Sonia Barkat has lived in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Nashville, and is currently in Seattle, WA, where she consults for health care providers. West Virginia is still home and she is an avid WVU Mountaineer football and basketball fan.
A new road has just been built connecting your main drag to the interstate. As they descend from the exit ramp, drivers can see your sprawling core. What they can't see is any strip malls. The view is dominated by a bridge stretching across an unseen river, connecting old buildings with older buildings. The ancient Appalachian Mountains serve as a backdrop to the modest downtown.
My family moved here when I was two, left when I was eight, and returned again when I was 23. You have been the only place in my peripatetic life that I remember feeling truly sad when leaving. You have an element of hominess that most towns have to try to create. The sense of community is unwavering and deeply rooted: The first Father's Day was celebrated here to honor the fathers lost in the Monongah mining disaster.
Fifteen miles south of one of West Virginia's more notable towns, you hold a sense of peace and tranquility that is almost drinkable. I get the sense that even the young people living in the town appreciate the place through clouds of ambition.
This appreciation is clear to regulars at Muriale's, your well-loved Italian restaurant, where young people diligently bus and take orders. Sitting down at a table in the corner, it would be easy to conclude that this was a small tavern in Italy with an odd obsession with West Virginia University athletics. The food is simple and delicious. Andes candies are served with the check.
Another Fairmont jewel is the shack that lies at the downtown end of the big bridge. Most days around lunchtime people in suits and overalls walk in and out of the shack carrying paper bags and school-size cartons of milk. Inside the shack is a phenomenon most would only assume takes place in bigger cities. Yann's Hot Dogs is the home to amazing chili dogs that natives swear by.
Mr. Yann, the owner, makes a predetermined number of hot dogs a day and when he sells out he closes shop. Growing up, my palate for spice not fully defined, I would ask for a little bit of "chili sauce" and a carton of chocolate milk. Mr. Yann would tease me by calling these "baby hot dogs," which they were compared to what my big brother would order.
During the spring and summer months, cool mountain air mixes with the hot sun to create an atmospheric affect akin to a warm blanket on a chilly night. And there is never a shortage of late afternoon thunderstorms to make every sunset dynamic and breathtaking. Travel a few miles south and the waterfalls and swimming holes that dot the Tygart River Valley are easy accessible.
There is no sense of urgency, but plenty to do. You are, after all, a town to be experienced slowly.
Your ease, natural beauty and friendliness are all I will ever need.