My uncle lives only a couple of miles past the place where my grandparents lived and farmed during my childhood. Driving out to his house takes me down roads that flood my mind with memories at every curve. I pass the sandy field where my grandfather planted peanuts and where one day I learned a valuable lesson. We stopped on the way to their house one day when we spied them in the fields. Daddy lifted me over the fence and set me down in a clump of bull nettle. While I screamed in pain and my aunt ran for the water jug, my grandfather dusted my feet with sand, which helped take away the sting until we could douse my feet with water. From then on I avoided anything that looked even remotely like bull nettle.
Back all those years ago, it seemed like my grandparents lived way, way out in the country. I believe it was about seven miles from downtown to their house. Most of the way was a narrow gravel road with several wooden plank bridges. One evening as we headed out to the house, we crossed one of those little bridges, and some loosened nails in the planks worked themselves into our tire. We also picked up the plank, so we didn't get very far off the bridge. There we were in the boonies, after dark, with a flat tire. As I recall, we weren't able to change the tire (probably the spare was as flat as the tire with the nails). Daddy had to walk back down the road and find help. For years afterward, I cringed each time we approached one of those little bridges.
The bridges are gone, and the road has been paved almost all the way to my uncle's house. The paving is a new improvement and I had mixed feelings as I made my way. I didn't miss the bone-rattling vibration of driving down the washboard road, but I missed the feeling of being in the real country. I was a little relieved to find that the pavement gave out just as I reached my destination and the road continued on in the single lane, sandy form that I remember.
Lee County Road 302
It was this same country road where I would walk with my aunt, discovering large patches of "grandma's cornbread" (muddy areas where the mud would crack in large square chunks). It was this same country road that we drove down to escape a tornado when I was about 3 years old. It was this same country road where I almost tripped over a slow moving armadillo.
The old house where my grandparents lived and the barn are long gone. The land never belonged to my grandparents. I learned today that they had once had the opportunity to purchase the place and had decided against it because the mineral rights would not transfer. Awhile back I made inquiries when the land came on the market and would seriously have considered moving there if someone had not beaten me to signing a contract of sale. That patch of land holds many fond memories of past Christmases, summer vacations, horseback rides, digging for doodlebugs in the old garage, walking down to the cow barns and getting a lesson in milking, cutting watermelons under the big tree on a hot summer day, sitting before a roaring fireplace on cold mornings, huge suppers of chicken-fried steak and "round fries", baths in a wash tub in the kitchen, feeding the chickens down at the barn, and many, many more. It was one of the important places of my childhood.
It's a funny feeling, these gatherings of kinfolk just up the road from that little patch of land. A part of me at 50+ years still feels like a youngster when I'm in that little corner of the world. But I'm older now than my parents were when we spent so much time there. I've crossed into the ranks of the family elders, albeit the younger edge of that group. And that stretch of road has witnessed every phase of my life. The buildings of my youth may be gone, but the land is still there, calling memories from musty, cobwebbed corners of my mind.
Brother David viewing the old homesite