As you probably know (from many of my prior website postings), I was born and raised in New Hampshire. Although I’m not a native West Virginian, a true native West Virginian once confused me for being one because we shared so many similar rural farm experiences during our respective childhoods. I recounted that experience in my May 22, 2018 post entitled, “Man, I Lived It, Too.” When you are raised on a small family farm in the Appalachian Mountains and taught to live self-reliantly, you learn the traditional values, experiences, folkways, and mannerisms that are unique to—but shared by—all rural eastern mountaineers. This basic understanding and cultural familiarity allow me to understand native West Virginians and “fit in” better than most outsiders from other states. After all, our states have similar core values. The official motto of West Virginia is “Mountaineers are always free,” while New Hampshire’s is “Live free or die.”
Even so, I find many ways that native rural West Virginians are different from the rural people I knew in New Hampshire. One of the most basic ways is the special way that native West Virginians give directions. To most outsiders (or “come-here’s,” as they are commonly known), the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west are typically used as basic guides for directions. All main Federal and State highway routes bear those orienting words to help direct travelers because the routes are built to follow those bearings. However, West Virginia is so intensely mountainous that, even though the main highways are labeled by their “general” orientation, you may end up driving south, east, and west on a northbound route as you wind through the mountains to get to its ultimate destination. Anyone with a compass in their car would get dizzy just trying to keep up with it. Also, it is often easier to wind around the mountains in order to reach your destination than it may be to take the shortest route over the steep terrain. In West Virginia, the shortest distance between any two points isn’t the most convenient way to travel between them. This is why many natives will confidently tell you that West Virginia would be bigger than Texas, if you flattened it out.
Fortunately, native West Virginians are far smarter than they are credited with being. They use the same directions their ancestral pioneers used to understand how to travel across the rugged terrain. In those early days, there were no roads to follow—only Indian hunting trails and rivers. Therefore, if you ask a native West Virginian the best way to drive north from Franklin to Petersburg, he will likely tell you to go “down” U.S. Route 220. Since this road roughly follows the flow of the South Branch River, you drive downstream along the valley when you travel north from Franklin to Petersburg. The “downsteam” nature of your journey was more important to know than the fact you will be heading north because you know it requires less effort to travel downhill. Likewise, to go from Petersburg to Franklin, a native will tell you to go “up” U.S. Route 220, because you must travel upstream through the valley. However, if you want to go west from Franklin to Elkins, the same native will tell you to go “over” to Elkins along U.S. Route 33. Although that highway is an east/west route, it winds up and “over” many steep mountains that require you to travel northeast and southwest at many points to circumnavigate the steep terrain. Also, if you ask how far it is to get to Elkins from Franklin, he will probably tell you how many hours it takes (roughly 2 hours by that highway), because you have to drive so slowly at many points that the distance doesn’t bear any realistic relationship to how long you must drive to get there. These are very good ways to know you are talking to a native West Virginian.
Another way to identify a native West Virginian while driving along a road (especially a less travelled road) is to signal him by using the “West Virginia wave.” A native West Virginian will not raise his hand to wave at you like a friendly driver in another state might do. The roads in West Virginia are far too narrow and windy to safely remove your hands from the steering wheel for any length of time. However, a native West Virginian will “wave” to a neighbor he passes on the road by raising his index finger from the steering wheel while keeping his hands on it. Of course, it only makes sense to do this with the index finger of the hand resting highest on the steering wheel at the time. Even native West Virginians standing or walking along the sides of the road will respond to this gesture from a friendly passing driver. Also, you would be wise to never confuse your index finger with your middle finger when “waving” to a native West Virginian, or you would likely provoke a very different reaction from the approaching driver. I wouldn’t want you to say I didn’t give you fair warning about that.
Over the years I have now lived in my adopted home of West Virginia, I have learned many other simple ways to distinguish true native West Virginians and “come-here’s.” Here are some of the best ways to distinguish between the two…
1. For native rural West Virginians, there is no difference between the terms “working hours” and “daylight hours.”
2. You will never hear a native West Virginian ask, “why do so many of your cows have only one teat?”
3. You will never hear a native West Virginian ask, “how much wood do I get in a cord?” (For those “come-here’s” among you, a cord of cut, split, and stacked firewood measures 4 feet high by 4 feet deep by 8 feet long or about 128 cubic feet. Even a dumb New Hampshirite knows that.)
4. Native rural West Virginians do not have Labradoodles as pets. They much prefer a good Mountain Cur or a Bluetick Hound.
5. If you encounter a large, four-wheel drive pickup truck that has been modified to have a stacked exhaust pipe, you can rest assured that the driver is most likely a native rural West Virginian. (A truck must have a raised exhaust pipe to negotiate a ford across a creek or run, especially after a heavy storm).
6. No self-respecting native rural West Virginian would ever drive a Smart Car or a Yugo in public view (much less own one).
7. A true native West Virginian can tell you all you need to know about a person’s general character in three words or less. As an important corollary to this rule, a native West Virginian will not accept you as a person he knows unless he knows your father’s and/or mother’s character.
8. A true native West Virginian knows that the word “Hollow” is properly pronounced “Holler” and “Kanawha” County or River is properly pronounced “Kannaw.”
9. Native West Virginians prefer to drive an ATV on a wilderness trail to walking it on foot. (It’s more exciting that way, and it takes less time.)
10. You will never hear a native West Virginian ask when hunting season begins and ends. Also, the answer most native West Virginians would give to that question, if asked, is that they don’t recognize a beginning or ending to hunting season.
11. Only a native rural West Virginian would not be able to tell you the one cut of meat he/she prefers most from any game animal. They all know there are too many good cuts on any one animal to choose only one.
12. A native rural West Virginian will never be able to tell you where any land is available for sale, unless he knows your father or mother or it is his own.
13. Every true native West Virginian can tell you the state’s motto, and official animal, tree, bird, and song and can even name at least six famous native West Virginians without having to stop and think about it.
14. All native West Virginians will look you in the eye when they talk to you. Also, if they know your mother or father, they will always ask you to come in and visit for a spell.
15. A native West Virginian knows that ramps are good to eat and when to harvest them. A “come-here” probably won’t even know what they are.
16. Native West Virginians know how to find their way out of the woods without a GPS. In fact, native West Virginians have no need for a GPS because they know there’s no satellite service in the woods.
17. The most honest, forthright, unassuming, and polite person in a casual group conversation is most often a native West Virginian. Likewise, the person in a group conversation most easily riled by the mention of a typical West Virginia stereotype is also a native West Virginian.
18. A native rural West Virginian will only go to a Farmers Market to buy what didn’t grow well in his/her own garden that season, and will likely haggle over the price.
19. The only person in a room full of people who will know how to fix a piece of heavy equipment using whatever is just lying around and some ingenuity is either Angus MacGyver or a native rural West Virginian. By the way, Angus MacGyver is not a native West Virginian, although through his Scottish roots, he might well be related to one.
20. The only person you will ever meet who can be a dollar short and still make a good living without it is a native rural West Virginian.
While there may be some instances where a “come-here” could appear to be a native (assuming he or she has lived here long enough) or a native doesn’t quite fit the pattern, any person who satisfies all of the above criteria is certain to be a native rural West Virginian. They are simply the best caliber of people I have had the privilege of getting to know. Perhaps I can’t claim to have been born in my adopted home of West Virginia, but I consider that to be an accident of birth I simply couldn’t control. At least I can say that I got here as soon as I could, and I have no compelling reason to ever leave. I hope you have enjoyed these little pearls of wisdom I can offer you from our experiences here at Peeper Pond Farm.