by Tom Givens
In the South of my youth, gravel roads were just about the only way to get from here to there until the 60's. A few of these roads are still around, but most lost their personality when the powers-that-be gave them a shellacking and made ‘em black top.
One of my favorite gravel roads in Bolivar County, Mississippi, was Bishop Road, known in the 50's as Hatchery Road. Hatchery had ditches on both sides, bordering acres and acres of cotton and soybean fields.
Another favorite and probably the most traveled gravel road in the area was the Linn Road (which is now paved). This was the main artery for all us country boys to come to Cleveland and go to Andy's Tap Room. The road was mostly straight, but had some good curves--following Jones Bayou, that lovely stream that flows through Cleveland and goes on down to somewhere.
I really don't know who came up with the idea of gravelling roads, because when heavy rains descended, gravel didn't make a bit of difference--you just had them big rocks mixed in with the mud. But the Supervisors were making big bucks, and laid the gravel on.
Now, one thing I liked to do as a teenager was drift around the curves on Linn Road. There were two good ones: one was just past what is now Givens Road and the Old Medders place where the Jones-Mallete road intersects. I’d come into that curve real low, cut right, and drift up and around, throwing gravel all over the place.
The other one was just down the road, right before you got to the Linn Methodist Church, and this one was the best. I could stay sideways for a while, straightening up when I got ready.
My Daddy' s main man, Sylvester Williams, was a wonderful person. Daddy would say, "Tommy, you and Syl go down to the Wiley place and get that bean trailer and bring it up here."
Syl would say, "Mr. Tom, please, you take me down there."
"Naw, Syl,” Daddy’d answer. “Tommy can drive. He's O.K."
So off me and Sylvester went in the '49 Ford pickup. Now Sylvester could do some adventurous things when he was on his own and had a few under his belt. When he got in the truck with me, he knew what was up. He knew who was in control and what was fixing to happen.
It was crazy, I’ll have to say, and I was in just as much danger as Syl who was practically crying, but I’d get that pickup going sideways down the road, then hit the ditch, go down it for a while, come out, and do the same thing on the other side, whooping and hollering all the while.
Thinking back, I believe Sylvester probably enjoyed it as much as I did--after it was all over.
I was always surprised when, time and again, Syl climbed back in the truck with me, although reluctantly, to rock around on those gravel roads. And I reckon he’s most probably telling this same story somewhere up yonder.
I can hear him: “Hey, c’mere. Lemme tell you about when I was a young man, when I drove them Mississippi gravel roads with the boy.”
Contact Judge Tom Givens: DeltaJudge
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