ERROL CASTENS: Drive on the ridges, not in the ruts

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column originally ran Feb. 10, 1998. Although several details have changed, it is condensed here in observance of Father’s Day.

My parents own a small farm on which six generations of my family have lived. The gravel county road that bypasses the home place is what some might call “maintenance-challenged.”
The county’s historical approach to the road was one of not-quite-benign neglect, since my dad often made trouble for the supervisor who represented our beat. (The neglect is now less intentional.)
Daddy had the weird notion that county equipment, labor and materials should not be used to maintain field roads, build pond levees, clear house sites and gravel driveways on private property.
Informing the district attorney of such behavior didn’t make Daddy really popular with the supervisor.
Neither did it earn any favor when he led a petition to oppose paving a road that served few families but on which the supervisor owned land. (Lots obviously bring higher prices on paved roads than on gravel ones.)
Truitt Road had (and still has) ruts, a foot or two wide, down which almost everyone drives, thus wearing down the ruts and leaving the shoulders and middle soft.
My dad avoids driving in the ruts. If everyone drove across the entire width of the road, he says, it would make the surface wear more evenly. It would also make the shoulders and middle firmer and safer.
Driving on the ridges takes a little more care, a little more time, but it’s one tiny way to make the world just a bit better than it would otherwise be.
Daddy drives out of the common rut in a lot of other ways, too.
Visiting dozens of people in a nursing home every week takes a little more care, a willingness to go slowly, a sacrifice of time. Imagine how much richer we’d all be, though, if we took the trouble to show kindness to those less fortunate than we and to learn the lessons life has shown them.
Daddy’s ongoing correspondence with people across the globe is a welcome exception to the electronic wilderness that dominates communication. His handwritten letters and memoirs share hundreds of incidents from his life – some amusing, some touching, some understood only within our family. Each story serves as a tiny counteraction to the constant grinding of society’s wheels on our collective memory.
Many would say a retiree should find it easy to do all this. But Daddy rides the ridges instead of the ruts there, too. At age 74, he still works 40 hours a week at a physically demanding job in town, maintains the aging ancestral home, cuts his own firewood and actively serves his church.
There will always be ruts, and the good guys can’t change that. But every time we consciously drive on the ridges left by the masses, we have an opportunity to even things out just a little.

Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.