Today I was thinking about my life- past loves, accomplishments, failures - all those things that one occasionally wonders about. You know, the what if's and because of's that we all carry with us into the next day. I believe I carry wisdom and I add to that wisdom every day. I also make new mistakes.

We have a neighbor who is 86 years old. He was in World War II, he fought at Normandy. He knew our town and our neighborhood before either one had much to talk about. And these days he is still seen driving his old green truck back and forth to the store, shaking hands with everyone he meets and just talking about wonderful things past and present.

A few weekends ago, I was able to be in front of him at the Piggly Wiggly and conversation turned to the universal subject - weather. Oh how we have had the rain this year but now the drought seems to be taking hold of our little area. However, we have had enough rain that the new bridge at the end of our dirt road has proven itself a worthy addition to our lives. That old wooden bridge must have been what - 50 or more years old? It had flooded a time or two. But the bridge before it- THAT was the story.

I tuned out the beeping of the cash register, the paging of people to price check and every other thing we were talking about. In 1934, our little road, the rickety dirt road with an even more rickety bridge across the creek leading to the Pea River, was the main transit way back and forth to church and several surrounding communities. Back in those days, there weren't vehicles but buggies and wagons. Only the wealthy elite had the nicer buggies pulled by horses. The majority of the families still had the old fashioned wagons pulled by a team of mules.

On one particular Sunday in 1934, the rains had not ceased. As the old bridge was prone to do, this day it was not sufficient to keep the travellers safe from the water. The water must have been about a foot or more over the bridge. But, everyone knew this bridge and those old mules and horses were familiar with the footing and rails. So crossing it under water was a rather routine experience. Just the thought of this caused me to have to think! These days, my car can't cross anything if the water is above the hubcaps, but those living creatures - horses and mules - were willing to pull vehicles and families through even more challenging circumstances.

Church had let out and the people were returning to their homes, using our dirt road - a road now seldom travelled, as a main pass to get over the creek. They were crossing over the bridge one by one, each waiting their turn as the previous pair of equine pulled their cargo to safety. There was a small wagon with a family and their most trusty pair of mules. These mules were worth their weight in gold. They not only provided the means to get back and forth to church and town, but they plowed the fields, pulled the timber, hoisted the walls and did whatever else their human co-workers asked of them. On this particular Sunday the request was to get across the bridge and back to the house for Sunday Lunch.

Just as the two mules cleared the bridge, an unfamiliar snap was overheard by the crowd either waiting to cross or checking their gear after they crossed. As they looked up, they realized the bridge had finally given in to the pressure of the water and weight. But, the wagon had not cleared the bridge! The mules dug in and heaved with all their strength to pull that wagon over the sides of the now broken bridge all the while the water rushed over the wagon and began pulling it downstream. As the mules pulled, others got down from their vehicles and began grabbing the family out of the swollen creek while others tried to unhitch the mules and simply let the wagon go. Despite the fact that the loss of this wagon would have been a tremendous financial loss for the family, the decision to free the mules was the only option.

Unfortunately, the mules would not cease their pulling, knowing their duties were to rescue that wagon. The men could not get enough slack in the hitch to release it and they all watched in horror as the water began to ever so slowly win the battle of wills. Those mules were the most serious loss to that family that is ever remembered to this day! As they drowned trying to rescue the wagon, everyone grieved. If that bridge would have just held a few more seconds! If those men could have just convinced the mules that it was o.k. to not serve - just this once!

As I stood there in the store, the echo of the register once again beginning to get my attention, I looked at Mr. Max and realized that my times and "his times" were so vastly different I could only imagine through dreaming what he was describing to me. I have a car, to lose it would be horrific but insurance would replace it! If the bridge caved on me and the car, the county would probably help me replace it. Oh how times have changed!

He described to me the main difference in our times and now I am left knowing that I have truly missed out on "good times". Everyone got together. They helped this family retrieve what was left of their wagon after the water subsided. They helped to bury the beloved pair of mules and they helped to fill in with transportation, farming duties and whatever other void was left by the loss of these mules until the family could afford another pair. He seemed to recall that someone may have even donated a mule! That's like a car in today's times only better.

I now know why Max waves to everyone, shakes all hands and speaks to anyone he may have seen in the area. He's a byproduct of times when neighbors were neighbors! He's a byproduct of wars fought and won against horrendous evil rulers! He's a byproduct of a lifestyle where faith and family came first and fame and fortune came sometimes never and that did not even matter. And Thank You Lord - I am a byproduct of his willingness to stand in line at a grocery store and tell me a story, still tearfully, of the loss of a couple of mules on a rainy day.


TRT said...

Warning, reading this article will cause you to mellow out to the point of feeling total empathy for a solitude life of an old style countryside life. It will make you want to give up on the hustle and bustle of a fast paced lifestyle. This is what I have been seeking for many years; this is why I moved to the Midwest from the fast paced west coast. This reminded me of what I have been looking for. So why am I still trying to hold on to what I grew up with and detest so much today? Am I so instilled with a past lifestyle that I can’t turn lose of it? I leave this article you have put forth with a since of failing tonight. Somehow I have lost sight of the course I had set for myself.

Saddlegait said...

I don't believe you hold onto it Tim. You simply have not quite figured out how to reconcile with it yet. You are not a failure when your actions and words serve to inspire and reward others. You are on God's path and you follow it willingly. Therefore, you can possibly be a failure!

Saddlegait said...

oops - I meant Can NOT possibly be a failure.

TRT said...

It is not always bad to be touched negatively by something you read when it hold a high value to the reader. Although your story affected me in this way, it opened my eyes and allowed me to see where I am and where I still want to be. It was a reminder of a life style and struggle to hold on to. Yes, this world is moving so fast in leaps and bounds that many good values fall off and are lost along the way. Yes, neighbors are strangers to each other now. It has almost become impossible to establish a trusting friendship like it was in years past. I hear people say “you cannot hold on to the past, you must move on.” I know this is why I have so many conflicts in my heart. Although I find myself getting caught up in today’s world, my heart is in yesteryears, and will always remain so. I will continue to be that Neighbor no one looks for anymore. What this world is becoming, I have no real desire for. True, I partake of its devices and conveniences and do what I have to do to survive but I will never stop looking.

I am grateful for your story Robbi. Although I am not next-door, I am your neighbor in heart and will always call you my friend.
May God Bless…

Saddlegait said...

That is such a blessing - to be called friend by you!