A few weeks ago I found myself on a road I've been on many times before. A two-lane country road not all that distinguishable from any of ten thousand others. It wasn't the most direct way to get to where I was going that day, but it was the way I needed to take. As I drove, I remembered. And though I never lived on that road, it felt like years of my life had been spent there.
Almost immediately, I recalled an icy night some years ago that resulted in a scarcely visible dent beneath the passenger side door of my Jeep. Suffice it to say the fourth mailbox on the right side of the road used to be wooden. You never forget your first.
A little further down I passed the old ball field, still standing but barely. The roofs gone off both of the concrete dugouts. The outfield fence rusted and torn down in places. The grass grown high. I remember when it came to life almost every summer night with bright lights, kids playing, parents cheering, coaches yelling.
If you take a left across from the ball field, it'll take you past the high school and the football field where one cold January morning I ran headfirst into the goalpost while not wearing a helmet. (Not intentionally.) Being knocked unconscious isn't loads of fun when it happens, but it makes for a decent story later.
But I didn't drive out by the school. I stayed on my current path, and I knew what was next. It's the fifth road on the left after you pass the Baptist church. The memories started to come. I pressed on the gas a little harder, maybe hoping I could outrun them. I loved a girl who lived down that road, and probably always will.
Almost to the top of the hill is the cut off to Roller Coaster Road. I'm sure I smiled as I passed it, thinking about all the afternoons spent running wide open up and down those hills. Top down. Stomach flipping. And time to burn.
The thought of turning around and taking one more ride on Roller Coaster Road briefly crossed my mind but I continued on, down the hill and finally to the stop sign. There on the corner is a little country store. Or used to be. It's been closed for years now, but the building is still there, looking dilapidated at best.
Some nights we would stop there and get a cold drink out of the machine after parking in the cotton fields, if we had enough change and enough time before daylight. I don't know what good it would have done, but part of me wished the store was still open. And I probably would have stopped off for a coke if it had been.
If you go straight at the stop sign, the paved road ends and dirt roads lead through miles of cotton fields. There are a couple of sharp curves and if you don't know the road well, perhaps on a foggy night, your friend's car might end up in a cotton field, on its side. And you might have to go back the next day to help him push it over so that another friend can tow it home.
I turned left at the stop sign. It was Thanksgiving day, and I had decided to visit the cemetery. Mamaw and Uncle J had been such a huge part of Thanksgiving for so many years, it just felt right to pay them a visit.
As I left that two-lane country road behind for another, I was astounded by how many memories were associated with that single stretch of highway. I felt a sense of home. I felt grounded.
There's something comforting in a place like that. Knowing that the memories are always there, just waiting until the next time I take a slight detour from life and go for a drive down that road. A road I know so well it feels like I could drive it with my eyes closed.
And sometimes I think I did.
"Ain't that just like a dream, runnin' wild and runnin' free. We were rebels chasin' time against the wind. Sometimes I long for just one night of the way I felt back then. But ain't that just like a dream, it always ends..."