My grandfather passed away a month ago. Papa was a beloved man, full of life and love. He had a booming voice and a big presence, yet was sweet and gentle at the same time. Since losing her husband of over 60 years, my grandmother has been busy through her grief, having to pack up their big house off the highway in rural south Georgia so that she can downsize and move closer to two of her children.
I try not to get attached to things. I believe in many Buddhist principles, such as impermanence and not having attachments. So I wasn’t sad when my parents sold their home, which I’d grown up in, last year. Despite that, it is hard for me to let go of my grandparents’ home – Deer Run.
Whenever I’ve had to write a school essay on my favorite place, I always wrote about Deer Run. Many of my best childhood memories took place there. During the summers of my childhood, my brothers and my cousins and I would all spend a week at our grandparents’ house together. It is a wonderland of an escape for children. The two staircases on either side of the house led to epic chases, hide and seek games, and pretending to be spies or monsters chasing one another around and around, up and downstairs. The 17 acres of land had a field with a pond that once housed wild horses. The land later became a grazing ground for the neighbor’s cows. A trail through the woods provided endless adventure and entertainment. Papa was a skilled engineer with a love for automobiles, so we always had golf carts, dirt bikes, miniature motorcycles, and go-karts to race and play with.
Across the highway is the catfish pond that Papa and one of my uncles dug years ago. We used to swim in there before the catfish bred like mad and filled it up. So it became a great fishing spot, and later a spot to watch an alligator family lounging on the banks near the swamp entrance. The neighbor who now owns all that land across the street is a farmer. Before he had the cows, his fields grew corn. I remember all us kids playing cops and robbers in the corn fields one day. The stalks were so high that you could only see the row in front of you. We ran as fast as we could from row to row, chasing one another while the stalks and leaves whipped our skin. We all had welts on our arms and legs that night, but in the moment we loved the feeling of being absolutely free and laughing hard and feeling as alive as anyone could ever be.
Two and a half decades have gone by since we started our cousins’ summers at Deer Run. We’ve all grown up now, and the visits have changed. Now, the whole family gathers for a reunion there every October. Just like in my childhood, there are no planned activities or outings. We all are simply together, and there lies the fun. My generation is marrying off and having children of our own. The house is filled again with little feet pitter pattering down the upstairs hall, racing and chasing each other. There is laughter, talking, smells of southern comfort food on the stove, and outbursts of gleeful shouts from the youngest family members.
At our last reunion, I brought my baby boy to join the fun. When his cousins and second cousins huddled around the new baby, fawning over him, my eyes filled with grateful tears. I thought to myself how wonderful it was that he will get to make memories here with his extended family just like we did. He’ll have this special spot tucked away in the country to fall in love with nature and have space to roam, explore, and play. Maybe he will be like me and love walking alone or with his dog through the woods, getting lost in a fantasy that he lives among the trees and animals. Mabe it will be his favorite place to think, ponder life, and daydream. Maybe he will adore these cows, stopping to watch them and tell them how wonderful they are as they moo in response.
But last October, the For Sale sign loomed on the front lawn. I could never tell Patticake that it would be sad to see this house go to another family. She needs a smaller home with less property to tend to, especially now. And she will be closer to a town and essentials she’ll need, as well as closer to two of her children. Yet, unlike my childhood home, I had so much sentiment for this place. Where would we all gather now? Would it be as special? Where will my son have such freedom and wilderness to play in with his cousins and future siblings? Like the wooden sign in their garage says, “Grandma’s house is where cousins go to become friends.” I had assumed that for my son, it would be his great-grandparents home.
That evening, we unfolded metal chairs and tables into a long line and laid out paper plates. Then we sat down to eat a low country boil in the open-air garage. We all told stories and laughed together. I took a moment to look around the table at my cousins, who I’ve gotten to see grow from year to year. Callie, so gentle and graceful, with her fun-seeking husband James and their three confident, happy children. Brentice, the talented musician with a peaceful, wise soul. Mattie, who sets her own path and lives such a creative, adventurous life. Sarah Margaret, who I saw as a pre-teen pouting because she couldn’t have a phone yet or wear the same baby doll graphic tees as her friends, is now mature and career-focused. Kay is good at everything she tries and her face beams with joy when she smiles. And little Taylor, the baby of the bunch, who I wanted to hold all the time when she was a baby, has wisdom, poise, and confidence beyond her years.
Then there are my brothers. I used to think that we were the bad eggs of the family because we’d gotten in more trouble growing up and weren’t as devoted to religion as our cousins. But we all have our own spirituality in different ways and we all treasure family above everything else. AJ and his wife Allie and their amazing little girls are my daily parenting inspiration.
I saw my parents, my aunts and uncles, and my grandparents eating at the table too. And that’s when I realize the truth. We are not losing anything when Deer Run is no longer ours. A house is only a house. It’s the people that gather there that are the true blessing and joy. Everything that was special about this place we will be taking with us – the memories, the people, the stories. We will all continue to make memories together, just in a different setting. My son and future children will have their own grandparents’ house, in Charleston, to grow to know their cousins in. The sale of those acres of woods does not mean we’ve lost wilderness and freedom. I will keep that with me, and make sure that my family seeks those wide open spaces. I’ll let my children spend time in nature, have space to daydream and come up with their own pretend worlds and games. And we’ll all continue to gather, tell stories, share meals, and be forever grateful to have one another.
In the end, it was never Deer Run that brought us together. It was Papa and Patticake, their love and their devotion to keeping the family close. Thank you. I love ya’ll. Rest in Peace Papa. And Goodbye Deer Run.
Video footage from October 2015