There was a covered bridge south of town, the last of its kind.
for miles around. It made us special, it was something we could
point to; quaint and charming, a link to the past, a place
where a farmer, taking an uncovered load of grain to market
caught in the rain, could stop his horses and wait it out.
Kids would wonder what the fuss was all about, until they
discovered it was like going through a house in the middle
of the road; you were home before you got home, it was shady
and cool in the heat of a summer day. Of course, something
as plain and useless—and lovely–could not be allowed
to stand. From time to time there were plans to modernize the
road, in which case the bridge would have to go, it wasn’t
strong enough or wide enough for modern demands. Or the
truckers would complain it wasn’t high enough, they had to go
miles out of their way because of it, losing precious time.
It had to go, they said, but it costs money to tear things down,
and there is no money to tear things down when there are
things to be built—miles of road, and schools, and other bridges.
And so it was left to the vandals to destroy it. Heedless, wanton
boys: The Greek, and Wade, and Tony. One of them must have done
They liked to drink out that way, and Wade liked to start fires.
He would go to the Home for Wayward Boys because of it, do
some time for burning down a man’s shed. What harm
is there in burning down something that’s worthless he said?
I’m sure one of them did it, but I can’t say who. The Greek was
always one to set others up, he thought it was great fun. Nothing
made him laugh so hard as seeing somebody else made the fall guy.
As for Tony, with his mod clothes and long hair that flipped up at
the ends, it could have been him; he liked to brag about adventures.
The bridge sat there, fallen into disuse, as traffic found easier, safer
ways to get to town. It would only slow you down, so why bother?
Go out on the highway, or through the neighborhoods if you had to,
the truck drivers said. There was nothing there for picknickers
except for the white trash who’d go there on Fourth of July because
you could barbecue, drink beer and set off fireworks there,
something you couldn’t do at any other park in town. One year a
stray bottle rocket hit a boy in the eye; he lived, although to hear
him cry, you’d have thought he was going to die. He was blind
from then on, and they put a glass eye in his socket. Nobody knew
who shot it off, so nobody paid for it or went to jail.
It was one more reason to stay away.
It was the fall when it happened, after one of the football games. I
think we’d lost again to one of the bigger towns, there was nothing
to celebrate, and neither Tony nor The Greek cared about
the team or school spirit or anything like that. Wade’s dad
had played college football, and Wade was fast and
slippery like his old man, but he quit the team. I don’t think he cared.
The bridge was in unincorporated land, it took a while for the fire
trucks to get there, and by the time they did it was gone. It had
been a homely brown, but now it was black charcoal with grey
trim, as if the fire were still smoldering after it had died. There
was no money to save the bridge, no sense that building it back
up again would matter. It’s gone now, which is why I tell this tale.
From “Town Folk & Country People.”