Memories of Spaits’ Corner, Cypress Bridge

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011

by James D. ‘Archie’ Howell

My next older sister, brother, myself and our family dog, Snowball, are seated in the back of our truck.

Our mother and father are in the cab; my father is taking us to Spaits’ Corner (we pronounce it Spaces, never mind proper spelling). It’s about two miles toward Courtland, about a mile past Shady Brook, on the left.

The slow drive is an opportunity to stick our heads up into the airflow over the cab, or stick an arm out the side to feel the pressure impinging on our palm. Riding in the back is fun. The dog seems to accept it all without complaint.

Mr. Spaits operates a combination gas, grocery, sundries and punch card lottery business at the corner of Highway 58 and a dirt road that leads to what’s left of Cypress Bridge. Mr. Spaits lives in the back of the store. The service counter inside is an entrance to his living area.

Out front is a gasoline pump. The pump has a long lever to pump gasoline up to a glass enclosure at the top. A scale on the inside of the glass lets you know how much fuel is in the container, in gallons and fractions of gallons.

Mr. Spaits mans the pump for the required amount and uses a hose and nozzle to transfer the fuel into the truck. It’s gravity flow. No electric pumps here.

All three of us kids and the dog are out and about on the property. Soda bottle caps are strewn about the entryway to the station. It’s an early form of paving, and keeps the mud from getting too deep. It’s a little hard on bare feet, but we manage.

Soon we’re back in the truck, ready to leave and my father gives us a small brown bag. Inside are sweet goodies, a wonderful payoff for the trip. We’re really excited about the prospect of store-bought goodies, and the return home is about sweetness. No hands out the side or heads over the cab.

We come to a stop at our house, and our parents disembark and look for the dog. Somehow ole’ Snowball has been left behind. The wrath of a mother whose child is missing is upon us all. Guilt is abundantly shared.

My father is back in the truck and off to Spaits’ Corner. Fortunately, he returns, with the dog, in a short time. It is, after all, only a couple of miles. Snowball is none the worse for wear, and the family is complete, once again.

I try to hide for a few days until things settle down. Guilt trips are not fun.

Some time, much later, my brother gathers his fishing gear, and after a sufficient amount of begging, I’m allowed to tag along. Today we head down to Spaits’ Corner again. The dirt road, that defines the far corner of Mr. Spaits’ lot, leads, through the woods and twists and turns to what’s left of Cypress Bridge.

The bridge is one of two across the Nottoway River in the vicinity of Courtland. It’s long abandoned, but some pilings remain along with some of the bulwarks at the river bank.

My brother attaches a red and white “spoon” to the end of his line. It’s weathered and no doubt has been refreshed with fingernail polish a few times. Fingernail polish has multiple uses. He casts from the shoreline into dark waters, many times, without luck. No bites today.

I check out the area. Cypress trees, with bulbous bottoms reaching into the water are tall, graceful, strong and fascinating. They grow right in the water; they stick up little cypress knees in marshy places. Limbs, almost sorrowfully, bow and swing gently in the breeze. It’s a magical place.

Some 65 years from now, after a drought, Cypress trees are rediscovered, not far from this place, that were a thousand years old when Columbus dropped anchor off Hispaniola. I only know they are special. Turn left at Spaits’ Corner.

Two miles from my house is a swampy area filled with cypress trees. When I pass, I can see my brother casting a lure into the dark water and retrieving it, without a bite. I can see my bare feet struggling to walk on the cypress knees at Cypress Bridge. I am home.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at