25 10 2010

Today I took another one of my mini-odysseys around Princeton.  Where I intended to travel and where I ended up were different.  I drove north on what is called North Main which eventually turns into Petersburg Road.  My initial plan was to wander around a cemetery and see if I could locate the gravesite of a girl who was a friend during high school and college; she died as a result of a car wreck forty years ago.  I drove through the cemetery but never spotted her stone.  I didn’t get out the of car because it just did not seem like what I should do.

As I pulled out onto Petersburg Road I turned north again rather than south back towards Princeton.  As I was making the turn I realized where I was going–Severns Bridge.  About three miles north of Princeton the old section of Petersburg Road crosses the Patoka River.  Back in the mid-1950s and early 1960s I would accompany my parents along that stretch of road and over that old iron bridge nearly every weekend to go visit my paternal grandmother who lived in the small community of Union about twelve miles to the northeast of Princeton.  Damn, I dreaded those weekly trips.  I enjoyed visiting Grandma Wright but the curvy roads and my parents’ secondhand smoke would bring me to the point of vomiting from being so car sick–another story, another time.

As I came to the spot where Old Petersburg Road and New Petersburg Road reunited, there was a modern concrete bridge crossing the narrow river.  I felt a pang of disappointment as I slowed and turned onto the bridge.  I had come to see the old Severns Bridge.  This concrete monolith held no memories.  Just as I was about to accept that like many other Princeton landmarks from my youth, the rusty iron bridge had passed into memory, I saw it.  There it was–about fifty yards upstream.  It was not a memory but a present day reminder of a time gone by.

I’m not wanting to get all sappy here but Severns Bridge was the location of many of my fondest memories growing up.  Many Saturday afternoons, weather permitting, my dad and I would drive out to the bridge with a cardboard box full of glass jars and bottles to engage in an activity called plinking.  Now many people may not know what plinking is but it refers to shooting at jars, bottles or tin cans with a small caliber rifle or BB gun.

Out of the backseat of the car dad would take the box of targets and I would follow behind carrying a smaller box of .22 shorts in one hand and a Remington rifle manufactured around the same time that the bridge was erected (1908) in the other.  That rifle was the one that my great-grandfather used to teach my dad how to shoot.  I realized, even at the early age of 9 or 10, that using the same rifle he used was cool.  I still have that rifle and will one day pass it on.

What came next in our Saturday afternoon adventures would not be looked up as politically correct or environmentally friendly today but it was a different time with different views on such subjects.  The rightness or wrongness of it can be debated by others. For me, it was all a boy could ask for.  I was with my dad doing something we both enjoyed–it was our time.

After carefully loading the cartridges into the magazine of the rifle I would stand at the railing of the old bridge and shoot at the bottles and jars floating down the river.  Dad would throw one at a time into the water thirty or forty feet below and it would bob and weave as it started what I hoped would be its interrupted and unfinished journey to the White River.  When the two of us first started our little game it was not unusual for us to bring back jars and bottles (probably never more than a couple of dozen were ever taken to the bridge in the first place) because I had exhausted my supply of fifty cartridges before I exterminated the pesky glass containers.  However, as time went on and my marksmanship improved, I would quite often be able to make a fifty-five cent box of 22s last two sessions of plinking.

As I walked across the bridge in its present day incarnation complete with oak flooring, traffic barriers, commemorative bronze plaque and an ugly as hell, Carolina blue paint job those warm feelings of my time with dad came rushing back–I cried and smiled at the same time.

Those Saturday afternoons were filled not only with the sharp reports of the rifle and more splashing water than breaking glass but also quiet conversations.  Many of those conversations revolved around the old legends of John Severns and a hidden Indian treasure located somewhere along the bluffs of the Patoka River very near to where we were standing.  Dad would retell the stories that his grandfather passed on to him when he was a boy about my same age.  I felt connected.





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