When I was a child growing up, our address was simply Rural Route One. Our road had no proper name and, for the first five years of my life, we shared a phone line with others.
It was called a party line. It rang distinctively for each family so when the phone shrilled, Mama would always say, “Wait. Let’s count the rings and see if it’s ours.”
I believe our signal was two short rings and one long one. When I was six and we were awarded a private line by the phone company, it was a happy day. Especially since our party line had been shared by my first grade teacher and once she, rightly, suspected that I had been listening in on her conversation. In my mind, I was doing nothing wrong. I was simply doing what I do today — I was gathering stories for retelling.
The best part about having a private line was that I was then able to call a local bank that had a recording that answered with a rooster crowing then announced the time and temperature. That rooster was the only person I knew to call.
In those days, we never locked the doors. There was no air conditioning so we counted on the opened windows, doors, shade trees, and the gentle breeze that would drift in from the creek for cooling. It is impossible to cast a number on the summer nights that we slept with the doors opened wide, the coolness of the evening and the smell of honeysuckle vines flowing through the screen doors. We slept soundly and securely. There was no fear.
When I was 11, we took the only trip of my childhood to visit family who had escaped the hopelessness of the mountains to find work in West Virginia. Before we left, no one could find a key for the house because it had never been locked so, for two weeks, it was left open. When we returned, the grass needed mowing but nothing in our home had been touched.
When Mama and Daddy grew older, perhaps because their advanced age made them less certain that Daddy could grab his shotgun quick enough, they began to lock the doors. Times had changed. They had three phones, a machine that answered if they were unavailable, city water lines replaced the long, trusty well and the quiet road in front of their house had grown busier. It was given a name and my childhood home was anointed with a number. The address of Rural Route One would soon fade into the memories of some while it would never to be known by many.
Sometimes, I’ll be surprised at the things that people don’t know. How they never heard tell of Clark Gable or Hank Williams or how WSM radio in Nashville was once owned by a large insurance company, or that the call letters stand for “We Shield Millions.” Sometimes, when people look dumbfounded at me and say, “Who is that?”, I reply, “Well, I grew up on Rural Route One and I know who that is.”
Particularly, I like to say that to people in New York City or Los Angeles.
Things are a lot different at Mama and Daddy’s house now. I go there to find a quiet place to write because I still love the smell of the honeysuckle vines, the banging of the screen door, and the feel of a phone that is corded, anchored to the wall. Now, there is an alarm system with cameras and motion detectors that alert Tink’s cell phone. We can talk to people at the front door by video camera. And, to top that off, Deputy Calvin keeps a close eye on the place, leaving us notes that he signs C.O.P. That means Calvin on Patrol.
It may have a proper name and address now but it will always be sweet Rural Route One to me.