When I was young, Parkersburg was to me one of two options when it was time for back-to-school or Christmas shopping. My family lived in Paden City - on the Tyler County side of the line, mind you - and shopping trips meant driving an hour, either north or south. Once in a while, my awareness of the Parkersburg/Vienna area would expand to a shoe store that was one of the few places my mother could find anything to fit her narrow feet. I don't remember the name of the store, but I remember spending what seemed like days rolling and whining on their carpeted benches, unable to understand why anyone would take THAT long to buy a pair of shoes. (I have been paid back in full, as it now takes me longer than it ever took my mother to find shoes.)
Then, when I was 13 years old, my family moved above the Mason-Dixon line. Until that winter, I had no idea I had an accent. But when a new friend of mine rolled over laughing at the way I pronounced "Come on down," while sledding, I learned the truth. Everyone could tell I wasn't from around there.
In the ensuing years, my accent became a soup of a little Tyler, a little Wetzel, some Ohio County and a pinch of Pittsburgh. Then came a little Trumbull County and Belmont County, Ohio. By the time I began work on a copy desk in New York City, coworkers would say "Oh, you're from West Virginia? Huh. You don't really sound like you're from anywhere."
But the West Virginia pennant I kept on my desk, combined with a photo from Holly River as my computer's wallpaper, reminded them. In fact, despite my apparent lack of an accent, one cranky old boss declared he was unable to understand a televised news conference from Kentucky, and that he needed me to "interpret" for him. I was happy to oblige.
Now I find myself again in a place where the music on the radio rhymes "Hank" with "drink," where carbonated beverages are more often "pop" than "soda," and where no one ever says they are standing "on line" at the grocery store. They are "in line," as God intended.
I am home. Even better, I am back in the state I love, and working in a real newsroom - the kind in which reporters are more interested in the workings of a local school board than in the workings of the Board of Trade.
I will go through another round of finding out what it means to be from around here, and I am very much looking forward to it. (Though I'm glad no one was in the car with me the other day when I tried to figure out how to get going east again on Route 50.) And I won't be disappointed if someday I'm visiting another part of the country and they can tell I came from the Mid-Ohio Valley.
And speaking of shoes, I have quite a pair to fill as I try to step in to the newsroom Jim Smith helped build. In fact, I'm not sure it would be possible. I have a feeling I'll be better off bringing my own, and using them to walk around making discoveries and connections. I hope to meet you all along the way, and that the relationship between this newspaper and my new community will be as strong as ever.
I would not have made it in to my first day in the office Monday, had it not been for a gentleman named Chris and the rest of the crew working to clear the entrance road and parking lots around my new place. These poor guys had to convince me to quit attempting to drive after I slid backward a good way down the road and they had to push the front end of the car to get me straightened up. They assured me they would get the road cleared out and take care of everything if I would only go wait for them to do their jobs. Despite their best efforts, however, there was still a slick spot JUST at the crest of the hill. I nearly conceded defeat until I looked in my rearview mirror and saw Chris running up the hill to give the car a push. While I cheered upon making it out onto the main road (with his considerable effort), I'm sure he was thinking "good riddance." But I was more grateful than my thanks at the time could convey.
Thank goodness for folks who are willing to do hard work and help other people. It was another reminder that I have landed in a pretty wonderful place.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.