Several days ago I opened my facebook page and found myself staring at a photo that was ever so familiar to me; an old photo of the Luke/Piedmont bridge. This photo was shot from somewhere above the bridge on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River, along the B&O railroad tracks.
For those of you not from this area, I should explain that this bridge, like the Westernport and Keyser bridges, spanned the Potomac River, allowing easy access back and forth between the states of Maryland and West Virginia.
Someone had written the names of the states on either side of the bridge in the photograph, although they had marked them backwards; the side marked Maryland was really the West Virginia side of the bridge.
Unless you grew up in Luke or Beryl, you probably weren't that familiar with this bridge, but for those of us who walked across it almost daily, it was a large part of our childhood.
Back in the day, very few teens had our own vehicles in which to get to town. Sometimes one of our parents (if they had a car) would drive us "downtown," with the understanding that we'd probably find our own way home, or walk back home in a group, as we usually did.
Walking home at nights from Green's or Miss Puzzy's, the local hangouts for teens located in Westernport, we usually had friends to walk with, although there were times when my best friends walked home with a boy, leaving the odd man (or girl, in this case) to fend for ourselves. It was an unspoken rule between us that you didn't infringe on their time alone with a boy by asking if you could walk home with them. The look that passed between us whenever one of us found ourselves in this situation was, "Sorry about your luck!"
After leaving the last street light on Fairview Street in Piedmont, you had to pass by several old wooden garages that were built on the edge of the hill above the B&O railroad tracks, before walking along the sidewalk to the bridge. There were no houses in this area; just lots of dark shadows and frightening sounds coming from the paper mill located on the Maryland side of the bridge.
It was scary enough when you were walking with a group of your friends, but when you were forced to walk this alone, it was terrifying!
I can remember beginning to run, just after passing under the last street light, and then picking up speed as I sped past the garages towards the bridge. By the time I reached the concrete part of the bridge, I was going like greased lightning, not even pausing to take a good breath until I finally reached the end of the bridge on Cromwell Street in Luke. The walk along the side of the bridge was wooden, and I soon grew to recognize every squeak of each board that my feet touched as I ran across it with pounding heart and feet.
Once I reached the street lights of Luke and the approaching guard shack of the paper mill, I knew I was safe. The mill guards always kept an eye out for us and I knew I could now slow down and take my time on the last leg of my journey past the mill and across the Western Maryland railroad tracks to Pratt Street where I lived.
Although we often imagined that someone was chasing us as we hurried across the bridge at nights, as far as I know none of us were ever accosted by anyone. Fortunately, we lived in a much safer time and place.
One evening, while it was still daylight, two of us were walking down Cromwell Street towards the bridge when a white-haired gentleman in an old car stopped and asked, "Do you girls want a ride to town?"
Looking at each other, we both shrugged our shoulders and finally replied, "I guess."
As soon as we had gotten into the car we knew we had made a mistake. The old guy smelled liked a brewery! Looking at each other with a terrified look on our faces, we immediately changed our story about going to town.
"Actually, "we told him, "We're just going to Purdy's Store to get a loaf of bread."
After slowing down and finally stopping the weaving old car, we hopped back out onto the sidewalk and heaved a sigh of relief.
"Who was that?" I asked my friend.
"I don't know." I thought you knew him!" she replied.
Each of us had thought that the other one knew the inebriated old guy.
Of course, this was one story we never divulged to our parents. After that experience we gave up trying to find an easy way to town, deciding instead to just walk across the Luke bridge on our way to adventures in the big town of Westernport.
The old bridge is gone now, with only the concrete abutments remaining to show that it was ever there. Nobody walks to town anymore, and we wouldn't let them if they wanted to. Life is much different, but that doesn't mean that it's better than it used to be.
Our generation grew up in the best of times. Like the old bridges of yesterday, our time has come and gone, replacing teen hangouts with smart phones and hi-tech computers. I feel sorry for the kids of this generation that will never experience the innocent fun that we had…..
back in the day.