The past still lives on back roads
By Tom Poland
The past lives in a rural version of an assisted living center for a parallel exists between elders and the sights along back roads.
A lot of people live out their final days in homes these days. Unless you have reason to visit them, they are invisible.
Like a society you never see they nonetheless are there. The sights along back roads remain out of sight too unless you drive by them. It’s like a country you’ll never see. Yes, I know. You are too busy. Too much to do as you hurtle through the years.
Still, invisible places and invisible people wait out there.
I don’t recall all this invisibility being so common when I was young. “Seems to me” as the old folks were wont to say that grandparents and aged parents and aunts lived with younger family members once upon a time. I recall how great it was to sit at their knee and hear tales from their lives. New worlds entire opened up when they spoke. Not so today.
These days older folks do a lot of sitting. A lot.
TV tries to entertain them but I know it fails. Seems to me too that a lot of old things sit and sit and sit along lesser roads, lesser in the sense that not so many people travel them.
The truth is back roads are grand avenues, places where the past still lives, and such is the case with a lonely road I took recently through western South Carolina almost to the Georgia border. Let me explain.
I could see Georgia from South Carolina across a great expanse of water once known as the Savannah River. Yes, we even put rivers in rest homes, dammed as they are and damned too.
My guide into the past was South Carolina Highway 23, which runs through the Sumter National Forest west to Highway 28 whereupon at an old store called Bracknell’s you can cross the rail tracks and make your way down to Clarks Hill Lake.
From that road’s terminus two states stare across the lake I skied and boated upon in my youth. I never got to see the river run free through my homeland. Born too late.
I ended up at the impoundment right about dark but on the way in I sure saw the past. I stopped at a cemetery where a mausoleum just like my parents’ sits. I’ve long wanted to know who rests there.
A preacher and his wife do and just behind their mausoleum stands the marker of a girl who died at 5. Just five. On I traveled and near the lake I spotted an old fire truck, one from 1946 I’m told. How many fires did this old truck snuff out? Where are the men who manned it? Where are the heroes?
And then I caught the lake at sundown, that time of day when a dying sun fans out its colors and the light turns sweet. Beneath all that sweet sun-colored water runs the ghost of the mighty Savannah, and for a minute I tied to see the river running free again but couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
My drive did good things for me. Something about the back roads proves therapeutic. Something about the back roads is energizing too. I’ll never tire of this vast assisted living center where the past sits and sits waiting for a visit from others.
It makes me think about beauty, lives cut short, forgotten heroes, how things once were, and as much as anything it’s a place calling my name for, I, too, will one day become a back road sight in a cemetery along a lesser road called Highway 220.
When I do, I hope some future journalist-writer will take the time to ramble and make notes, and like that bear that went over the mountain, see what he can see and tell his busy, busy brethren just what they’re missing.