Jen Jeffrey: A Bridge For Every Season

Monday, October 14, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen and Mama making memories on the Walnut Street Bridge
Jen and Mama making memories on the Walnut Street Bridge
- photo by Jen Jeffrey

Autumn is a favorite month for many and for several different reasons. Football will most likely be the first reason echoed from men while the ladies adore pulling out their sweaters and decorating their homes. For the men who don’t like football, there is the satisfaction of polishing up their guns, running a bore brush down the barrel and loading up for deer or an elk hunt.

Children are nestled once again into their study habits and preparing for fall break and the exhilaration of the cooler air as autumn arrives. It isn’t too cool – it is just right. It’s that perfect time of the year when you can enjoy being outdoors without having to brave the extreme elements.

I was able to go on a hike last weekend at South Chickamauga Creek and this weekend I got Mama out of the house and we drove to one of my favorite places – the Walnut Street Bridge. I don’t think that just autumn is the perfect season to walk across the bridge - even though it is nice to have the weather so accommodating, but it could be raining, snowing or a clear summer day and I would still enjoy walking the bridge.

It was mid-day and in a couple of hours, the River Rocks Finale was going to start. I knew that Mama wouldn’t care to stay long, but if we could just walk the bridge and head that way, maybe we could see a little of what was going on – just to be out and around people would keep us both from being on our computers on such a nice day.

Mama can’t do much walking so trying to find parking close by was difficult. We parked in the lot across from the Hunter Museum and walked to the bridge. Mama was already afraid of going much further because she has an arthritic-bent bone in her foot which makes it hard for her to walk too long (and she is too proud to use a cane or a walker this early in her senior years). I held onto her, knowing that she could rest on the benches along the bridge if she needed to. I wanted her to see what I saw when I went to the bridge.

At first we started reading the plaques on the bridge and I had hoped to find where my newly purchased plaque might be, but after passing the first set of benches, Mama wanted to sit down. She was so concerned with how she would walk and how far I would take her before we turned back that she couldn’t enjoy the moment. So I sat with her on the bench and coached her to ‘let it all go’… to stop worrying about the walk, or getting back… but to just enjoy the moment and look at our surroundings …feeling the breeze, watching the sunlight dance across the water, listening to the cheers of students from GPS as they watched the crew team stroking swiftly under the bridge.

Mama finally opened all of her senses. She felt the breeze blow her hair and the warm sun on her face. She watched the crew teams passing and observed people. People walking their dogs or pushing a stroller; lovers holding hands and children skipping from one side to the other.

When I heard a conversation of two girls passing us, I heard one of them say to the other, “So this is the bridge… I guess you just walk across it,” and the girls giggled with the uncertainty of grasping something meaningful or… from boredom. That was okay - I don’t expect everyone to get it.

The first time I had ever walked across the bridge was in the evening on a date with a gentleman I had just started seeing. I was 28, but I still felt like a kid having been married at 18 and being a church-hermit for 10 years before my first divorce. I barely noticed the rest of the world until that time. The nice young man took me across the bridge and it was my first memory of true romance. That evening walking across the bridge opened a whole new world for me like a flower blossoming.

Chattanooga was only beginning to emerge into the city it has become today. The bridge, in my opinion, represents a major part of that change. Not only to have access to cross – but that it was saved in the first place. Garnet Chapin is one of my hiking buddies with the Lookout Hiking Club. Garnet was aware that the city planned to demolish it, but he thought the 1891 bridge (which had been closed for years) should be saved.

With his architectural knowledge and his passion to save the bridge, Garnet did not rest until his dream of saving the historical bridge became reality. He jumped through many hoops, overcame several obstacles and, with the help of committees and organizations and the people of Chattanooga also wanting to save the bridge – and thanks to Garnet, we now have an iconic, historical place that brings people together from all over the city and even across the world when tourists visit.

Maybe they wouldn’t understand why walking the bridge is a big deal. Maybe young people haven’t yet formed enough memories nor had time to develop a passion that would make the bridge ‘their heart’… but it is mine.

No matter what your income or your career - if something is important to you, you will make time for it or work out whatever funds you can to support it. My single donation in purchasing a plaque doesn’t make a dent (or even a scratch) in many of the efforts others have made over the years for me to call the bridge ‘mine’ … but I do. It’s my bridge. I was awakened to romance on that bridge over 20 years ago and various times over the years. I experienced many moments of solitude as my life took turns and twists down unfamiliar roads as I looked out over the water for answers.

As Chattanooga opened up, walking across the bridge was easy to enjoy the North Shore and the Bluff View areas without having to worry about getting back in the car or find parking again – you can walk! And walking the bridge is different every time.

In one day, you may see friends out walking who you hadn’t seen for a while, or you may attend a festival nearby or some type of celebration. You may sit on a bench and sketch or you may have your camera and find something different each time you shoot a scene across the water.

I have walked the bridge in the cold months of the winter, and I have walked across it in the rain. I have cried on that bridge when my world seemed to be falling apart. The bridge has magic to either change my mood or to help me understand my mood. It is a familiar friend when I am alone with no one to walk beside me. The bridge is an adventure when I dare it to show me something new that I hadn’t seen before. Newness comes in forms of people, weather, nature and …of time.

Maybe to you, the bridge is just access to have a fun day out with your kids and you don’t have intense feelings about ‘the bridge’ itself. Maybe you aren’t one to stop and smell the roses (or potted pansies in this case) but after all the times that you have crossed the bridge to go to your job, to get to the park, to get in some form of exercise … if you think about the bridge almost being torn down - I guarantee you that you would see it as more than a bridge to get across.

Memories are built, thoughts are processed and sadness is friended on this bridge. I wanted to share just a moment with my mama on the bridge – even if she couldn’t make it all the way across. Maybe Mama didn’t take in all the things that I do when I go and I didn’t get to see my plaque or join in the festivities on the other side – but I made a memory with my mother. I watched her not care that the wind blew her hair …because it was blowing everyone else’s too!  I watched her smile at me with the sun on her face streaming from above and reflecting also off the water.

Mama watched the crew races and asked me to get a few pictures. We saw boats along the side and a girl was sunning on one of the boat decks. Mama saw the Delta Queen and asked me to take a picture. No, it wasn’t the first time that I took a photo of the water, the crew teams or the Delta Queen, but it was the first time with Mama and it was the first time on a beautiful autumn day this year while making memories.

The other bridges in Chattanooga are special to our city as well but the Walnut Street Bridge doesn’t have the traffic whizzing by with their exhaust fumes and you can cross over to either side of the bridge as you walk along the sides or in the center without being concerned for your safety. The pansies and the benches make for nice solitude moments – no matter what is going on in your life or whatever mood you might be in.

This is my bridge and, just as children chided us when we were young and seeking to claim favorite hideouts or places… I can say, “Yes, my name IS on it!”

But the Walnut Street Bridge is your bridge too. It’s the bridge of the people who saved it, the people who donated, the people who care for it and the people who enjoy it each day or evening.

It is a bridge connecting us all – and it is a familiar friend.

jen@jenjeffrey.com



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