textbook full of practical, common sense approaches to living. I, for one, have always ended my day thanking God for farmers and knowing in my mind that without them, none of us could exist very well.
So, going to the fair, is homage at its best. And, with giant ice cream cones and large lemonades, any family will surely have a great day.
Of particular interest to fair-goers will be harness-racing, many competitive exhibits, farm produce and products, livestock judging and showmanship contests, arts and crafts, state agency informational booths, live concerts, carnival rides, fireworks and endless eateries where home-cured ham sandwiches or chicken barbecue and roasted sweet corn bid hungry visitors contentment.
While places exist to take SUVs, camping in the nearby George Washington National Forest could be a good alternative. Additionally, taking bicycles and experiencing the Greenbrier River Trail is another nearby possibility. Described by Free Spirit Adventures (1-800-877-4749) as an "unknown paradise," camping also exists with this outing by contacting www.greenbrierailtrailstatepark.com.
Only two-and-a-half hours away from Elkins, Lewisburg and the Greenbrier Valley are an activity mecca. People there know they are part of something special. The cottage industry thrives. A day-trip is do-able, if one plans well. The surroundings are similar to ours. The people are like those known at home. We will spend time with other neighbors in future columns and also feature our own before summer's end.
All of our backyards are full of fantasies. We just need to see more clearly and look for them. For in all my travels, there have been no sunsets - no sunrises - none any more breathtaking than those I have seen behind a West Virginia hill. The peace and quiet we have in our natural surroundings begs for our attention.
As Dorothy explained in "The Wizard of Oz," "There's no place like home." And, as she traveled the Yellow Brick Road, we are reminded of how very fortunate we are to be Mountaineers who depend on the mountains' heights to protect us from winter's harsh snowstorms and spring/summer tornadoes. As we travel our country roads, let us be good hosts to others, but also help our own, as we stand together making life what is for our children - either a life filled with stress and strain or one lived with comfort and joy.
Many times the choices are ours - and while we may work responsibly for a lifetime (as I saw my parents and grandparents do to help ensure that their children would have an easier life than they had), I know the sacrifices they made were many and caused stresses for them in abundance. I suggest leisure-time strategies to balance the stress with calmer periods of contentment.
Most of us native Appalachians were not born with silver spoons in our mouths, but someone in our families, often sustained by faith, made sure we were fed, clothed, cared for and provided opportunities to learn. Many times that is all a child needs to someday be able to buy that beach vacation or bring candy from The Greenbrier to mom for Mother's Day.
Wealth means different things to different people, but I see it as having the things we want. I have to wonder sometimes if we want too much. Do we need all these "things?" Those who sell and advertise would tell us "Yes." Those who suffered through the Great Depression and World Wars would want us to have more. What say we? What is on the minds of my generation?
The Kennedy Center Honors Program in recent years featured the Shaker song, "Simple Gifts." So taken by this Amish-like thought, the West Virginia University "Pride of West Virginia" Band plays a thundering rendition of this song at every home football pre-game show. And, in my mind, these gifts represent faith, hope and love. These are truly the great gifts, and we need not money, jewels, gold, nor silver, to buy them.
Have a blessed Easter.