In W. Va., A Dance To Say We'll Be All Right
UNION, W. Va.--As cell phone service faded, Michael and I grew more convinced that the quiet, winding roads we were taking into West Virginia would end in a town just as still. We arrived in Union a little before 8 p.m. to find we couldn’t have been more wrong.
A marquee outside a grocery store advertised milk, sugar and eggs on one side and on the other, it welcomed us to the “Farmers' Day Dance.”
We had stumbled into this town on its biggest night of the year and the whole community of about 500 residents seemed to be out, swaying to country music under an overcast sky (would any other sky be appropriate?).
“You have some people that never, never come out, but they’ll come out tonight for Farmers' Day,” said Shane Ashley, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, which organized the weekend-long festivities. The next day’s schedule called for a king and queen to be crowned, horseshoes to be pitched, antique cars to be displayed. A parade would march down Main Street and fireworks would burst above a middle school.
There’s no doubt individuals here have been hurt by the economy. But it quickly became clear to us that the recession has not been a communal cancer. This place has not been crippled like others we've seen. Children, dollar bills in hand, still raced through the crowd with newly-bought toys they did not need—inflatable hammers, neon necklaces, miniature lights for their teeth that served no purpose other than to flicker when they smiled.
If there was a time to worry, that would come later. Tonight was a time to dance.
“We’re in a pretty guarded area. We don’t have real highs or real lows.” Ashley said, attributing that to the community’s small size, residents’ work ethic and “just being blessed.”
Union has been somewhat protected from the downturn, he and others said, because it was never a place where excess played much of a role. Instead, the biggest night of the year occurs on an asphalt dance floor, surrounded by fold-out chairs residents have lugged from home.
Patricia Wykle, who owns a flower shop and is president of the Chamber, said she is "hopeful. There’s a little room to say, ‘We’re going to be all right.’”
That’s not to say some people we encountered did not tell of hard times. Many farmers here work multiple jobs off the field to make ends meet. Fears of home invasions seem to have grown and more people are planting gardens not for fun, but to ease grocery store bills.
But what struck us as we took in the night was that Union is like most country songs -- even laments are accompanied by a sense of resiliency. If the sky was overcast, at least it was not raining.
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