What I remember most about my first visit to the West Virginia State Fair was being sick to my stomach in the backseat of my grandma’s Ford Pinto listening to Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius singing on the stage. Yes, I’m that old. I’ve returned to the fair many times since and have much better memories too.
I enjoy the home, arts and livestock exhibits but I’m drawn to the garden displays like a bee. It reminds me of friends sharing their harvest with my family. My grandmother’s garden couldn’t keep up with the crop of good people delivering fresh vegetables to our house in the summer. Eventually, she quit trying.
Looking back, it was probably the first time she didn’t fear starving. She told me once that seeds, and God, got her through the Great Depression. She grew up in poverty that would make the poorest person today feel rich. She rarely talked about her mom’s struggle to raise several kids alone with no income.
Whenever she did, it was with reverence for the ruggedness instilled in her by her mom’s resolve and regrets about how much being poor cost her family. Food, clothing and shelter were hard-to-come-by indulgences for them. Her abiding gratitude for each basic need that was somehow met stayed with her.
Our inheritance of wealth enjoyed today descended from a heritage of hurt people who had nothing but each other to depend on. Communities were built on a foundation of fellowship then. The cornerstones of compassion set in place by our ancestors who settled and survived here together seem to be eroding.
The poorest folks to me are the ones who don’t see the needs of their neighbors. I’m saddened that an entire subset of society has grown up with a help yourself not help your neighbors attitude in West Virginia. I find the genocide of generosity caused by generation “Y me” greatly depressing nowadays.
I was raised in times of hospitality for the heck of it. You never had to ask anyone for help back then. If you needed it, no matter what it was, you got it. I dripped raindrops of sweat tromping haystacks in the summer on our neighbor’s farm. Not because they asked me but because my grandpa told me to do it.
I plan to escape the do-nothing daze going on around me by going to the West Virginia State Fair again. Every stalk, steer and stich on display there reminds me that lots of people still take pride in our time-honored traditions and they aren’t shy about caring or sharing their very best with others.
That’s worth the price of admission to me. And I almost guarantee you’ll find the nicest people passing time around the garden displays too.
– Jim Shock, Communications Manager for Mountaineer Food Bank. HashtagWV #92. August 2017.