Pennsylvania State Route 160 (the Sidman-Salix Road) will never be as renowned as John Denver’s “Country Roads”; nor will it ever hold the charm of Brooks and Dunn’s ”Red Dirt Road.” It is, however, the rural route next to which I grew up, and I beam brightly today each time I reflect on my old country road.
Years before we outran our English teacher and his VW Beetle there, a few other memorable events took place on that road that will remain on my mind for the millennium.
One such occasion occurred during the summer at age eleven or so. I recall hopping on my bike and taking a ride up the road when I spotted, gleaming in the sunlight, an unopened can of Skoal chewing tobacco, also known as snuff. Thanks to Mom, I was much too germ-conscious to consider taking my first pinch from a previously-opened tin, but the drawstring was intact, indicating this was indeed a clean can.
I popped that snuff under my lower lip and placed the circular can in my rear jean pocket, just like the older guys. My downfall (pardon my pun) was that instead of keeping my eyes on the road, I tried looking behind at my back pocket to see if that round form in my jeans was visible to passing motorists. After all, what good would this find be if no one saw it on display?
When my front wheel hit that rock, I not only fell off my seat, but I immediately swallowed the pinch, too. By the time I affixed the chain to the sprocket and turned that bike around, with its crooked handlebars and flat tire, and headed back home, I was not only dizzy but sicker than a dog. The upchucks that followed (well before I got to my driveway) were more than enough for me so I tossed that can over the bank and never took another dip again.
Later that summer I remember manning a push broom on our asphalt driveway that connected to the road. Because this is not a normal pastime for an 11- or 12-year-old, I must have been serving punishment for something. It's possible I was forced into labor at the time for some infraction that was blamed on me – yes, innocent me.
The fact that we had family visiting for the week from Ohio didn’t lessen my penalty, but it sure made matters worse concerning my next roadside violation.
I don’t recall if four of the Hoyer girl cousins or all five were speeding down the intersecting dirt road (known to our family as the cemetery road) on my homemade go-kart, sans brakes, but I do know there was a bevy of them. Without hesitation, possessing a propensity to utilize scientific methods at a very early age, I abandoned the driveway assignment and promptly poked the broom handle into the spokes on the go-kart’s wheels in an attempt to save their lives before they entered the main road. It worked. The kart came to an abrupt and absolute stop.
Unfortunately, the cousins did not. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. They began to scream in pain from their cuts and bruises, drawing the attention of the adults inside the house. My demise this time came as a result of a dad who only heard the shrieks of the girls and wasn’t about to listen to a perfectly good explanation from a convicted felon assigned to hard labor (even if the convict was his son).
As Halloween approached later that fall, I was, once again, up to no good on that country road. This scheme involved fabricating a mannequin by stuffing a pair of shoes, jeans, and a flannel shirt with straw and using fishing line to carefully stitch a ball cap on the replica’s volleyball head. Like Dr. Frankenstein, I couldn’t help but admire my creation as I doubled the dummy’s dead body over the guard wire next to the embankment.
I barely made it to my hiding spot when the first driver passing by screeched to a sudden stop. Turning his flashers on, he jumped from the car and quickly ran to the body to investigate. Upon discovering that he was merely the victim of a prank, he threw my creation over the steep cliff, returned to his car, and peeled out in a fit of anger, bringing my night of mischief to a speedy end.
Did I mention that I had used perfectly good clothes and shoes on my master creation? I spent the next day recovering body parts over that precipice, which was 150 feet deep if it was a foot. My hard labor also consisted of hand washing each part and hanging them on the clothes line to dry.
Today SR 160 is known as Forest Hills Drive, and the cemetery road is called Evergreen Lane. Since my parents’ passing, I don’t get back to that area as often as I once did. However, when I do, I find that, like Willie Nelson, I just can’t wait to get “On the Road Again.”