The Long Way Home


Savannagh Branch
Savannagh Branch

When I was in the second grade at Remington Grade School, my teacher (our teacher, he taught us all, first through seventh grade), assigned us to write an essay about what we did over Thanksgiving break. The following is a small snippet of what I wrote back then in 1960.

It was the day after Thanksgiving and the Ridge kids were bored and looking for something to do, so they, the guys, all walked the 3/4 of a mile over to our house. We couldn’t go squirrel hunting yet because at the time most of us still had a month to go before we found BB guns underneath the Christmas tree. As for me, I would still have to wait a full year before I found my gun under the tree. Bored because there was no snow to sleigh ride down “The Hill” on. It was too wet and soggy to play football, so we all decided to take off on a hike through the fields and cow pastures, just to go exploring. Now we did this from time to time just to walk and talk and get the lay of the land. The older boys would talk and tell lies, mostly about girls… I’d just listen and walk and keep my mouth shut. It was a lot of fun listening to those guys, as usual, I took up the role of the observer.

We put on our boots and were ready to go.
Savannagh Branch

Like I said, on that day the Ridge kids started out from the “Hill” and walked to our house to pick up Raymond and me. “The Hill” was just another name for the ridge, the area where most blacks in our town lived. We hurried and put on our thick socks, our insulated neoprene boots and our winter coats before running outside to join our friends. From the house we went up the dirt road and onto Mr. Bowen’s property, passing old man Bowen’s house and down pass his son Robert’s farm house and barn and then on into the thick woods. The Bownses were the only white family that lived in the piney ridge area. The town history reports that the Bowenses gave some of their property to the town and for short time, Remington was named Bowensville.

We had no idea where we’d end up that day or for how long we would be gone. But it didn’t matter, we were all together and anxious for whatever was going to happen to go ahead and get started. We took an old path down behind Mr. Sammy Gibson’s junk yard and came out on the road between the school house and the government place, the antennae farm. We never usually went behind the government place on the far side fence, but this time we did. We walked about 4 miles, to just pass old man Ott’s farm, until we got to Savannah Branch and followed the branch to the Savannah Branch Road bridge. We had never walked this far from home before. The older boys had easily ridden their bikes that far and much more, but we’d never walked that far. We hung around down on the water, skipping stones and playing on logs until somebody decided it was getting late and that we’d better head back, so we did.

We spent a lot of time playing ‘rock walk’ on Mr. Bowens’ property.
Mr. Bowens Land

We arrived back on Mr. Bowens’ property and this is where we went our separate ways. The Ridge Kids turned right and went up the hill toward their homes on piney ridge and we turned left to go down the dirt road to our house. my brother and I watched as the boys walked pass the gigantic rocks that lay randomly all over the Bowens property. Those were the boulders my brothers and sisters and I grew up playing ‘rock walk’ on. If you don’t know what rock walk is then I doubt you are from the country, you walk on rocks. The goal is to get from point A to point B (or as far as you can) by jumping from one rock to another, if your feet touch the ground then you are out. The rocks have to be large enough for you to stand or balance on without falling off and far enough apart to make the game challenging. These rocks qualified perfectly. We spent many hours playing on them and often wondered how those rocks got here in the first place. They were so conspicuously out of place, strewn about in no particular order and seemingly too large to be indigenous to the area. I’ve since read that the movement of glaciers are responsible for leaving such rock formations behind.

The boys continued home through the fence and we watched them as they went pass Miss Clara’s house and on up the hill toward home. We turned to take a short cut through the corn field. As we made it toward the center of the muddy field, the ground became softer and softer, making it more difficult to walk. The soil literally turned to quicksand and we started sinking rapidly, our boots getting stuck in the mud. I was about 20 feet behind Raymond, so he came to a standstill first, he couldn’t move any further and just sank. Soon he was up to his knees in mud. I tried to back track out, but it was too late. I was stuck in place and not able to move. We both started yelling, hoping that the boys were still in earshot, but no one answered and no one came. After about ten minutes, I realized that we were doomed and probably would never make it out alive (even though we were directly in front of and clearly in sight of the Bowen’s house). Non-the-less, I was scared and began to cry. Raymond started to panic a bit himself and began yelling louder and louder. But it was no use, no one could hear our screams. He just sat down right in the mud, this spreading out of his weight actually slowed the sinking process, so I sat down too, my legs resting in the mud as well. We stopped sinking but still couldn’t budge. Every now and then Ray would stand and struggle against the mud a bit more, but I was resigned to never getting out and just sat there with tears running down my face.

