Though there are many covered bridges in Albert County, we’d never made the trek to Crooked Creek # 3. There’s the 45 Road, Sawmill Creek, Midland Road, and others -- we’d even ventured out to King’s County to visit more of those long-standing icons of New Brunswick. But the more strenuous hike up the old logging road to see #3 kept putting me off; I love scenery, but not exertion and sweating.
Naturally I’d read all about the history of the bridges, but it’s the local stories that have been told in the post office lobby, standing with ice cream or coffee in front of Crooked Creek Convenience Store at the corner, or shared while shuffling the deck at card parties.
It’s the old-timers that have the best tales. “If it isn’t true, it ‘oughta be!”, “Well, I heard it from a man who knows a fella who sez it’s true!”, and “Anyway, take it as you hear it; my salt shaker don’t spill”.... So who knows what story is factual, augmented, entirely made up, embellished; they’re the fabric of the stories of our rural county living.
Before heading out, we stopped at the Buddha Bear coffee roasting café in Alma, and asked for extra sugar -- “I’ll need the energy today!” I told Peter, one of the owners. When he asked what our plans for the day were, I explained our destination, shared my enthusiasm for exploring the last on our list of Albert County covered bridges, and asked if he’d been there yet.
Then I heard a harrumph at the coffee bar, and looked over to see an unfamiliar, older gray-haired man, with both hands wrapped around his mug of coffee, “Silly pursuits.” he muttered. I dropped my shoulders, and tsked. “Don’t say that!” I cheerfully responded, “It’s a beautiful fall day, and we’re off on a fun little adventure; you’ll spoil it.”
“SPOIL IT?!” he barked back, “I’ll tell you about spoiling things…..how ‘bout a spoiled LIFE?”
Not knowing how to respond, we just watched him. It was a little un-nerving, and we certainly didn’t want to engage with a hostile curmudgeon just as we were about to set out for a fun-filled day, but something seemed sad and lonely about him. So we hesitated a moment more to see if what he’d say next.
He shifted a little, looked up slightly, and quickly glanced back and forth at both of us a few times. “You married?”
“Yes! 36 years ago this week, actually” I was proud to answer. “That’s why we’re off this morning, an annual fall-colour outing to celebrate.”
“Yeah, well I was married once a long time ago -- longer than that in fact, and he looked back to his coffee cup with what looked like an odd mix of resentment and longing. He made me nervous, so I nudged us along and said, “We’d better get going….” and he said quietly said, “Oh, sure, you love birds head off to that Bridge # 3 …. You’re so young, you probably don’t even know why it’s named that”…...looking up he met our faces, looked boldly, challengingly, and waited; his silence demanding a response.
…..”um, no I guess not, really…..”
He leaned back, picked up his coffee cup, took a sip, and started a story we’ll never forget.
I was young, about to be married, working in the woods, logging, hauling timber, cutting lumber, and it was the loneliest work I’d ever done. Long exhausting days followed by dark cold nights spent in solitude that seemed even longer than the day.
For my wedding, I hauled myself out of the woods at the end of the work season, crossed the Crooked Creek Bridge -- that was the name of it in those days -- ready to see my girl, get married, and end my days and nights of loneliness.
He took another sip of coffee, nodding, remembering….he looked at us again, we looked at each other wondering if we should interrupt and just head off, but his look compelled us to stay for more of his narration.
In those days, we hauled our loads out of the woods by ground-skidding. Horse teams, strong men, grappling, block and tackle, it was crummy work -- see what I did there? The crummy was the wagon that took the crew out to the work site….yeah, you folks have no idea…..I was a feller, all right -- but when I came out of the solitude of the woods, I was a son-of-a-***** of a fella. -- excuse me, for that last one, Ma’am”
He gave me a wink, and raised his cup to me for the apology, then to Peter for a refill on his coffee.
Well, that job got me enough to pay for my wedding and for a horse, so I bought it and hooked that old filly right up to our wagon, said “I DO”, and took my new bride out for our first ride together. She cuddled right up to me on the box seat, and it was right nice. But just as we were about to cross that Crooked Creek Bridge, that old filly reared, and jostled us all about, nearly tossing us out, and I worked hard to get her under control.
As he described the incident, it looked like he was still holding the reins in one hand while holding on to his now invisible bride. He bucked and jerked still seated on his bar seat, and we all felt the relief as he described the calm after the struggle.
“That’s ONE” he said.
Well, we continued on, all calmed down and back again my dear bride slid close next to me, and just as we exited the other side of the bridge, didn’t that old horse do the same thing again…
Now he stood, pantomiming the actions, grimacing at the strength it took, his dark eyes were fully recalling the danger, the power of that horse, and the skill required to rein it back to safely righting their wagon.
He sat back down, winded, took another sip of coffee, and said, “That’s TWO” and loudly clanked his cup back on the wooden bar as he sharply said the word TWO.
Well, by now, I’d had my fill of this uncooperative old horse, and decided to return it back to get my money back so I turned that horse right back around and headed back across the bridge to go home …. He paused in thought. Yup, so back through that bridge we go, and by now, naturally, my bride….she’s disappointed, and scared, and all discombobulated, and don’t you know it just as we’re about to go into that covered bridge, doesn’t she do it again,
The old man JUMPS up, startling us, and he WHINNIES loudly! We look over at Peter, who is captivated by what’s going on, and we are immediately redirected to the antics of this old-timer galloping, bucking, rearing, snorting, and pulling, imitating the horse’s actions this time instead of his own to control it. We watched, wide eyed until he sat down.
He mopped his brow, caught his breath, sipped his coffee and quietly, flatly, resignedly stated,
And then he slowly and dramatically silently play acted; pulling a gun out of his pocket, loading a bullet, cocking the imaginary gun, aimed precisely away from us, and yelled,
We ALL startled.
I shot that horse, and let her fall dead down the embankment. We walked home in silence, leaving the wagon behind.
Thinking that was the end of the story, we grimaced. Looking at Peter, back to each other, then around the cafe -- still no one else had come in, and it was awkward.
Well, it doesn’t end there, you see, when we got home, my new bride, she pouted and sulked. I put on a fire, set the kettle on for a boil. She just sat there. Wouldn’t say a word. Shock, I suppose.
We had some tea, and then I went round to the neighbour’s to borrow his horse to retrieve my wagon, and didn’t she insist that she come along, still quiet as a mouse. We walked that horse back up the road to the bridge, and there was my wagon, and that’s when she first spoke again.
He reached into his back pocket for his wallet and took out a 10 dollar bill, laying it on the bar securing it under his nearly empty cup. Then he opened his wallet wide to show us a very old black and white photo of a plain woman in a simple wedding dress holding a small nosegay.
That’s how she looked on our wedding day. The day that she left me at Crooked Creek Covered Bridge # 3.
You see when she finally broke her silence she cried, she nagged, she whined, she complained, she just wouldn’t stop talking saying things like …..”what kind of a honeymoon is this? First, your impatience with an old horse, your temper, walking all that way on the muddy road in my beautiful dress….she rattled on and on. Oh I listened. I took it all. When she got eventually got winded, and fell silent again, I simply said to her, I said.
Jane Chrysostom continues to share her love and devotion to local people and landmarks of Albert County.