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James R. Stout

A Gravel Road

            Our family moved into a small neighborhood in Bryan, Texas in October of 1963. Each street had roughly 4 or 5 houses on each side of the street. Not all of the streets were filled with houses. There were vacant lots spread out among the streets. Our street had 5 such lots. Our street had 7 houses and 5 vacant lots. When we moved onto that street all of the streets were still gravel streets. While this made riding a bike a bit more difficult, it also had one major good thing.

            In warm weather and especially during the summer of 1964 we went to bed with all the windows open. We didn’t have AC. While we did have an attic fan, it was necessary to have the windows open to keep from sweltering through the night. It may sound gauche to some people; but we didn’t bother sleeping with a bedspread or blanket. It was just too hot. We merely slept on a fitted sheet and the matching cover sheet. I remember the cool feeling when I would move my feet over to the side of the bed that I wasn’t sleeping on. It was a wonderful feeling. The windows in that house were designed so that they were high up the wall instead of typical windows. It was a popular design feature in houses in the late 50’s and early 60’s. My favorite part about those nights was after all the lights were out, everybody was in bed, and the house was quiet. I could hear the crickets and tree frogs singing in the strip of woods to the right of our house and the sounds of a freight train in the distance with the clickity-clack it made while making its way down the line. Perhaps the best sound was when an occasional car would drive down our street. I will forever remember the crackling of the gravel as the car would drive down the street.

            In the fall of 1964, my best friend’s family moved into the house catercorner from our house. We became the neighborhood Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. We explored the woods, played “army” and cowboys and Indians, gave sock puppet shows to whoever was unlucky enough to be suckered into watching, and played sandlot baseball with the other neighborhood kids.

            In June of 1965, a major change came to our neighborhood. The city started to pave the streets. Eddie and I would sit in my front yard and watch the big earth movers, backhoes, dump tracks, and assorted road construction vehicles as the workmen went about transforming our street from gravel to concrete. There was a vacant lot next to Eddie’s house and the workers had piled several huge mounds of dirt to be used for the roadbed on that lot. It became irresistible for us to ignore those mounds of dirt after the workers were gone. It made our make-believe games all that more real. I have no doubt our mothers wondered how we could get ourselves and our clothes so dirty.

            I had no idea at the time how much I was going to miss the sound of that gravel road once it was paved. But miss it I did. Even now, 55 years later, if I see a gravel road (not dirt, mind you) I have to roll down my window and drive down that road just to hear that nostalgic sound. It’s like taking a trip back in time to hear the crackling of the gravel under the tires. There was still the sound of the distant trains and the nighttime insects, but the sound of the gravel was gone from my nights. Its interesting how the memory of something so seemingly innocuous can become a major part of our lives decades later. But maybe its just me that something such as this carries such wonderful memories. I can still remember the feeling of being 9-years-old and laying in that bed with those sounds from outside as well as the attic fan in the hall ceiling lulling me to sleep. I dreamed of days to come and looked forward to making the journey into the future. Yet, all of these years later it is those simple nights and a simpler life that I think about while trying to get to sleep at night. A Bible verse comes to mind as I think about all of this. Luke 2:19 – “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” I guess I ponder these things and treasure them. I’m not living in the past at all. I’m just thankful to God for giving me a life that has been filled with wonderful moments that I can treasure as I continue to move forward into the future.

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