The Bridge

When I was a little kid growing up in Colorado, one of my favorite things was whenever we would drive out to visit my great-grandparents on their farm. I was only 4-5 years old at the time, but I always looked forward to these trips. We lived in a small suburban town, so everything on that extremely old-style ranch always seemed otherworldly and fascinating.

From the fields of alfalfa that you could run through and leave trails of flattened grass behind you, to the cornstalks that seemed to loom miles over the heads of me and my younger brother, to the family of jackrabbits that hung around the place (our Uncle Carl would sometimes tell us if we ran fast enough we could catch one -- sending the two of us on pointless chases again and again), to Uncle John, who was deaf -- which was endlessly fascinating and weird to me -- probably because I'd never encountered anyone like that before, and it didn't make a lot of sense to me why he talked the way he did.

Perhaps that sounds a bit cruel to read now, but it honestly was one of the things I really looked forward to whenever we traveled out there.
But by far, the best thing of all about the place was The Bridge.
It was a big farm. I remember that much (although being so young, it makes me wonder if my childhood recollections are ever to scale). There were different areas for different crops. Of course, I know now that the real income for the place came from the single oil well that the government paid the family a fee to operate on their land, but at the time I was continually amazed by the fact that no matter how many fields you walked through on the place, there was always one more waiting to be explored behind it.

Somewhere along that line a makeshift bridge had been built over the irrigation channels to get people from one acre to another. It was more like an overpass than anything, but they had handrails up for safety -- so to me it looked like a bridge over a little river.
And my great-grandfather would let us pee off it.
I have no idea how this particular tradition started. Being the parent of a little boy myself, I am well aware that the timing of nature's call at that age can be a sudden and virtually unavoidable thing, regardless of how recently you've been in the bathroom beforehand -- so I can only assume that there was a fateful decision made to walk around the farm one day where either me or my brother suddenly realized that we had to go really bad at some point where we could have easily been miles away from any sort of bathroom fixtures. The solution was probably an obvious one in my great-grandfather's mind -- but for two suburban kids, the concept of whipping it out and whizzing into the first available body of water was nothing short of revolutionary thinking.

So much so that it became the single thing that we actually looked forward to doing the most every time we visited them.

I mean, it wasn't like we went up to my parents and said "Hey, I've gotta take a leak, lets go visit Grandpa" But rest assured, any time we were at the farm we would beg and plead to "go see the bridge" which would always end up with an unprompted need to go when we got there.

It's strange sometimes how memories work. I mean, as many years back as this was -- I clearly remember this. But I also know that it's a remembrance built partially from my own experiences, yet partially built from my parent's stories about it.
Or more specifically, my parent's arguments about it
Because as silly as it sounds, pre-teen public urination was a concept that my mother simply wouldn't abide.

Equal parts disgust and embarrassment probably played into this -- but as I think on it now with an adults perspective it seems pretty clear that there was a lot more going on here than just a mother's horror that her children enjoyed acting like dirty farm kids and dropping trou in public. It seems more obvious to me now than ever that a huge part of this stemmed from an unspoken power struggle of sorts that was going on at the time between my great-grandfather and the woman who married the boy he had essentially raised.

The first time it happened there probably wasn't a problem. It was most-likely an issue of logistics and necessity. Of wanting to avoid the incredible hassle that is pants-wetting without the benefit of adequate amounts of extra pants on hand.

But looking back now it's hard not to think that all the times after that were a line in the sand that my grandfather wouldn't budge on, if not an open challenge not only her authority and capacity as a parent, but perhaps more importantly her overall level of cool as a person.

As amazing a woman as my mother was during her life, she was always really uptight as a parent. I suppose all moms are like that sometimes, but mine always seemed aggressively (read: annoyingly) so. My dad was always a lot more laid back, which to me always translated to mean that when it came to fun things like riding my tricycle beyond the edge of the driveway or crossing the street in our neighborhood my dad seemed to trust me a lot more than my mom ever did.

Not that my dad was blind to the possible dangers that the outside world presented to his sons, but more that he was more willing to let us walk on the edge than she ever was (or at the very least a lot better at fooling us into thinking that he wasn't two steps away and watching our every step while we believed we were tempting the fates).

Dad let you sit in his lap and steer the car while he worked the pedals. Dad put the dogs leash on the handlebars of your big wheel so the family pet could pull you around. Dad let you hit nails with a hammer, or stand over a hot pan so you could help him flip pancakes.
Mom always freaked out about these things.
They'd argue about it. Disagree. Out-and-out fight. Maybe it was short-sighted of me, but it always made her seem bossy. Uncool. Afraid.

Looking back I guess I can sort of understand her logic now, but knowing the kind of fearless "try anything once" kind of woman she was in almost every other situation -- it's almost more annoying to me now to realize just how much of a buzzkill she could be when I was growing up.

I mean, it wasn't like I was actually driving the car. It wasn't like dad ever left me alone with a hammer in my hands (or let me hit a nail that wasn't already securely pounded into the wood) -- but I didn't know that. All I knew was that he gladly let me do the same things he did and seemed to understand my need to want to prove to him that I could do those things -- and perhaps more importantly, never really got mad if I messed up once or twice along the way.
My dad was the one in my life who always made me feel like anything was possible.
The odd thing is that when it comes to actual personalities, my father is actually the reserved one. My mother was the brash talker, the one who told the rude jokes and liked to sing in public. Mom protested causes. Mom fought with her bosses. She was the one who liked roller coasters and silly hats, the one who would put molted beetle shells on her nose and scare the other kids.
I always felt like she wanted me to be famous (and was always sorta disappointed that I wasn't).
I mean, my dad has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever known -- but he's a quiet man. He stands on his principles, and has his own ways of rebelling against things that he doesn't like, but he's never been the one to make the big leaps or take the big risks.
He's always just wanted me to find a way to be happy.
But he was the one who let me drive the car. And she hated it when I peed off the bridge.

Not surprisingly, I find myself more often than not parenting like him. But as my years go by, I realize more and more just how much certain facets of her personality live in me.

You don't get to choose your parents. And there's really no way to know how their presence (or lack thereof) will affect who you are when you grow up. I know guys whose father's were never there who are probably ten times the dad I'll ever be. I know women who never really knew their dad who seem better adjusted and more willing to take on the world than many of the people I've known whose families were lucky enough to stay intact and be supportive their entire lives.
Hell, I know a man who was raised by the same two parents
I was who has turned out to be half the mess I am sometimes.
But what I find strange is that in a lot of cases we don't always really know who these people who raise us are. Not the way we know or understand our friends. The difference between my endearment for the strong-minded, well-read, independent and above all fearless person that my mother was -- and the feelings of stifling confinement that I usually associate with growing up under that same person's frequently overbearing and occasionally oblivious wing is something that continually puzzles me.

But the realization that my great-grandfather allowed, hell sometimes even encouraged us to pee of that bridge with what now seems like the specific intention of pissing her off a little by calling bullshit on some of her holier-than-thou sensibilities is something that (despite the people involved) makes a lot more sense to me every day I'm alive.
Not to mention the fact that if you were quick enough, you could write your name on the water.

[Listening to:  Lifer"No Need" ]