Tuesday, May 11, 2010
The Foot of the Bridge
by PJ Kaiser Every time I drive to town on County Road 142, I have to pass it. I try to keep my eyes on the road, but they have a mind of their own and they stick on that covered bridge off to the side of the road as I go by. The memories all flood back to me and a single tear — sometimes more — trickles down my cheek. Now the bridge is a pathetic sight. The wood has aged and it’s ashen gray now. Pieces of the red tin roof have loosened and heaven help you if you were standing on that bridge in a rain storm. The bridge used to span Duncan’s Creek but now it hovers above an overgrown runoff ditch from the local farms. County Road 142 didn’t even exist in those days; the only way to get to the bridge was along the dirt wagon path that we took into town. I used to spend the summer, along with my brothers, Joe and Bill, at the foot of that bridge. We stood on the bank of the stream in our bare feet and cutoff pants and fished with homemade poles. After catching enough fish, we would chase the crawdads and once we caught them we’d throw them back in the water and watch them wiggle. Then, although ma said not to, we’d always go for a swim. There were plenty of rocks and roots to hold onto so we didn’t get swept away. We had to lay in the tall grass staring at the clouds and dry off before heading back home so ma never knew we went swimming. That’s how we spent our summers. Then the war came and my brothers and I did our patriotic duty. I left my right arm behind in France. Joe and Bill never returned. Too old to play in the stream any more, I took girls on walks to that bridge and we’d kiss, shielded from the stars. Too many girls to count. But then came your mother. She was the only one who wouldn’t kiss me on that bridge and that just made me yearn for her even more. Finally, after too many moonlit walks, I proposed to your mother on that bridge. After she said “yes” and the ring was on her finger, I looked out at the water rushing under the bridge and thought of my brothers. They would’ve been proud of me. Your mother was a fine catch. That night was the first time she kissed me on that bridge. Then we stood in the moonlight at the foot of the bridge and your mother picked some wildflowers and tossed them into the stream. We watched them vanish into the inky water. You know the rest of the story. You were born, and your sisters, too. When you were only eight, of course, we lost her. The cancer crept into her bones and she was gone in a few short months. I don’t know where it came from, because she had the most beautiful bones of anybody I have ever known. You were old enough to remember when we scattered her ashes from that covered bridge. The wind and the stream reclaimed the last essence of her. That’s the way she wanted it. When they decided a few years later to build County Road 142, I tried to lobby against it. That bridge should be left in peace. It doesn’t need to have all of our cars rushing past it every day. I don’t like having everybody’s eyes on it, either. But now it’s the only way to get to town. Well, I suppose we could take County Road 79, but that would add another twenty minutes. So now everybody has a front row seat to the decay of that old bridge and I suppose one of these days some righteous councilman will want to tear it down. “Safety hazard,” they’ll say. “What if somebody falls through the rotten floorboards?” So that’s why I need your help. I can’t bear to watch that covered bridge fall apart. Or get torn down. It wasn’t easy, but I got enough kerosene to burn that bridge to the ground. I figure we can soak the bridge in kerosene and then toss a match from the foot of the bridge. Why are your eyes getting big? It’ll be a cinch. Technically the bridge belongs to old man Nelson and he’s been hoping to get rid of it for years. We’ll be doing him a favor. So, what do you say, are you with me?