After finishing my graduate studies at Penn State in 1971, my wife and I lived for almost five years in the nearby mining village of Jerome, northern Somerset County, PA. Susan stayed at home to raise our two children there while I managed two radio stations in Johnstown. Susan was a country girl and I had grown up in suburban Pittsburgh. The crowded small town life wasn’t for us. We had visions of owning livestock, raising our own food, and having enough space to enjoy life. After looking at many houses in the country nearby, we located an 18-acre plot of land and decided to split the acreage with Susan’s brother and wife. It wasn’t long before Dan, the brother, sold us his half to find greener pastures. By then we were under contract with Susan’s uncle, a home builder, to construct a comfortable split entry on the side of the hill overlooking the Bens Creek. The only problem was how to get from the main road, the Somerset Pike, across the creek to the building site, a distance of about 900 feet.
After consulting an advisor from the Conservation District, standing between two springs where the house was to be built, we decided to use fill from a neighbor’s quarry to “dump a driveway” along a path lying between two pockets of wetland leading across the stream and up to the site. Honestly, it was as if God was guiding our ever “move,” literally. All summer excavator/neighbor Mel Lehman hauled and dumped stoney clay along that path. As I had time, I used a pick and shovel to smooth it out. Finally, with fall approaching and my time not as plentiful as I thought, I asked him to use his bulldozer to finish the job. Another problem: how do we get across the 12-foot stream? Again, as I wrote in an earlier meditation about my cement contractor father-in-law, Richard, helping build our back porch, his more expert head prevailed and he agreed to plan and assist in the construction of a sturdy bridge. In his business he had built dozens of them, all sizes. He even had some basic materials: steel girders, cement slabs, and boards to form the head walls. It seems I married the right girl! Oh, by the way, my dad provided and installed the aluminum protective railings for the side walls. Susan married well too!
The “pour” took two days, about a week apart: the first for the headwalls, upon which the girders and slabs were laid; and the second when the forms and bridge deck was laid. One of my fondest memories was having my late brother Carl come in “from the road” to help. He was a long haul trucker, whose time I considered valuable. Another precious moment was when we lifter our two young children over the wet concrete, using their tiny fingers, to carve their initials in the curb of the southwest sidewall. I still get chills when I see “ARP” (Annie Rebecca Pearce) and “MCP” (Matthew Carter Pearce), the letter insets now hardened and filled with moss.
So many other memories: fish & minnows, ducks, snakes, deer carcass, ice cave, cleaning – just stopping on the way to the mailbox, staring into the water. I used to wonder if I could put a canoe in at the bridge and float into Johnstown and the Stoneycreek, into the Conemaugh River to Freeport where it joins the Allegheny, and on to Pittsburgh where that joins the Ohio. I would take the boat out at the Sewickley Bridge, between where I was born, near Mars, Butler County, and where I grew up Moon Township, Allegheny County. Ironically, I have “sailed” portions of that journey as a younger man. Now, it’s all just a dream, but can wonder how long that “water under the bridge” would take to travel that far and what things it would experience. God knows!
While my concordance lists no scripture specifically for “bridge,” my memories of the use of that metaphor in church and Sunday school overflow. I will leave you with probably the most important: Christ is the bridge between we sinners of this world and the loving forgiveness of our Father in Heaven. The superstructure is the wooden arms of the bloody cross. The chasm is deep and dark with who knows what flowing under in that hell. Such a free opportunity for salvation, and all we have to do is recognize our hopeless condition and ask for the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s welcoming arms. I’m reminded of this figurative bridge and my own human condition every time I cross the Bens Creek structure that allowed my marriage, my home, my family to build the positive situation that they are.
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