Country Roads

By Joe Rector

Sadie and I took our morning walk before the heat enveloped the area. The circuit takes us through the subdivision, up and down Fitzgerald Road, and down a private driveway on which we have permission to walk.

The ditch line on Fitzgerald Road hasn’t been mowed by the county for a while, and the weeds have grown so tall that they bend over so that cars brush against them as they pass. Poison ivy, honey suckle, and Virginia Creeper vines have crossed the ditch and now encroach on the asphalt. A bit of dew still appears on reedy leaves as the sun dries the countryside.

That ditch line reminded me of the walks that six or seven kids used to take on vacation. My brothers, the Burns children, and any other kids that were invited spent many hours of that vacation walking. Sometimes we headed to the main store on Highway 321. The route took us up a country road and then along the highway until we reached the store and ran across busy lanes of traffic to buy items that we’d used up or ice creams that were eaten or melted long before we completed our return trip.

At other times, we walked the opposite way. That took us over a wooden bridge where cars poked as the boards creaked and clopped with their weights. I think I correctly remember that some of us jumped from that bridge at least one time and landed into deep areas of the river below. Then we shuffled into the little country store that sat beside the bridge. We’d buy something or just look around for a few minutes.

A few walks took us to a camp ground across the river. Each year, a wagon train that set out from some far away state set up camp there for a couple of nights. We’d mingle with those folks and kids that were resting from their travels. On some occasions, we made the walk at night and traveled the road without flashlights; instead, we relied on our memories of the road and the help of each other to make our ways.

Some of our walking trips took us up the gravel Greenbriar entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park. Most of the time, we traveled to a point where the rapids spewed over the rocks like a waterfall before calming and flowing down stream. We’d enter the water at that point, slip over the falls and then ride the river and rapids back to our swimming hole downstream. Those trips wore out the bottoms of our cut-off jeans and bruised our backsides, but the fun we had on the ride down that cold water was worth a little pain.

All these memories finished, the things that all the roads back then and this morning hold in common are creeping weeds and vines that ran up to and on the roads. The sounds of scurrying mice or the croaking of frogs were ever-present. A few times, snakes came slithering from the weeds to cross the road. I’ve never liked snakes and jumped or ran in the opposite direction whenever one of the things appeared.

It’s nice to still be able to walk along roads that are similar to those that I traveled as a boy. More cars pass on today’s roads, and just beyond the ditch where a beautiful hay field once existed are dozens of houses that were slapped up in quick order in subdivisions that seem to be spreading like a plague. Even so, Sadie and I will continue our walks as long as our legs allow us or until cold weather runs us inside until spring.

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