The Earth Moved and Swallowed My Farm

Posted by Princess Eva Angelica On 6:34 AM
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," East Coast earthquake edition! I'm your host, Anne Johnson: shaken and stirred.

Murphy's Law: If there's a measurable earthquake in my neighborhood, where do you think I'll be? Taking a shower, of course! And that's what I was doing when the whole house started to rumble and grumble, the bathroom door began banging, and all the slippery surfaces under my wet feet began to sway. When I determined that no one was actually rattling the bathroom door, I knew it was an earthquake. I experienced one once, in Detroit. So I just grabbed the shower bar, and -- voila! -- in a few seconds it was over.

On the other hand, Heir, Spare, Mr. J, and most of my neighbors hadn't ever felt a quake. The street filled with panicked suburbanites. Heir immediately began to fret about aftershocks, and when she turned on the news and heard about all the building evacuations in Philly, Baltimore, and DC, she was just sure we should all lay flat on the ground out in a field somewhere!

Pish, tosh, said I. Mr. J and I went forward with our plans -- a short honeymoon getaway in New Castle, Delaware. It was very romantic, peering across the murky Delaware Bay as big barges motored by, at the vista of smokestack-cluttered Jersey on the far shore.

Ah, well, it appears that the flatlands will be my home for the rest of my sorry life.

The earth did indeed move on August 23. My highly motivated cousins found a buyer for the family farm on Polish Mountain. Out of nine people with a vested interest in the property, I am the only one who didn't want to sell it. My ancestors lived in that area as early as 1720. They were the first non-native residents of that rocky region. I am the first generation to have sought my fortunes in the big city. Even my dad taught school in Appalachia.

By the time the government takes taxes from my share of the sale, I'll be left with enough money to cover one semester of college tuition for one of my daughters. One set of useless textbooks, one cluster of pompous scholars in return for all of this beautiful land.

With the sale of the property, I don't believe (in our culture) that I can call myself "Appalachian." I can say I'm "from Appalachia," but if I don't own a chunk of it, I can't claim citizenship.

At a crucial turning point in my life, I chose to go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to study writing, instead of going to Frostburg University to study forestry. Needless to say, my parents were thrilled by this decision. Mom had a new mantra: "You'll marry a doctor!"

I moved to the city. I've lived in cities ever since. But I always had the farm to "go home to." Honestly, I was hoping no one would step up to buy it, especially in this economy. And from the sketchy report sent by my cousin, I fear that the buyer is a developer. He owns other properties in the area. But I certainly can't meet his price, and if I did he might up the ante.

On August 23, I felt an earthquake that lasted 15 seconds. And an earthquake that will last forever. An inner San Francisco that has crushed my heart.

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