A smooth ride down memory lane

Contractors were repaving Hays Road off Highway 21 last week and had traffic backed up a little bit Thursday morning. 

As I sat there watching the pavers go to work during my commute from our house in Sebastopol to the office in Forest, and seeing the progress on my return trip in the evening, a flood of fond memories were triggered.

If you know which way to turn, and where to turn, off Hays Road you can come out at a variety of intersections near Conehatta on Conehatta Prospect Road. I’ve traveled those old roads at least a thousand — I’m certain many more than that — times in my life. They are the routes we used motoring back and forth from Newton every Sunday afternoon of my youth. And, too, just for riding around in the country at times.

Mawmaw and Pawpaw, my dad’s mother and father, lived on the left side of Hays Road just past the big curve to the right when traveling from Highway 21. The little white church building at the intersection of 21 and Hays Road today was Uncle Willie Si’s grocery store back in the day. A place where a little boy could buy banana flavored Laffy Taffy and grape popsicles, and watch old men leaning far back in straight chairs, spitting tobacco juice on the side of a rusty, old pot belly stove. I can still hear the sizzle.

Mawmaw and Pawpaw’s place was perfect for Easter Egg hunts with flower beds, shrubs, and trees made for climbing, all around. A big Chinaberry tree grew just off the front porch. Those berries were great for popping brothers and cousins in the back of the head, but not so great when the overripe ones squished between the toes of that same barefoot boy.

Out by the dusty, dirt road (back then anyway) stood three big Catalpa trees — we called them catawba worm trees —  and when the worms had just about stripped the trees of all their leaves we knew that we would soon be going fishing with them as bait for our hooks, and that there would be some skillet fried catfish and hushpuppies for supper that same night.

Those worms would take over the front yard at times crawling up the low, green, wooden steps onto the porch and their toe squish was much worse than that of the Chinaberries.

In the summertime up on top of the hill, just past the house, there was a whole grove, it seemed, of sweet, tart wild plums ripe for the picking. That is one of the reasons I have a plum tree, full of plums, in my front yard today. Jelly is the other! Strung across the road, a little further down, wild muscadines hung low to the ground. They were, and are still, too slimy for me, and I don’t like that kind of jelly, but I do have some vines planted.

To the right of the house Mawmaw grew her flowers, and to the left she and Pawpaw raised a garden that was plentiful every year. Out back was the pump house that provided us with the best tasting water straight from the well, but when Mawmaw added a fist full of saccharin tablets to her jug of sweet tea it was hard not to spit it right back out.

A little farther past the pump house was the old outhouse and, true to form, inside were a couple of well worn catalogs with some of the pages torn out — the reason being, most folks already know. Sometimes there would be a roll or two of the store-bought stuff in there too, but both served the purpose equally well.

Across the road was a big field where an occasional quail or dove would fly. I remember when I got my first shotgun, marching out into that field fully expecting we would have quail for supper, but it ended up being butterbeans and peas from the garden, with some of the best fried apple pies, still warm and greasy from Mawmaw’s cast iron skillet, for dessert.

On the other side of the field in a small patch of trees was an old pond, probably dug a hundred years ago for watering cows. We  tried to fish a little bit there but never caught anything more than some crawdads, and a tadpole or two, and a rash from chiggers, or poison ivy, I’m sure.

Pawpaw died on Christmas Eve in 1967 when I was just six, and Mawmaw — who had a heart attack the afternoon before I married my wife, Danny, in August of 1981 — moved into a nursing home in Newton not long after our wedding. She lived in that place, visited by my dad every day, until she died 28 years ago on New Year’s Day.

Danny and I lived in Mawmaw and Pawpaw’s house for a few months in the summer of 1984 before moving to Clarksdale where we bought our first home, on a street named Catalpa, of all places.

Mawmaw and Pawpaw’s place is all gone now. Every single bit of it is gone, with the exception of those three old Catalpa trees and, in the spring, a clump of buttercups where those Easter eggs were most likely hidden way back then. Five years ago, on the Fourth of July, Danny and I took my folks riding around in the country on those same old dusty back roads. We stopped and took our picture in front of the catawba worm trees, and I’m so glad we did ‘cause mom is gone now too.

This week I’m looking forward to the overlay work wrapping up on Hays Road at the place we called Hays Crossing. Not so much as to ease the morning congestion, but more so that I might hang a right on the way home one evening and take a smooth ride down memory lane.