Country roads take me back to Oklahoma

Posted May 14

Family history is as much about recording history as researching it. We all have stories to tell. So here’s one for my kids and the grandkids I might have someday:

I grew up in a neighborhood flung in the middle of nowhere of Oklahoma, at the end of a long, roller-coaster country road that was so far removed from civilization there was no cable, no sewage system, no garbage pickup and no water.

We angled an antenna, used a sump pump, burned the trash and had a well. Once or twice the sump pump malfunctioned, and for a while there was a sulfur problem in our well, so the house smelled like eggs. But I never minded about the cable, and I had no idea there was such a thing as a garbage truck that comes to your house to take away your refuse. Burning the trash was my brother’s job.

On occasion, our basement was infested with crickets, and our neighborhood was so remote our streets didn’t have names and our houses didn’t have numbers — only post office box addresses.

I spent hours going up and down that long street in the middle of nowhere by myself. There were rarely any cars, so I could pedal whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted. I remember teaching myself to ride a bike with no training wheels by coasting down one of those roads and crashing into the neighbor’s tree when I couldn’t stop. It only took a few collisions before I became a pro.

In the summer, the road got so hot the tar holding together all of the rocks in the surface melted, then boiled into big, rising bubbles. If I rode my bike just so, I could hear all of the bubbles going splat under my tires. I’d get down and poke the tar blisters, sometimes with a stick, sometimes with my finger. It was fascinating and messy, and I loved it.

There were scorpions in the road and box turtles crawling along the sides. I swear I must have seen an armadillo a time or two, driving along that long lane with my parents. We found my childhood dog, Sandy, by the side of one of those roads. She was timid and sweet and the best pet ever.

Sometimes a thing like a road can become a part of you. You anticipate the corners and shadows you pass on your way, and you find a sense of comfort in the familiarity of your surroundings. That’s how places become home, even if you’re not there very long or you leave someday. The smell and the sight of the sky when the sun sinks below the horizon become your compass, and you take root in that crack in the asphalt that’s been there for years and years.

Other times, a road can be unfamiliar and scary. I thought of this recently as I was driving down a new road that’s finally beginning to feel familiar to me. This is the road I drove when I was pregnant with my son Ellis, wondering if he would ever come into this world. This road, with its flowering trees and shades of green creeping up the hills, struck me with its beauty. But I felt like a foreigner. I had no idea which way to turn. I took in the streets and the mountain scene and asked myself, “Do I belong here?” I wasn’t convinced.

It was months on this new road before I started to feel an inkling of a change. I drive it with my children all of the time now, and they shout out the letters they see and name the buildings along the way. For a moment tonight, I felt like this road was mine and hoped its curves and hills will someday be their sextant.

Perhaps they won’t. Time will tell. But here’s what I want my children to remember: The next time you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, feeling like a foreigner on a path where you don’t know which way to turn, give it time. Sometimes the purpose of a road is just to lead you home.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.


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