Bridge from the Past

I like to joke that – after coming back from the War in France, they couldn’t keep my grandfather down on the farm, and he moved off to the big city.

Parsons, Kansas.

Actually, Kansas City was the nearest city to the Cass County, Missouri farm where my grandpa was raised, but after serving in World War I, southeast Kansas is where he found work constructing a highway bridge.

It was completed shortly after the war, and survived until about 1978, and my mother seems to recall that it was described as a bridge that went from nowhere to no-place. Other than that, there seems to be blank as to exactly where the bridge was located.

I’m wonder if by posting these pictures of the structure, someone with a long memory might be able to identify the bridge, maybe by using the silos in the background as a landmark. I’m fairly certain the bridge was in the Labette County – Neosho County area of southeastern Kansas.

The pen and ink art is another mystery. I believe it was acquired at an arts festival and the artist’s signature box in the lower-right corner reads ORRIN, but I can’t make out whether the rest of the writing is part of his name or a dating mark. Since he is the author of the piece, it would be nice to have that information to include with the framed artwork.

The piece hanging on the office wall is likely a print, so there could be other copies still out there – perhaps hanging on walls of people better informed than I am.

As for the romantic story associated with it… the telephone company used to employ young women as operators – the people who actually connected the person calling with the person being called, through a thing called a switchboard. Back then, if you picked up the telephone “receiver” and held it to your ear, a voice would inquire: Number, please!

When young John – being the loving son that he was – was compelled to call the folks back in Missouri from his job in Kansas, he would stop in the phone office to make the call. There he met a young phone operator and romance “called.”

So while the bridge did not survive into the new millennium, descendents of those associated with its construction have – some more curious than others about a bridge to a family’s past.

Let me know if you recognize it, or if you don’t, maybe you could share it along in hopes of helping solve this little mystery of the Bridge, the Artist, and the Location – which all figure in the stories of young John and Sylvia and a grandson wanting to pin down the family history!

When does Old start?

People often tell me they have an old book. “Belonged to my grandmother,” they’ll say. “It’s falling apart a little, but it’s REALLY old!”

We measure age variously, depending on the who or the what. I drive a twenty-two year old car, but I wouldn’t expect a twenty-two-year-old dog to hop in and hang-tongue from the open window. A twenty-two year old book is just a pup.

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Game of Thrones was published in 1996, for example – the same year my Firebird rolled off the assembly line – and Game of Thrones, the first book in the series by George R. R. Martin, could be considered to be a relatively new story.

170 years ago, and more than a decade before the US Civil War, Bradbury & Evans – a book publishing firm at no. 11 Bouverie Street in London – sent out the first copies of Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation. Dombey and Son, as it is known these days, by Charles Dickens.

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The copy that just arrived in the shop was published in 1848, when the flag had only 30 stars, and the first nugget of gold was found at Sutter’s Mill. To look at it, you’d be hard pressed to believe the book is older than the state of California.

That’s the thing, really. An old book is only as valuable as the demand for it creates. The better a book looks and feels – the better chance it might command a premium price. This copy of Dombey and Son, in a fresh leather binding, is a First Edition copy that anyone would be proud to own.

Those of us who own older cars understand that it takes some doing to keep them roadworthy, and that it is easy enough to have more invested in an old car than it is worth – practically speaking.

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It’s a similar situation with this edition of Dombey. Our price on this copy is more than likely less than what the previous owner paid for the solid leather rebinding. The story, of course, is priceless.

Maybe you can judge a book by its cover…

St. Paddy and the Kid Zone.

It made me think about Kid Fun, back when I was a kid. The poster on the shop window is advertising the ShamRock-the-Rose-District party, scheduled for tomorrow, and – in addition to craft beers and live music – it mentions a Kid Zone.

That probably means a Bouncy-House and some face painting. I’ve not been to a Kid Zone in a while, admittedly, so there could well be video gaming and selfie-snapping as well.

When I was a kid, and owing to my sweet tooth, I was fascinated by the Cake Walk. A chance to win an entire, fresh-baked cake for the price of a ticket. A carnival ticket cheap enough that a cake-loving kid could afford to give it a shot.

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It was easy to recognize the event as a carnival favorite: It didn’t run continuously, so when folks began to sense it was nearing cake-walk-time, they would sidle up to the edge of the gaming circle. Then, when the call went out, all those lingerers would quickly step into an open space on the double-lined ring taped off on the ground. There were only so many numbered spots available and once the circle filled – well, the rest of the hopefuls were out of luck.

The Cake Walk was like a horizontal Wheel of Fortune without the tough questions to answer. The music started and the march began. When the person in front of you moved out of their numbered square, you took that small step forward. We’d march around for the length of that 45-rpm song playing on that little box of a record player.

When the music ended, the finger-crossing began, in hopes that the number to be drawn from the hat would match the digits under your feet. There was always a tension-delay – a pause before the winning number was enthusiastically called out. Time enough to shift your feet a couple of times to look down and verify that – for certain – the number you were standing on was still the same number.

Number Five! And there would be a squeal of delight from that spot on the circle, while everyone else kept their groans to a polite minimum before disappointedly slinking away to another rambunctious activity.

Like the fishing thing. It’s been too long, but I’m sure it had some catchy name. There were fishing poles handed out from the volunteers to the participants, sturdy poles with long heavy twine dangling from the business end. Instead of an actual hook – a clothes pin.

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I’ve admitted to most of you that I was probably the most naïve kid west of the Mississippi, but I even embarrassed myself for that brief instant before I realized there were people standing behind the hanging bed sheets who were clipping prizes to the dangling clothespins.

(I don’t know what I thought: I mean, the fishing pole implied ‘fishing’ and some degree of skill, experience, knowledge… No. You slung the line over the sheet and someone clipped on a prize. Woo.)

So, it was ‘grab bag’ on a stick. My prize?

A 45. Yellow and red label, Capitol Records. The Beatles. I Saw Her Standing There.
It was the beginning of my fan-hood, the predicator to my visits to that storm-cellar of a record department at Hunt’s Department Store, a retail area about twice the size of my bedroom closet.

Being naïve, I later bought with empty-pop-bottle-earned cash, a record – also by the Beatles – on a straight black label. The song was called “My Bonnie,” as in, My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea.

I thought the record was doing most of the lying, since even I could recognize the singing as rock-and-roll short-shrift. I examined the label more closely. Sure enough, The Beatles. And in little, tiny print just below that: “with Tony Sheridan.” In fact, this was a Tony Sheridan record with the early-day Beatles as his studio backing band. The label should have read TONY SHERIDAN (with musicians who became the Beatles).

Beatles or not, it maintained a place in my stack of records for years and years – if only to remind a take-it-at-face-value guy that sometimes it pays to read the fine print.