Dirt road

On Ethical ELA’s Open Write today, Kim Johnson invites teacher-poets to compose poetry from paint chip colors. She happened to have “Dirt Road” in her own list.

As soon as I saw that name, it was over. I would have to take Dirt Road. Its pull is too strong for me, calling me back to a place I write about often.

So today I write a memoir poem, although I did incorporate a few paint chip names along the dirt road: Oyster Shell, Turtle Green, Pink Blossoms, Dreamy Memory, Forever Fairytale, Summer Sunflower.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll try whole new paint chip poem away from Dirt Road.

This is where the name led me today.

Dirt Road

I watch the highway
and my heart beats fast
when I see it coming
just around the bend

old dirt road

off to the right
threading through the trees
past Miss Etta’s tiny turtle-green
screened-porch house
where she dips snuff

past the homeplace
standing like a dreamy memory
white paint faded to tired oyster shell
sunlight gleaming
on the tin roof

Grandma was born here

past the tangle of sunflowers
planted by her brother
who still lives here alone
something is different about him
I don’t know what
it’s in his long face
he never says much
but he did give me some quarters

just beyond the sunflowers
Granddaddy’s garden
looks like something
an artist painted
in watercolor greens
in perfect rows
he grows collards 
and little round peppers for his vinegar
squash, cantaloupe, snap beans, 
Silver Queen corn, crowder peas,
and butterbeans, 
speckled pink and white
when I help shell them
from their furry green pods

then the grape arbor he built
laden with scuppernong vines
big leaves waving Hey
big brown-gold grapes
won’t be ready yet
and they aren’t even pretty
but to me
they taste like Heaven itself

then the row of crape myrtles at the curve
bright pink blossoms nodding their heads
sometimes shedding, rolling on and on
smooth forked trunks
where I like to climb and sit
and make up songs
thinking in forever fairytale

the house
bright white
black shutters

and I can’t think now
about the tire swing 
hanging there in the pecan tree 
studded with woodpecker holes
or the tiny cemetery with its ghosts
across the old dirt road

because Grandaddy and Grandma
are coming across the yard
straw hats shielding faces
lit with smiles
bright as the summer sunflowers
ever turning toward the sun

Daddy pulls off 
the old dirt road
into the yard

we’re here
we’re here

I am out of the car 
before it stops
running toward
open arms

and I never
want to leave.

My grandparents and my oldest boy on the old dirt road, a long time ago


with thanks to Kim Johnson, Ethical ELA, and Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. Writing is but half the magic. Sharing is the other half.

18 thoughts on “Dirt road

  1. Loved it. It reminded me of our summer vacations at maternal grandparents’ home every year. We had to go about 50 kms from the railway station to the small town. We would literally count the mile stones 🙂 Two months of fun. The photo is precious.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a thoughtful piece with such a precious photo. All of my great grandparents passed on before I was born. Heck, one my grandmothers died when I was less than six months old. I would’ve longed for photos like this one.

    To be able to write about the anticipation you felt approaching your grandparents’ house is just beautiful. Your writing oozed with love and reverence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your words, Stacey. My grandparents lived to be in their 90s and it means the world to me that they knew my children and that my children knew them. I write of Granddaddy and Grandma often – we were very close, and when I was with them I was enveloped in a sense of belonging. They never feel far away, even now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fran, I’m sharing my earlier reactions on your blog today – this drive with you is reminiscent of summers long gone – – the butterbeans, the collards, and the little house

    off to the right
    threading through the trees
    past Miss Etta’s tiny turtle-green
    screened-porch house
    where she dips snuff

    this reminds me of some of the older generations of my family, always with gardens, always shelling some kind of peas in a big enamelware pan or shelling pecans, (and I see your favorite grape in there, the scuppernong) and that ending – – a visit to grandparents is just the ticket to this dirt road trip, smiling like the sunflowers! Oh, my heart!!!

    The photo on your blog adds so much to the poem. I love seeing this dirt road in the context of the poem – it brings faces and a pulse to the words in the poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are my spirit-sister, Kim, riding on the memories of southern summers long gone! The recollections are a treasure worth more than gold to me. I am grateful to have known this generation and the old ways and old places…oh yes, it all pulls on the heartstrings. It is a gift (one among so many) that my grandparents lived to know my boys and that my boys knew them. The ties that bind are eternal – for love lives on and on. Thank you for taking the time to post again here! And for the paint chip prompt that so happened to have “Dirt Road” which sent me right back to this place I love above any other ❤


  4. Oh – the descriptions in this poem pulled me right in. My grandparents didn’t even live on a dirt road, but that made no difference as I read. What a wonderful memory – so many sensory moments made it so that I was even more pleased when you added the photo at the end. Perfect thing for me to read tonight before I head to bed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amanda, thank you for these lovely words. I absolutely had to go hunting for the photo after I wrote the poem. The happiest days of my childhood were spent here…I think I could write no end of stories about it. Somewhere I have a picture of Granddaddy pulling my son along that dirt road in a wagon…please know how much I appreciate your thoughts!


  5. This POEM. The imagery, the forward motion, the anticipation. I love this! Each landmark ticks off as you get closer and closer to “here.” And you bring so much, as always, through your words. The stanza about your great-uncle “Something is different about him / I don’t know what” perfectly reflects how a kid might react to a grown-up. We can always go back in our adult mind and put the pieces together, but it’s amazing how perceptive our childhood selves can be. And the “running” in the last stanza, doing its double duty? Gorgeous. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, Lainie, I hadn’t even realized the “double duty” of the word “running” at the end! Does it really work? I will be rereading it over and over to decide (because, you know, that thing you wrote about letting a thing go already…yeah, ME, TOO…!!!). As for my great-uncle: I never knew exactly what his condition was. My grandmother and her sister looked after him as he grew old and weak, until he had to go in a nursing home. Now, as to the homeplace itself…that’s another story all unto itself! But my grandparents’ home farther on at the bend in that dirt road is the setting of my happiest childhood memories. Idyllic, although some have said it was isolated, so far out that getting there seemed like traveling to the end of the Earth. Maybe so, but it was the beginning of Heaven for me. I am delighted and amazed that the poem resonates so… thank you, friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was right in that car with you, Fran! Your storytelling is amazing; it was like a video playing in my head, in need of a soundtrack to carry your words. You have inspired me to pause once again and think about what I remember, what small moments I can expand and write about.

    Liked by 1 person

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