Nostalgia for an Old Dirt Road

            Single lane dirt roads, public and private, have been on the minds of townspeople as of late. Some people choose to live on a lane and enjoy it, some would never consider it and shudder at the thought. The environment of Mattapoisett allows for such choices.

            Growing up and learning to drive on a lane has taught me that a lane has its own etiquette. Whenever two vehicles met, the younger driver always immediately backed up to clear the way. Smaller vehicles always yielded to larger ones. Eye contact was made with smiles and waves to follow. Conversations occurred if one rolled down their window. “How are you, how is your family? I have extra tomatoes, would you like some? Let’s get together this evening for a glass of wine.” We all seemed to have a moment to check in with each other.

            Nature affects any dirt road; it is never the same from day to day. This may make you a better driver as you learn to back up on demand and to control your car in varying weather-determined conditions. I can still hear my grandfather Jeremiah yelling at my grandmother Lillian, “Ride the range!” as she drove. She had a talent for hitting every bump and pothole.

            Through the seasons we go.

            Spring and fall is also known as mud season on farms and dirt roads. This is natural and expected. Potholes come and go and give us pause to slow down. Friends and neighbors came together to restore, mend, and care for the road we all traveled. Donations were gathered from all for dirt, stone, or shells to patch the holes. Families gave what they could. There was no minimum or expected amount. The ones with the least seemed to give the most. Friends and neighbors used their own personal tractors, loaders, and shovels to smooth the road. We all seemed to drive a little slower after such activities. All seemed thankful for each other’s caring, financial support, and sweat equity.

            Winter snow caused us to eagerly await the sound of my grandfather’s tractor pulling his triangle-shaped stone sled. Two passes were needed to clear the way. We played in the piles of snow while shoveling our way to the cleared lane. Snow, however, made for a smooth, fun road. We did not have AWD or 4WD vehicles to give us the advantage. For years, lane residents have plowed the road.

            Summertime is dust time on a laneway. If you live on a dirt road, you never have a clean car. Mud and dust happen, and cling to all surfaces. Driving slow actually has a positive effect on this. Just ask anyone walking as you speed by, or if you have damp clothes on the line, or if the windows are open in your home.

            Having said all this, living on or visiting a dirt road may not be suitable for all vehicles in all weather. Speaking from experience, the reality of low riding or “performance” vehicles traversing a dirt road on a daily basis can be challenging to say the least. Choosing wisely and considering carefully where you live and what you drive can greatly increase your peace of mind.

            Many choose to live on a dirt road. Just as villagers and city dwellers choose where they find contentment. Yes, the pace is slower, and it is messy at times, but it is worth it. Having the opportunity to take a country road home, whether paved or not, still exists and is one of the many things that continue to make Mattapoisett special.

            Old Dirt Road Etiquette in a nutshell: 1. Never park and block the road; 2. Always back up first; 3. Always make eye contact, smile, and wave. Perhaps even share a short conversation.

By Cheryl Randall-Mach

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