Getting lost in the country

Sherrills Ford, where I live, is not my hometown.

So when friends came to visit, I always gave precise directions to my house, which, according to more than one of the visitors, is in the middle of nowhere.

Some people, when they give directions, like to use street names; others rely more on landmarks. I used to think this style of guiding was divided along gender lines, with men more likely to use precise mileage and street names, and women more likely to say, as my Thomasville friend did when pointing the way to her house, "Turn at the big chair."

Personally, I always preferred the proverbially male style when it came to finding someplace unfamiliar. To get to my house, travel exactly 7.2 miles west along N.C. 150 from I-77 before turning.

Easy, right?

Contrast that with another friend, also female, who once gave me directions to a quaint chalet atop Beech Mountain, where our group was to rendezvous for some winter fun. The only problem was that her first directive, once I began the mountain's ascent, was, "Look for the blue sign."

This would have been no problem, really, if Beech mountain's blue signs were as scarce as Thomasville's big chair. And if the twilight and light freezing rain atop Beech hadn't obscured not only the color but the wording of most of the signs.

And if my cell phone service hadn't disappeared as soon as I located the first of many, many blue signs. Technology is great when it works, eh?

I finally went back down the mountain, where my cell service returned, and I obtained better directions, but not before a knock-down, drag-out fight with my husband, who was driving.

But perhaps I'm getting a little off course.

Like I said, I used to think that one's style of giving directions depended on gender. Now, especially after living in the middle of nowhere, I'm more inclined to believe that it has to do with your proximity to a city.

When I go to Mooresville, for example, it makes perfect sense to call upon MapQuest for directions; streets are clearly marked and mileage is accurate.

But in the country, things aren't quite as precise. What good is it to say, "Turn at the third road on your right,"when the third road is five miles down from the first one, and in between are a half-dozen dirt driveways, some with their own whimsically amed street signs? And where the "shortcut" suggested by MapQuest is really a dead end?

In the city, the situation is reversed. Landmarks might be as misleading as blue signs are on Beech Mountain. If I'm in Charlotte and my directions say, "Look for the Starbuck's," then that hasn't really pinpointed my location, now has it? There are about 30 Starbuck's stores in Charlotte.

But if I'm in Sherrills Ford and I say, "So-and-so lives right by the Gold Mine," the mention of that landmark calls up images of the country gas station hangout where you can get a livermush biscuit and a Mountain Dew slushie. There's only one Gold Mine.

I think that's why I prefer living in the middle of nowhere.

Nothing here is homogenized like it is in the city. There are no chain restaurants - or coffee shops - in Sherrills Ford; even the closest fast-food joints have a Denver address.

And if getting a lot lost on Beech Mountain drove a wedge between Phil and me, then getting a little lost in Catawba County drew us together.

We spent many a Saturday driving around in the country while we were shopping for a home, making little discoveries: Drum's Crossroads, where you can get just about anything for lunch for under $5; The campgrounds, where annual camp meetings are held, which look for all the world like a huddle of mining shacks; and the quaint old general store on N.C. 150 in Terrell, precisely 7.2 miles west of I-77, which I always mention now when giving directions to my house.

In fact, I've decided to amend my male, urbanized style of giving directions.

Instead of paying attention to a faceless GPS or a precise mile marker to get where you're going, isn't it much more fun to look around you?

Don't you want to just drive up to Thomasville right now and get a good look at that big chair? Or jaunt on over to Sherrills Ford and hit the Gold Mine for a Mountain Dew slushie? You can't get that at Starbuck's.

Besides, half the fun is getting there, especially if you get a little lost along the way.