Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Patching Potholes in the Dirt Road

Ray Maxie


“Here’s you a shovel son. Let's walk up the road and patch some holes.”


Being raised on a rural oil lease in southeast Cass County in the Ark-La-Tex region of northeast Texas was good—the good country life. It brought me through some mighty interesting, tough, and unusual experiences. But don’t get me wrong here. I wouldn’t have traded it for any other upbringing. Truthfully though, to this day I have never adapted very well to big city life.

We were four miles west of McLeod in the Rodessa Oil Field, back during the 1940’s, mainly after WWII, making me about six to ten years old at the time.

My mother was a hard-working homemaker who never worked a day outside the home for any other person in her eighty-three years. She often said, “If your dad has a job, works and makes a biscuit, I will get half of it.” And of course, Dad didn’t mind that, because Mom had a full time job raising us kids, keeping house, doing outdoor scrub-board, washtub laundry, cooking, sewing, mopping, and all the laborious daily chores. And all without benefit of any of our modern day conveniences. She often carried gallons of drinking water from a cool, bubbling spring half a mile away. You see, we were poor, worked hard, and had close, family love and traditions that still continue today.

Daily, in the oilfield, Dad was a pumper-gauger that fellow workers nicknamed “High Pockets.” He often worked six or seven days a week. He had come up through the ranks of general flunky, laborer, roughneck and roustabout for a Shreveport oil company named Louisiana Iron and Supply Company. Times were very hard back then and all the work was manual and highly labor intensive.

There were no paved roads in that rural area. The public roads maintained by the county were mostly all red iron-ore gravel, if we were lucky. Some roads were also deep sand, plus many slick, red-clay hills in treacherous places. Even in those days, there were no Farm to Market state highways, and state-maintained roads were little better than the poorly maintained county roads.

The road to our little shotgun oil-camp house was a private oilfield road, as were all roads serving the oil wells and storage tank facilities. Any maintenance or upkeep they received came from the oilfield employees themselves.

Many a school day I can remember walking home in late afternoon after getting off the school bus. Our bus stop was way up on the main road, which was three quarters of a mile away. By that time of day, Dad was getting home from his regular job about the oilfield.

I can see him now saying, “Here’s you a shovel son. Let’s walk up the road a ways and patch some holes.” And most of the time, I didn’t mind one bit. It was sort of fun working, or playing, in the dirt, talking with my dad for an hour or two in the cool of the evening after school. Knowing mom would have supper waiting when we returned home helped a lot, too.

Most of the potholes had been made by Dad’s old 1939 Chevrolet pickup. It was our only family vehicle. My mother never learned to drive and dad used the pickup in his job. It was about the only vehicle to ever come down our dirt road. But occasionally Dad’s field supervisor might use the road, or maybe a working friend of his. That was about it for traffic on the dirt road to our house. It was one lane with two ruts through grass and weeds.

As Dad and I meandered along looking for potholes, we would talk and laugh a bit. Always asking me about my schoolwork, he was interested in me getting a better education and not having to work as hard as he had all his life. He told me, “Education is the key to success in this life, son.” He had only been able to finish the eighth grade before full time farm work helping provide for his family had consumed him. I have often heard him jokingly tell people, “I went to school three days in my sister’s place, one time.”

Thus, he tried hard to encourage us kids and to provide a better life for his offspring, believing strongly that each new generation should be much improved over the previous one.

Occasionally, Dad would stop and pick up a heavy shovel full of dirt from the roadside. Tossing it into a large pothole, he would say, “That’s a bad one. It needs several shovels of dirt in it.” He threw in some from his side of the road and I threw in some from my side. Then one of us would walk on the dirt to pack it firmly into the hole before moving on to the next.

We went along having fun as we worked. Some holes needed only a shovel full or two. I liked to throw shovels full of dirt and make it scatter. Then I would walk on it, make my footprints, handprints, or maybe a toad frog house with my foot. But mostly, in a kid-like way, I enjoyed stomping the dirt into the holes to pack it down firmly so it would last a while.

This road-patching chore occurred fairly often on our three-quarter mile dirt road. The dirt was pretty soft and wouldn’t last for many weeks. With the rain, the wheels splashing, it washed out again and again, and some new holes came along. All this was the joy of a dirt road, of father and son bonding while working together in a positive constructive manner.

Along the way throughout the years I learned an important life event. Or rather an accomplishment called the “right of passage.” The right of the inevitable passage from youth into adulthood.

One of my greatest desires in life, like my dad, is for each family generation to be better educated, better prepared, more successful and have a better life than the generation before. I believe, because of my parents, I have had a better life than generations before me. Because they worked hard to point me in the right direction. Because they insisted on a definite discipline and direction for my life—a Christian direction based upon clean living, hard work, and strong faith in a higher, Supreme Being.

I trust and pray my children’s lives and accomplishments turn out much better than my own. Their mother and I have tried hard to give them the foundation young people so desperately need. Growing up surely isn’t easy this day and time. Our youth need all the help and positive direction we can give them.

Someone once said, “It takes a village.” I strongly concur, starting in the home, of which our church and schools are only an extension. But a most important extension based on a strong foundation in the home.

Along the way I have learned something I never heard my parents say, but I find it so true. PARENTHOOD IS FOREVER.

***

N. RAY MAXIE, former Texas Highway Patrolman and Special Texas Ranger, native Texan, now retired, enjoys writing short stories from experiences as a youth in the Ark-La-Tex area, as well as career experiences on Texas highways.

© Ray Maxie

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012