If you have been with me on this recent journey of mine, you have probably noticed that I have been in somewhat of a somber mood lately. Okay. I’ve been downright blue about the homeplace in Hampton. I have tugged at your emotions. I have made you share my tears. I have stepped all over your own emotions about your own experiences with letting go. I have put together words that made you remember painful times in your life.
I’m sorry for that. But I am also grateful for your companionship. We share a lot of the same stuff that life has to offer. We go through the agony and the sorrow together. Some of you I have known since I was knee high to a squirrel. You have seen me take ten licks from the paddle that Coach Orr used to straighten us up. You sat with me while we buried our parents. You sent me Happy Birthday notes on FB. So, I know you’re watching. Some of you even comment on my stories. “Man, that took me back.”
Today I am stepping out of the fog. Out of the blues. Out of the funk of letting go. And I can do that because I met Kevin and Annie. If you have to walk out of the house that you grew up in and close the door behind you for the final time, it helps if you know who it is that is going to start making their own memories in that place.
Over the last several years, I’ve had visions of a developer taking our place and raping it clean for the sake of modern housing. A guy who looks at land and sees dollar signs instead of beauty. He assesses a piece of land by how many roads and driveways he can get per acre. Thank goodness our farm did not appeal to the developer. The creeks and lake were to him just inconvenient real estate on which he could not make a profit.
There’s a subdivision across the road from Mom and Dad’s place, just down a ways, that obliterated the land I used to hunt. For years, the deer stand out of which I shot my first 8 point buck, stood in the back yard of a house right next to the swing set. I used to walk the old logging road and cross the creek to get there. Now you can drive right up to it in a Beemer.
Kevin and Annie Zheng are delightful. They are a regular married couple looking for their own piece of paradise. Probably about my age. Life on Jimmy Carter Boulevard has lost its luster, if it ever had any. He’s a successful big city businessman on the outside, but on the inside he has the gentle soul of a man who is passionate about beauty.
Kevin was born in Shandong Province , China. He grins a lot. His mannerisms cause him to bow and nod almost every time he speaks. His English is limited. As far as I can tell his vocabulary in my language is limited to “hello”, “good-bye” and “thank you”. But his eyes and his humility tell me all I really need to know.
Shandong is one of the more populated regions of modern day China. It sets on the eastern seaboard and the Shandong Peninsula by itself has nearly 3,000 kilometers of coastline between the Bohai Sea to the NW and the Yellow Sea to the NE. Kilometers are shorter than miles and I should know how to do the conversion, but that’s enough rocky shore to leave Miami and drive nearly to Denver.
The name Shandong means East of Mountains, which speaks to its location east of the inland mountain ranges through the mid-section of China. The area is rich in history that is more than ten times older than anything American on our soil. Shrines, stone tablets, temples, the first ever Krispy Kreme. I have shirts that I’ve been wearing for over 30, maybe 40 years. They have the largest deposit of Tyrannosaurus Rex bones on the face of the planet dating back to before cave men.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be connected to an ancient civilization like that. To move to America to escape a life there and to discover one here. They have been in the US for 16 years now. Kevin became a US citizen just about 2 months ago. They are the poster couple for immigration done right. They seem almost heroic to me for the journey. From what I can tell, the weather back in Shandong is hot and humid, so Kevin and Annie should be right at home on the farm on Locust Grove Road, GA.
It was in July that I got a call from our real estate agent. “Hey, our potential buyer wants to meet you.” He said that he would never normally put the buyer and seller together for any reason before closing, but in this case he thought it might help develop an interest in the property. There was no contract, yet.
So, I drove to Hampton. They drove up in a simple, well used mini-van. Nothing impressive. They brought an interpreter with them who spoke their dialect of Mandarin. We made introductions. We smiled nervously. We talked pleasantries. Answered a thousand questions. Walked the farm together. And I took home 843 chiggers that day.
We were about done, I thought. Then Kevin spoke to me through his interpreter, Raymond. Their adopted American names.
“I want you to know why I wanted to meet with you today.”
Things suddenly felt a little more formal. I could tell this was not chit chat.
“I understand your family has lived on this land for many generations. I know myself what that means, and I want you to know that I will protect the land and respect the land that you have loved and protected for many years.”
I could feel my throat tightening up. I held my gaze so he couldn’t tell.
“My Annie and I already love this land, and all we want to do is to make it beautiful.”
My first thought was to run over and give him a big old hug, but I wasn’t sure how that would be interpreted back in Shandong. He was so polite. So heartfelt. He knew I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but he looked me straight in the eyes the whole time.
I tried to come up with some way to say how grateful I was, and blubbered around saying something about he could do whatever he wanted to do with the land if he bought it. “I’m sure you will tear the old house down once you start clearing things out.”
He almost grabbed his chest and gasped. “I would never do such a dishonor to your family. We will keep the house and make it new again.”
Okay, this time I really had to fight back the urge to go hug the man. And this is what it took to give me a peace about this part of my journey.
The deal is done. The papers are signed. I’ve worked through so many different levels of sadness and apprehension. And I know that most of you have done the same thing with your folks and the with the places you once called home. It’s just tough. No other way do this.
But I wish everybody could have a Kevin and Annie step into the moment. They’ve been absolutely great. He told me on Thursday that he is having an engineering and land use firm work up plans for the “new farm”. I can see fancy new barns in my mind right now. And then he said, “When the plans are finished, before we proceed, I’d like it if you would look at them with me and let me know if you approve.”
I was so flabbergasted that I just forgot if I was in Shandong or Georgia, and I gave the man a hug.
A lot of you have been asking, and I appreciate it. I’m gonna be just fine.