bridge sentimentality.

The jerks who plan things like roads and development in Portland decided that tearing down a most lovely, historical, heart-endearing bridge and replacing it with a modern monstrosity was a good idea.

Veterans Bridge connects Portland’s West End and my neighboring hometown, South Portland.  I frequent the route daily, and have always delighted in traversing the Fore River on the aging structure.

To be certain, the bridge was unsafe.  Our past few winters have seen chunks of asphalt falling from the roadway into the river, resulting in gaping holes and temporary repairs.  The green metal side rails have been rusting for years, and many people consider the entire design unsightly.

Yet, I am not a member of the plethora of Portlanders who welcome this change to our city.  I don’t throw things away because they are old and broken, I fix them.  Objects, like people, gain character with time – even bridges.  Every old item is rife with history, and it breaks my sentimental heart every time a beautiful old thing is thrown out in favor of something new.

However, in the interests of full disclosure, I should tell y’all why it is I feel so strongly about this damned bridge…

As a kid, whenever I was sick at school, it was my grandfather who came to scoop me up.  In his brown Cavalier, we listened to AM talk radio programs and made our way to his big red house in Portland.  I would shut my little brown eyes, rest my head on the window, and soak up the sounds of the ride.  Veterans Bridge was built with huge seams every few meters, and driving over them made a loud “K-CHUNK” sound.  My grandparents didn’t live far from the Portland side of the bridge, so when we drove onto Veterans and I heard, “K-CHUNK….K-CHUNK….K-CHUNK,” I knew we were almost home, where I would cozy up on the couch and be taken care of.

When my grandfather passed, Veterans Bridge, like so many things I shared with him, became a pleasant reminder of the rides we took on my many sick days.

The closing of the old bridge means I won’t be afforded the opportunity to hear those reassuring “K-CHUNK” sounds.  What if I can’t remember exactly how they sound?  What if I lose the memory altogether?

When people die, one of the hardest things for me to accept is that the world continues developing.  I find myself wanting everything to stay just as it was when they were alive, because if things change, it confirms that these people I love are actually dead.  The Veterans Bridge I rode over with Grandpa is gone, and I’m left with nothing more than a fading memory.  I’ll never again hear the bridge crying reassurances that we’re almost home, just like I’ll never again smell my grandfather’s cigar smoke or kiss his rough cheek.

Obviously, I’m a sentimentalist.  But part of the character – part of the history – that Veterans Bridge had accrued was mine.  Just like everything old, it gained meaning over time.  It meant that I was headed to a safe, happy home, where I would be taken care of by a man who wouldn’t be with me for much longer.

The old bridge is now closed off, but still standing.  I have plans to snap some photos of it in the next few days, and will share those when I have them.  I applaud Maine for working to ensure safety on our roadways.  (Sorry I called you jerks up above, city planners!)  I acknowledge the merits of the new structure and know there are many folks elated to be rid of the older one.

A relative remarked on my severe sentimentality once and told me, “Annie, you’ve gotta learn to let go.”  I think I’d rather hold on, continue being a sap, and attaching myself a bit too much to the people and things I love.  It may mean that from time to time I shed a tear for a closing bridge, but it’s part of what makes me a one-of-a-kind Andrea.