Jayne Gray didn't think country life was a good fit for her the first time her husband drove her down a long, dirt road to their future home. Now she couldn't imagine a life without her peaceful back porch, long walks in the woods and wild drives with her convertible's top down on that same dirt road.
Jayne Gray wasn’t impressed the first time her husband showed her a tiny house buried in the woods at the end of a long, dirt road.
“No way I’m living out here. I would die out here,” she told him.
But her husband knew the magic words that would soften her heart: “Trust me, you can’t get land like this anywhere. Can you imagine one day watching our kids play here?”
In her sweet, Southern drawl, Jayne looks back on that conversation today and says, “Nineteen years later, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Now I have visions of my grandbabies playing here.”
A country home fit for a “girly-girl’s” needs
At first, moving into the small house so far out in the country near Tifton, Georgia, was tough.
“I’m a girly-girl with lots of sparkling junk, and bringing that into a tiny house in the woods is not easy,” Jayne says.
But the girly-girl’s house wasn’t small for long. She and her husband made additions to the home as they made additions to their family. The arrival of their two sons meant two more bedrooms. They also added more bathrooms, a dining room, closets and a deck that became Jayne’s “secret place.” The tiny house was soon over 2500 square feet, made exactly to fit the Grays’ desires.
And that long drive she initially resented became literally therapeutic for Jayne. Speeding along the dirt road in her convertible, top down, dust flying, is now a favorite release as she unwinds from a day’s work and heads to her “safe little cocoon” in the woods.
Outdoor adventures trump electronics
The Grays’ house, part of what Jayne calls a “private country club,” is in a co-op of 20 landowners who each own home sites and share a swath of hunting land; ponds primed for fishing; and trails for hiking and four-wheeling. The entire community spans 400 acres.
Although her boys, ages 11 and 17, own electronics like gaming systems, they’re more likely to be found outdoors enjoying that land. If it’s up to them, they spend their days on their dirt bikes or ATVs, fishing in the pond that’s a short walk from home, or exploring in their boats in the river that crosses their land.
“Tons of their friends come over every weekend,” Jayne says. “This is the place to be - they spend the whole day out there.”
A longtime preschool teacher, Jayne is a champion of the virtues of shooing a child out of the house to play outdoors.
“They turn sticks into guns, dig in the mud, make tree forts, and those creative juices just start flowing. If you entertain a child too much, that’s not good. They’re spoonfed everything,” she says.
In truth, though girly through and through, Jayne spent plenty of time outdoors as a child. Her grandparents owned a tobacco and cotton farm, and she spent many days playing in the cow pasture.
“My boys look at me like I’ve sprouted a third eye whenever I talk about those days,” Jayne jokes. But she’s glad she had that time to explore, and she’s grateful her boys do, too.
For Jayne’s older son, those fun days fishing in the pond were anything but frivolous. The “hands on training” earned him a coveted spot on his high school’s bass fishing team.
Hunting in style
And fish are just the beginning of the game the Grays have caught on their land.
Their co-op allows each resident - or, share owner - to pick a plot of land to “sign out” exclusively for hunting season. Girly or not, Jayne doesn’t want to miss out on the fun when her husband and sons head out.
“I like to tag along with my magazine and my camera,” she says. “But I get in trouble because supposedly the pages of my Southern Living are too noisy.”
She’s also been scolded for “smelling too good” and threatening to bedazzle her camouflage, but in spite of all that, the family often returns home victorious from their hunting excursions.
After spending years as the only female in the house the majority of the time, Jayne recently got some “girly-girl” backup: her step-daughter moved into the house late last year. Holly Gray, a pageant girl, had always lived in the city and moved into the country house with her crowns and sashes in tow. She was a perfect ally for Jayne, and it didn’t take long before Holly began to love rural life, too.
“A few days ago I taught her how to make homemade biscuits using her great-grandmother's recipe and she nailed it!” Jayne said. “Our deck has become her Happy Place, too, and there's a country girl bubbling to the surface now. She loves riding four-wheelers on our dirt roads with her brothers and wants them to teach her how to fish and hunt. That should be a hoot!”
It’s a special reminder to Jayne of the days when she fell in love with country life 19 years ago.
“If I can do it, anybody can,” she said. “If someone was in my shoes, I would tell her, ‘Honey, listen to him, he knows what he’s talking about. You won’t regret it.’”
Editor's note: Among the lovely Jayne Gray's many talents, she is a fantastic writer who contributes to Rethink:Rural in a regular column. Read one of our favorites, Dirt Lovin' Woman, by clicking here. All photos except the shot of Holly Gray (who could not attend the photo shoot) taken by Rebecca Baez Photography.