The dirt road
Over the past several years, I have heard a number of country songs referring to “dirt roads.” Usually, the singer is remembering his or her childhood with fondness and especially the friends and family that lived along the dirt road. Dirt roads seem quaint and reminders of a better time.
In the song, “Red Dirt Road,” Brooks and Dunn sing of walking to church, racing barefoot, finding Jesus, drinking that first beer, wrecking a car, and learning profound lessons of life on the red dirt road.
I grew up on a dirt road, brown and not red. What I remember is how dusty the dirt road was. From the time I was about 4 or 5 we lived in the county on a street aptly named “Hill Street” because the road was on a hill in northeastern Tennessee. To catch the bus about a quarter mile away, one had to walk down the hill and, after completing business in town and returning on the bus, one had to walk up the hill.
During dry weather, the dust got everywhere — in the hair, in the eyes, in the mouth, on the clothes, in the house (no air conditioning, so windows had to stay open), on the plants, and on the wet clothes drying in the backyard on the clothes line. During wet weather, the road became muddy and slick.
Thinking it was doing the residents a favor, the county finally laid down a thick coat of oil on the dirt road. Black, sticky, thick oil that smelled like — well, it smelled like oil. So, while the dust problem was solved, the black oil stuck to everything: the soles of shoes, car tires, skin — anything the oil touched it stained. At least the dust didn’t stick.
Eventually we were annexed into the city, which already had a Hill Street, so the name of our road was changed to Busbee Street. The city covered our road, and the oil, with a thick layer of gravel.
Gravel was infinitely better than either dirt or oil. The dust was held down and the foul smell disappeared. The downside was that, if one had a wreck on the bicycle flying down the hill, the jagged gravel did far more damage to flesh and bone than did the dirt or oil. Still, it was a fair trade even if we had to learn to ride with caution.
I graduated from high school and went off to the Marine Corps. Returning on leave a few months later, I discovered that my dirt/oil/gravel road had been transformed. A smooth, thick, brilliant black layer of asphalt now covered our road. We had entered the modern era. No dust, no smell, no jagged rocks — just a modern residential road.
A few weeks ago, I lived on a dirt road again. The county department of transportation stripped all the asphalt off our road and began the work of road repair. Dust was everywhere.
This time, however, since we have air conditioning, the windows stayed closed.
And we no longer dry clothes on a line in the back yard. The dust did get on cars, and in swimming pools, on plants, decks, and porches. But, in about two weeks, the asphalt had returned.
I do not long to return to the dirt road, romantic though it may be portrayed in songs. Neither do I long for the oil-laden nor the gravel-covered road. I like the semi-permanence and relative cleanliness of asphalt or concrete.
While long ago memories may call to us periodically, the danger in them is that, if we linger too long or remember them too fondly, we may miss the significance of the experiences occurring all around us.
With apologizes to Brooks and Dunn, I’ll identify with Carly Simon and her song, “These Are the Good Old Days.” I wonder if there will ever be a country song about “The Asphalt Road?”
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec,org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]