Losing Relative Means Giving Up Most Favorite Place in the World
This is my love letter to the land that’s been in my family since the 1800s.
“What is your favorite place in all the world?
When my fourth-grade teacher posed this question more than four decades ago as an introduction to a writing assignment, I knew in an instant that my answer was Athens, Texas — especially the tract of family land just three miles north of town, land that has been in my father’s family since the late 1800s.
Living in Austin at the time, I wrote about my family’s East Texas plot of earth with all the passion a 9-year-old could muster, waxing on and on about the place I loved nearly as I loved my own family. As I recall, the lush green hills and abundance of trees figured somewhere into the mix.
I remember well how I felt a rush of excitement whenever we drove those last few miles north on Hwy 19, closing in on my father’s birthplace. He was going home, but somehow, so was I.
Although I have never lived in Athens and never visited for more than a few days, my love for the town has always been a part of me, woven through the strands of my DNA.
For many years, I harbored the fantasy that somehow some of the family land would pass on through me, but that is not to be.
With my aunt’s recent passing (the last of her generation to live on the land), I have come to accept that the only reasonable way forward is to put the house and land on the market so the proceeds from the sale can be appropriately split among the heirs.
Many throughout history have left their family land behind
As I processed this reality with my sister, she reminded me that in the history of our family, this will not be the first time our people have left a home and land behind forever in someone else’s care. And she is right.
Several years ago, while traveling through South Carolina, I made a stop north of Columbia to see for the first time the plantation home that my third-great-grandfather built in 1835 and later left in 1856 when he moved to East Texas.
The woman who lives there now is an artist, a poet and an art history professor who has lovingly restored the mansion in meticulous pre-Civil War period detail.
It was clear to me when I met her that she surely loves the home and land as much as anyone who has ever lived there.
Recalling the conversation I shared with her reminds me that while selling my aunt’s home and land will be a sad ending for our family, it will be another family’s happy beginning.
And so that is where I find great solace, imagining who might someday create their own sweet memories on the land I have loved all of my life.
Imagining the future owners
Sometimes, I imagine the new owners as a 30-something professional couple, looking for a weekend respite from big-city life. I can see them heading southeast from Dallas on a Friday afternoon, relaxing more and more as they leave the congestion of the urban landscape behind, their conversation uninterrupted except for the Corgi and Chocolate Labrador in the backseat, eager to run free at their weekend home.
Little more than an hour later, they arrive in Athens, make a run by the grocery store and then drive up the hill where they unpack and are soon on the back deck, grilling the rib eye steaks as they watch the sun set over the wooded landscape.
At other times, I imagine a young family moving in — a mother and father who want to raise their three children in the country. And what a life that would be — the family working together in their vegetable and flower gardens; the kids playing kickball in the horse pasture or venturing into the woods where they explore for hours before dinner; and the family hikes down to the pond for a delicious picnic of cold fried chicken, corn on the cob, and sun-ripened tomatoes from their very own garden.
And yet other times, I imagine a retired couple purchasing the place. Maybe they will begin their mornings on the front porch swing as they gaze down the hill, taking in the sunrise, their steaming mugs of coffee cupped in their hands.
Will they look at the nearby ancient oak tree in all its crooked glory with the same wonder as generations of my family have? Maybe they will keep this bit of heaven to themselves and any visiting family and friends, or maybe they’ll get a wild hair and turn their home into The Hilltop Bed & Breakfast.
The country kitchen and private guest wing would serve that purpose well. And such an endeavor would make my aunt smile.
And so while the dreamer in me could forever imagine endless variations of buyers, the responsible part of me has done what is necessary and actually put my aunt’s house on the market. As far as I’m concerned, no real-estate listing can do it justice — 39.70 acres; 3 bedrooms; 2 living areas; 2 ½ bathrooms.
It sounds so basic, but I like to think that it will be enough to attract the right buyer — not necessarily one who will match any of the specifics of my imagination but the one who will, no doubt, come to love the land as much as I love the land.
It is bittersweet to report that we have sold the house and land. The sweet part is that the buyer — a hardworking young man in his mid-20s — fell in love with the land the moment he saw it for the first time. He has big plans for how to make the most of his newly purchased hilltop heaven, and I feel sure that my aunt would approve of his energetic and enthusiastic plans.