Kenneth Avery is a Southern humorist with well over a thousand fans. The charm and wit in his writing span a nearly a decade.
The Bridge, My Confidant
As I now stand on this side of this old wooden deathtrap, I wonder if I will make the fifty steps needed to get to my destination, a sometimes overlooked appointment. Or what would happen if I just stood here and took in the landscape with its perfect scents and sights? Maybe a few more moments will not matter. I hope it doesn't to this old bridge, which wasn't always in such a state of disrepair.
The moment of silence near the bridge takes me back to when I was seven years old and in grade school. My mom walked me across the then beautiful bridge that bowed in the center and had bannisters on each side. The officials of our rural town of Hamilton, Alabama, had all of the wooden parts painted in bright red, white, and blue because Hamilton was a patriotic, all-American town (and still is).
Soft moments like my mom walking me across that bridge took on a very special meaning for me, and, as a youth, I began to imagine that I had a kindred relationship with that bridge. The relationship deepened to the point that the bridge would sometimes talk to me as I walked home from school. I never told anyone about the bridge's conversations, though--not even my mom.
Bridging the Parental Bond
My dad was sitting in his favorite recliner in the living room while reading his newspaper and catching tidbits from the evening news. Holding my school report card in my hand, I slowly walked toward him with some trepidation. How could I explain that the town’s bridge gave me the courage to improve my grades? Who would ever believe such a thing?
Sensing my self-doubt, Dad pulled off his glasses and smiled at me. I quickly handed him my report card. He perused the grades. Then, instead of questioning me about how I had raised those grades, he reached into his back pocket, took out his wallet, and handed me a ten-dollar bill!
I almost cried. Maybe he cried a little, too, out of pride. I could see that pride shining in his eyes.
At that moment, Mom walked into the room, and, as you know, you can’t keep a secret from a mother for very long. She saw the report card laying on the end table, me holding the ten-dollar bill, and Dad smiling, nearly in tears. She picked up the report card. A look of surprise came over her face. “How on earth did you bring up these grades?”
I have always loved my mom, but, at that moment, I was dumbfounded. Should I tell her about the bridge? I decided to come clean and tell the truth.
Then Mom laughed that mom-laugh and hugged me. She didn’t tell me I was crazy or stupid. The support my parents gave me on that day has replayed every time I near an old wooden bridge or face an emotional challenge in my life--a challenge I can meet because of my seven-year-old friendship with a bridge.
A Reflection on Aging
Where did the time go and why did the years have to move on wings? I mean, I had enough trouble in school between the ages of eight through twelve, and each year was always a different problem, mainly a dangerous crops of bullies who did not come to school except to hurt weaklings such as myself.
I heard last week that one of the main bullies who hurt me the most died by some strange disease. Frankly, I shed no tear. I was grown when my schooling years ended. He and his other bully friends had moved out of town at that time, and I had thanked God for that move. That was that.
Interesting enough, when you are at age seven, maybe younger, you do not know one solitary thing. Not one. But as time goes by, and, depending on your parents, teachers, and authority figures, you learn things--some tough, some nice, and those that still leave you to wonder. Such is this old bridge, now colorless, where I am standing.
There was a time was when my mom and I walked briskly over the bridge, and I was awe-stricken, breathless to see such a construction in all its majestic colors. Needless to say, the bridge, when I was seven, made a lasting impression on me.
Now that I am looking down, which I might add is a pretty high jump, I can just see the years and the thousands of steps that my mom and I made on this once-beautiful bridge. Come to find out, as years pile-up, knowledge somehow seeps into our thinking, and we open our intellect as well as our eyes, and then we arrive at some conclusion, tragic or scary. Mine is scary and tragic.
The old bridge has forgotten its youth, if youth can be used in describing a bridge. But in this case, I can actually feel the beat of its massive heart, although now, beating ever so slowly to excise the life from its lumber and what steel it still has on the sides.
I am not ashamed to confess that I have stood here and cried at knowing the city where I grew, lived and worked, has not the money to repaint and repair such a noble edifice that still shows a quiet grace.
The Bridge and My Life
Overall, my life is not a work of glamour. No, sir. I am but an average guy living in this small town in America and proud as I can be of it. I recall when I graduated grade school, high school, and college, I came to my friend, this bridge, and celebrated these milestones with it. The bridge was not ashamed.
When I began my first job, yes, I did celebrate this moment with the bridge. I can readily recall that miraculous moment when I met my wife--oh, how pretty she was! Her long blond hair flittered in the breeze, her smile glistened, and her speech sweetly chattered like a songbird let out of its cage. I remember being awe-stricken again when we dated for a few years, and it was here on this bridge where I proposed marriage to her. I was beyond myself when she said yes.
Now the years have flown by, as I knew that they would, but now I do not worry that much about the future. My wife and I make it our business to celebrate the moment when she agreed to be my wife and, of course, how could we neglect our third and lasting friend the old bridge?
As I have said, today there's not that much left of this bridge. It has mostly fallen apart with a few pieces of lumber laying here and there to remind us what it once meant to me, to my wife, and even my children. We quietly give alms and thanks for all of the perfect memories that the old bridge gave us.
© 2020 Kenneth Avery
Ann Carr from SW England on November 12, 2020:
What a charming story, Kenneth. I can feel the love in your words. Love the bit about your school report.
I enjoy your remeniscences.