Recently, I traveled with my children to a place I have visited often since my childhood - Velma, Oklahoma. That's where my grandparents lived. Anyone familiar with the State knows that much of Oklahoma remains rural. Velma is one of those tiny rural towns tucked along Highway 7. If you are traveling west on Highway 7 towards Lawton, don't blink or you just might miss it! Three generations of Cartwrights have stomped the ground there...several more are sure to follow.
For as long as I can remember, we have driven the same route to Velma. From Austin, we travel north up the IH-35 corridor to Ardmore. Then, we head west to Ringling. In Ringling, we head north for about ten miles to Pinto and turn left on County Road 53 to Loco. On the outskirts of Loco (again, don't blink because you'll miss it) is a four-way stop. There we turn right onto a narrow, poorly paved road. As many times as I have traveled this road, I still cannot tell you the name of it. I have always called it "the road to Loco." [I know what you are thinking - Loco is an odd name for a town. It got its name from what was then known as the "loco weed" that grew wild there. ] Anyway, we take the Loco Road until it dead ends into another road I have dubbed The Road to Granny Bea's House and we turn left. In less than a mile, the pavement turns to gravel and dirt. And just before you choke on all the dust flying around, on the left is a little yellow house with green trim - Granny Bea's house.
I spent many a summer at the little yellow house that sits in the middle of nowhere. Even though there wasn't anything to do (in terms of the things that kids do today), there never seemed to be a lack of things to do. My brothers and sisters and I would romp all over the countryside with our cousins. We ate watermelon on the porch seeing who could spit seeds the furthest. We would eat hand-cranked ice cream and wave at the few passersby on the dirt road. We would run through the dirt devils that would spin up the driveway. At night, we would sit around in the back yard telling scary stories while the coyotes howled in the acreage behind the house - or playing Ghost on the Raft. When it was time for bed, Granny would make us wash the red dirt off of our feet and douse off in the shower. Then we'd pile as many as four to a bed where we would go to sleep thinking about the fun we would have the next day. Each day seemed to be measured by having more fun than the day before. I cannot recall a time that I was ever bored.
Something was always cooking on the stove. We would wake up to the smell of bacon and fried potatos, biscuits and chocolate gravy. [Yes. Chocolate gravy - a chocolate sauce poured over hot, buttered biscuits. Don't knock it until you've tried it.] Chocolate gravy is some of the best stuff I have ever eaten. About the only thing that rivaled her chocolate gravy was her chicken and dumplings. Moist, juicy check swimming in a sauce that was not too creamy and not too thin. The dumplings never fell apart. They were fluffy but dense - little pillows of boiled dough that melded the flavors of the chicken and the broth. Perfection! Granny tried to teach me to make them once; but, to this day I have never been able to get my dumplings to come out like hers.
Today, in a time of X-Box and Playstations, iPods and cable, McDonalds and Burger King, netbooks and laptops, the little yellow house in the middle of no particular place still holds the same excitement for my children. They are always happy to visit. For a few days, the gadgets are traded for hide and seek, catching frogs, climbing on hay bales and chunking rocks. They play all day with their cousins. They romp around the countryside hooting and hollering to their hearts content. They sit in a circle and tell ghost stories and watch for shooting stars at night. And when it's time to go to bed, they wash the red dirt off of their feet and douse off in the shower; then pile as many as four at a time into a bed knowing they'll have just as much fun the next morning when they wake up.
Each time I stir up the dust driving down that little dirt road, something stirs inside my heart. Going to Granny Bea's house was always an incredible journey. Although she left us a few years ago and is gone from our midst, her presence still resides in the small community where she lived. There is the beauty shop where she had her hair fixed. Martin's Grocery Store. Or, the dance floor at picnic grounds where she would dance a jig or two. She loved to dance. And when her body would not allow her to dance any longer; she would sit at the picnic grounds in her lawn chair tapping her toe to the music and watching everyone else.
I have been many places - traveled by train, bus, airplane or automobile. I have seen the ocean, the mountains, the birthplace of America. But the most incredible journey for me is going back to Granny Bea's. Each time I go there, the car may be going forward, but I am traveling backwards through time to a place where children still run barefoot and play in the dirt. The sun kisses little freckled faces... and a grandmother's hug solves all the problems of the world.