Gravel roads, it would appear, are more beloved by people than one might think.
Most weeks, I endeavor to write a newsletter that folks subscribe to by going to my website: www.rondarich.com. It’s free, and since it takes hours to write, it doesn’t make a lot of business sense, yet it does make sense for other reasons.
In this newsletter, I tell stories — behind-the-scenes stuff — that I don’t write here. If the Rondarosa were a television show, it would be what happens behind the cameras. It is a good recording of our lives and our feelings for that week.
Something else very important comes out of those newsletters: Readers tell me what evokes memories for them and what they want to read. It’s better than having a paid focus group. Since the newsletter is by email, all they have to do is hit reply and share their stories. Often, it is the simplest stories that inspire them, then leads them to beautifully share their heartfelt stories.
I did not expect, though, the response that came when I wrote recently about our gravel driveway. Emails flooded my inbox and letters arrived by mail as people recalled the gravel roads of their childhoods and a few, like us, still have one.
This gravel drive I cherish. I love the crunch of the rocks under the tires as our vehicles travel the road into our house. It is the soothing sound of coming home after too many days away. I told the subscribers about ordering a load of crush-and-run, which is sand and small rock, and the big spreader truck that had arrived. I walked down to talk to the driver who had replaced the driver who, for 13 years, had delivered the gravel. The other driver, up near his 70s, had finally retired.
Over the driver’s door, it still said “Fluff,” left over from the previous man. “Hi, there!” he said with a big grin. He shook his head. “I don’t know about this load. It’s rained so much. The first load I got this morning was lumpy.” He furrowed his brow. “I’ll do the best I can.”
I waved it away. “It’ll be fine.” It always had been, but this time would prove to be much different and wind up in a day’s worth of tractor work and a few more hours from a front steer loader. We could almost have paved it for the same amount of money that load of gravel cost.
That day, though, the driver and I talked at length of the floods we had seen, roofs that leak, how much they cost to repair, the pain of getting someone to show up and work. Then, as Southerners are want to do, we turned the conversation to people we know in common and we followed that crooked and forked road of many names. All told, we, the strangers we were, talked for 45 minutes or an hour.
Tink was sitting at the dining room table, at work on his laptop. He stopped and watched as I enjoyed the conversation. A phone call — on our land line — interrupted as he watched. It was the female star of a TV show on which he was working.
“I’m just watching my wife,” he told her. “She’s outside, talking to a gravel truck driver she’s never met in her life. She’s laughing and talking to him like an old friend.”
“Why?” she asked.
“It’s the way Southerners are. But she’ll come back with a story,” he promised.
He laughed when I returned. “You’re really something. You make friends with everyone.”
I began to tell what all I had learned while he continued to chuckle.
That’s the way of Southerners. We love to find connections and stories through talking to folks.
But to be honest, there’s something about gathering on a gravel road that beckons a stranger toward becoming a friend.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Let Me Tell You Something.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.