Well, my little home town around where New River narrows made the media this week after celebrating “Bridge Day” with a parade to mark the opening of the new Route 61 bridge. I found out about the shindig too late to attend, which is a good thing. Usually when I show up at social occasions I think it lowers the bar. I’m just not a flashy guy.
There was a parade which included the Daughters of the Confederacy (in period costume) and two cannons were set in place on the new structure and fired as a salute. I’m told construction on the estimated $22 million project began in February of last year. As anyone in a car who finds himself an observer of highway construction, this has meant nearly two years of lane closures and road work to my fellow Green Waves.
It has been named the Randall W. Fletcher Memorial bridge in honor of Randall Fletcher, a veteran of the Vietnam War who worked to raise money for a Veterans Park in the county.
The bridge joins two-sides of Narrows split by the New River. The original structure dated back to the early 1950s and had begun to shed concrete into the river in chunks. I had reports of its structure being supported by railroad cross ties in some places. This added a little more give and take than locals were used to as well as adding an element of uncertainty as you drove across it.
Many looking on from the outside point out it connects both sides of the town which is divided by the New River. Actually, it has remained as access to a town with a rich old tradition of pride. Small town folk there may differ but we stick together when the chips are down. A writer friend of mine once told me his research on the river ( for an upcoming horror anthology) indicated Native Americans were unsettled by it and included a warning in its name. (Something along the lines of waters-where-horrible-bad-something-is, so don’t go there.)
Growing up along the New with its constant water level fluctuations and areas where the terrain can get you, validated how little water cares who you are and will drown you regardless. Respect it or pay the consequences. The subject came up when a Patrick County expatriate commented on how whole-heartily the town obviously was about it.
Allow me to try and put a little context to the text for you. The bridge is also a connection in the minds of anyone growing up in Narrows. It stands, like your grandpa in hip waders (if he fly-fishes) with its foundations rising up from the swift rivers of the New. Depending on your location, you walked, drove or were carried across this bridge to get to the town park, the July Fourth Water Carnival, to Narrows High or Elementary School, football games and a host of other activities. From the center of the old bridge you could see beautiful mountains almost pinching the waterway in the distance.
Southwest Virginia mountains can be like hills from Brigadoon or like the Catskills where old Rip Van Winkle fell asleep. The bottom line is they are there, making a statement of some kind even if you don’t chose to hear what they are saying. For myself, the state following through and building a new one resonates in the Green Wave psyche as Virginia caring enough to reconnect with something in the southwest region.
I remember being a new Virginian Leader reporter covering a similar high spirited celebration for the town. I was a cub reporter, under the wing of editor Jim Gilreath, a veteran of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. He called me into his office and solemnly informed me I would cover the new sewer treatment plant for Narrows. I had made it to the door when he yelled out my last name, much in the fashion of The Daily Planet’s Perry White to Jimmy Olsen.
“Broyles! Read me that invitation I just gave you,” said Gilreath. “And remember. Don’t get cute with the photographs. Something I can put on a front page.”
I read the invitation which ended with the line “…light refreshments will be served.” Gilreath smiled broadly.
“You stay away from all of those dark refreshments Broyles,” Gilreath said, waving me on.
I hope all you have some bridge, emotional or otherwise, rebuilt to that little town in your mind’s eye this holiday season. I hope a nice, quiet kind of peacefulness which settles on you as you take just a moment to look at the snow falling on the mountains visits you, if only for a short while.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-719-1952.