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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Entry 15: Bridges


May 13, 2014

Dear Friends

Re:  Entry 15

I have a unique distinction that may be only held by me, in the entire state, maybe even the country.  The problem is, it is so obscure no one cares. Since I have this forum, I thought I would preserve it for posterity.  I was present at the destruction of two historic covered bridges.  I don’t mean I was in the same county when they were destroyed, in both cases I was literally standing within feet of them.  The first in Grant Town, in August, 1980.  During the night we had 5-6 inches of rain in the valley, so much so that the water was up to the railroad tracks on the creek side, and the basketball rims in the playground were under water. I walked the entire length of the tracks through town, over two trestles with just little ribbons of steel above the water.  When I walked back up to the other end of town, crossed the other trestle and got to the covered bridge it was already underwater, about a foot, with floating debris banging against one side. There were people on both sides just standing there, so I walked across, water on it almost up to my knees.  Someone said (I think the cook from the grade school, Mrs. Parker “get off that bridge, idiot”.  I said those immortal words as I got to the other side “…this thing will be here for a hundred years.”  A few seconds later a loud crash, then cracking noises as it floated off the piers and down the creek—a scene that would have fit in the Wizard of Oz—got to the bend and smashed to bits against the hillside.  People applauded.  I don’t know why.  I was the last one to cross it, it had been there since the 1850’s, was one of the oldest in the state.   The second happened in February, 1989.  I was in my office in Philippi and a student from A-B came in and asked me if I heard about  the bridge:  “…of course, ever since I came here I’ve heard about that bridge…Wait, what do you mean?”  I went to the window out in the hall which was orange from the glow of the bridge on fire.  I ran down the hill where people were gathered and watched it burn.  Gasoline spilling from a tank truck ran down the gutter, pooled onto the bridge and nearly killed a young couple as their car ran through it, setting the car then the bridge on fire.  The state later rebuilt it at the cost of several million dollars.  I often wondered how many people in cities had ever seen a covered bridge except in pictures.

Getting on to a point, when I was in High School I played football.  Well, “played” may be a bit of an overstatement.  Anyway, I was on the team, and while I was never really very good I only missed practice twice (once for said bridge destruction above and once for a terrible case of poison oak after stealing leaves for my tenth grade science project at the Core Arboretum). There were several distinct disadvantages to playing football—practice, having a headache every Monday, getting ran over by most everyone--there were also multiple advantages.  One of them was weight lifting which made me distinctly able to lift heavy things, lending a side skill as an itinerant laborer every once in a while during the summers when someone would pay me to unload something, put up hay, carry things, dig holes.  One summer I unloaded like 400 pickup truck loads of railroad ties (editor’s note:  it was 2).   About 3-4 times during my high school summers there was a roofer who would give me like five or 10 bucks to carry shingles up the ladder onto a roof, sometimes 30 bundles, depending on the roof.  

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, not the shingles or football or bridges, but the roofer.  He was an alcoholic.  I knew that word then, I even understood it.  It seemed like I knew a number of people like this but he stood out.  He would sometimes get drunk on a Friday night, especially in the summer or fall, pass out in the woods all night and the next day we would go and poke him with a stick or throw things at him, just to see if he would yell or curse us.  His father drank as well, and I often remember being in Junior’s on a Friday night and seeing him buy two 32 ounce bottles of Stroh’s Bohemian.  A few hours later, you could sneak up on the hill and hide behind a tree and say things to him.  He would proceed to threaten to kill your mother, eat your dog’s liver, and all other sorts of mean and nasty things.  Neither of them ever seemed to remember this in the later days, at least they never said anything.   I wish I had a better explanation than to say I was a stupid teenager.

The father was married to a little old lady with her hair in a bun, who was very nice and pleasant.  Several years went by and both men died, leaving the widow.  She was a Christian.  This had little meaning for me then, but it has come to have enormous meaning to me now.  I have often wondered what pain she must have suffered by having to live this type of life.  She appeared to be incredibly devoted, even doting.  And she was a faithful church member.  It often comforts us when looking at someone’s misery that we won’t suffer that same fate because somehow we will make superior choices.  And I yet I cannot explain her or her life here on this earth or her faith because it doesn’t fit neatly into the theology of having everything go your way as proof of your faith.  It is more the realism of Hebrews 11, looking for a city not of this earth, having the faith that I don’t have to see it through.  Being able to bear up in the face of abject pain, I only wish I understood this when I was younger. 

Don’t ask me what this has to do with covered bridges or football.

I remain

Fessler