As the road twisted and turned while rising up through the elevation of the tree-smothered mountain, I slowed the car and looked at the place so dear to my family. A place where faith and calloused hands fought poverty and poverty gave birth to dreams and eventual escape. My ancestors sowed there so we could reap abundantly elsewhere.
It is a simple two-lane back-road that joins today’s world to one I knew in yesteryears, the one place in my history I sometimes wish I could crawl back into and savor the gentleness and the time when everyone I loved was still alive. I was too young to realize that life could be cruel and lessons could be hard-learned.
Not much has changed. Of that I am glad. The road is still patched with ribbons of tar poured into cracks reminding me how it would melt in the hot July sun until it was soft and spongy. As my cousins and I walked barefooted toward the country store, I would sometimes stop and stick a toe into its softness and watch the indentation it made. Those were the times when kids still pondered on the life around them and found adventure in mud pies and play games of pretend and dress up.
The trees are bigger but still full and leafy. The waterhole where we laughed and splashed remains untouched so I slowed the car to think of the 6-foot-tall drain pipe that runs underneath the road where we would plop down in our inner tubes on one end and ride the shallow, streaming water over the ridged surface then shoot out the other side into the deeper end of the water.
There are no developments, no subdivisions in this place called Nimblewill where families own farms and land stays mostly in the families from one generation to the next. The war had ended in Europe in 1945 and was soon to end in the Pacific before Amicalola EMC could get power lines into the community and the tiny, tin-roofed house of my grandparents. I am still amazed that America had been fighting a world war with two enemies in two regions of the world yet there were still many people without access to electricity. Once it arrived to my kinfolk in the mountains, it would mostly be a naked light bulb that hung down from the center of the room and was turned on and off by jerking a string.
The little four-room humble abode of my grandparents, the one with a front porch that seemed to sigh with despair, was torn down long ago and replaced with a house trailer. Gone, too, is the barn and the snowball plant that sprouted up majestically every spring in the completely dirt front yard that was swept not mowed. It was just far enough away from the tall, sturdy pine trees to absorb sun and make my grandmother very proud. She had few things of real beauty so she always beamed with joy over the huge blossoms and offered a cutting to anyone who stopped to admire it. Across the road lived Miz Mincey, the woman my mama once said was the kindest woman she ever met. Her house is still there and I can clearly recall how she rumbled through the darkened rooms with heavy, lumbering steps.
Daddy used that road to teach me to drive when I was 12. Throughout my teenage years, I would see my cousins and childhood friends baptized in the river nearby. Then somewhere in those years, the parade of funeral processions began and the innocence of my youth turned to experience and dusty memories.
There are only two or three houses that have sprung up on that road in the last three decades which makes it so easy to take a look around and remember when.
So easy and yet so hard.
Ronda Rich, author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’,” writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.