A Fourth First
Nowadays Crossing the Bay is Drudgery;
Once It Was Adventure
by Alice Butler Bradshaw
It was a hot Fourth of July afternoon as I lay on the beach at Sandy Point State Park watching small children jump over the waves as the tide rushed in, then slowly receded. The incoming waves nearly touched my feet. I pulled the towel closer to my body as a whiff of cool wind whipped over my face.
I was in full sight of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and I could hear the roar of traffic over the lapping waves. But I wasnt thinking of today, only of yesterday. So many years ago, Bob and I were stuck in traffic like this. Then there was no bridge, only the ferry to carry the ever-increasing flow of traffic.
Many years ago on another unforgettable Fourth of July, Bob had a job working on the new bridge being built to span the Chesapeake Bay
Daddy, you promised a picnic, where are we going? Pat and Sue had been playing outside. Now they followed their father into the kitchen, where I was peeling potatoes for potato salad. After the picnic, wed take them to see fireworks.
Wouldnt you rather go to the Eastern Shore to visit Aunt Minibel and Uncle Walter? Bob asked the girls.
Oh yes, maybe we can ride the ponies, both chorused.
Run, pack your clothes while I tell Mommy.
Bob grabbed my waist, pulling my apron off and tousling my hair.
Teasingly, I pulled away. What are you up to this time? I asked, for I knew from his mood he was up to his daredevil trick again.
The children loved visiting the farm and were ready before I was, of course. The ferry was an adventure, too. They loved going up on the deck and watching the waves as the ferry sped through the water. If there was a storm, the whitecaps piled atop each other like a foaming white cascade, then tumbled back into the Bay.
As we climbed into our 1948 Ford pick-up, Bob said, its late now. Maybe the traffic will be eased up.
But to our dismay, traffic waiting for the ferry stretched for miles. Some passengers were standing outside their cars, trying to cool off. Mothers were soothing their babies in soft voices.
Honey, lets go back. Its so hot waiting in line, I said as I pulled on Bobs arm. We can still have the picnic and fireworks at home.
Bob drove through a gap in the traffic and onto a side road that led to the Bay Bridge, which was nearly finished. I knew he was on another adventure, but what?
Bob drove up to the gated entrance of the bridge. He signaled the guard, who opened the gate. Then I knew he had it all planned ahead.
We drove through the gate, the guard ahead of us.
What are you doing? I demanded of my husband.
Were going over the bridge, Bob answered.
What! I shrieked. The bridge isnt finished. Well fall through.
Oh no, my husband said. Its safe.
If you want to drown, go ahead. But I wont go, and I wont let the children, I cried in desperation. Stop the car!
You cant get out now. Were already on the bridge. He smiled calmly as if this were an everyday thing.
Sure enough, we were on the first span. I didnt dare any more protests. I was frozen, incapable of moving, my arms around the children, a silent prayer on my lips.
The guard kept his truck at a snails pace ahead of us. It was pitch dark, and even Bob might have been a little concerned. It showed in his face, but only for a second.
Slowly we neared the center span. I could see the ferry like a tiny toy in the water below. It seemed like a miniature of lights floating on the surface of the Bay. Then we stopped at the top of the bridge, and Bob and the guard both got out to look at the view. The children were asleep in my arms, unaware of the danger I felt.
Soon Bob was back in the car, and to my relief we were moving at that snails pace again, nearing the last span. Bob was quiet now, his hands steady but firm, guiding the car. I didnt dare say any more for fear of knocking him off his guard.
At last I felt the firm road under the tires, and I knew we must be on solid ground again. Once more, the guard got out and walked back to our car. Well lady, he said, you are the very first passengers to cross over the bridge.
He laughed and shook hands with Bob. Have a good holiday, Bob. See you soon.
Honey, you are a brick, Bob said. His grin was sheepish. I just wanted to give you one more adventure to remember me by.
Then he confessed that cars had been going over the bridge for days. I knew it wasnt dangerous, he said, or I wouldnt have taken you and the kids over.
Annapolis writer Alice Bradshaw turns 100 in November.