We closed on the last bit of property in my father’s estate today. In April, my husband, boys, and I took a little ride through the land of the pines from Cartersville, Georgia to North Caroline, from there to Virginia, then east from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City Tennessee.
Along the way, we visited several gaps, including Big Stone Gap, Cumberland Gap, and our primary destination, Fancy Gap.
Virginia is chock full of ’em.
Since I knew what a “thigh gap” was, I found myself wondering if the mountainous ones were sort of the same.
Turns out, a geographical gap is the lowest point between two mountains, providing relatively easy passage for settlers; the other, the anorexia-driven absence of topography on the sexualized female body (and therefore, easier passage).
The two are synonymous. And both are societal low points, as far as I’m concerned.
The land is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. But not only is Daniel Boone territory chockfull of gaps, it’s also chockfull of rebel flags.
Fancy Gap is nestled between Mitchell Knob and Harris Mountain, an hour’s drive north of Winston-Salem. Back in pioneer times, a trip down and back to the tobacco giant would’ve taken five treacherous days.
So treacherous, in fact, that legend has it a team of mules — one named Peter — was positioned along the pass to pull wagons out of danger. The area came to be known as Peter Pull, and between Dad’s love of mules, the fact that a gap was involved, and the double entendre of his patronym, is it any wonder my long-suffering bachelor father bought property here? (My father’s name — Randy Peters — was oh-so apropos.)
Fancy Gap’s a town whose population is nearly as tiny as its dimensions. In 2010, there were 237 citizens (down from 260 in 2000.) and there are nearly as many stars and bars on porches and posts as there are people.
Which brings me to another piece of this place’s past I uncovered while there — a stream called Yankee Branch. The story behind it is far darker than the humorous Peter Pull. This creek got its name after two rebel brothers slaughtered an encampment of union occupation soldiers on its banks. One brother purportedly wore a Yankee uniform jacket to church every Sunday for the remainder of his years, bullet holes proudly displayed on his back.
Is it any wonder Mike, who is both of mixed parentage and a Damn Yankee, has muscles still aching from the tension, weeks later? Is it any wonder my heart is still aching from this hate-filled heritage held tight a century-and-a-half later?
I even hate using that word. Heritage. It’s how people around here defend that damned flag. I don’t want to celebrate the customs and culture of treason and hate — one that enslaved and dehumanized an entire population. One that continued to refuse rights and deny opportunities to that population for decades after the war, and one that persists in flaunting the hate and privilege that flag promotes from pickup trucks and front porches to this day. Old times there are not forgotten.
But they should be. Or at least not idolized.
Southern Pride is not my kind of pride. Nor was it my father’s, thank God. Still, it’s a complicated inheritance — the property we were there to deal with in the first place, and then the equal parts love and revulsion I feel from being southern born and bred.
I love the flora and fauna here. The accents and cooking. The smiles and sunshine. I do not love the fixation with confederate army relics and the past.
And here, I’ll take my stand.
That past was not some noble, God-fearing kingdom. It was a festering swamp of slavery and manslaughter. It stunk then and it stinks even worse now, after percolating in its own poisonous putrid presumptive self love.
Kind of like my Dad’s trailer…
It’s why we went there in the first place remember? And we found it, sinking into itself at the ankle end of a dogleg gravel road within a mass of fallen leaves, broken windows, coroded beer cans, and moldy siding– the remnants of past seasons, now nothing but decay and detritus. Inside, more shattered glass and cankerous ceiling tiles stewing in a slurry of insulation, rat droppings, and rain.
The closets were open and empty, as were the cabinets in the kitchen. A spongy rug in the den oozed the faint hint of skunk – whether animal or meth aftermath, who knows? One chair, a folding vinyl one, stood upright and pulled up to a greasy, head-shaped inprint on a pillow atop a murphy desk.
The place had been ransacked who knows how many times by who knows how many people. Even the toilet was upended, a sneer of cold command on its toppled visage.
It’s glory days long gone, nothing of value remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, the lonely, lore-filled mountains stretch far, far away.
The inheritance left behind will need to be hauled off and something new built in its place. It’s hardly worth the scrap metal left behind, tarnished and tainted as it is. And honestly, that’s as it should be.
The land is gorgeous though…
Away, away, away down south. In Dixie.