Dirt Roads and Callused Hands

Robert Flournoy

Copyright 2022 by Robert Flournoy   

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
                                       Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

When I was young, dirt roads were a silent witness to my life, their dusty presence taken for granted, as were crawdads, mules, may pops, BB guns and the whistle of a Bob White Quail.  Where I came from there were also gators, cotton mouths, bull frogs and dragon flies as wide as a farmer's hand.  The callouses on that hand had something in common with those dirt roads, something vague that I understand in my heart but can't at the moment find the words for.  Dirt roads had ditches running beside them, with barbed wire fences defining the boundaries between road and field, and those fence wires were weighted down with black berry vines and poison ivy.  And while my young spirit grew in an old farm house and its surrounding woods and fields, the roads of dirt offered fantasies of the unknown to a ten year old who could ride a mule and milk a cow, but could not drive a truck until at least eleven years old.  In the bull frog booming night, we would occasionally catch a glimpse of a wobbling set of yellow head lights far down the road, signifying the advancement of an automobile or truck.  Coming in our direction, the boredom of country quiet was suddenly alive with the possibility of a visitor. But, our excitement was usually short spent as those hopeful lights would pass us by, doppelering on down the road, dust slowly obscuring whatever short dreams we had entertained in the possibilities of those fading beams.
The mysteries of those roads must have engrained themselves in my mother's psyche as a young girl on an isolated farm, because as an adult she never tired of just going for a ride. When we were children a ride with her in the country was an adventure. Meadow larks on a fence post weren't just birds, they were singing creatures that required stopping the car to listen to, their yellow breasts quivering in the southern sun as they spoke to one another, and, as mom explained, they were speaking to and about us as well.  No stream was crossed that didn't require us to stop and peer into its eddies and swirls, looking for minnows, snakes and turtles. She saw things we never thought to look for, a teacher of the natural world in a time when lowering our lips to cool sweet clean country water was as normal as the hawks and eagles that soared above us.  A basket of fried chicken with biscuits, jam and sweet tea in the cool woods along the way was enjoyed by all, with a soft nap afterwards, my sweaty head in mom's loving lap.  On the road again, mom's commentary and observations would resume, our on going education not to be matched in any school.  The world around us was a magnificent auditorium of learning, our mother the best of teachers.
As mom grew weak from cancer, she still delighted in the simple pleasure of going for a ride. My dad was only too happy to be her chauffer, her children happy to be passengers.  I would give just about anything to be blessed one more time to take a ride with my mom, one hand in hers the other in my grandfather's calloused hard working hands. I suspect that we could find an old dirt road out there somewhere, if only in a dream, or a memory. Is there a difference?

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