Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Bridges of Caldwell County

The bridge collapse in Minnesota brought back a scary bridge memory of my own. When I was about seventeen, I took both my grandmothers to visit my materal grandmother's aunt who was a just a little older than she. My great aunt lived in a rural area in Caldwell County. Once together, the three (all in their seventies) decided they wanted to visit one of the family cemeteries. I, of course, was simply the chauffer, so had no say in the matter. My great aunt gave directions and soon I drove down a grassy road that showed very little sign of use. Aunt Florence was unperturbed when I suggested that a paved county road might be a better choice.

"This is a short cut. Just the locals know about it, " she said.

"Keep going," chimed in the grandmothers.

I drove about five miles when a bridge over a creek loomed ahead. I stopped. This bridge looked on its last legs. It had a badly rusted superstructure and a wooden road bed. That road bed was no longer completely covered. Planks made two parallel strips about two feet wide each that stretched across four by four cross beams. The bridge did not look safe and I told my passengers that. They were unphased and told me to drive on. I seriously considered disobeying, but I was young, my grandmothers experienced so on I drove.

The minute my front wheels touched the bridge, I felt it shudder. If I had been a passenger, I would have closed my eyes, but I was the driver. The bridge actually swayed as I inched forward. My heart pounded and I concentrated on tracking the two rows of planks. Both grandmothers urged me to go faster. I did speed up, but only by a couple of miles per hour. At last, I drove onto the grass on the other side, grass that looked undisturbed by any vehicle.
Relieved, I looked into the rear view mirror. There was a sign. I stopped the car and looked back.

In bright red, block letters was the word "CONDEMNED." My stomach jumped. I pointed to the sign and told my passengers, "We could have been killed."

"Well, nothin' happened," said one.

"If you're so nervous, we can go back the long way," said another.

The matter settled we proceeded to the cemetery, then back to my great aunt's home.

I have never felt the same about bridges since. I always look back for the condemned sign.

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