After a while we heard someone coming down the path from the direction of Miss Clara’s, it was Buster, a feeling of relief swept over me, I knew we would be OK. He walked slowly and deliberately toward us with this huge grin on his face, he was enjoying this. “You fellas look like you could use some help”, was all he said. Raymond said, “Yeah, we can’t get out, are you the only one who heard us yelling?”.
“Naw man, I didn’t even hear you, I was headed to the store… Let me get you guys outta there”, he started walking into the corn field. Buster headed toward Raymond first who was still a few yards ahead of me. He was watching his step, trying not to make the same mistakes we had as he came toward the middle of the field. He looked like he was doing pretty good at first, then all of a sudden he hit a really soft spot and that was it, he was stuck too. The entire field was like walking through quicksand and no place in it was safe. Buster sank like a ton of bricks, even faster than we did, he was up to his knees in no time. As he struggled to free himself, he was getting madder and madder by the minute. He was also starting to look just as scared as we were. He tried so hard he exhausted all of his strength fighting the mud, but he could not get out. Like I said, Raymond and I had on neoprene boots, but Buster was wearing galoshes or overshoes, he was in a different kind of trouble than we were because, finally, Raymond figured out that all he needed to do was get his feet out of his boots and he’d be free. That’s what he did, he pulled his feet free, and left his boots stuck in the mud. He rolled over and got on his hands and knees to spread his weight out and crawled slowly off out of the corn field. He tried to get me to follow suit, but I couldn’t, I was too tired, so he had to crawl back over to me to pull me out of my boots and once free, I crawled to the edge of the field still crying. I lay spread eagle on my back letting out a sign of relief. Buster was still struggling because his boots were too heavy to pull out and he had his shoes on in the boots, he was trying to dig himself out with his hands. So Raymond crawled over to him and they both dug the mud out from around his boots until he was able to pull free and crawl to safety. Buster got to the edge of the corn field, jumped up and struck out running back toward home, he never looked back. Raymond and I ran home in our socks, with our boots still back in the field stuck in the mud below ground level. We went back a few days later after the ground had firmed up and got our boots. We never told our parents what happened or where wed gone that day. If we ever had to travel that way again, we knew one thing for sure, next time we’d take the long way home.
~ END ~

POST SCRIPT:
Unfortunately, there was a bit of controversy when I first read this story in school. Since it was an assignment to read the story in class, that’s what I did. But in the original story, I’d written that after Buster realized, like I did, that we were doomed and no one was coming to save us, he began to cry. Well, if you ever knew Buster, you also know that he had a problem with this statement, to put it mildly. When I read it, he immediately jumped up from his desk and yelled “That’s a lie! I wasn’t crying! I was mad, I was just mad!”. Since I was in the second grade and he was in the fifth, his desk was 3 aisles over from mine (each grade took up one aisle, all except for 7th grade which usually made up two aisles), we were yelling across the room at each other. But I didn’t have to worry about him wanting to come over to beat me up, because to him, I was just a mixed up little kid who didn’t have the story straight and he just wanted to get the story straight. We went back and forth over who’s version was right, but neither of us gave in. Unfortunately, Buster is no longer with us, so I have to bow to his version of events and his more mature memory at the time, so no, he didn’t cry. But to put things more in perspective, there is another story I told from my memory when I was six years old… one which we later discovered from interviewing several adults that the story was actually 3 separate events that my young brain had combined and formed into memory as a single event, so my perfect memory isn’t always perfect. I also have to admit that I had never seen Buster cry before or after that, so it is not very likely he was crying then. That is why I left that part out of the actual story above, but added it as a follow up. The reading of the story in school created a story within the story, it created a little excitement while the story was being read in class which made that part worth telling as well. Buster was the type of person that if you hung around him long enough you were guaranteed to get a good story out of it, he has been greatly missed.

7 responses

  1. I found you as I searched FB for African American Bloggers as I considered starting a group. I’ve now read I think 3 of your posts & they had me totally engrossed. I’m adding you to my favorites, your time is certainly different than mine (I was almost a 70’s baby, made it into the 60’s by a smidgen being born November ’69’) 🙂 but love your POV & when I initially saw the title, I expected something angry & I’m pleasantly surprised to see happy memories of childhood (well maybe not so happy being stuck in the mud) but memories that aren’t angry. Thank you for sharing your point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, my blog is a fashion one, its been around since 2009. I was looking at starting a group on FB where people would collaborate & share things to help grow their readership. Looking at your writing, I have a feeling you will find other things to write about. I think that even in my 40’s I’m still “growing up” bet you have some great stories of being an adult to share as well.

        Like

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