It’s known simply as ‘ridin through’ and any local worth their salt will completely understand and follow up with just one question: ‘which dreckshun?’
For most of my early years it was always the Cohuttas. Papaw would load up us youngins in the back of the old half spray painted El Camino (that’s a story for another day) and he’d drive us up through Tumbling Creek. Sometimes we’d stop at a sunny spot in the ancient moss covered creek and wet our feet, or sometimes in autumn we’d just ride collecting every color of leaf we could find to see who could find the prettiest to bring back home to our mamas. With the youngins, there was always some sort of competition or another.
Papaw would just drive. His dark brown farmer arm hanging out the window. Slow. Like a man completely content in the moment he was in. We youngins sang, stared at the world, and laid down in the bed looking upward at the specks of the sky poked through the dense canopy of trees.
Daddy would load us up into the back of his old 69 maroon Ford and take me and the boys up by the kudzu slides and on to Jacks fields. One day, a rain came up fast and there wasn’t any way we were all fitting into the cab so we just took off our shirts and tolerated the rain. We would yell for Daddy to go faster, and we stood up over the cab testing who could tolerate the stinging raindrops the longest. Daddy was also the first to take us ridin’ through when darkness fell. And we began to move on from the Cohuttas to Stanley Creek, lower Star Creek, Cashes Valley, and Noontootly. And from those first moments, everything changed.
We rode and looked for deer in Stanley Creek, fished for big cats out lower Star Creek, and rode the flying genie deep in the heart of Noontootly. This ‘ridin through’ was to become the epicenter of almost every weekend after I turned 16.
My first car was a 1986 Jeep Cherokee that broke down almost as often as it ran. Her name was ‘White Lightnin’ and for the year before I got my first pickup truck, she explored more dirt roads than she saw pavement. The boys and I weren’t partiers. And truth be told, we really weren’t that social. I was good at it, I just preferred the company of a few rather than the many.
We would eat supper with the folks and then I would make the rounds picking up the boys and it was while stocking up on snuff, mountain dew, and snacks that we would plan our evening. We always did a few laps around the Roses parking lot (Sky City had since closed forcing all the cruisers to migrate to Roses) and we’d say our greetings to folks and then head out in search of dirt roads and mountain boy mischief.
There are enough stories within these weekends of exploration to fill volumes of books. Climbing Fall Creek Falls in our underwear at night, rides across the Toccoa on the cable car, the old church in Cashes Valley where everyone swore there were prints on the ceiling, riding the flying genie in the dead of night and tying a rope to it and the truck (um…y’all…never ever do that. Broken arm, and busted noses and missing teeth.). We explored the creeks, hollers, mountaintops, we built fires and just sat conversing life, we talked about girls, and fishing, and what we planned on doing in life and the next weekend. It was a time that passed all too quickly.
For my youngins, ridin through was just a normal part of life, like going to school. From the time they were wee ones the dappled sunlight of the forest would cross over their brow as they rode in the back of the truck filled with pillows and blankets. I would drive and slide the back window open and turn the radio up so they could hear it. Mae stayed in the back to keep the youngins safe and warm. As they grew we ventured further, and would stay out until the moon rode high and began to fall again. The more they grew, the more we would venture, inviting their friends to tag along, and it was during these times that we began to tell the haunting tales of the Southern Appalachian mountains. We visited each cemetery and tried our best to scare the devil out of the kids…and it worked, and they loved it…until the night we all experienced a taste of the supernatural and when the youngins saw fear in mine and Mae’s eyes, the evening wasn’t fun anymore…but it is still talked about to this day. It was two decades of me driving the family as we rode through.
Although we have taken more rides than I can count, explored almost every stitch of dirt road in 3 counties, until last summer, I had not been the passenger since I was a teenager. For 20 years, as the driver, I chose the way, the adventure, the destination (if there ever was one). But last summer, the boy visited from his home in the big city in the land of sunshine. He pulled up in his mom’s blue Jeep and said, ‘Lets go ride through’.
He chose the destination, the way, the adventure. We explored, top down, doors off. We scared ourselves in the old cemetery at Flat Top, we stared out over the kudzu slides, listened to music, and piled out of the car in one second when a Japanese hornet wanted to drop in for a visit, not once, but twice. This was the boy’s adventure. He was in the lead. And for the first time in 20 years I looked up at the infinite star filled sky as the crisp night air enveloped me and music filled my soul. I don’t think I have ever breathed deeper or felt so at peace. Thank you, my boy.
Soon, the time comes for the youngest to take up the wheel and load up her old man and mamma and lead the way. It will be her turn to choose the adventure, the way, the destination. Or we can simply do as we have always done, and have no plans, see where the night takes you, and just enjoy ‘ridin through.’