The Burden of Being a Land Baron.

In an effort to better explain my time as a land owner, and why I'm only getting a pittance for selling it, I thought I might go through it all here. I don't know if there are any legal ramifications in talking about these things on the internet, and I'm hoping to never find out.

When my grandmother and grandfather were both still alive, they owned a small farm on Upper Wills Creek Road, which at the time didn't have many of the normal signs of civilization. There was a phone line, but no paved road, and neither Clendenin, Elkview, nor Frame really claimed this over-grown patch of farmland as their own.

"Over-grown" was a good description. The land was hilly, covered in old trees, and waist high grass. About half was swampland, and on the other half were two buildings. One was a "cellar house," or a two story with half underground, where old canned goods were stored amidst snakes and other wildlife, while the top half looked like someplace Butch and Sundance would hide out. There were two beds, a fridge, and a potbellied stove -- and that was all folks. The other building my friends will know about pretty well -- it was the "farm house," a four room, one hundred year old building that my grandmother had grown up in. It was a god awful hole, but it was also the family land, a piece of this world that my family could call their own, even if they chose to pay rent to live some place else with running water and cable.

Fast forward several years to my parents' divorce. My mother, with no place else to go, moved a spare trailer [never ceases to amaze me the way people in WV always have an extra laying around] out to the part of the family plot that wasn't swampland, and there we lived for several years, eventually adding a new husband for her, and a new brother for me. The land itself hadn't gotten much better -- they had tarred and chipped the roads [it isn't paving], and we had cable out there now [12 channels! whoop!], but it was still a hole, with no neighbors, and not a lot going for it. And my mother had dreams [if only I'd known how many and how wide-reaching they'd be], and one of them was to not live in a mobile home for the rest of her life. Her father supported this, and, supposedly, offered my mom and my step-father part of the farm to build their own dream house on.

When he died, however, things didn't turn out quite like everyone expected. The land had not been willed to anyone, so my grandmother became the beneficiary. And she didn't exactly agree with her late husbands assessment that part of the property should go to my parents. Or maybe she did, and as was her way, just wanted them to twist in the wind a little for it. Whichever it was, several years and lots of fights later, my Grandma finally relented, and "gave" the land to my parents as a Christmas gift.

On an unrelated note, entitlement doesn't go anywhere, even after someone has gotten what the wanted.

Anyway, the part of the land my parents got was the swampland part, and they went right to work draining it, and making plans to build their own house, which they eventually did. My grandmother, meanwhile, continued to own the part with the farm house on it, as well as a little more, and that was that. Until the next family funeral.

I mentioned earlier that my grandma liked to screw with my mother. And this was true right up until her final wishes, where instead of doing the simple thing and splitting her monetary assets between her grandchildren, and giving her property to her children [which I'm told is customary], she did the inverse, leaving my mom with a big wad of cash that she requested be used on me and my brother, while Aaron and I split the remainder of her property.

Now there are a lot of reasons to do this, and I imagine part of it came from her belief that if my mother owned all of the farm, she'd sell it outright and move away, something that even in death my grandmother didn't want her ever to be able to do. She may also have feared that if my mom's current marriage didn't work out, my mom's penchant for leaving everything behind when things go bad might rear it's head, and the family property would wind up in the hands of someone who wasn't family [surprising foresight from a woman who claimed to be a fortune teller -- go Grandma]. If either of those were the case, it was move that was just as brilliant and shrewd as it was dickish, because with my brother still being a minor, and me being in college and needing a place to stay that wasn't my parent's house, that property wasn't going anywhere.

The complications arise from the fact that even though I own half of the land [which is about 55 acres, if my math is correct], I don't actually own 27 and 1/2 acres [nor does my brother], but rather I own an actual half of each acre, or specifically "1/2 of 55 acres." Now, in a more developed area, it might be feasible to sell my share in the property to an interested party, but on a hilly piece of land with no oil, very little lumber rights, and only one livable residence [the cellar is now a billiard room], actually making any sort of profit off of the land would be... difficult. Adding to this difficulty is that the other owner of the property is still a minor, making it impossible for any sort of decision to be made regarding use or development without dealing with the administratrix.

And that's mom.

Now Mom, and despite their differences, my step dad, believe that because part of my college education was paid for with the money that my grandmother left her, that I should do the noble thing and just relinquish my part of the property to my brother, Aaron. And honestly, I think that's fair -- I took the money, he should have the land, especially since in the long run, he might actually do something with it. Me? Don't need it, don't want it, don't even want to be West Virginia any longer than I have to be. Perhaps even more than Aaron, I think my mom also has a pretty strong claim to that property, and despite my grandmothers shocking clairvoyance of the way things have worked out, I think her decision was made mostly out of spite. The farm should have went to mom. Now, maybe because of the way things have played out since her death, Aaron deserves it. Like all of this, it's complicated.

But while Mom was still married to Doug, it didn't matter who I even signed the land over to -- if I waited for Aaron to come of age, I could just give it to him, or I could sign it over to Mom. Either way, it was his, and all turned out fine.

Until my mom and Doug decided to split-up. With my stepfather getting the acreage their house is on, and my kid brother still owning his half of my grandmother's piece, me having my half has suddenly bothersome to everyone. The opinion on how to proceed is...divided. My mom thinks I should sign the land over to her, since it is, after all, part of her birthright, and has been in her family forever. Doug, I imagine, because this is kind of upstanding guy he is, thinks I should hold to my original word and give the land to Aaron.

And he's got a point, and I very much wish I could do that. I'd like to do that. But I'm also very poor, and I need a new computer, a suit, and just some money to go towards "Trendsetter" and "eventually moving out of my grandmother's house" related things. And Mom has offered me meager [perhaps even meager when considering the economy and general uselessness of the land] compensation to sign the property over to her.

Now this is not an easy decision for me. I'd like to make out well on this deal. I'd also like to be a gentleman, and stand by my original word. What I've decided is somewhere between those two. Because in signing my half of the property over to my mom, I at least know that eventually that land will go to my brother, and have even requested a stipulation that she leave it all to him, so no more of this split nonsense will go on. I also figure that by taking the low money instead of trying to work my parents against each other, I retain some moral high ground. Plus, since I was considering just relinquishing my ownership anyway, even if I only make a little bit, I'll have come out ahead.

I'm a championship hair-splitter here. But this championship hair splitter lives in a room half the size of his first dorm room, with stacks of his possessions [clothes included] circling his bed. He's also a writer without a computer, which I'd liken to a fencer without a foil. It takes some work, but I feel justified in selling the land to mom.

It's funny, even after working through all that, I don't feel I've explained it any clearer, nor do I feel a lot better about my decision. Maybe it's the part of mom in me, but the big motivating factor here is that I just want to get what I can out of this, and leave it behind. And yeah, I know, I've glossed over a lot of things here, some I don't understand, and some that I don't think were properly explained to me.

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