Home > Tales From The Coal Patch > Death of a Bridge

Death of a Bridge

When my mother was a little girl, my grandfather would drive her – almost all the way – to the dentist in Point Marion, PA. They would stop and park on the Greene County side of this bridge, and walk across to save the ten-cent toll on cars. Money was that tight.
Bridge [320x200].JPG
Mom always said it was bad enough to have to go to the dentist without having to walk across that bridge in the bargain.
The bridge is just a few years younger than my mother, and you can see in the photo, which I took last week, that it is not in very good shape. It was already not in very good shape when I was a young girl. I was afraid of all bridges, and this one in particular. Every time we drove across it (it was no longer a toll bridge by then) I scrunched myself as far down in the car as I could and hid until we were safely on the other side.
Here’s what it’s like to cross it from the Point Marion (Fayette County) side to the Greene County side:

When I went to see Mom this past weekend, I found out that the new bridge, which has been under construction along side the old one for the past year, has finally been completed. Destruction of the old one, a three-phase process, was slated to begin this past Monday morning. The parking lot of Mom’s assisted living home would provide a good view of the bride blow-up and Mom wanted to see it. This meant that I would have to get up extra early and take a very circuitous route to get to the assisted living home. A trip that normally took 15 minutes from the family home would instead take almost one hour, because of course the road over the new bridge would be closed during the bridge destruction. Nevertheless I promised Mom I would try to be there in time to get her outside to see the show.


Sunday was a long day. I cooked dinner for Mom and her cousin at the family home, and I suspect that was the last time I will be able to do anything like that by myself again. Mom is getting weaker and weaker all the time, and just getting her into the house was a struggle. Caring for her and trying to prepare a meal was almost more than I could manage. I had a headache all day long. By the time I got her back to the assisted living home and returned to the house, I was too exhausted to clean up from the dinner.
I knew I had to get up early the next morning, but I had trouble falling asleep that night. I wanted to take her to see the bridge implosion, and yet I didn’t want to, too. I didn’t understand, at the time, my reluctance to do this simple thing. Sure, the extra driving was a pain, but all I really had to do was show up at the AL home and wheel her out to the parking lot.
Monday morning, I woke up with a pounding migraine. I just couldn’t get out of bed. I kept hitting my snooze alarm and hoping I would feel better soon. I finally had to call to the AL home and ask them to tell Mom that I wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t sure when I could get there, but I didn’t think it would be in time for the bridge destruction.
Sure enough, I missed it by about half an hour.
Mom had heard the explosion inside the home, and was able to see it on tv later that day. The best video is one I can’t embed here. This one isn’t bad. They dropped the damn thing right into the river. Poor, poor fishies.

WPXI has some raw footage from overhead chopper that is also interesting.
Anyway, I did take Mom outside to see the results of the bridge demolition and she seemed happy with that, but I have been tormenting myself ever since Monday morning for not forcing myself to get out of bed and get there in time to take her out to see the main event. The question is why. If I had been visiting on any other weekend, she wouldn’t have had someone to take her outside, and she wouldn’t have seen it anyway. And I really felt ill – and was sick most of the rest of the day, and most of Tuesday, as a result of pushing myself too hard on Monday. I’m still feeling the effects of my trip as I write this late Friday afternoon. As I think back on it, I’ve had a headache more or less the whole time since Saturday morning.
The thing is, I didn’t want to watch the destruction of the bridge with Mom. The bridge was in horrible shape, and it really needed replaced, and everyone in Greene and Fayette counties will be safer now that they don’t have to drive over that thing anymore. But I have mental and emotional associations between that bridge and my mom. Each trip home to see her and spend time with her gets harder and harder as she becomes more and more frail, and I am absolutely forced to contemplate her deterioration and impending mortality in the most varied, direct, and heartbreaking forms imaginable. As I write this, it seems on the one hand like the most stupid thing ever and on the other like the most obvious and understandable thing ever, that I just could not bring myself to stand beside my mother in her wheelchair and contemplate the death of a decrepit old bridge.
Sure, it’s the Monongahela flowing underneath that bridge, but I prefer to think it’s de Nile. My mother is going to get stronger and live forever.

  1. November 20, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I remember the old Jamestown bridge here in RI. It was a metal grate system. Once you got out on the bridge, particularly in a small car, the wind would just toss you around for a bit.
    The trick was to hit the gas right as you got on the bridge and you pretty much literally flew over the bridge surface.
    They replaced it with a concrete, solid bed bridge and the fun is just gone now.

  2. Em
    November 20, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    I understand.

  3. Anon
    November 20, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    A beautiful piece of writing. Very difficult for me to read; it seems to me that there are a great many bridges going down in the very near future for my family. If I have trouble reading your essay without my computer screen going all blurry, there’s no way in hell I’ll be able to watch the demolition.
    I thought I was stronger than that.
    I don’t think I’d be strong enough to write what you just did.
    I can’t remember the last thing you wrote (perhaps never, and I am a faithful reader) that made me wish I could offer you a hug. All for naught, anyway; it’s the internet. Still… if you want it…

  4. November 23, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Zuska, you keep making me cry with these pieces. I too offer futile internet hugs, to you and your mom.

  5. November 23, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Internet hugs are not completely futile…at least for me. It means a lot to me, Anon and MissPrism, that you offered your hugs. It means a lot to me to be able to share how I am feeling, and it seems there are others who appreciate hearing these thoughts…I am not the only one going through this…we can’t change each others’ private pain but at least maybe we feel a little less alone through talking about it here.

  6. November 23, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    It’s not your fault you were sick, and you couldn’t have been there. I’m sure your mother understands.
    I wish I could say something more supportive, but I’m so sorry that you’re going through this, and I appreciate what you have to say about it. Some day, my parents are going to need my help, and this will be me.

  7. snow black
    November 26, 2009 at 9:33 am

    I’ve been reading you and appreciating you more and more after finding you only recently. Thanks for this beautiful piece. Starting the day with a Zuska piece is good for my soul. It’s icing on the cake that our geographic roots are close. “Needed replaced” says home to me.
    May your beach time replenish your strength for the year to come. Hugs from the Paris of Appalachia.

  8. December 4, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/far_away.png
    I’ve never read you before, Zuska, and I am a distant faceless stranger; but you have touched me. The least I can do is return you that.

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