I’ve always loved dirt roads.
As a little girl growing up in Sylvester, my mom and dad often took me to visit my daddy’s parents in Poulan, a small community about 8 miles east of Sylvester. Daddy and his brother and sister (my Uncle Hubert and Aunt Martha) grew up on a small farm outside of Poulan, and they all graduated from Poulan High School in the late 1930’s. My dad loved telling that he graduated second in his class. The punch line was there were only two people in his graduating class. As I said, Poulan was, and still is, a small community.
My grandparents lived down a dirt road. We’d leave the highway, make a right and then a left through the one-street, one-block town center, cross the railroad track, and turn off the pavement onto dirt. A few miles later, we’d pull into their yard – no paved driveway, just grass and clay and sand and some beautiful flower gardens. My grandmother (who I called Ma-Mama) tended those flowers every spring and summer with a green thumb she passed down to daddy, but which sure didn’t end up in my genes. She always wore a wide-brimmed, straw hat when she was gardening, although she would never have the pale, Southern Belle complexion she so wanted. Her skin was more olive, and without that hat she would have tanned beautifully – although back then a tan was not considered a beauty asset. Daddy said his mother had some Indian blood running through her veins, and that was the reason her skin was dark. To this day I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I never knew my daddy to tell a lie, so I think it was.
We’d usually go visit them on Sunday afternoons. My Aunt Martha remained unmarried until she was in her 60’s and lived with her mom and dad in the house where she grew up. She was the only one to go to college, became a teacher, and taught for over 40 years before she retired. I adored her.
While the others would sit on the front porch and rock and swing, she’d take me by the hand, and we’d go walking down that dirt road. She’d ask me all kinds of questions – how I was doing in school, what I was studying that week, what was my favorite color, what was I reading, who were my friends, what did I want to be when I grew up. And she really listened to the answers. She loved talking about the Sumner family history and could name uncles and aunts and cousins and children by the dozens, and she knew each one of their birthdays. She’d let me play in the water that ran down the ditches, and we’d take sticks and draw pictures in the fine sand of the road. She’d name the insects we found and tell me what small animals had made the tracks in the dirt.
Sometimes we’d leave the road and walk across a field in front of their house to the Warrior Creek, a little riverlet that flowed through the woods, where my dad and his brother and sister spent a lot of their childhood playing time. They’d cool off in the Warrior on hot summer days and bring home a mess of fish they’d caught with a cane pole and worms they’d dug up out of Ma-Mama’s garden. They grew up poor – yet they were rich in every way that counted.
It’s very seldom when I turn down the seven miles of dirt road that leads to our house on the river that I don’t think of my grandparents and my Aunt Martha. Dirt roads will always recall memories of a simpler time – a time of youth and innocence, a time when life was what laid ahead. For seven miles I can drive slow and be right back there walking with my Aunt Martha – telling her what I want to be when I grow up and drawing pictures in the sand.
I love dirt roads.
Personal Note: We’re leaving Sunday (the 19th) for Arkansas. I’m sure I’ll find the time to post something from out there at least once before Christmas, so you might want to check back in a few days. See you soon, and God bless.