By Jim Shock
The West Virginia State Fair theme is “Feel the Magic.” After graduating from WVU, I accepted a job at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, so I know a thing or two about “magic.” I discovered The Most Magical Place on Earth has a lot in common with West Virginia, if you open your heart and believe as I do.
Admittedly, I’m biased. After an amazingly unforgettable journey to a magical kingdom in a land far, far away, I returned to an exceptionally wild and wonderful place I proudly call home.
I’ve enjoyed many memorable moments of make-believe both here and there. Walt Disney (the man) was a compulsive creator, a flawed genius, some say. Regardless, he envisioned innovations no one believed possible and brought his dreams to life in magical ways that continue to captivate, fascinate and enchant millions of people, of every age, around the globe.
Still, compared to the Creator of West Virginia, Walt Disney was an amateur.
Disney World and West Virginia are both spellbinding, but there are distinguishing and undeniable differences between them. Disney World was built around a premise of make-believe. The attractions in West Virginia are irrefutably and irreplaceably real. The dizzying dips of Space Mountain are not nearly as thrilling to me as exploring the tough terrain of West Virginia in my Jeep with my dog, Maxx.
As a former “Cast Member” (Disney’s whimsical term for employees), I’m among a minority of “civilians” who’ve explored the hush-hush labyrinth of lunacy hidden beneath Cinderella’s Castle. I’ve witnessed the “madness behind the magic,” as I call it, and it’s certainly a sight to behold.
Yet it still doesn’t surpass the solitary silence and mesmerizing marvels hidden within the Greenbrier River watershed, caves buried below us here. Ironically, exploring this wondrous underworld of crystal-covered cave walls beneath Greenbrier County is a high point in my life so far.
I’ll admit, the turkey legs at Disney World are pretty dang tasty, but they don’t compare to the bacon-wrapped, deep-fried wild turkey bites my bow-hunting buddy serves up every season. Out of veneration for Bambi, I won’t mention the hollers filled with celebrity chefs preparing exceptionally delectable venison vittles for friends and family each autumn. Walt Disney would be hard pressed to think up such clever ways to serve up our hillside herds.
Disney World is dedicated to fairy tales. West Virginia has folk tales and legends as incredible as anything you’ll hear at the Magic Kingdom.
Disney World theme parks, by design, are divided into “lands” or themed environments that tell stories through experiences. Within 47 square miles (give or take), visitors at Disney World can journey under the sea, to the Himalayas or even to Mars and beyond.
By comparison, West Virginia offers (give or take) 24,231 square miles of activities just as magical, mesmerizing and majestic as anything Walt Disney Imagineers (term for ultra-creative so-and-sos) ever imagined.
West Virginia’s heavenly horizons feature beautiful Main Streets, Adventurelands, Frontierlands, Fantasylands and Tomorrowlands. The only difference — our lands are real! Maybe too real for some folks, and that’s OK. It keeps the riffraff away.
Our reality isn’t, and never has been, perfect. It’s certainly not for everyone. Sure, our paint is peeling in parts. We struggle, a lot, in different ways. Happily ever after doesn’t come easily for us. Yet, we endure. In spite of strife, we thrive, forever faithful to our Appalachian heritage.
Our family and friends are certainly as colorful and animated as any Disney character conceived, and the moments we enjoy together are in no way metaphorically magical. More than anything, we live lives as authentic and rugged as our surroundings.
We care for each other in ways Disney movies have to make up. Our smiles are real. Our waves are legit and our handshakes are as solid as the red clay we plant our tin castles on top of. Of course, we have villains here, too, but West Virginia has a way of weedin’ them out. We’re great gardeners, in that respect.
People save a lifetime to visit Walt Disney World to escape reality. I came back to West Virginia to reconnect with the real world. Our world isn’t sprinkled with glitter, filled with sappy songs or stitched together seamlessly by chipper mice. It’s flawed, which makes it real, and that makes it perfect to me. It’s a place where I hope to live happily ever after until I die.
The West Virginia State Fair provides families an opportunity to experience everything wild and wonderful (and magical) about this great state — no monorail required. When it comes to making the impossible possible, West Virginia has made a believer out of me. I hope you’ll enjoy all she has to offer this week!
— Jim Shock, Lewisburg resident, grew up in Gilmer County. He is a published children’s author by Disney Press.