Life is looking up in White Sulphur Springs

January will vent its fury with windy, snow-filled days ahead, but eyes are on warmer activities as we West Virginians await the festive change of our government officials and look for some new ideas to envelop our State Capitol.

As in years past, the Board of Public Works swearing-in ceremony will take place in Charleston, but the Governor’s Inaugural Ball, traditionally a Capitol City Gala staged at the Civic Center, has been re-located to a small town in eastern Greenbrier County, White Sulphur Springs.

On the evening of Jan. l6, the followers of newly elected Gov. Jim Justice will trek to the Greenbrier Resort’s ballroom with plans to dance the night away.

Even more intriguing is the fact that a thousand-year flood flowed on these very grounds only six months ago, and with the help of many West Virginia residents, this municipality is up and going and ready to host this premier event.

I recently spent some time with one of those who worked diligently to restore her family’s restaurant not far from the Greenbrier’s grounds. Located east of Lewisburg on Route 60 near the I-64 White Sulphur Springs exit,  Cook’s Country Kitchen caught my eye in October when I decided to eat there and got the best vegetable plate I had ever consumed.  It was difficult for me to even select my choices of fried potatoes, bacon-seasoned pinto beans, tender, steamed broccoli and fried apples with a hint of brown sugar, with tasty down-home warmed cornbread on the side. I could only have four choices and it was not an easy time, because what I did not have were the other vegetable plate selections of homemade mac and cheese, tender fresh-cut coleslaw, fried onion rings and seasoned green beans. My meal totalled $7.99.

A further examination of the Cook’s menu rendered an extraordinary selection of foods and I promised them a return visit for picture-taking and further fact-finding, because these people had quite a story to tell.

Eight feet of rushing flood waters surged into their building when the June flood occurred. Working Manager Dana Payne told me all that saved the building was the solid pine boards encasing the room. After a thorough cleaning and polishing, they remained sturdy and usable.

With her staff scattered throughout the area to tend to their own personal tragedies, she had to try to envision a plan where she could get the business cleaned and operating as soon as possible.

She found herself giving away the frozen stock of meats they had on hand before the flood. Sending these to downtown White Sulphur Springs seemed the right thing to do so people could grill hamburgers and have a decent meal.

She is still visibly shaken when she recalls the first few days after waters subsided, and she was quick to tell me that the monetary toll that everyone kept track of was not nearly as bad as the emotional toll most people experienced.

Seeing the very competent staff who prepare and serve meals for this establishment, it is very difficult to recognize any problem they incurred. The friendly, courteous servers stand with the excellent cooks, who are A-plus in food preparation, and it is just an awesome experience to eat — excuse me, gobble down — a dinner. And, now, I have done it twice.

There is no end to the food selection process. With offerings of chicken, several fish including cod, talapia, catfish and flounder, roast beef, turkey, sugar cured ham and a full breakfast menu served all day, biscuits, cornbread and roll choices are part of all combinations.

One would imagine that desserts really are not necessary here, but if peanut butter pie, MeMaw’s carrot cake, cheese cake, fruit cobblers (blackberry, blueberry and cherry), bread pudding with a custard caramel sauce, or cream pie (chocolate, coconut creme, pecan or lemon) take your fancy, they have it.

High booths ensure your privacy and very reasonable prices will not restrict your spending elsewhere. You will find them open Mondays through Thursdays at 8 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. in spring and summer months with an earlier end to the day in winter. Many customers come on Saturday and Sunday, so an earlier start time is appropriate at 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and till 7:30 p.m. Sunday evenings.

This “working boss,” as Payne described herself, takes Wednesdays off and leaves the place for two assistant managers to handle. But it is evident that her presence permeates the business and the quality tone she sets is expected to be shared by all who are employed there.

I asked how they got the food to taste so good. Payne explained, “Most everything comes to our kitchen fresh and is made from scratch.”

Now just up the road, the Greenbrier has fine food, too, and their guests will dine and be given the Southern charm known to be a symbol of the Greenbrier’s grandeur. But many West Virginians are always looking for a bargain spot to take the family to eat and I must tell you, Cook’s Country Kitchen is quite affordable. A stop here if you are in the area for events like the Inaugural, the Greenbrier PGA Golf Classic or the West Virginia State Fair will be highly rewarded.

The rest of White Sulphur Springs is being restored in similar fashion. During this trip, I drove through it for the first time since flood waters filled its streets and homes. If we could somehow get a project going to send flowers and shrubs for their springtime planting, it would add a look about the town that I always remember being there. I am sure their residents have little dollars left for beautification of their town. West Virginians should just consider adding a completer to the many jobs they have performed there and give these good people back the beauty nature took from them.

It is truly amazing that our new governor is rising from the raging waters that nearly ruined one of the prettiest areas of our state. But, with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers, monies from everywhere including many West Virginia churches, state organizations, and our state and federal governments, and with prayers of thousands throughout these United States, this area is now ready to celebrate the inauguration of our 36th governor. And, it will be done in a style unique to Greenbrier County.

This will be more than a dance. This will be a statement to all about the strength and resilience of the West Virginia people. Do not think for a minute that our people are not survivors. We have experienced many kinds of hardship in our lives, and we pray to God and have faith he will answer. We go arm-in-arm and hold-on till the obstacles can be overcome. We fight our battles together, and our neighbors and friends who speak a language and a tradition of doing good for one another get the job done, as has been carried on by our kinfolk for generations.

So, let us raise our glasses and toast the New Year. Cheers for the Cooks Restaurant, cheers for the new governor, and cheers for all the many volunteers who showed up in the last several months to ensure their fellow West Virginians’  residences would be replenished and homes would be restored.

The Lord many of them laud has stood by them, and again has shown the world his face and the fortunes he can bestow through the fervant work of his followers. It is this faith of our families that helps us waltz and welcome each coming morn.

Editor’s Note: West Virginia University’s College of Education and Human Services’ Alumni Association inducted Dr. Shannon Bennett Campbell into their Honors Society. The group recognizes alumni who have made outstanding life-long contributions to Education and Community Service. This announcement was made by the WVU Dean of Education and Human Services at a Charleston Honors Recognition Ceremony where Priscilla Haden, past State Board of Education president, and Dr. Clacey Williams, past executive director of the State School Building Authority, were  also inducted. She has contributed more than 70 news articles to The Inter-Mountain in the past six years recognizing the positive attributes of the Mountain State’s beauty and people.