There are three gravel roads that stand out in my memories. One stretched a quarter-mile south from the front of our house to Highway 70. Today a section of that gravel road is called Watervale Lane. It links up with today’s County House Circle to complete the stretch of road to Highway 70.
Back in the day, County House Circle was called the Old County House Road. My great-uncle Dewey Manning’s General Store stood at the intersection of the Old County House Road and Highway 70. Dewey Manning’s Store was a center of activity in the community of Watervale. For that reason, the members of the Frank McCall family made many a trip down that gravel road.
I well remember one of the first times I walked the length of that road alone. My mother had sent me on an errand to “the store.”
It was before I started to school and I was wearing a sun suit; so I could not have been much older than five years. In those days a little boy was perfectly safe on a deserted country road. It was a time when everybody in a community knew everybody else.
I, too, remember the first few times I crossed the stock gap that marked the boundary of our farm as I walked that road. I can still recall the feel of those rough oak boards beneath my bare feet as I stepped from one beam to another, careful not to fall between the timbers.
My brothers, my sister and I walked that gravel road to catch the school bus at “the store” in our younger days. We walked it in the cool of the morning and in the heat of the afternoon in the spring and early fall; and we walked it when we had to run to stay warm in the dead of winter.
The Old Country House Road holds some special memories for me.
We used that road to move farm machinery when we farmed my grandfather D.T McCall’s land on McCall Lane. My father chose to use a stretch of Old Highway 70 and the Old County House Road to avoid the main highway. I learned a lot about gravel roads on the Old County House Road.
I learned you couldn’t lay down on an empty hay wagon when you were going down a gravel road. If you did, when you hit a bump, that wagon would knock the breath right out of you. I’ve had it happen – more than once. Sitting on the wagon bed was almost as bad. It was better to stand, but it was hard to keep your feet.
I remember the first time my father let me take a tractor back home on the Old Country House Road. I remember how I felt – proud, excited and halfway scared. I learned some things about brakes and speed and loose gravel on the Old County House Road.
The third gravel road I remember well is the road into the Brim Hollow. I know that road like the back of my hand. I traveled it most often with my grandfather Brim in his 1951 GMC pickup truck. Funny, in thinking back, I can smell the inside of that old truck as I write these lines.
I had never walked that gravel road until the spring of my 11th year.
On occasion, I would visit my grandparents in the middle of the school week. That involved taking the school bus to Riddleton. My grandfather would be waiting for me when I got off the bus at Leonard Carter’s store. But one particular afternoon when I arrived in Riddleton, my grandfather was not there to meet me.
I had money to buy the Nehi grape soda and Hershey bar that he would have purchased for me, and sat down on the store porch to wait for him. He didn’t show. Something was wrong. I continued to wait.
With the afternoon beginning to slip away, I made the decision to start the two-mile walk into the Brim Hollow. I wanted to make it before dark.
Along the first mile I encountered all the fears a young boy can conjure up on a journey fraught with uncertainty. What had gone wrong? Would Pa Rube be all right? Would I run into a rattlesnake? A mad dog? A bobcat? A ghost?
I had made it over the most challenging hill and through the first creek bed when I faced a long shady lane in which deep shadows were beginning to fall. I noticed my pace had quickened along with the stepped up beating of my heart. That’s when I heard a most beautiful sound. It was the chug-chug-chug of Big Jim Yancy’s old Army jeep. Big Jim was a neighbor and friend to my grandfather.
He brought his jeep to a stop beside me.
“What you doing out here, Jack?” he asked in a booming voice.
I told him of my predicament.
“Well, get in here,” he said with a broad smile. “I’ll take you the rest of the way.”
My grandfather had had a “spell” with his heart and had taken to the bed for a few days.
The next morning my Granny Lena got me up early and we walked those two miles of gravel road together. I caught the school bus right on time.
You have probably heard of a “God-send.” That’s what Big Jim Yancy was for me late one evening on a gravel road.