I can only recall a very few occasions in my childhood when my entire family (mom, dad, 3 older brothers, and me) were all together in one place, but for at least a few years (before my two oldest brothers were grown and gone) it did happen. It was on Sunday afternoons that the six of us would pack into our family station wagon, armed with fried chicken, bread, potato chips, and fruit and head off to my very favorite place (Louisburg, NC) to see my very favorite person (my Grandma Yarborough). The drive was about three hours long back then, along a succession of winding country roads. Rolling along through Virginia's peanut country, we sang songs, played car games, ate, and of course did our fair share of fussing and fighting. No matter how many times we took this same trip, passing the same landmarks, cotton and tobacco fields, outhouses, country stores and horse and cow-filled pastures, (complete with weathered and broken-down barns), all of these things were pointed to out to us as if we were seeing them for the first time. To this day, as I travel many of these same roads to visit my aunt and do my research, I still hear the words inside my head, "Look at the horses!" or "Do you see the cows?" (And sometimes, even in the car alone, I actually catch myself saying them!)
As we made our way to my father's birthplace, there were some stressful moments, too. Back then, all of the roads we traveled were two-lane highways, meaning one lane of traffic going each way. There were no medians between these opposite-facing lanes, and for me (the baby of the family) my father's frequent efforts to pass were the source of much distress. Every time my dad would put the pedal to the medal to pass someone, I would SCREAM at the top of my lungs! It was terrifying to me to see the traffic coming at us in the other direction, and I never believed that my father was going to make it around the car, or sometimes CARS in front of us to get back into our lane on time! I would scream and cry, and beg my dad not to pass, but all this resulted in was everyone in the family getting mad and fussing at me. Oh, and you'd better believe that the station wagon was pulled over many times, so that my dad could select just the right switch off of a roadside tree and use it to teach me to stop hollering and crying in his ear while he was driving! (It didn't really work though.)
One other little thing that I remember about these trips is our roadside pit-stops to use the restroom. Well, let me rephrase that.... to relieve ourselves. You see, we never, ever stopped at a place to use restroom facilities. Instead, when we had to "go", my father would simply pull over on the side of the road. The boys would go to the nearest tree and quickly take care of their business, but for me, it was a squat inside of the open car door, and a wipe with a napkin...lol, provided by my watchful mother (who, by the way, I don't EVER remember doing this herself). There was a certain church up on a hill on our last stretch of highway that had a big oak tree in front of it, and we always seemed to stop there for this purpose. I still pass that church when I go down to Louisburg, and I always remember its connection to my childhood trips. It seems odd that we would do this at a church, but for some reason, we did. One little side note about this: I feel pretty sure that, given the times (60's) we didnt' stop at a gas station to use the restroom because of the racial climate. Neither of my parents or older brothers ever said this to me, but as I look back on it now, I'd be willing to bet that this was my father's way of avoiding conflict, and maybe, just maybe my parents felt we were more protected by stopping on the grounds of a church.
Everyone's excitement always grew as we got into North Carolina and began to see the red, clay dirt - first just little patches here and there, just slightly orangish in color, but then increasingly larger pads of it, brillantly and unmistakably RED. We knew that we were getting closer to our destination as the color of the soil deeped its hue. Then, would come that final landmark that would cause my brother Arthur and I to sit straight up and abandon any argument we might have been having. Once we saw the Dairy Queen at the intersection of what I now know is Routes 561 and 39, we knew that we were just about 2 minutes away from our grandma's house! We both loved her so much, but at that moment it was her always-waiting candy cabinet that we had on our minds. Once we got to her house, and all the greetings and hugs were done, my grandma would give us the signal that we could go to that wonderful place where we'd always find a special treat that had been placed there just for us. My grandma never forgot to do this. Never. Oh, how I loved her, and she loved ME!