Mysterious West Virginia

At the post office, the elderly woman also named Betty placed my letter on the scale.

“I know exactly where this is,” she said, nodding towards the address on the envelope, “I grew up in a town about half an hour away and let me tell you, it’s gorgeous. When the seasons change,” she looked up towards the ceiling of the small post office and spread her left hand, “Wowee, you’ve never seen colors like that.”

Photo courtesy of, User: Forestwander

I am beginning to smell fall – it’s a very peculiar and distinct scent, not as obvious as it is up north or in other states such as West Virginia, where the seasons change distinctly rather than indecisively, as they do (or don’t) here in Southern California. I haven’t a name for it, or the correct words to describe the smell – but I take a whiff whenever I step outside the house and most of the time, I wish the scent were more distinct. On a recent trip to New York and Ann Arbor the smell hit me like a ton of bricks and I was excited. It was like biting into an apple with my nose and I understood why fall air is characterized as “crisp.” Though now, back in Southern California the scent is subdued if not diluted with lingering summer. But still, I call it fall.

Betty ran the letter through a large machine, the “stamper,” I guess, and peered at the address more closely. Her hair is a rare, clean pure white, and is cut into a short, easy to manage bob. Her skin is fair and faintly powdered, her eyes a bright, electric blue, intensified by the stone-washed denim shirt she wore. Her nails are always done and she gives off that feeling of old-school no-nonsense capability: the kind of woman who can bring home a decent, steady paycheck, keep a clean house, bake a damn good apple pie and keep her rowdy grand-kids in line. She is razor sharp and I’ve never seen anyone else working behind the counter at the small post office. People wait patiently in line, though Betty never lets it get too long.

“Graduate school,” she said, “so what are you planning to study?”

“Creative writing,” I said.

“Oh lovely,” she said, “that’s lovely.”

“So you would recommend spending three years in West Virginia?”

She looked up, mildly startled to be asked what I felt was an obvious question. She glanced behind me – two women were waiting. It was 4:45PM and the post office closed at 5. Lately, with my thirteen applications all of which required an item or two mailed in via post, Betty was seeing a lot of me, but we had never exchanged more than pleasantries. And there was always a line, as there was now. But her expression told me that whatever she wanted to say could not be summed up in even fifteen minutes, but that being from West Virginia, she wanted to give me her two cents or, as a wise older woman working in the Post Office, her Forever stamp.

“It’s different,” she said.

I moved to the side so that the woman behind me could move to the counter.

“Different….bad different?”

Betty took a deep breath and looked up, searching for the right way to put it. She had just tossed atop the pile of outgoing mail my official Berkeley Transcript, which UWV had politely requested it in a typed letter. Obviously I was somewhat interested in going there.

“Well,” she began slowly, “It’s a small town, everyone knows everyone. Everyone is really friendly, but they do have a particular mindset.”


“Mm hmmm.”

We both turned to look at the woman at the counter, who was mailing a large package. She smiled at Betty and then at me, “I’m from around there too,” she said, “I couldn’t help but overhear, and yes, it is veery different.”

“What do you mean by mindset?” I asked Betty.

She printed a lable for the woman and continued searching for the right words, but they never came.

“You’ll see,” she said, “I honestly can’t explain it.”

“Neither can I,” the other woman said. I wondered if her package was going back east to Virginia, but Betty chucked it in the back before I could see the address.

I was confused and wanted Betty and the woman to be straight, but we were in a small post office in small town at the end of the day and Betty I could tell, wanted to get home. Home home, in southern California. And the woman too, who had for one reason or other moved away from beautiful West Virginia and settled here, a pseudo small town with perpetual sun and year round monochromatic foliage. 

“I guess I’ll be sure to visit if I’m accepted,” I said, and she nodded emphatically.

“Yes definitely,” she said. “You must visit. It’s beautiful.” And with that, she turned to the next customer and I was left to ponder her enigmatic emphasis on ‘visit’.

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One thought on “Mysterious West Virginia

  1. The only time I was in Virginia was at a bed and breakfast when I was around 10. That being said, maybe they just have that stereotypical judgmental, small town mindset? I did read that they are much more conservative than we are in Southern California, even compared to Orange County conservatives. I'd think you're tough enough to slog it out though and it might give you some interesting writing ideas.

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