May 2007
Sage Grass & Cedars

Dead End Roads

by Darrell Thompson

Many things have a negative connotation associated with them simply because of the words used to describe that thing or expression. For example, my mother was recently in the hospital and I was discussing her condition with a co-worker. He said that he hoped the problem that she was bothered by would be "short-lived." I knew full well what he meant but I couldn’t help but think that his get well expression could have been taken a different way as well.

The same thing is true when you hear the expression "dead end road." Unless you happen to be among the few to live on such a road, dead end road describes a road that is useless to the vast majority. It is a road that won’t take you anywhere. It will only waste your time, cause you to turn around and start all over in trying to get to your destination. It is worse than the "road less taken" as described by poet Robert Frost; it is the road most to be avoided.

"Dead end road" is a term also used to describe various situations in life where there is little or no expectation of a happy or successful conclusion. A job could be described that way if a person sees no opportunity for advancement or rewarding career. Some personal relationships might also be described as "dead ends." In relationships, jobs or other endeavors, the words "dead end" are always associated with failure, unhappiness and wasted time.

I grew up on a dead end road and now live less than a quarter-mile farther down that same dead end road. Even as a child, I thought our dead end road was unique. It extended into a "wilderness" type area of around five to six square miles that was bordered by other roads, but only our road extended into it. Two creeks, the Rutherford and Big Nance, ran through this area and merged about one and a half miles back of where we lived. It was the perfect place for my three brothers and me to roam in the summers when school was out.

For a short while, our family was the only family on the road. Another family, the Steadmans, bought a large portion of land just down the road from us and built there. Their two sons, a daughter, a granddaughter and a grandson and their families now live or have lived on this same dead end road. When I got the opportunity to build a house, I also wanted to build on our family property here.

When Bev and I had our building site surveyed, we got an unpleasant surprise. Our property line did not come out as far as the road. Years ago when the road was first laid out, it was laid out on the land adjoining the land my family owned instead of straddling the line. To make matters worse, the road curved a little farther away from the line down where we wanted to build our house. Our property line was a good thirty feet short of even the edge of the road.

The only thing I could do was go and talk to my neighbor about buying a right-of-way so we could build. They had always been good neighbors but I had heard stories of even good people who had let a few feet of land hinder friendships or even cause them to become enemies. It was with a great deal of apprehension that I went to talk to them about buying the right-of-way.

I’ll never forget what "Mr. Paul" said or how he said it. His voice got kind of high pitched, almost whining that hinted of a distain for such civil matters such as the need for a right-of-way. "Son, if you got to have a right-of-way to build over there, I’ll give you a right-of-way if it takes putting your driveway around my house." Our dead end road became a small community that cared for each other, helped each other and watched out for each other. There’s no telling how many pairs of eyes would watch a strange car go by and wonder if they were visiting someone, lost or up to no good.

Robert Frost wrote another poem in which a man held the position that "Good fences make good neighbors." There is some merit in that statement, especially if you are talking about international borders. If good fences make good neighbors, then bad fences have to make enemies. If that was true, this story would sound like a version of the Hatfields and McCoys because my fences were more prehistoric than state of the art. I would be hard pressed to say whose cows got out the most in the twenty years of being "across-the-road" neighbors. The truth is that good fences help but dead end roads make good neighbors.

Darrell Thompson is the Moulton store manager of Lawrence County Exchange.