On the back side of the farm, in a remote area, are the remains of an old wagon road. A close look reveals the depression cut in the soil nearly a hundred years ago. Evidently well-used, it connected a lane on the north boundary of the farm to the modern state highway to the south. There was a steel bridge that crossed a meandering bayou and allowed the road to be used up until the 1940s by families, farmers, the postman, and kids walking to school two miles away.
We get this information from our family historian, my mother-in-law, who with her siblings, once lived “on the creek,” and played baseball using the road to connect the bases.
“We could hear the postman coming when he went over the planks on that old bridge,” she says. “Momma would tell us, ‘you kids get your bases out of the road, the postman is coming,’” She also walked the road to school each day, in whatever weather came along.
“There was this one old tree, and sometimes, in good weather, we would stop and play ‘skin a cat’ on it for a while.”
She never explains exactly what was involved in “skin a cat” but it sounds like fun. My late father-in-law and I used to search the path for a tree that might have suggested a purpose, but we had no luck.
Nowadays, hardship to a youngster means not having the latest version of a smart phone. It is tempting, though, to wonder if a tradeoff between modern conveniences and a simpler life might bring us in closer contact to what T.S. Eliot called, “the roots that clutch,”
These old roads want to talk to us—to tell us that they were once important. Maybe on a quiet night of a full moon, one can sit quietly and still hear the laughter, dreams, fears, and hopes that traveled along these ruts. Eventually they will disappear, as the voices did. It will be our loss.
I will continue to walk along this road as long as I am able. It seems to connect me with a world in which folks made so many sacrifices on the way to their dreams. It can remind me that we all face obstacles as we travel our own paths. And who knows? Maybe someday I will find that “skin a cat” tree.