Occasionally when I have a few hours to kill I will drive through Cottonwood, Alabama on my way back home from Dothan. It is not much out of the way, allows for a bit of variety in the drive and gives me a chance to visit my boyhood home.
I spent my entire childhood in the most southeastern town in Alabama only to spend my entire adult life in the most southwestern town in Georgia. Accordingly, I have lived with a few miles of the time zone change all my life.
On a visit to Cottonwood this week, I drove down to the dilapidated remains of Sealy Springs. It breaks my heart to see the famous resort of my youth grown up and run down. You can see peaks of the roof of the burned out building just above the grown up grounds.
There is an occasional palm tree still standing tall amongst the pines that have grown up in the decades since Sealy Springs closed. Saplings, scrub oaks and unrestrained brush nearly cover the brick and rail fence that once surrounded the property.
Just as the old resort property ends the pavement turns into a dirt road. For the first time in many years, I traveled the 2.5 miles of the dirt road which ends at the Florida state line. It was like going back in time.
The road is straight as an arrow, with much of it now covered by a canopy of trees. There is not a single house or barn on the road, nor was there when I was a boy growing up.
Parts of the road cut through a small swamp with water and cypress trees on either side. It was here that I learned how to gig frogs, most big enough to have their legs on the dinner table. I have a very early memory of my Dad chest deep in the water as he hunted the frogs at night with his three prong gig. I preferred to look for them from the bank.
The rickety one lane wooden bridge has been replaced by several large metal pipes. It just doesn’t seem the same. As boys we dangled our legs off the bridge and swam in the small clearing.
The road was often where, for the first time, young boys did a night hike with the Scouts. It was five miles round trip and there was no light whatsoever except for your lantern and the moon.
The fields on either side of the road at the state line are gone, replaced by pines that are now old enough to have been cut at least once or twice. These fields are where I shot my first dove. I am not sure who was more proud, my Dad or me.
A lot of other “firsts” happened on this road to nowhere. Many a boy had his first snipe hunt in the dense, swampy woods. No snipes were ever found, but there were plenty of snakes, turtles and by rumor, an occasional gator.
It was where boys learned to do “wheelies”, and spin their cars on the dirt road. This was the only evidence I found on this visit that people were doing some of the same things that I did fifty years ago.
I saw only one other person, the old man driving the county motor grader. He was slowly, expertly using the blade to form the road bed and smooth out the ruts, just as his predecessors have been doing since long before I was born.
There were plenty of other firsts that occurred along this lonely road, many of which I cannot discuss in a family newspaper.
At the end of my visit, it was still a road to nowhere, with no real obvious economic purpose. It is a reminder that as time goes by some things change drastically and some things remain exactly the same.
For many my age though, this lonely dead end dirt road is a road paved only with good memories of a different time.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org