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Pumpkins on the Bridge

I live in an shuttered mill town; the mill closed nearly 40 years ago. Many of the places my children explored while growing up were forbidden relics. They would creep up the rotting stairs of the county’s first cinema, no bigger than many home theatres, to view the still-open projectionist’s log. They would hunt snakes and crawfish under the old general store. They even made excursions into the old mill itself, until it burned sown in a succession of surprisingly large fires. Those fires were probably the dire consequence f misguided environmental policy—of which I may write on another day.

There is another old relic at the heart of town, one that the state and its rational engineers tried to destroy: the old bridge. The old bridge was built in the 20’s, when Bynum was the end of the paved road. A cement roadbed still extrudes from the north end of the bridge up to the second general store where it ends in blacktop.

When 15-501 was paved, it swerved to miss the town, crossing the Haw River just upstream. Some old timers claim they avoided the town so folks could drive from Chapel Hill to Pittsboro without being shot at. That was a lucky break, because it preserved a quiet community and the one lane bridge crossing the river by the old mill.

When the State was planning to make 15-501 a divided highway, they first scheduled the old bridge for destruction. Tear it down, make it bigger, and folks can drive through the town during the highway construction. This, of course, would years later still encourage impatient folk to speed through town to get past a slow school bus on the highway. The free-ranging flash crowds of dogs that characterize Bynum would have been quickly culled. So the unincorporated town protested, eventually successfully

In a fit of petulance, the State next announced that they would tear the old bridge town, cutting the town in two. Not up to standards. One lane bridges are outmoded—you might have to wait on one end for the other driver to cross. Finally, after more protest, the State relented, but still insisted on blocking each end to prevent traffic crossing.

PumpkinHappy.jpgIn central Carolina, there is a tradition of placing jack-o-lanterns on country bridges at Halloween. Higher speeds on newer roads have made that dangerous. New designs offer no ledge to place the pumpkins on. But the old Bynum Bridge, with its squared off concrete sides, can still hold and display the giant squash. Now blocked off, a virtual 1/8th of a mile walking plaza, the old bridge has become Pumpkin Display Gallery for the whole county.

Last night there must have been 80 or so carved vegetables. A few were traditional, albeit better than I ever manage. Others offered radical designs, or were carved with linoleum cutters, and awls, and who knows what to produce translucent cave drawings, and demonologies, and even nature scenes. Some were influenced by Bosch, or Durer, or the rock painting of the Anastasi, or the folk art of the Mexican Day of the Dead. There was even a small can of pumpkin pie filling with a votive candle in front.

PumpkinDemon.jpgLater in the evening, two nameless individuals began drumming at the end of the bridge. There were wearing costumes with a line of glow-sticks sewn down each limb, making a read stick figure, and a blue stick figure that danced, and drummed, in the dark. When their performance was over, they vanished into the dark. Their performance made a fine end to the evening.

It was a triumph of local good will and creativity over the single purpose engineering of the Department of Transportation. Halloween evening was just one other experience of what makes Bynum a special place to live and raise a family.


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