by Tina Firesheets
I’m about to do something I promised my father I’d never consider.
I’m getting ready to put our last piece of family land up for sale. It’s a mostly hilly 4.25-acre parcel about five miles from the Cherokee Indian Reservation in western North Carolina. It has a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and the small town of Whittier below. I think a cousin told me once that land has been in our family since the 1800s.
Letting it go is practical. I rarely visit the area. And although it would be cool, we don’t have the money to build a hipster tiny-house Airbnb on the property. But letting go doesn’t come without some remorse and a tinge of sadness.
I was a little girl when my father told me that the land would be mine some day.
“But you can never, ever sell it,” he told me. He had these blue, blue eyes that looked even bluer against weathered skin, tanned and creased from smoking way too many Winston cigarettes and long hours of working under the sun.
“You promise, right?” The intensity of those eyes on mine forced me to promise something I didn’t even really understand.
“I won’t,” I promised solemnly, and I really meant it.
My father eventually broke his own promise, but my heart was a bit broken before that. Our land was inherited from my grandparents. One of my aunts inherited their home on a neighboring parcel when they died. I felt like a piece of my childhood had been given away when she sold it. I spent a lot of time with them in their little house on the hill. I watched my grandmother bake biscuits and skillet cornbread in a wood stove. In the summer, I helped her can vegetables and make blackberry jelly. Their water came from a spring in the yard, and they had a smokehouse I liked to explore. I read my grandmother’s Grace Livingston Hill and Readers Digest condensed books on their front porch because there wasn’t anything else to do on long, hot summer afternoons.
We all sat on that porch, waiting for something to happen. Or someone to drop by.
Occasionally, we saw people float past on inner tubes in the Tuckasegee River below.
My father sold the first parcel of land on the Tuckasegee River after my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I guess they needed the money. Years later, my father built a small garage and car repair shop on the other piece of riverfront property. He eventually sold that, too. All that’s left is the tract of land between my grandparents‘ old home and my cousin’s, who lives above.
While I never doubted my intent to sell our property, there’s a part of me that wishes I could hold on to just a little part of it. While I consider Jamestown and Greensboro my home, I also say I’m “going home” when I return to the mountains. I had no desire to remain in western North Carolina after I graduated high school. I wanted to be somewhere more urban and sophisticated. I wanted to be around more people who looked like me. But a funny thing happened when I moved to Greensboro. I’d go home, and I’d step out onto my parents’ porch at night and look up at the stars. There are no street or city lights to dim the view of a million glittery stars on a backdrop of pure black velvet sky. I’d take deep breaths and just gaze upward for as long as I could. The air felt so crisp and cool on my skin. It smelled clean. And I felt closer to God.
The road leading to their place is steep, windy and uneven. There isn’t enough room for two cars to pass at once. If someone is coming up the hill when you are going down, one of you better back up and pull over. I learned to drive on roads like that. I scoff at people who can only drive on flat, straight, two-lane roads.
I worry that by selling this last remnant of my childhood, that I will feel it like the loss of a limb. The last time I drove through Cherokee, it had changed so much that I didn’t recognize any of the old landmarks or streets. There was absolutely no sign of the campground that my parents ran. It was as if my entire childhood had been erased. As if it hadn’t happened because there wasn’t any physical evidence of this place where we had spent so much of our lives.
Sure, home is where the heart is. But the disappearance of the actual physical structure of a home can also break your heart.
Tina Firesheets is a freelance writer and editor and former editor of 1808: Greensboro’s Magazine. Reach her at [email protected]