As a child, I traveled with my family on various dirt roads. Not many were paved back in the 50s. Sundays found us on the long, crooked Kirkland Still Road in Jeff Davis County headed out to my grandparents’ farm for dinner and our weekly visits. Dinner was served immediately after church, whatever time that was. Uncle Roy drove the refurbished school bus the church had bought and picked up children all along the route to church. He started with quite a handful right there at Grandpa’s house because lots of uncles and aunts brought cousins to visit as well. Everyone knew that children needed to be in Sunday school. When rains fell on that clay road, that old bus slid from one side of the road to the other, and we children screamed in make-believe fear. Uncle Roy laughed with us and we slipped and slid to Union Springs Baptist Church. I occasionally wondered why it was more important for children to be in Sunday School than for adults. I knew better than to ask.
After church, we took that same dirt road home where a feast awaited us on Grandma’s big hand-made wooden table. Benches sat on both sides; an old black wood stove squatted in the corner and exhaled hot air when Grandma cooked her fluffy cat-head biscuits. After the last ford hook bean was eaten, the last biscuit had sopped up the last drop of red-eye gravy, the last slice of ham had disappeared, the Nichols family loaded our old 55 Ford and took another dirt road to Grandma Nichols’ house over on Bell Telephone Road. Grandpa Nichols died before I was born, but Grandma left quite an impression on me.
At her house she always told my sister and me to come close so she could see us. Her blindness forced her to do her seeing with her finger tips. After that ritual, she handed us each a stick of soft peppermint candy. In August when the grapes were ripe, she sent us with paper bags to her grape vine. We filled them to take back home with us. Sometimes they even lasted all the way back to town. Grandma wore long dresses with long sleeves. Her beautiful white hair stayed in a bun on top of her head, except when her curls pulled some wayward strand loose. Even back then I realized that Daddy’s curls and inevitably mine and Sarah Nell’s came directly from her.
When I finally reached the magical age of 15, Daddy took me to get a learner’s license and found a dirt road for me to practice on. It turned off Bell Telephone Road and wandered through woods thick with pine trees. I spent hours learning to drive out there in the backwoods on that dirt road. We’d roll the windows down in the summer and spend much of Saturday afternoon with me at the wheel as the fresh smell of pine wafted in. Air-conditioned cars were unheard of back then. Mama was delighted when I got my license; my mother never learned to drive so she found constant errands to send me and the family car on. Daddy didn’t need it since he walked across the street to work. I fetched whiting from the fish market when Mama got the urge for fish for dinner. I ran to Rentz’s for a loaf of bread when she didn’t want to make biscuits or cornbread. In November I hauled big bags of pecans to the market and returned the money to Mama to add to her Christmas fund. Many a Sunday found me behind the wheel taking Mama to visit her relatives in Alma or Vidalia. Daddy, too, was pleased that he now had a substitute driver and could stay home and read or even take a nap if he chose.
I well remember living on a dirt road—Buck Head Road before they paved it. It was nice back then. No speeders braved that wash-board road or ran fast enough to kill a dog. Mud presented a bit of a problem when the rains fell, but served to slow drivers down too. Today cars fly by; our dogs are safe only because we put up a fence to keep them off Buck Head Road and in the large back yard. Many a day leaves me wishing they’d never paved it, but they did.
There’s just something about dirt roads that call to my soul--the smells, the bouncing about, the pines towering over the road all scream “Home” to me. And like all good things, they seem to be disappearing.
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