by Fyn -
|The Covered Bridge--April, 1927
Seemed like mud was slowly creeping into everything that Spring.
While in the distance flattened, yellow wintergrass held just a hint of green,
underfoot was slick with spongy, clinging mud.
People left tracks behind them; water oozing into heel-marks
like a snoopy neighbor into my kitchen.
Downstream a ways…‘bout where that old granddaddy bass was always hiding
in the deep shadows, just shy of the falls, that's where the covered bridge crossed the river.
It was new in my granddad's day. Built strong and solid, built to last,
with nary a nail, mind you... but all wooden pegs pounded into that Vermont oak.
Came through the great storm of ’09 with nary a loose board nor shingle.
Folks here ‘bouts said that old bridge would be here when we was all long dead and gone.
Oh, there was another bridge, nothing of consequence though,
just a new-fangled concrete and iron contraption built to accommodate those new motor cars
we had coming through once the road was extended to Manchester.
Looked right sturdy enough and all, but most of us, well,
we still preferred to use the covered bridge.
That particular morning dawned about the same as it had for the past week or so,
the grey clouds pressing down like an unsettled argument.
The Battenkil swollen with snowmelt, had flooded out most of the acreage west of town
over towards New York state.
We spent the early hours that Sunday morning over to Mrs. Mulligan's for coffee.
She only had one boarder in for the night, a reporter fellow up from Bennington
to write a story about young George Plimpton taking over the Equinox from his Pa.
Don't know why that young man didn't stay there, less he was mindful of saving a penny or two.
Course, the food was much better at Kate Mulligan's, there is that.
Guess he was sleeping in being as he was city folk and all,
at any rate we didn't see hide nor hair of him that morning.
Most near half the town was in Old St. John's Episcopal Church that Sunday.
I remember Rev'rend Morrow's sermon like it was yesterday. . .
He'd gone on at great length, as usual, about staying close to the Almighty
in the face of the many changes that seemed to be tearing at the old ways.
My thoughts wandered during that long, final hymn,
never was much for singing, and well, those long oaken benches,
so finely waxed and polished by the Ladies Guild Society every Saturday,
were starting to feel mighty hard.
There was Mrs. Wentlock...complete with her pink, floppy excuse for a hat
that never missed a service come rain, snow or indigestion.
Couple of rows beyond her, Old Mr. Dodge, he of the powerful voice, rheumatism and nagging wife,
looked down at her and smiled in between verses.
Across the aisle, Michael and Sarah Watlington, the newcomers and newlywed--
not quite accepted yet. We didn't get too many strangers moving in.
Folks drove by on the new road, tourists on their way to Mt. Bromley
or up to visit and stay at the Equinox up on the hill.
And some came to see the original and still thriving Orvis Fly Fishing store,
but they came and visited a while and left.
Nope, here in town, children grew older, married and moved away.
We lost the Almhurst brothers in the Great War, along with Edward Dodge and Jerry Freemont;
the old folk grew older still ‘till they died. . .Town never did seem to change much.
The double, oaken doors opened after the service,
and people spilled like beans into the churchyard.
No one lingered that day as they usually did
comparing new calves, young ‘uns or the price of soybeans.
Most folks just took one look at the sky and scurried for their wagons.
Shafts of lightning tore through the jagged clouds,
and thunder reverberated like one of Rev'rend Morrow's sermons.
The sky opened, rain pouring down like a split sack of salt.
Some headed back into the church, while others ran for the shelter of the bridge.
The clamor of wind and water all but drowned out the thunder that grew louder still.
Then, as if it were trying to shrug off the storm, the bridge shuddered, shivered.
People ran panicked, grabbing children, horses, each other.
The ground ‘neath the near end gave way in a slide of rocks and mud.
The old timbers screeched wood against wood
as the force of the water took our bridge down the river.
Those on the shore just stood there, caught in a flash of lightning.
Then someone shouted. . . Pointed.
In the midst of the swirling bits of wood and debris was a body being swept towards the falls.
Newcomer Michael kicked off his boots and dove into the muddy water.
Fighting the Battenkill with every stroke, Michael reached the man, grabbed his slicker
and dragged the unconscious man to shore. Ayuh, poor old Mr. Dodge, I thought,
but no, his body shook and he set to coughing up half the river.
Shouts from downstream: Mrs. Dodge had been swept over the falls.
Jubilation over the one rescue faded into silence.
Mrs. Wentworth, arms around three crying children,
grey hair streaming down her shoulders,
lifted her hatless head and walked the children over to their mother.
Sarah Watlington draped a blanket around her husband
and wiped his hair back from his eyes, before resting her head on his shoulder.
Some folks headed back into the church never noticing Rev'rend Morrow sitting all by himself
on a rock in the churchyard, head in his hands, his shoulders shaking.
Later that afternoon over a mug of ‘medicinal' coffee,
I thought back to the empty raw place where the bridge used to be,
had always been.
A part of our town, indeed, a part of our lives had been swept away.
A good many years back I'd even toyed with the notion
of marrying Emma Dodge, (Hathaway back then) myself.
Funny though, Rev'rend Morrow picking today to sermonize on change.
Course, you never know what's going to happen one day to the next.
Well, at least we have the new bridge I thought,
drifting off to sleep in front of the fire. . .
Elsewise...how’d we get ‘cross the river?