For me, growing up in the country meant there was always a memory being created.
Today, when I look at our yellow lab/hound dog mix, I am reminded of the three dogs that adopted us when I was a teenager. Each of these “mutts” had been dumped on our property by some heartless individual. As cruel as it seemed, part of me was always a little bit grateful. I knew that a tired, lonely and scared puppy stumbling down our driveway would never be turned away by my Pop. It was the only surefire way to get a dog when I was growing up. Pop was smart enough to know that another dog meant another mouth to feed so he wouldn’t actively seek one, but if one got dumped on us, we weren’t going to turn it away.
In my early teens, we got Cindy and Sandy on the same day. This brother and sister were cowering under Pop’s pick-up truck one morning when we walked outside. Except for possibly running off to chase a few cows once in a while, they never left our property again until the days they each died. Many was the time I took them traipsing through the woods, pretending I was Billy Coleman in my own version of Where the Red Fern Grows. Since Sandy and Cindy were siblings, the idea of devoted canine love would nicely follow the original literary work. Sandy, however, not being the smartest dog I ever owned, was frequently unconcerned about the sibling relationship.
A few years after they arrived, Sunday came timidly walking up the driveway on, not surprisingly, a Sunday. With that, I had my three amigos with whom I spent countless hours running through the woods, chasing bad guys, throwing sticks and whatever else a kid could do without internet or cable TV.
We lived on one of the many Walnut Grove Roads sometime after it had been chopped apart by Highway 411 (Newport Highway) being laid across it. It took me a while to wrap my head around this when we moved in. All I knew is that, for a time, as I rode the bus home from school, most of the various roads we hit off Highway 411 were named Walnut Grove. Eventually Uncle Sam and 9-1-1 fixed the problem, as my Walnut Grove Road became Red Bud Lane and all the others, save one, changed as well. It is the only time my address changed without the chore of moving.
Driving down our road back in those days, you would pass one widower and four families as you wound the eight miles down to the lake. Around mile two, you went from gravel to dirt. Some years, you might not get to the lake if the road was washed out past our house, which was more often than not. Many a time, I would ride out to the lake bottom on my dirt bike, and the ruts and washouts would be so bad, no car could have made it.
Routinely, the beginning of our road washed out just a few yards off the highway when the creek running beside it flooded, leaving us all trapped in for the day. The county only took ownership of the road two miles out, covering the widower and the first two families. They would haul in more dirt and rock and rebuild the entrance, but the last six miles suffered much longer before they received attention. This went on for years, and my family and I frequently had to call in at our various places of employment simply due to heavy rain.
One neat thing my mother claimed about our road was that the last two miles or so to the highway were mildly sloped downhill, and you could coast the entire way without pressing the gas. Like any doubting teen, when I started driving, I had to prove to myself that her assessment was accurate. It was.
Years later, a developer purchased much of the land from the widower’s family after he passed. I still miss seeing him out working around his little farm house. He’d be in a pair of overalls and doing more work at the age of 75 than I achieve at 44. There’s a reason we call those folks the greatest generation. They knew firsthand what it was to be hungry and have no one waiting with a handout. If you ate, you worked for it, and his example of that undying work ethic was visible to me every time we drove by.
The developer fixed the road perfectly, installing culverts and drainage systems, so flooding would never again excuse the employees on Red Bud Lane. In the decades since I moved in, it went from dirt and gravel to tarred and chipped (which was better but not great) to its final iteration of two lanes with proper line markings, courtesy of the developer. That final upgrade came at a severe cost to its “country” flavor, as houses immediately began popping up over the beautiful rolling hills I remember from my youth.
When I get the chance to drive up Red Bud Lane now, I realize that time, in its brutal, unwavering perpetuation, shares no feelings of how precious our memories are. But even today’s lovely, two-lane blacktop, with its nicely painted lines, still floods me with the joys of a boy and his three dogs roaming the woods in the days when gravel crunched beneath the tires.
© Michael L. Collins
*Originally published in the November 5th, 2014 edition of The Mountain Press
If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more, click here.