A trip back home

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When I was growing up, my hometown was exactly 10 miles from my house. The first 5 miles was a state-maintained gravel road, and the last 5 miles was a hard-surfaced, asphalt-paved road that was considered very good for that time in history. Sometime around my 10th year, the state paved the gravel road that passed through our farm, and replaced an old, low-water bridge that allowed access to town in almost any kind of weather. Life was good.

Of course, during the drier times of the summer months, we could cut the mileage to town in half, by taking the creek road – but it had to be very dry, because traveling that road required our vehicle to cross the same creek a total of four times, with two of those crossings nothing more than a concrete slab and one with only a gravel bottom. The one-lane, dirt road was minimally maintained by the county and I’m convinced the weather warning of, “Turn around – don’t drown,” was coined because of that particular road.

My wife and I spent all of last weekend in my home county, and just for fun, I took her on her first adventure down the creek road, and my first trip down in over 40 years. It turned out to be quite a trek down memory lane.

As we crossed the creek for the first time, Judy commented on how narrow the bridge seemed. I had to laugh as I explained that in my youth the bridge was much narrower, without any side rails, and that I could remember riding with my dad to deliver cattle in a 2-ton truck, and observing that the outside duals of the rear wheels were essentially riding on air. 

The next two crossings were uneventful, as the creek slowly meandered over the concrete slabs that have been built and rebuilt a multitude of times. I carefully pointed out each house (or remaining foundation) and recited who had lived at each one, 60-some years ago, until we arrived at the mid-point of the 5-mile road. There, just as it has for at least the past 70 years, was a pipe protruding out of a concrete structure, on the side of a hill, and from that pipe, flowed the purest, cleanest, coldest water one would ever taste. 

Almost every trip I had ever made, on that creek road required me to stop and take a drink from the old, tin dipper that always hung there. The water used to flow into a rectangular, concrete tank, no doubt used for watering horses back when the road was regularly traveled by teams pulling wagons. The remnants of the trough were still lying around, but the water now emptied into the road ditch. The stately old house directly across the road, was now boarded up with instructions to, “Keep Out.” The old barn, whose loft had held a wealth of hay, was now nothing more than an old concrete foundation.

I proudly pointed out to my wife, that I had actually earned my first salary at this farm by raking hay and driving the tractor as the bigger boys loaded the trailer with hay bales. I was around 9 or 10, and had worked from sunrise until after dark. When the owner, Mr. Walrath, paid me a whopping $3, I was rich.

All those memories came flooding back, when I took one long sip of that delicious, spring water flowing out of the side of that hill.

Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’

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