By Earline Smith Crews
Guest Writer 

Mama decided to try to learn how to drive


March 28, 2019

I lived my childhood years on an unpaved dirt road. A typical Alabama red clay dirt and gravel road. A road with no name, no direction signs, just dusty, rub board ridged in dry weather. Boggy, slippery, washed out and gully cut in rainy weather.

We lived between Barnett Crossroads and Stanley Crossroads, a distance of four miles. Estimated two miles to either crossing. If we needed to explain where we lived to anyone, we simply told them to look for a white asbestos sided house with red trim and roof, half way between the two crossings.

Our house sat behind a deep ditch with two culvert supported drive ways into the "lane" out front. Our house sat several yards behind the lane.

The lane ran all the way down to include the entry way into our barn. The lane was for parking and playing.

The ditch was protection in case of a brake failure from passing traffic.

Actually the ditch was there since the Great Flood, Daddy just used it to his advantage.

Our ditch was a favorite place to play. My brothers engineered a set of steps going down into the ditch from the lane to go up to the roadway on the other side. Those steps were lined up with our front door. They were cut at deep slants which made it easy to climb up and down. No hand rails were needed, just walk up and down. Or run if need be.

Late evenings our family gathered on the front porch until bedtime. Mama shared our infractions with Daddy. Daddy issued front porch justice. We made promises to do better. Also, this gathering place was where we asked for special favors, like,

"If we maybe could go to see the pitchur show at school next Friday night"?

"The Three Stooges.............................the bus is running, please".

We played and fussed in the front yard, kicked cans and pine cones, hit a homemade ball with a stick in games of baseball. The ball was an old worn out sock filled with rags wrapped around a small rubber ball for giving some bounce. Lopsided, it never went in the direction it was aimed for. We played in the road most evenings. The locals were home from work and traffic was rare late weekday evenings.

A wire fence was built around the yard in those years. Livestock law didn't exist, Daddy didn't want free range animals to come into the yard and destroy Mama's flowers or scare his youngun's.

The fence gate was a picket and held closed with an iron hoop. The gate was used for swinging on. With time and constant use it sagged. The iron hoop was used as a toy. Using a forked stick to push it aimlessly for hours before our attention was on something else, the hoop was forgotten laying exactly where it flopped. The lost hoop caused many sessions of front porch justice. The hoop could be used for fun, but dark better not catch it off the gatepost.

Dark came, the hoop wasn't holding the gate closed.


The years rolled, the road gave passage to other places. It ran both ways.

We waved and hollered out greetings to passersby. Traffic was usually slow and nonthreatening, except for the Hawkins brothers, Bud and Clyde.

Bud farmed with his daddy, Clyde owned the Barnett Crossroads store. Both drove fast and furious. Bud drove a farm truck, Clyde drove a Buick.

New, black and shiny with three vent holes on each side of the hood. We called Clyde's car, " Clyde's six hole".

We could hear it coming with gravel splaying out behind from half way to his store. Daddy would warn us to get out of the road, away from the lane and come sit on the porch until Clyde's six hole passed on by.

I wonder now if Clyde Hawkins ever wondered why we simply sit on the front porch looking and waving at him as he sped by.

The county road department did it's best to maintain the road. The ditches gullied, culverts blew out, rub board ridges made for sideways dancing of cars and trucks. Front end alignments were readjusted. Several places along our road were sand filled. Sand ruts caused wrecks or near misses. Our school bus, tar wood and paper wood trucks bogged and slipped into ditches. One rainy season put the rolling store in the ditch.

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Eventually the road department pulled the ditches and widened our road a bit. Progress was being made, hopefully the road would be paved one day soon.

In the meantime, the dust rolled, the mud caused bogging and ditching. Life moved slow in our world.

Mama's close friends had learned to drive. Her cousin, Mrs. Clara Dawson would drive their old truck out to collect the mail. Another friend, Mrs. Lottie Odom had came into ownership of an old trap car and would drive it to our lane where she would sit in the car and visit awhile. Her poor old knotted legs didn't allow for much unnecessary walking. Mama sat on the porch.

Mrs. Lottie sat in the car.

Two old worn down friends enjoyed a visit.

Time brought thoughts of independence to Mama.

Mama started to feel confined.

Mama decided she should learn to drive.

Daddy thought she needed to learn also.

One Sunday afternoon we all loaded onto Blue Goose to go find a safe road for Mama to get driving lessons.

Daddy took us across Grissett Bridge to the Old Stage Road. Built straight as an arrow in most places and flat. No other vehicles likely here on a Sunday afternoon.

Daddy got out to change places with Mama. He went through all the motions of how to put the gear into neutral, step on the clutch, put the gear into low, ease off the clutch and step on the gas petal. He forgot to instruct Mama on using the brakes.

Mama was nervous, red faced and sweating. Truck bed loaded with her offspring, the baby wedged between her and Daddy she pulled the shift down to low, let off the clutch and we lurched off down the road with Blue Goose's engine gunning.

Daddy hollers to tell her to clutch it and shift into second gear. Mama with her foot stomping the gas petal, stomps the brakes, tries to shift the gear stick, stomps the gas again and shoves the gear stick into a sever grinding, attempting to get it into second.

Those gears took a stripping. Blue Goose is bucking and skidding and lurching. We in the truck bed are frozen in place. By this time the road is showing a fork.

Mama crying, Daddy hollering,

"Shug, go right".

Mama does what she does best, gives up completely.

She takes her feet off everything in the floor board, her right hand goes to cover her face, her left hand pulls the door handle up as she steps out while the truck jumps the sandy berm before rolling into the woods of the fork in the road.

Everybody in the truck bed is clutching the sides.

Daddy grabs the baby and jumps out to look and see if everybody is still there.

The woods all around us are so quiet, the wind in the trees is whispering, a woodpecker rat-ta-tats off in the distance. The baby slobbers her fist.

Defeat feels sad.

Mama walks off down the road to find some privacy behind a clump of huckleberry bushes.

Mama gave up her dream of driving.

Our road got paved, signs got posted for speed limits, cattle crossings, and churches.

The road still runs both ways and was eventually named, Stanley.


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