The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Swinging Bridge

By Vadna L. Bush © 1987

Issue: February, 1987

"Have you ever crossed a swinging bridge at night, in the dark?" I have, many nights from the time I was an infant to until I was eight years of age. We lived in Kelly View, Virginia, a few miles above Appalachia in Wise County.

There were few houses, and not very close together, and when we went to visit, we walked. There were no stores and no churches around for several miles, so a visit lasted all day on Sunday.

We usually went to my maternal Grandmother's house and I loved that. Since it was Sunday, we stayed for Prayer Meeting at someone's house. I didn't like that very much then. (That came later.)

The thing I dreaded most was the walk back in the dark. Most of the time we didn't have a light to light our path through the trees and bushes we had to travel and after coming out of the dark trees we had to pass a cemetery, which I was scared stiff of especially with an older brother talking about all the people waiting to come up behind me and grab me. Terror mounted as we came to the steps of the swinging bridge. The river was about 500 feet long, but it seemed more like 500 miles.

Daddy always walked in front carrying my little sister, I was behind him, and Mom was behind me with my brother, Olson behind her. I think he planned this because every time I got about midway, Daddy would always caution me to take a great big long step, since one of the boards was missing where the swag was the worst.

Just as I would raise my foot to take the step, Olson would start the bridge swinging back and forth. My hands would hold onto the old rusty cable for dear life and my mouth and lungs would work overtime. I know every neighbor for miles knew when we reached midpoint in the bridge. Mom would always reach back and slap at Olsen, but I think she missed more than she made contact.

The water was never very deep but the rocks made it look treacherous. If it rained a lot the water did raise and was loud and scary.

The moon always stayed out long enough to get almost across and then when I needed it the most, would slide behind a cloud and stay there for what seemed forever to a small girl.

When we reached the other side, I would hurry to keep up with Mom and take her hand because all the danger was not passed. The way was still dark and full of long shadows that seemed to reach for me.

Before we would travel a dozen steps, Olsen would start in with the tale of the headless man that lived under the cliff that we had to walk close by.

My legs may have been short, but they matched every step that Mom and Dad took. The walk was at least six miles but since we were used to it, it didn't seem to take long at all.

The last time I took the walk across the swinging bridge was when I was about seventeen years old. It was so shaky and the boards were so rotten I knew I would never cross it again. Not long afterward it was torn down and not replaced. The memories are still here.