The first time I saw the mountains I was 12 years old. I had dreamed of seeing them years before I actually saw them. As far as I know, I had always wanted to go to the mountains. Being from eastern North Carolina, we were beach people. My dad always rented a house at the beach for one or two weeks each summer. I liked the beach, but deep down inside me, I loved the mountains, without ever having seen them.
And when I saw them for the very first time, I knew that I was home. At last, I was home. Something in me was at peace. Something in me was somewhere very familiar. I was in a place where at last I belonged.
We did all of the things tourists do in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We went to Ghost Town. We listened to blue grass music. We bought apples at a roadside stand. We toured the Cherokee Indian reservation in the town of Cherokee.
But all I really wanted to do was stare at the mountains surrounding me and breathe the mountain air and make each day we were there last forever.
We never vacationed in the mountains again. But I knew that I would return. I learned about Appalachian State University during college night at my high school. When I heard the representative say they were located in Boone, North Carolina, I knew that is where I had to go. So, I applied; the only University to which I applied. And I was accepted. But I had no money to go.
Walking home from my high school graduation at the nearby baseball park (I just felt like walking and being by myself), I stopped by the railroad tracks and asked God, "What's next? How am I going to get to Boone?" There was no immediate answer.
But the next morning around 7:00 am, the phone rang. A friend of mine wanted to know if I wanted to help him paint warehouse roofs that summer. I had nothing else to do, so all summer we painted the tin roofs of the acres of tobacco warehouses in downtown Rocky Mount. On the last day of the last warehouse, as we were climbing down the ladder, a voice from below called up, "Do you have a driver's license?" I yelled, "yes", to the voice below. "How would you like to drive for the tobacco buyers down in Georgia?" And that is how I earned enough money to pay for my first year of college in Boone, NC.
As my parents drove away, leaving me in Boone on my first day of college life, I felt the same feelings that I had felt when I was 12 years old. I was home, at last I was home. And I breathed a giant breath of mountain air, knowing that I was in the place that I belonged.
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