I did most of my growing up in Dalton, Georgia. At the time, I thought we were flatlanders. After all, when we visited Ellijay (which was once a Cherokee town named Elatseyi), where relatives lived, we drove across Fort Mountain and were surrounded by peaks and ridges while we were there. I thought our relatives were mountaineers, and that we were not.
After I grew up, I lived in many places, among them Washington state, California, Okinawa, and Florida. And I didn’t visit my home town for many years.
Imagine my surprise when I went back there attend a family reunion and discovered that there is very little about Dalton that’s flat. Everything is either up or down. Even the street where I used to live has a long, precipitous approach which made cars grind their gears getting up it. While Dalton is not as mountainous as Ellijay, it is definitely not flatlands.
But the thing that surprised me most was my reaction. We drove through Atlanta and headed north, the blue ridges of the mountains began rising on the horizon…and I got a lump in my throat at the sight. I realized then how much I’d missed them and how much they meant to me. Those beautiful blue peaks and ridges are bound up in how my view of the world developed. They are dear to my heart. And since I’ve been writing historical fiction, researching what happened to my Cherokee ancestors who lived in those mountains, who “owned” those mountains, the ties are more wrenching.
Last year when my husband and I attended the Pierre Chastain Family Association reunion in Helen, Georgia, we drove back through the mountains to Ellijay, because it was apple season, and I’ve always loved apples from the growers there. And as we drove the winding road through beautiful scenery, I wondered how the Cherokees felt who were dragged from their homes and marched to Oklahoma, leaving their mountain homes behind.
So now, when I see the mountains, not only are my own experiences attached to them, but also what I imagine of how my ancestors must have felt. (You might wonder about that statement, since I’m from Georgia, not Oklahoma…my great-great-great grandparents, with their two toddler sons, returned to the mountains after the march to Oklahoma.)
What about you? Do you live in your hometown or somewhere else? And do you have “mountains” that mean a lot to you?