It would be melodramatic to say I feel like the Grim Reaper, but lately I've been the bearer of a lot of bad news.
Sadly, the bad news has come from Lewis County, where I was born and raised and still live, by my own choosing.
First, Heilig-Meyers announced its Weston store would be closed, along with several others in the state. I was assigned to get the reaction from residents. Of course, they were worried. It was another blow to downtown in an era when downtown America is struggling.
Like other cities throughout the state, Weston's downtown has increasingly become a place where a lot of people drive through en route from point A to point B, but seldom stop. As it happens in other rural counties throughout the state, many of the brightest, most capable young people have left for other states where high-wage jobs beckon. Of my fellows in LCHS Class of 1990 who went on to earn college degrees, only a few remain in the state, much less the county.
Then the flooding came, and accounts of the damage in the southern part of the county are no exaggeration. I can remember the flood of 1985, when I was out of school for a week and I could see the West Fork River reach the windows of city homes from the hill above my house on Murphy Creek Road. While the damage around Walkersville, Ireland and Crawford covers a smaller area than the 1985 flood, the severity of the damage is not worse. It's much worse.
Though it's necessary, bringing such news to readers is not a happy task. Perhaps it's for the best that reporters, including me, tend to develop a peculiar numbness after weeks, months and years of turning over stories like McDonald's turns over hamburgers.
But this column is not about me. It's about the fact that despite recent hardships, Lewis County is a good place to live.
The county is still rural enough for people to have a little space, peace and quiet, and good hunting and fishing. While it may not be an economic mecca, most of us get by reasonably well. We don't have daily traffic jams, and you can walk down Main Avenue without choking on exhaust fumes. You can also walk down Main Avenue, day or night, without running a gauntlet of drug dealers, prostitutes and muggers.
I've lived in Charleston and Huntington, close to some of their less than ideal neighborhoods. I used to keep a loaded .357 magnum nearby, and not just out of paranoia, as I was once on the receiving end of an unsuccessful mugging attempt. I do so no longer.
I saw something very important in Crawford Monday -- neighbors pulling together to help each other through difficult times. That won't show up in statistics for social scientists to pore over and politicians to wave around, but it has a value you can't slap a number on.
In much of America, a lot of people who don't have enough in common to be part of a functional society live packed together, bound by the dry, cracking glue of a monster-sized federal government and the coercive mechanisms of the mass market. Many Americans have nothing that can loosely be called a community.
However, Lewis Countians do. That's why, all things considered, its a good place to live.
I think it always will be.
Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442.