22 July/August 2014
A transplanted Tar Heel renews her Carolina roots
by Sandra Millers Younger ’ 75
From Tobacco to Truffles
Ican’t say it was the worst night of my life, not as terrible as sitting bedside in a hospice center waiting for my father to die or waking up in the middle of a
huge wildfire and then driving out through
smoke and flames.
No, not as bad as that. But close.
It was early March 2010. I was alone in
a pleasant-enough guest room my husband’s
aunt had arranged for me in the dormitory
of her Burlington retirement community,
Only hours earlier, with dusk closing in on
the final day of a brief visit home to North
Carolina, I’d made a horrifying discovery.
In the orchard I’d planted the year
before on our family farm, I’d found
tree after baby tree dead, sawed off at the
ground as if by tiny lumberjacks or cut
completely loose from their roots in the red
clay soil of my grandpa’s old tobacco field.
“What happened here?” I asked a local
“Looks like voles. You know, field mice.
They burrow down and eat roots.”
“Voles? Nobody warned me about voles.
How bad do you think this is? I’ve got five
acres of trees here. How do I know all of
them haven’t been affected? They all look
dead this time of year anyway.”
“Hard to say, but usually we find the
most damage in a few spots across a field,
kinda localized. I wouldn’t worry too much.”
And I had sunk every bit of the money
I’d inherited from my father — and then