|The Charleston Gazette Visits Sunny Cal
Reprint from the Charleston Gazette Sunday Dec. 31, 2000|
By Tara Tuckwiller 2001
PUTNAM COUNTY REPORTER
CHLOE - Barbara Mace let her long, slim cigarette burn almost
completely to ash while she contemplated
her diamonds. Shopkeeper Bob Cooper had just asked her why she thought
divorce is so common in
"Well now, how would I know?" she said, lips twisting into a
mischievous grin. She fluttered her
bejeweled fingers. "I've been married to the same man three
times....Every time we broke up, he bought
me a big diamond."
Mace accounts for her share of Calhoun County's divorce rate, which is
indeed one of the state's highest.
The county epitomizes many of the characteristics that researchers
link to divorce - poverty,
unemployment, young marriages.
When Cooper learned of that statistic, he started asking all the
customers bustling in and out of his warm
little general store for their opinion on it. See, he's been divorced
"What'd that first one last, a couple days?" his business partner,
Elaine McCumbers, asked with a smile.
"No, three or four years," Cooper said. "We just couldn't get
Cooper stayed married to his second wife for 24 years. Since then he's
been asking McCumbers, the
daughter of a friend, if she'd be interested in getting hitched. Her
answer never varies.
"I tried that," she always says. "Didn't like it." She's divorced,
There are two ways to measure the divorce rate. The more reliable one
counts divorces per 1,000
married women - not men - because, interestingly, researchers find
women's answers about their marital
status more reliable.
The other, more common way, counts divorces per 1,000 population.
Either way, Calhoun County's way
ahead of the state average, and the second measure puts it at the top
of the list.
Larry Whited, the family law master who serves Calhoun, Gilmer, Roane
and Jackson counties, estimates
that he handles 100 divorce filings a year in Calhoun.
"It's odd," he said. "Gilmer County's bigger in land area, but it's
got a similar population and similar
economy. But for some reason, Gilmer County's [divorce rate is]
probably half what it is in Calhoun
Whited is right. While almost seven out of every 1,000 married people
in Calhoun County get a divorce in
a given year, only three in 1,000 divorce in Gilmer County.
The reason? Boredom, Whited hypothesizes. People who are bored or
dissatisfied with their lives are
more likely to get divorced.
"Gilmer County has Glenville State College, and that, I think, helps
some," he said. "Not for employment
so much, but there's more there for people to do. Cultural things."
Researchers have spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out
why divorce rates are higher in some
places than others.
One of the latest theories relies on the "mountaineers are always
free" attitude. It suggests that people in
certain areas of the country - the West, for instance, or Appalachia -
place a high value on independence.
People who are more independent-minded seek their own personal
development, and they'll end a
marriage if it holds them back.
Calhoun County supports most of the usual theories. One theory centers
around poverty - married
couples fight about money, and the fighting intensifies when there
isn't any. In Calhoun County, more
than one in three people live in poverty.
A related problem, unemployment, can have even more far-reaching
effects. Even if the fights aren't
about money, being jobless can create feelings of worthlessness and
general dissatisfaction with life,
especially in men, which can translate into arguments or domestic
violence - and eventually divorce. In
Calhoun County, about one in five people are unemployed.
And in job-poor areas, job opportunities for women are particularly
limited. That, combined with Calhoun
County's rural nature, can lead women to marry young. And research has
shown that people who marry
young - in their teens or early 20s - are more likely to get divorced
than people who wait until later in life.
McCumbers married young, and stayed married for 18 years. She didn't
work, either. "I worked at Speedy Mart a little while, but that was
when I was 19 or 20 years old," she said. She's 35
now. "I have four kids," she said. "I'm married to my kids."
Mace doesn't buy into any theories. "About everybody I know in
Calhoun's been divorced once or
twice," she said. "I'd say it's because people just got till they
don't care about each other anymore."
She and her husband kept splitting up for two reasons, she said.
First, they disagreed about how to raise
their two children. "If he wanted to do something with them, even
though I knew he was right, I wasn't going to admit it,"
Second, they don't really have much in common. She likes to watch TV,
and he's not interested. "He's a workaholic," Mace said of her
construction-worker husband. "He's a great worker. Everybody
knows it." She keeps remarrying him because it feels safer. "I just
feel more secure with him," she said.
So Calhoun County has a high divorce rate. So what? Does that bode ill
for the county? Not necessarily, said Whited, who sees about 650
divorcing couples a year.
"I don't know whether divorce is good or bad at times," he said.
"Sometimes divorce is a good thing.
Sometimes people who can't get along are better off getting a divorce,
instead of frustrating themselves in
continuing in the marriage."
While the divorce rate is falling nationwide, it's rising slightly in
West Virginia. Whited thinks the new,
relative ease of getting a divorce might be causing that. But that
relative ease might also be easing the
transition for divorcing couples and their children.
"There's not the stigma about it anymore," he said. "I don't think
it's the big deal that it used to be. "The thing that really bothers
me about it are the children involved. How they're affected by the
divorce or remarriage of a parent....Although, overall, I think kids
cope pretty well."
Calvin Wilson, a 20-year resident of Calhoun County, agrees that
divorce is "kind of common" in his
neighborhood. But he can't say why. "I wouldn't know," he said,
holding up his left hand. A golden band gleamed in the sunlight
streaming through the plate-glass windows of the Grantsville Napa
store, where he works.
Wilson and his wife, a Calhoun County native, have stayed married
through 10 years and two kids. Many
of their neighbors are divorced, but Wilson hasn't seen that taking a
toll on the quality of life.
"I've lived here 20 years. Things go well. I'll probably live and die
here," he said. "It's a good place to
raise kids. Nice, quiet, no drug problem really.... I weigh those
benefits more than anything. "I try to look at the best of Calhoun
To contact staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call