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CUTLINE: Union County Road 104 is home to several households of the same extended family. With Fay Wood, top right, and her son, Chris Hill, top center, are her great-grandchildren, counterclockwise from top left, Toby Pannell, Samantha Pannell, Christopher Roche and Laken Harrelson.

HED: Life in the slow lane

READ-IN: Dwelling on County Road 104 means rural roots and family ties, but a paved road would mean Fay Wood could open her windows.

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

LONE STAR COMMUNITY – When Fay Wood moved back to Mississippi nearly three decades ago from Illinois, she returned to deep roots on what is now Union County Road 104.

She’d grown up nearby, and the tract she bought was familiar and homey.

“At one time, Uncle Chub and Aunt Estelle Kidd owned this land,” she said. “All their kids got places here. I bought my first cousin’s place.”

Today, houses line the gravel road that dead-ends a half mile from County Road 102. Most of their nearly 30 residents are either Wood’s kin or her kin’s kin. Every afternoon, several great-grandchildren get off the bus from Ingomar Attendance Center at her house to visit and play with her mixed menagerie of ankle-high dogs until their parents come home from work.

It wasn’t just family ties that brought Wood back to the area after 23 years in Aurora, Ill., near Chicago. As with many rural repatriates, there was an element of escape, too.

“After 23 years in Illinois, it was getting to be too much dope. The schools were getting outrageous,” she said. “Here, my dogs can run free. My grandkids and great-grandkids can play in the yard. I can see wild animals here.”

Wood’s son, Chris Hill, enjoys it as well. “I was raised in the country,” he said. “I love it here.”

For all its advantages, life in the slow lane also has its drawbacks. Wood, her kin and their neighbors keep hoping their road – so narrow it’s easier to pull into a driveway than to try to ease past an oncoming vehicle – will be paved.

“I’ve seen every one of these roads around here go from gravel to being paved and having the bridges improved,” Wood said. “I wish they’d pave this one.

“It’s like Highway 78 when everybody goes to work, and the dust is awful. A lot of people have got breathing problems. I don’t even open my windows on the front, and it still stays dusty in here.”

Hill noted that a gravel road is always a challenge, both for residents and for the people who must maintain it.

“It’s either muddy or dusty,” he said, “and even after they grade it, the holes come right back.”

With an overlay of pavement, Wood said, life on Road 104 could be close to ideal.

“I like living in the country,” she said. “Going to Tupelo and playing bingo is enough city for me.”