A noontime phenomenon

Thu, 03/05/2020 - 5:15pm

My father was a roofer. It seems odd, now, that back in the 1950's and 60's, when work was so scarce, there would be any specialization of labor and, in retrospect, I suppose when push came to shove there was none of the “I don't paint” sort of talk one hears today.

Still it is roofs I remember. There was one on the far and distant West Side, not only down Dorry's Cove road, but off it as well. The property was accessed by a bridge, I learned at supper one night. It was a theme, these exotic locales, and off we went one late spring evening when the light lingered long, to visit the job site.

There were two bridges on the way to the New Harbor from the Neck but neither fit my story book image of what a bridge should be, any more than the single rough plank over a seasonal stream at the bottom of the far lot. I was expecting, at last, a fairy-tale sort of arch.

My town-raised mother bought into these trips, insisting these features were “interesting” and “historic” which they were, I now concede. At the time it was more “what bridge?” which usually launched an explanation of stone, rubble, over which earth had been placed, or as I think might have been the case on that particular West Side side-side road, planks. And tales of fish wriggling through the barrier.

There was one on Mansion Road, obscured now by overgrowth, and another on the road into Laphams', another “discovery” trip, that during construction, when the roofer was one of the building crew, places where real water flowed through the rocks in spring.

Then there were large culverts under pavement, which by some extreme definitions might qualify as bridges but we were unaware of that fact. The first I ever heard of the Old Town Road “bridge” a classmate was hit by a car on a summer night. “What bridge?” seems have have been a perennial query of mine.

It was the piece of road just west of the Town Hall, abutting the Mill Pond where we skated in winter. There was board fencing on both sides of the narrow stretch of pavement, and in spring we leaned over the far side and heard the spill of swollen water racing toward Harbor Pond.

There was a marker declaring it was the site of a stone garrison house and mill; I remember seeing a very old photograph of that arch of my dreams, being able to place it only because the ridgepole of a distinctive house peeked over the hill behind it. That the arch, and a great brick culvert, still existed eluded me for more decades than I can believe, especially for all the time we spent there skating in deep winter and “exploring” the rest of the year, before the land was overgrown.

For years there was talk of replacing the whole embankment, an earthen dam more than a bridge, and some of us railed against it, until the edges of the road hit a point of no return, disintegrating, until there was room for only one lane of traffic. Somewhere, the stumbling block, what had been deemed impossible, protecting the culvert, was removed with a solution which proved a task but not nearly as complicated as had been feared.

The culvert was extended, the bridge rebuilt, widened to include a sidewalk, plank fencing restored, and now, but for the materials having yet to age, it feels to have been so forever when, in fact, it is not even two years.

It simply happened that I had not been in the right place at the right time to have previously noticed the play of light and shadow that occurs at noontime on a sunny, early March day.

Had I not been turning into the Town Hall parking lot I might not have seen the bands of shadows on the sidewalk, dark stripes on still pale cement, following the curve of the fence, the road and even the white and yellow lines.

It is a noontime phenomenon, by afternoon the shadows spill onto the pavement and bleed into it, the perfect confluence of mid-day a fading memory.

I saw the sidewalk that could have prevented that long-ago accident, the sort of fencing that could have fit the landscape a century past and, of course, thought of the historic brick culvert, out of sight but re-pointed and secure for decades to come.