My tongue is in my hand…

My biggest little altar

Posted on: July 1, 2008

…And I would walk

past the trees, the barn, the fields,

watch the seasons

come and go

know that so much remained

in the face of a world that changed

I need that thing

that roots me, that connects me

and runs deep

echoes peace and perseverance

holds steady…

This is part of Little Altars which I wrote around this time last year, because I write to figure it all out. And I was writing about every little altar I never knew I had, I never knew I lost, until it was far too late. but that’s not what I wanted to write about tonight.

I started reading “The Last American Man” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I miss the place I grew up. The land. I don’t know that it’s comprehensible to someone who has not loved land the amount of grief I felt leaving that place. It’s very possible that I lived at home during college (that first year and half before I got married) just so I could have more time there.

I knew, I knew in elementary school after we protested in my grandparents yard against the rock quarry being built next door that it would happen. I knew when we picked potatoes and all the adults just shook their head saying “It’s not enough”. I knew when they sold the cows. I knew. And after my grandfather died and they had to sell the land with their house on it to pay for hospital and funeral costs. And then they paved the gravel. And then the house was gone, years later.

It must have been so hard for my father and his brothers to pass that empty house day after day and watch it fall apart, be vandalized. To know that the place they grew up, their parents loved, their father raised his siblings after his dad died was just a shell. Like having to look at your parents rotting corpse every day; so familiar and disgustingly not. A constant reminder. And then to have it gone one day. You don’t know if you are relieved or heartbroken all over again.

And all that took years. It’s the longest goodbye I’ve known. It would have to be. It took about 18 years of my 24 for it to happen. The last leg was the worst. Because it was the last leg. Because it was over. The “for sale” sign. The talks of a junkyard buying that beautiful land my family lived and loved and worked on. The rock quarry ended up with it. The SOLD sign. Stupid checks. Who cares? You can’t just buy that again.

I can’t say I loved it the most or I miss it the most, but it is a solitary ache. I understand all the reasons it had to happen, I really do. But that doesn’t make it any less of a tragedy to me.

I would tell people that it happened, it was sold. It was addressed like it was any piece of land sold, an everyday thing. A good thing even, profit, moving on…I wanted to scream: YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND, SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT WAS JUST LOST HERE, SOMETHING WE CAN NEVER GET BACK. But how could anyone even know that? I take that back. Carol knows. She’s the only other person I know at all that grew up on family land, that walked the woods and fed farm animals and sold produce and has a “for sale” sign on her heritage. Otherwise, growing up on a basically non functioning family farm while going to school in Charlotte is pretty much unheard of for my generation and so, it’s not misunderstood, it just not understandable.

I grew up on 100 acres. I now own .3 acres. I liked to climb this dogwood tree in my front yard and call it my clubhouse. There’s not a damn tree big enough to let your cat climb in this neighborhood. I had no curtains or blinds on my bedroom windows. I looked out at grass and trees and a valley that led to the creek and above that valley, the sun set behind the field and the trees. I keep my blinds closed now because if not, I could watch Hell’s Kitchen in my neighbor’s living room from my kitchen. I can count 30 houses from my back yard. I will admit, the neighborhood is quiet, dark at night, and there is an awesome view of the night sky.

And I know, from the houses I go to everyday, that I am in many ways fortunate to live where I live and how I live. But my heart literally aches for the land. For everything it meant, for everything it was. And in a way, I don’t want more, I really want less.

Of course, there’s no going back, there’s no way to give that to my daughter. But I can hope that in time I will have my own gravel driveway and wild blackberries and valleys and creeks and maybe some goats and connect us to the land again.

It’s not the same, but then, it never is.


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