In the late 1960s, a couple of years before I was born, my father moved from Manhattan to a small town in the mountains of western North Carolina. A business he’d co-owned in New York had sold, and he’d used the proceeds to purchase some land forty miles southwest of Asheville with the dream of building a golf course. He was in his midforties, recently divorced, and had some cash in his pocket. The conditions were perfect for an exceptionally elaborate midlife crisis.
I’m now the age my father was when he uprooted his city life and moved to North Carolina. Looking back, I wonder if I would’ve taken the kinds of chances he took all those years ago. My dad knew nothing about the golf business. In New York he’d been involved in publishing and fashion and spent his days in boardrooms dealing with executives from Condé Nast and Vogue. Suddenly he was in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains working alongside guys with names like Junebug and Cooter. It must have been a sight to see this New York dandy in a tailored suit try to operate heavy machinery in hopes of shaping a piece of old farmland into a series of par threes, fours, and fives. Some of the locals said it was like watching an episode of Green Acres.
By 1972, my father had built his dream, eighteen holes that snaked across the rolling hills that sit in the shadow of Cold Mountain. He’d also fallen in love with a local woman thirteen years his junior, married her, and adopted her two-year-old son. What started as a midlife crisis had now become just life, and he enjoyed every minute of it until he died thirty-three years later. During those years, my father taught me more about being a Southerner than any born and bred North Carolinian ever did. He loved his family, loved his land, and embraced the Southern values of respect, hospitality, and the relaxed pace that allows plenty of time to while away an afternoon with a rocking chair and a tumbler of bourbon.
For a few years after his death, my mom kept my dad’s ashes in a filing cabinet that sat in the back of the golf course’s pro shop. “It’s where he’d want to be,” she’d tell me whenever I would suggest a more suitable final resting place. But one day my mom grew anxious about those ashes, and we put them in a golf cart and drove up to the end of a long par four where a small creek flowed past the green. My mom couldn’t bring herself to do it, so I poured the ashes into that cold water and watched the dust settle on the surface and then disappear in the current. I like to think my father is still flowing through that stream, past the fairways and bunkers he built on a piece of land in the South. The place where he felt most at home.