Bulbous, purple clusters of wisteria woven intricately into the overhanging oak limbs create a cavernous shield of beauty and aroma above my head. The intoxicating, creamy vanilla scent fills my nostrils, as I close my eyes and inhale deeply. The only sound is that of cardinals communicating with their mates and the shrill chirping of insects on this still, warm Southern Sunday morning. The sky is so clear and blue one can virtually sense the tranquility of diving into its depths. Wispy, translucent clouds meander lazily on the peaceful azure ocean they inhabit, like maidens dressed in white organdy frocks, daintily greeting each other on their way to church. I sit, mesmerized by the moment, saturated by the beauty that encases me and floods my soul with memories of the past.
In the last fifty years I have crossed the bridge stretching before me more times than I can imagine. When Mom and Dad built our house near the railroad track in 1950 the wooden bridge looked much as it does this morning. The L&N Railroad erected it using strong creosote soaked timbers, joined securely with massive railroad spikes. Strange how I have never really “seen” the bridge before this morning. The structure has simply been a mere convenience of transportation, nothing else…until this moment.
Sitting placidly in my car today, just as I was about to drive over it once again, it suddenly dawned on me that this bridge is a metaphor for life. Constructed on a slight hill, the bridge has a large hump in the center and one cannot view what is on the other side until they are half way over. Isn’t that just like our own days, our lives? So often we are unaware of what lies ahead of us until we have taken the chance and moved forward in trust and hope. Were it not for structures such as this bridge, our lives would travel lanes and highways leading us on entirely different routes through life, making all the difference in what we each have or could have become as individuals.
At sixteen I wanted desperately to get my driver’s license, but knew my fear of crossing the bridge would have to be conquered. Sounding the horn before starting over gave me little sense of confidence that I would not slam headfirst into an approaching vehicle. Staying to the far right also assured some small amount of safety. Years later, as an adult driver, although more comfortable, I am always respectful and vigilant of those few moments of the unknown, much as I am in my daily life situations.
Crossing the bridge meant attending ballgames, birthday parties, going skating with the gang each Friday night. It was the avenue to weekly church services, spend-the-night parties and of course, the daily trip to school and back.
It was on a trip home from school, while crossing, I spied a litter of kittens someone had placed in a box near bushes at the end of the bridge. Mom was driving and was startled when I suddenly shouted, “STOP.” I discovered, many years later, that Mom had seen the kittens earlier and prayed I would not see them, for she knew that I would not pass up an animal in need and she would not have the heart to tell me no had I insisted on trying. The kittens were much too young to be separated from their mother and they did not survive the next few days.
From our front steps I could see the bridge and as a teen I would often sit and wait for my newest beau to pick me up for a date. A distinctive clunk, clunk just as one exited was a good warning signal if I happened to still be inside the house getting dressed. What fun those dates traveling across that bridge brought into my young life. New friendships were formed and cherished. Young love and heartbreak were experienced while coming and going on life’s journey across this sturdy, everpresent structure.
On my wedding day it was over this span of wood and nails I joyfully traveled to the church to meet my groom, then nine and eleven years later, crossing with great pride and hope for the future, we presented our newborn sons for introduction at Mom and Pop’s home. Over the years the bridge delivered us to so many happy, festive gatherings with family. Christmas breakfasts, Easter egg hunts, family birthdays, Halloween treats were all made possible.
I received Mom’s phone call on a hot July morning in 1990. “Jane-Ann, can you come over quickly? I don’t think your daddy will be here much longer.” Once again the bridge provided my needs…always doing the job, whatever the situation.
In 2008 the bridge once more was a source of security and consistency. Mom, no longer able to live alone, crossed to become a part of our household, where she remained until her death five months later.
These days it is only occasionally that my old friend the bridge and I greet one another. Mom’s house is empty now and the need for daily visits there seems unnecessary. I’ve noticed, when making those now infrequent trips, that both he and I have grown a bit slower, a bit more tentative and fragile, yet the two of us continue to hold on, striving to fulfill our maker’s mission.
Jane-Ann Heitmueller relishes a life of retirement from the field of education as a resident of the 1873 family homestead, Mulberry Farm. A mood of nostalgia and whimsy permeates her short stories and poetry in an attempt to absorb the unique facets of each new day, which bring joy to her heart and harmony to her soul. Jane-Ann's thoughts, written under the literary umbrella Barnwood and Lace have been published in a variety of books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
© Jane-Ann Heitmueller