Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Long Road Home

Last week I had the privilege to drive back to my mom's small hometown to celebrate the life of one of her brother's who was being laid to rest.  It was the second time in six months I had to make this trip, the previous one was to lay my own mom to rest.  It seems the only time I make this trip is to bury a family member, or say my last goodbyes to a family member before they die, its never for fun, relaxation, or just to enjoy the company of my "country cousins."

Over my lifetime, I've made the trip to this small, country town countless times, countless.  However this particular trip was very different because I went alone.  There was no one in the car with me to provide any kind of distractions, to talk to, to be entertained, or to keep me company.  Instead, I had only myself to depend on.  This trip seemed to bring out new senses, perhaps like a blind person might have a better sense of sound or smell, I seemed to notice things on this trip that I had never noticed before.  There are several different ways to get to the small town I was headed for, none of them direct roads or highways, that's what you get when you live out in the country.  You have to pay close attention to where you are headed or you will end up in a much different place.  The route I took was familiar territory, but there was something different about this trip, this time things seemed to jump out at me like a neon light flashing in the night.

As I sped past the countryside, I began to wondered what the people that lived in these small towns did for a living, where did they shop for groceries, where did they go for entertainment.  In particular, I was curious about how they came up with the names of the creeks, roads, places of business.  Some were obvious, some were really creative, some were really silly. There actually was a Memory Lane and a Country Charm Road, I assume someone who retired and carved out these small roads thought the names were quaint.  Then there were the family named roads, "Jimbo Nettles", "Olivia," "SarahLyn," "Tom Cummings," and "Jewel Coleman," all obviously named after whomever cleared the land, started the farms and ranches, lived their entire lives.  There were the rather humorous names, "Catfish Hole Road" or  "Hornet Nest Lane."  I can hear the old farmers talking, "go down yonder, pass that road where the good catfish hole is, then turn right down that road that we got stung by them hornets when we were kids."

Most of the creek names were more descriptive rather than unique, but there were a few that stood out.  Among my favorites was "Woman Hollering" creek, I can only begin to imagine why it was named that.  And, is "Dry Creek" really a creek if it is always dry?  There were the standards, "Big Sandy," "Little Sandy," "Big Hickory," and "Little Hickory," none of which seemed unique but there were a lot of them.

In this area of our country there are a lot of Indian settlements and reservations, so I wasn't surprised when I passed roads, creeks or lakes named "Indian Lake," "Kickapoo," "Tejas," and "Chokbilakbila IngKope," (meaning "Whipporwill's Nest"), .  I always know when I pass the "Alabama Coushatta" reservation I'm only about 15 miles from my destination.   

This part of the country is also known for the trees that are indigenous to the area probably more than anything else.  The giant pine trees shade the winding and hilly roads, and one knows that the paper mills must be close by as you see logging trucks screaming down the highways carrying one load after another.  It then makes sense that neighborhoods, roads and rivers are all named after what is probably the biggest industry in the area.  "Pine Cone" lane is not unusual, nor is "Pine," "Pine Straw," "Pine Needle," "Pine Sap" it goes on and on and on.  When they run out of "pine" names, they pick up with "Magnolia" and "Dogwood." 

I was surprised at how many cemeteries I passed along the way.  It was obvious who was buried in them by the names.  Not only did "Issac Jones," "Hawk Adams," and "Jimbo Nettles" all have roads named after them, but they all also had a cemetery named after them as well.  There was the "Issac Jones Cemetery," "Hawk Adams Cemetery," and the "Nettles Cemetery" which I assumed was related to Jimbo.  There were a lot of church cemeteries, the smallest was the one that claims to be the smallest Catholic Church in the world, which also has an equal sized cemetery on the grounds with less than 15 people buried there.  There are community cemeteries like the one my family is buried in, that are the permanent resting place for families as a whole.  The only cost for a burial place is that you either donate money for the upkeep of the graves, or participate in annual clean-ups of the grounds.  Dying is a big dollar business, but in this part of the country at least you don't have to spend a lot of money for the ground you are laid to rest in. 

Other than the obvious big businesses around the area like the paper mills, prisons or farms and ranches, there are the local businesses that support a community.  There are hair salons, restaurants, and automotive repair shops.  The names of these small businesses can be descriptive and unique, some seemed to try way too hard to be clever.  The small dress shop "Kendra's Kloset" or the campgrounds by the river "Kamper's Korner" were rather, um, unique?  There were rhyming names like "Hair Affair." And then the business that tried to incorporate more than just one thing like "Edna's Hair, Tanning and Tattoo Salon," I'm not sure I would want them to do cut my hair, much less give me a tattoo.  Of all that I saw, I kind of liked "MHM Motors," a small used car sales business, "MHM" stood for "More Happier Motorist," I kid you not. 

Though the purpose of my trip was yet once again a sad one, it turned out to be a gift to me in so many ways.  I've made this trip so many times, but this experience allowed me to have a new perspective of my mom's childhood and understanding of who she was.  I'm still trying to come to terms with her death and the thought that I will never be able to hear her tell me one of the many stories of the place she so loved and held dear to her heart.  I realized that this was not just a place that I go to visit or lay a family member to rest.  This is a place that runs through my blood, my heritage, it is also part of my home and my heart.