Later, at Footbridge 224W (continued)
LATER, AT 224W
“What are you looking at?”
A white-haired woman appears from the small mountain home. We’d thought we were alone.
“We’re researching a story on the bridges, Ma’am,” says Shane. He’d been photographing remnants of trash at the abandoned house. She must have been peeking through the shades next door. As soon as he started ascending her hill, curiosity called her out of the house.
“What’s that?” She cups her ears in her hands and leans forward in her stance on the porch. “I cain’t hear you.”
I hustle to catch up with to Shane. He stops halfway up an incredibly steep but tiny mound of a hill—it must ascend about at about 45 degrees for just 50 feet. I’m stationed at the bottom. The woman steps off her porch and peers down at us from the top of this tiny hill. We strain our necks to see her and she strains hers to peer down, trying to understand what on earth we’re saying.
“Do you have a name for the footbridge, Ma’am?” I ask.
“Huh?” she yells.
Shane passes my question up the hill, repeating the question at top sound.
“Well honey, I don’t know. I just don’t know. We never really called it anything, tell you truth.”
“Do you use the bridge anymore?” I ask. Shane relays the message.
“My friend does. She comes over about once a month. Crosses the bridge there from the other side. Comes to visit.”
“Do you remember a time when more people used it?” I ask, nodding to Shane. Shane repeats the question.
“Yes, well back then, yes. Lots of families went over it. Back and forth. But it’s not like that now.” She stuffs her hands in her apron pockets and gazes at the bridge for a moment.
It’s been hard finding the right way to ask a question during this project. Add to that the fact that most of my interview subjects are struggling with memory, and the fact that I’m not particularly strong in my research skills, and getting just the right quote can be tricky.
We don’t get much from this old woman, but we do get the image of us three on her little knob of a hill, relaying messages back and forth on a foggy, Carolina Mountain morning. We also get a tip off and directions to the next bridge, which is off an unmarked road that’s not even on any maps. The woman uses the words “right” and “left” in such abundance, we aren’t entirely certain which way to go, but it turns out she eventually set on the right road. In this small way, she saves the day.
“Right. I mean left. I said left. You turn left after the big house, you know, right there at the bend in the road.” She wags a crooked finger downstream, pointing toward the road we came in on.
Shane and I exchange glances. Neither one of us understands the direction she is talking about.
“After that big house you go for a while until you get to the hardtop. Then go left. Right there, go left.”
“Left at the paved road?” Shane asks.
“Hard top. Left right there at the hard top,” she hollers down. “Look for the Double Island Baptist Church and a big rock wall. Turn right there. Left at the wall. Go down until you’re at the river. That’s Lunday. You’ll find it.”
“Thank you so much,” I say. She looks at me blankly.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to take your portrait,” says Shane.
Her mouth drops wide open, then she steps back from the hill and turns her back. “Oh, oh no you don’t. I don’t even have my dentures in! No thank you.”
“Ok, thank you ma’am,” says Shane.
“I’ve got my washing to get to now.” She turns back to her porch and waves us off without a backward glance.
“Thanks again!” we yell but she cannot hear us.
As it turns out 224W is the No Name Bridge. The woman doesn’t have a name for it and the guys at DOT don’t have a name for it. Her son who lives further down the road has no name for it and a man we interview later that day doesn’t have a name for it either. A woman I call on the phone who grew up within eyesight of the bridge her whole life doesn’t have a name for it, either.
No Name Bridge or not, it’s the second oldest in the state and in my mind’s eye I can still see it, strong as ever, just waiting for somebody to cross.