Tuesday, April 19, 2005

SEARCY ’46-‘56 - Part 03

Chapter Two

Tom Pry

First Ruts, Then Path - 1

It was after dark when we got to Searcy: the middle of town, then Pleasure Street and, finally, at the edge of town, a gravel highway .. and more darkness than you can conceive of. About three miles out of town, just over a hill, a hard right turn, followed by more ruts in a road that, in my 7-year-old innocence, as used to city streets as I was (hell, I didn’t know there WAS such a thing as an unpaved street), thought was possible. From one side to another, it was one tire groove next to another, from one side of the narrow road to the other.

It felt like it, too. Remember, it had been not just trucks using that road in wet weather, but narrow iron-wheeled wagons, cars, tractors, horses, mules, and God-only-knows what else for God-only-knows how many years, each one leaving a very long 3-to-7 inch-deep memory in it.

I’m not sure the road had ever felt the blade of a grader.

But we felt the road as we bumped ahead into a stygian darkness that, if anything, was even darker than the “highway” had been. (That highway was not paved until sometime between 1948 and 1950; right now, the part that runs through town is four lanes, and the road from there to a mile past our turnoff is in the process of being made quadruple).

The reason it was so dark was that, first, there were only six houses on the mile-and-a-half road, and just five of them were occupied; secondly, we didn’t get electricity in the valley until 1948. So, shortly after supper and sundown, it was kerosene lamp out and go to bed, and everyone already had done exactly that by the time we got there; consequently, we were driving into a sea of total darkness (there is no such thing as a kerosene nightlight).

I’ve gone into this darkness routine for a couple of reasons. First, you can’t find that kind of darkness anymore: streetlights, light from nearby towns, somebody staying up to watch David Letterman .. something is lightening the scene. Secondly, I was about to see enacted an event that one just doesn’t see anymore (except when a presentable widower moves into the retirement home): the community welcome.

As we drove slowly and cautiously down the kidney-destroying road, the darkness served to emphasize the fact that lamps were being lit in the valley, usually as we rumbled by, occasionally preceding our arrival. It has only recently been confirmed to me by James “Bubber” Varner (the only one left besides me who was there that night) that everyone knew exactly when we were due to get there, so they were sleeping with only one eye shut. As a consequence, while we proceeded with our bumpy motorized processional, families were getting out of bed, getting dressed, and loading their cars or trucks before pulling out to catch up with us. Grandad had been there a few months earlier, when he bought the place, and had met them all then, and told them what was up.

To me, it was and would remain for decades a miracle of the sort you just don’t see anymore.

(Series originally published late 2003/early 2004 on the old site).


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