March 3, 2017

Eating Roads in Hometown USA

In the beginning there were roads, and they were good.

As a family historian and story-sharer, if you will, eating roads had been a story etched into our lore and a fun one to share.  No one as of yet has come close to believing me, thinking I am as full of hot air as Garrison Keillor is in his elaborate tales of his beloved home in Minnesota.  As a child of a storytelling family, separating fact from fiction has been my pursuit, and, knowing how children adopt memories from stories, a thrilling search for the truth.  It is true that our family ate roads in our hometown of Marquette in the 1950's.
Marquette road in background Donald
and his sister, Janice Olsen

I have enchanting recollections of eating the road in front of our home on Baraga Avenue.  This memory includes the tarry smell, the gooey pebbly consistency as a piece was picked up and rolled in a ball, along with the rubbery warm taste in my mouth.  My older siblings and several relatives, being of a more advanced age, obviously ate more roads than I chewed up.  A relative shared her memory of roads that would bubble up in the summertime heat, picking that substance up, chewing it because it was like bubble gum with rocks.  She contacted Marquette's retired road commissioner, Johnny Depetro, asking if he knew anything about the composition of the roads in Marquette during the 1950's.

Depetro wrote back, saying, "The street and block on West Baraga Avenue you are talking about was made of a macadam material named after a Scottish engineer J.L. McAdam (1756-1836).  The material consisted of small broken stones used in making roads, especially such stones mixed with tar or asphalt.  Some of the streets paved in the late 1940's and 1950's in Marquette that have not been reconstructed still have macadam material in them and have held together for many years or far longer than expected.  But is no longer being produced, due to the expense.  So, as the older streets are reconstructed, they are repaved by a new asphalt material that is much cheaper to make, but does not have the life span that macadam had.  This is called progress.  It was not uncommon for kids seeing that warm loose gooey tar on the top of the road to make a little tar ball to chew.  Not eaten or swallowed, but usually done because of an 'I double dare you to make a tar ball' and that is how we get to remember some of the fun things we would do, as young kids."

So, as confirmed above by Johnny Depetro, in the beginning there were roads, and they were good.

What kind of materials did you find to eat in your younger days that evokes a wary eye when you talk about it?

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