Which Bridge to Cross, and Which Bridge to Burn

Ronnie Mincey

Mincey’s Musings
Year One, Week Thirty-Five

Today, I went to get my allergy shots. It seems the busier I get the easier it is for me to forget to go at least once a week to be poked by needles for real, not on Facebook.

The staff member who administered my shots didn’t seem at all sympathetic to my plight. I felt I should confess, “Bless me, for I have sinned. It has been 33 days since my last presentation for holes in my arms.” Thank God I don’t suffer from trypanophobia (fear of needles).

While there, I by chance encountered a friend from my high school graduating class. We talked over old times, in particular the time we got married during morning recess in third grade. Another member of our class, the “Rev.” Kevin White, performed the ceremony. If my memory is correct, we divorced before the school day ended. All of this happened without knowledge of our teacher, the late, great Florence Chesney.

Thinking about fears reminds me of several people. There are those who have a fear of bridges and of crossing even the smallest bridge. I can think of two individuals from my past who suffer from gephyrophobia.

The first was my college love. One of the saddest things about love is that it sometimes finds us (or we find it) when we are the most immature and irresponsible. The eyes of memory tell me that if I had been just half as mature and responsible as I thought I was in my youth, I would only have had to experience romantic love once.

But, woe is me! There was an occasion when my last college roommate and I took our respective loves to Dollywood. We rode several rides, and at the time my fear of rollercoasters (coasterphobia had not even kicked in). All went well until the “hanging bridge”.

I remember visiting my college friend Judy Minor (later Brotherton Keller) at her home in Jonesville, VA. She showed us a suspension bridge that hung high (I would guess at least fifty feet) above a body of water. I don’t know how long it was, but my memory says not one inch less than fifty feet. Aside from this, I have no idea how deep the water might have been. I don’t remember if I crossed it or not. If I did, it was because I cared less for my mortality in my twenties than now, as I presently suffer from both aquaphobia (fear of water) and acrophobia (fear of heights).

But Dollywood had a suspension bridge. I don’t know if it is still there, as I haven’t been to Dollywood in about twenty years, but I do remember the bridge. It was perhaps ten feet long and hung above the surface of the water perhaps one foot. I would guess the water to have been maybe a foot deep.

My roommate, his girlfriend, and I crossed the bridge. I looked back to see where my love was, and there she stood on the other side absolutely bawling her eyes out because she was afraid of the bridge.

In the eyes of hindsight, even if I couldn’t understand her fear and reaction to something that couldn’t kill (there weren’t even any fish in that water, much less sharks), I should have crossed the bridge after, not before her. In spite of this insensitivity and lack of manners and etiquette, I should have gone back, held her soft little hand, and guided her across safely, thereby becoming a knight in shining armor rather than the court fool.

But what did I do? I pulled the tough love card and teased her about being so scared of something so foolish.

But it wasn’t foolish to her. And I learned something that didn’t click until much later when it was, as the country song says, a little too late to do the right thing now. Some people, probably all if truth be known, have unreasonable fears that logic does not assuage.

So I crossed the bridge, but she burned hers. It didn’t happen just then, but some time later—like Adam and Eve, who didn’t die immediately from eating the forbidden fruit, but some time later.

(By the way, my roommate probably didn’t fare much better than I; he married his girl, but they divorced a few years later. I probably got off easier than did they. Better for both my love and I that she discovered what an insensitive jerk I was before the bonds of matrimony had to be loosed.)

I guess part of the reason the Dollywood bridge wouldn’t frighten me is that I had crossed the bridge on Black Fox Road in a car many times during my childhood. For those who remember that bridge, it was a rusty, one-lane bridge that had vertical planks laid over horizontal crossbeams for car tires—as the tires crossed the bridge, the boards would rattle. It is certainly humbling to cross the new bridge that now connects the road from both sides of the lake and look over the right side crossing into Grainger County. The comparison of the strength of the new bridge to the frailty of the old is sobering.

And finally, there is the new bridge on Highway 33 just above Bubba Brew’s that basically joins Union and Claiborne Counties. I remember crossing that bridge in a car with my father at the wheel on many trips. I remember when the girders were unpainted until rust started to form, before it was coated with the green paint that gave the bridge its signature color.

From earliest days, the danger of that bridge was its narrowness. In later years there were concerns with its structural safety.

A teacher friend told me what I considered a hilarious story of another of our mutual teacher friends. Our friend had always been apprehensive about crossing the bridge from Claiborne County to work in Union County. Her fear was accentuated when some of our administrator “friends” (fiends?) told her that if she only knew how structurally unsound that bridge was, she wouldn’t even walk across it.

This dear lady began leaving home early so she could stop on the Claiborne County side to roll down her car windows, so should the bridge collapse and her car be thrown into the waters that she would not be trapped but could swim out the open windows to safety. (I think she forgot about the tons of steel and concrete that would also be swimming with her.) Once she safely reached the Union County side, she would roll up her windows, fix her hair and makeup, and continue to work. The process was reversed later in the day.

And there are those who wonder why this lady finished her career in Claiborne County!

Next week I’ll share with you a fearful health tale. Until then, remember this bit of wisdom gleaned from email:

If walking were good for your health, the postman would be immortal.

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