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James R. Stout

It's Never Too Late To Dream

             My grandmother used to tell us about her walking to the one-room schoolhouse in the rural community where she grew up. The same area where I have lived for the past 11 years and have been coming to since I was two months old. The name of the community was known as Prairie Point and the school was simply named The Prairie Point School. My mother also attended that school through the 8th grade. Grandma would talk about the path that she had to walk daily from late September until early May. There were no actual roads at that time. This would have been during the years of 1908-1918. They only had 10 grades at that time. She would tell me about the land that she crossed through, who owned it, and what the trail was like. It was fascinating to me to hear of her experiences that were merely everyday life. She always referred to such routes as “lanes”. They were used by local farmers for going to church, town, and visiting neighbors. A great deal of the land that Grandma and Grandpa ended up owning as their farm was land that this particular lane cut through.

            By the time I came along, the lanes were replaced by county roads and most of the lanes were no longer used by locals as they were now on private property and the county roads were far better to travel. Sometimes we’d be going to their big garden or to part of the farm and she would point at an area and tell me it was part of the old lane. You could see that it was once traveled by the way the trees had been trimmed or cleared.

            It had always been a goal of mine to hike through the wooded areas that had once been that lane. But life gets busy when you get married and have children and a job. When I moved out here in 2009, I made it a goal to finally follow that old lane as far as possible. So, one day in the fall of 2009 I loaded up my side-by-side with some snacks and iced down water and determined to drive as far on the lane as possible and then walk as far as possible. The starting point was where a current county road that became the last leg of the lane. I knew from days of my childhood that I wouldn’t get far that way due to a large and deep creek. So, I drove into the pasture (now owned by a cousin and dear friend) up to the tree line and then walked up to that creek. It was actually a retracing of steps that I had taken many times when I was a kid. There really wasn’t much to see at that point. I got back in my vehicle and drove a long way around through the old farm up to where the lane went through and joined my cousin’s property. I remembered walking that way as a child and there was obviously what appeared to be a naturally cleared pathway that had in reality been groomed a hundred years before as the lane.

            I crossed the big pasture and then went by foot through a section of the lane that was mostly grown over with bushes and trees. However, you could still see the remnants of that old lane in places. Once again, I got on my vehicle and drove out of the farm property and followed another county road that we called “The Tree Army” road. So named due to it being cleared and made by a CCC unit in the 1930’s. In reality, they cut through the existing old lane, cleared it for automobile traffic, brought in rocks and dirt to fill in low spots, and graded it into the shape that a county road needed to be. As I drove down that road, a road that I have driven countless times and still do at least once or twice a week, I started to picture in my mind my grandmother walking to school down that now improved lane. Her walk to school was about 3 miles. It’s no wonder people were in better shape back then! I could see in my mind’s eye my grandmother dressed in the homemade dresses that my great-grandmother would have made for her with a matching bow in her hair. She’d be carrying a few books tied together with a leather strap. I wondered if she ever kicked rocks along her way to see how far she could kick them or if that was simply a boy’s thing to do. I imagined that she stopped along the way to get a drink of water from an old tin dipper at a neighbor’s well.

            Remember I mentioned that first county road that had once been the last section of the lane? Starting in 1912 she would have daily walked past my great-grandparent’s house and most likely was joined in her walk by a boy named Tom who lived in that house with his parents. He was three years older than her. They would end up getting married in 1921. It was his parent’s land that a part of that lane passed through. Can you imagine how my grandparents in 1963 had fond thoughts and memories of those days 50 years in the past? That house built in 1912 by my grandparents is now restored and owned by my cousin. What a treasure it has become and to have survived over 100 years!

            There must be countless stories similar to this one. Time changes and things evolve along the way. I remember the neighborhood that I grew up in and the way that it was in the 60’s and 70’s. There are some things that still look the same, but a whole lot of change has happened there over the years. The house we lived in was about $8,000 new when it was built in the late 50’s. My parents did some additions along the way and sold it in 1979 for about $50,000. A friend recently sent me some pictures of the house and a computer link to see it as it was for sale. That house was given the full “Fixer-Upper” treatment. The inside had no resemblance to the house I lived in, but the outside still had the look despite added landscaping, new sidewalk, and an added shop building on one side. The asking price? $330,000! Most of the stores that were two blocks away are now gone. Some of the buildings are still there with new proprietors, but where there once was a busy shopping strip center with a K-mart is now expensive condos. Those differences are much the same as the grown over foliage in that school lane.

            I challenge you all to write down the places where you grew up and spent so much of your young life traveling by foot or bicycle. Tell the coming generations about how something was that no longer appears to exist, but if they look closely enough, they’ll see the remnants of a life now faded into the past. History itself is important. I think that the history of each of our lives is also important. You should read a book about the 400,000 American pioneers who braved the Oregon Trail. Read about their lives on that journey. Their hardships, their hopes, their dreams, their sorrows, and their joys will come to life. Did you know there are still deep wagon ruts in places of that trail? Look it up online and you’ll see the deep ruts as they appear today in Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. They are remnants of not only a major historical period of time in American history (1830-1860), but the lives of individuals who had a dream and set out to see it come true. It’s never too late to have a dream and to set out to achieve it. There’s an old cemetery a few miles north of Huntsville, Texas. It’s down a pretty rough dirt road, but it’s worth the trip. Inside that cemetery is a small fenced off area of one man’s grave. When you look at the dates on his headstone you may do a double-take. He was born in 1750 and died in 1850. He managed to live a century in a time when most people were lucky to see 50. But that’s not the really cool thing about this man. He was from Missouri and had a farm there. He had several sons and at the age of 97 he got a dream. He wanted to move to Texas. Imagine this 97-year-old man sitting on the hard wood seat on a covered wagon next to one of his sons and making a journey with all of his earthly possessions from Missouri to Texas. He managed to do just that and to live another two years as a Texan. He became a Texan only 3 years after Texas became a state. Hey, if you’re going to dream, then dream big and then roll up your sleeves, hitch up your drawers, and go for it.

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