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The Road Out of Childhood Somehow Still Bring Us Back

A Personal Essay

By Catherine Pike Plough

All I dreamed of growing up lay somewhere beyond the dirt road where we lived.

     Coming to North Carolina was my mother’s idea. After three children and twice as many moves, she convinced Dad to head south—closer to family, in search of a “good place to raise children.” We put down roots along a quiet cove on Lake Norman in Sherrills Ford.

     Mom insisted on a vegetable garden beside the house which, as a child, I never understood. Squatting in the hot sun to pick beans that could be bought cut up in a can seemed more trouble than it was worth. Fortunately for my brothers and me, our sweaty encounters with tangled vines and swarming Japanese beetles were rewarded with cool dips in the lake, which spread out like our own private pool just down the hill.


Serene summer dreams


     I spent our first summers there lakeside, making Olympic attempts to “swim the cove” and serving up Sherrills Ford’s best—murky coffee and mud pies.

     As a teen, long, lazy days included hours of Big WAYS radio and layers of suntan lotion I hoped would connect my billions of freckles. As my mother predicted, water skiing kept our young hands—and feet—close to home and out of mischief. From a parental point of view, it was paradise. To me, it always seemed simple, slow—unsophisticated.

     Then there was the road itself. The mile-long drive along our road began with a sneeze. Dust rose up from beneath the car like tidal waves, washing cars and houses in the same shade of red-clay grit. Along the sides of the road were tire-eating moats called ditches, behind which grew a barricade of green through which one only caught glimpses of the sleepy weekend getaways beyond. Mostly I traveled the road by foot, alone.

     I knew every side path, every blackberry bush, and, like soulmates, they knew me and drew me into an intriguing vision of adulthood. No one watched as I kicked rocks along, planning a life course so busy and interesting that I would need a daytimer to keep up—someday, in the city.

     In college, I began bringing home a young man, a transplant from Yankee suburbia. Together we walked that road—learning to love our differences, later planning a wedding and a move to the big city, Charlotte. There we stayed to raise another freckle-nosed girl who likes visiting grandmother, the lake, and the road.

     State Road 1905 was paved a while back and given a name that I still refuse to use. Sleek yuppie vehicles zip around its curves and drop jet skis in at the shoreline. Yet no visit is complete for my daughter or me unless we once again walk our road.


Solace calls us back


     For 7-year-old Christine, a walk down the road is an invitation to discovery—to hunt gravel treasures, to teach imaginary students, to debut as a ballerina. I, on the other hand, commence littering the ditches with the cares of adulthood and the baggage of the city. Her pockets grow heavy, even as I empty my own of weighty shouldn’t-haves, ought-tos and I-wannas—remnants of the so-called sophisticated life.


     It occurs to me that though mother and daughter come to the road with different perspectives, we find the same place. Our road—then and now—is a stretch of solace. It is a quiet place where one’s still, small voice whispers new dreams and reintroduces those left at the last bump in the road. It is a place where the mind shifts backburner questions to the forefront to be mulled about without interruption until truth emerges like a waterlogged skier who, at last, glides atop the waves.


     Grandmother’s road is a “quiet, lonely place,” as my daughter describes it. A place I left behind. But solace, like homegrown vegetables, is an acquired taste with a nourishing effect, and it calls me back again and again—just as it will call her someday.

     In time, she too will learn to savor its flavor and take from it strength to answer the dreams it speaks to her heart. And wherever these may lead her, she’ll carry with her a dirt road of her very own.


Copyright 1997 by Catherine Pike Plough. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For permission requests, please contact the author at

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