Bill Stancil

Bill Stancil

Bill Stancil: Kicking up the dust of time an on old road home

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I was a few minutes early for my appointment with the editor of the Rocky Mount Telegram a couple of weeks ago, so I took a seat in the lobby and busied myself by looking through the glass doors of the lobby entrance and watching the morning traffic go by on Hunter Hill Road.

That may seem like a big “ho-hum,” but after all these years, I still felt at home remembering my travels on that road. The Telegram is within walking distance from where I grew up just down the road, so I am no stranger to that area of Rocky Mount and beyond.

With various construction improvements over the past few years, the road now looks a bit younger than I do, but that old road and I have a lot in common and lots of miles and memories between us.

As I sat there looking at the road and part of the neighborhood that I could see from my perch, in my mind’s eye was that road when some of it was unpaved and bordered by farms. Motor vehicle traffic was scarce, and neither the road nor I were in the city limits.

Both of us were country and had country ways. One of us still has them.

I once compared paved highways and country roads, stating that paved roads are always in a hurry and race along at top speed, while country roads are more laid back and just meander along, taking it slow and easy, enjoying the sights along the way.

As I continued watching the traffic go by and thinking about that road of yesterday, the thought came to me that old roads, old dogs, old folks and old ways still have a lot to offer in this sped-up world that we live in today.

Along Hunter Hill Road and other country roads of yesterday, one would occasionally encounter a raw-boned old hound, taking its time and sniffing along the edge of a ditch for something edible, or at least chewable. And you might encounter a lost bird dog, still seeking a single bird from the broken quail covey it flushed in the nearby soybean field a little while ago. The area near the road’s end wasn’t called “Hunters Hill” for nothing.

Farther up the road, you might see an old couple in a wooden wagon, urging their mule to pull the wagon a little faster because they wanted to get home before it rained or before darkness overtook them.

If you were walking instead of biking their way, you could get a ride on up the road with them. You just hopped up on the back of the wagon at their invitation, let your bare feet swing down while your entire body settled into the soothing rhythm of the clop-clop gait of the mule, the squeak-squeak of the old wooden wagon and soft ching-ching of the singletree hitch that held the mule in place.

Traveling along with them, you could learn a lot about each other and the families. Sometimes, it turned out that they knew your family. Country road trips were an educational treat in the dust of a hot summer day.

The last farm that I worked on was located next to where the newspaper building is now located.

Suddenly, I wondered if growing up nearby and working at that farm site meant that fate had a hand in guiding me to write for The Evening Telegram all those many years ago, and today’s Rocky Mount Telegram.

While those thoughts were crossing my mind, the editor greeted me. I only had a wait of about 15 minutes, but in that brief time, I had covered the 1940s and a good part of the 1950s, up and down Hunter Hill Road.

As he and I talked about various things, I wondered if he might ask me what I was writing about in my next column.

He didn’t ask, but if he had, my answer probably would have been, “Oh, probably something that crossed my mind just now – several decades ago!”