I walked down the long gravel driveway and crossed Old Highway 161. There on the other side of the road was our old haunt, The Sandpit. It was a big hole in the ground, about the size of a football field. For decades it had been dug into, deeper and deeper, to supply soil to other farms and highway building projects, and by the time I was old enough to go there by myself, it was deep enough and wide enough to host a pond, a small plum patch and enough adventure and excitement for days of fun.
As children, my cousins and I couldn’t wait to visit Mound Bayou so that we could spend hours exploring the hollows and caches created by the machines that trudged into the pit by a steep, slanting road that swirled into its depths. The Sandpit was filled with vines and trees, and all manner of small animals and snakes. These “monsters” terrorized and thrilled us children to the core, and we looked for them in order to run from them. The northern Mississippi red dirt was like the surface of Mars. We thought up worlds and fantasies there in the hot afternoons of summer, until some bully of an adult came and yelled for us to come home.
I stood there now, along its edge, and The Sandpit was no more. It had been slowly filled in over the years with water, almost to the very top, nearly level with the road that ran along side of it. Years ago, there had been a hog pen a few yards away from where I stood, and we had enjoyed farm-raised ham and bacon and cracklin’. I remembered an incredibly large sow and several piglets slopping there in the old days. For a little city girl, being so close to farm animals was exciting – until I learned what happened to them.
The hog pen was gone now, too, but a few yards away from its old location stood Uncle Mike’s new house. Surrounded by neatly plowed fields, Uncle Mike had a chicken coop, a tiny hog pen, a house garden and a small stand of pecan trees. Mike had been a farmer all his life, and he was smart about taking advantage of the farm-to-table resurgence. If someone wanted to give him a good price for fresh eggs, bunches of greens, delectable pecans and grain-fed pork, then why not?
I could hear his chickens squabbling from where I stood. It was early afternoon, in the middle of fall, and there was a lone heron perched on a long-dead tree in the middle of the water. It was quiet, save for the rustling of small birds through the brambles at water’s edge. A black goose – a visitor nesting here for the winter – pecked at insects between the furrows in the field.
The Sandpit was gone. Travelers along Old Highway 161 saw – if they noticed it at all – merely another pond among the hundreds that were in fields across the Mississippi Delta. For them, The Sandpit was simply a forgettable marker along a lonely stretch of highway. But for me, here lay an enchanted world of dreams, a lost Atlantis, with jeweled memories of my childhood scattered in its depths.