This week, on my way home, family business took me to Wheeling, West Virginia. Wheeling is an old town, nestled in the Ohio River Valley along National Road, the old stage coach route from the east. Both my parents are from Wheeling, and, as a child I often spent weekends visiting my grandparents there.
Unfortunately, Wheeling, like the rest of the Ohio Valley has fallen on hard times. Steel and coal, the major industries of the area, are in steep decline. As a child, downtown Wheeling, was alive, vital, and thriving with people doing business in the many stores on Market and Main streets. Driving through town yesterday, the downtown was empty and sad. There were few stores open, little traffic, and few people walking the sidewalks.
After a short meeting, I took the country roads home to my Mom’s house in Steubenville, Ohio, another Valley town about 20 miles up river. When I was a kid we drove these hilly, winding roads from Wellsburg to Wheeling to see family. Although it had been years since I’d driven these roads, finding my way seemed almost automatic. When I let go of my need to hurry, I just let my “memory” take over, recalling all their names. GC & P Road (what does that name mean?), Cherry Hill Road, Route 88 to West Liberty and Bethany, Short Creek Road.
As I wound down out of the hills on Short Creek Road, the sun shining through the clouds, a wide creek to the right, lots of empty land, and past an abandoned coal mine, it struck me how much this all felt like home. How comfortable I felt being among the hills and small towns of West Virginia. Back in the place of my roots.