By: Jefferson Weaver
The heavens opened, and wrath poured out on the landscape as far as the eye could see.
I had watched the storm building, first on the radar then through my windshield. The clouds rose like some monster unfurling its wings, stretching from horizon to horizon, then the steel-gray curtain underneath descended, broken here and there by lightning.
I scurried home; Miss Rhonda was visiting her parents, so I was pulling double duty, and there were animals to feed, eggs to collect, and a handful of little chores that seem myriad if not Herculean when your right hand is missing. I got it all done, thankfully, before the big wet drops sent the chickens running for cover and the geese began their pagan celebrations in the driveway. The ducks were more genteel in their revelry. Red, Tally, and Melanie the Donkey just looked morose. The dogs trembled at the thunderclaps, even though nothing came near us. The cats were just disgusted.
It was just another storm, albeit a little larger than usual. I had no idea that far away, it was giving folks a tiny taste of what we experience during hurricanes.
A couple of days later, as I headed for my in-law’s house to retrieve my bride, I encountered the inevitable “Road Closed” signs. Since my little car is designed for mileage and not off-roading, I meekly followed the detour signs.
It was a road I knew well in years past, and the stubborn side of me was trying to remember which road passed which house and connected with another road past an old barn with a late 40s Dodge truck sadly decaying under the sagging shed, and whether the road I remembered was paved or dirt, and if it might reconnect with the highway above the roadblock. Part of me wanted to take the chance, but I was hot and on a schedule, so I left the adventure for another day, allowing myself to be herded onto the Interstate for a few miles, bullied about by beachgoers who were allowing nothing to get in the way of their good times.
When I finally, gratefully returned to a slightly-more sane two-lane highway, I saw yet another road I’d long forgotten; pines argued with oaks for dominance along the lane, and if the light was right you could just see a hint of an old home long forgotten, one which may have seen the soldiers of Sherman on their way to a bloody rendezvous with those of Johnston. Again, I didn’t have time to really explore, although the cool of the trees was particularly inviting, even with Bonnie’s air conditioning blasting at full strength.
It wasn’t far from that same place where I once took a wrong turn to nowhere, back when my confidence outweighed my common sense, and I was indestructible as long as I had $5 of gas in my 1955 Chevrolet. Although it was nearly 30 years after the day my car rolled out of the plant, it was still a time long enough ago that many today cannot conceive of how we survived.
We still relied on mysterious, archaic pieces of paper called maps to navigate. There were no cellular phones, so getting lost meant wandering aimlessly, or swallowing your pride and stopping to ask a (hopefully) friendly stranger for directions that would (hopefully) get you back on track.
I am not sure why I was wandering those particular roads that day, and by myself to boot. There may have been a girl involved, or a rumor of a fishing hole, or a place to hunt, or even a parts car for my ’55, but they’re just as easily might have been no motivation other than bored curiosity.
I do remember a T-intersection, where I turned right instead of left, and a rutted dirt road that beckoned to the left, and what may or may not have been a state road running between two cow pastures, where the Angus residents watched me pass by with the aloof disinterest always exhibited by cows standing knee-deep in good grass. I think there was a swampy spot – possibly even an upstream relative of the washout that blocked my path the other day – that my old car forded with ease, although climbing the opposite side was a bit more hair-raising.
There was a tumbledown tenant house squatting at the top of the bank, surrounded and dwarfed by tobacco barns and a stable for the mules, like a mother hen tricked into raising a clutch of goslings. For some reason, I distinctly remember the screen door hanging askew, and the hard door behind it open and embarrassed at the boxes and detritus on the porch. How long the farm had been abandoned, I had no idea, and out of respect for the rusted barbed wire and tired “No Trespassing” signs, I didn’t explore further.
When I more or less accidentally returned a decade later, the farm had disappeared. The ugly old pear tree, the broken shady oaks, the unpainted pine buildings, and overgrown kitchen garden were replaced by a row of gleaming new hog houses whose shadows fell across a field of fescue, rich green grass fertilized by sprayers that looked like some alien machines marching across the landscape.
On that day of wandering, however, I eventually found a gate that allowed me to pass through another set of Angus-occupied pastures; the rutted clay finally ended at a paved country road with no signs of habitation, so I turned kind of east by northeast and eventually found my way back to civilization.
I thought about that lost byway as I headed on up the road to retrieve my beloved. I wished I had taken the chance and ignored the posted warnings, and at least had a brief look around that old farmstead. I wondered how things had changed since someone decided that they needed to build a home and a farm and a dream right there on that particular spot. Were there other homes along the road, homes that hadn’t survived the ages even as well as this one last holdout? Or did the smallholder share my love of being as remote as possible, reveling in the privacy that comes from not hearing a neighbor sneeze?
I’d like to think we both simply took a wrong turn to nowhere and decided it was a good place to call home.