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Archive for October, 2010

Well Preserved Fear

The quarry road that cuts through the sandstone mountain surrounding Three Springs, Pennsylvania intersects with Pogue Highway near the home of Mildred Brown. During the months of February and March, when a whitewashed little hut made of cinderblocks located outside of Mildred Brown’s house is still being heated by a wood- burning stove; when cold, late winter snows turn to heavy rain, large sandstone pebbles that make up the base of the quarry road roll down Mildred’s drive-way, past the little shed, and right onto what is sometimes a treacherous and slippery Pogue Highway .

Mildred’s husband Frank, a mouthy, loud man with a soft heart used the shed as a carpenter shop, smoking facility and drinking den. Frank died nearly a decade ago, but Mildred still keeps a fire going in Frank’s old stove– perhaps in memory of us all. The children of Three Springs, all of whom seemed somehow related to Frank and Mildred, played basketball on a cement court that Frank built in the 1970’s for his three children. Years ago, there was never a dull moment in Mildred and Frank’s yard. The basketball court was located just behind the little shop where Frank made wooden deer with square bellies– decorative ornaments for use inside country homes. The wooden deer could hold anything from flowers, dish cloths to magazines. He didn’t seem to mind having us around as he carefully carved antlers from wood. We knew when we were being chased by young men, twice our age, to hide behind Uncle Frank’s shop.

By the time Mildred and Franks kids had fully grown, married and moved out, all that was left of their childhood was a basketball court. The lot served as the central playground for the handful of children who still lived ‘uptown’ in the little town of Three Springs in the Big Eighties. The basketball court was the best hiding place in town because behind Franks shed, behind a screen of heavy smoke, one was invisible to the outside world.

In August and September, rattlesnakes so common under the large quarry sandstones atop the mountain, slithered down the quarry road, in search of water. The kids of town avoided play areas like Aunt Mildred’s backyard during those months. Her flower-bed and patio, made of fossilized sandstone cemented together in a most intricate pattern of asymmetrical design, were a perfect sunbathing location for deadly creatures like the Pennsylvania Diamondback Rattler.

Although none of the children of Three Springs remembered the time when trains and large trucks rolled up and down the mountain, carrying payload after payload of high-quality, quartz-like sandstone, Mildred Brown certainly did, and it took her years, after the surface mines of the mountain had closed, to clean all that quarry dust from inside the Brown, two-story, five bedroom house. A basketball in summer did not bounce right, according to Aunt Mildred, and there were always clothes drying on her line. Her wash was always in danger of being dirtied by our bouncing ball. She never seemed to mind though, and always brought us out cups of cold Three Springs tap water when we were thirsty. In Three Springs, it takes a community to raise a child, and no one bats an eye when a little one comes over to play in a world where everyone is cousins.

In the winter, the quarry road was the best location for sleigh riding in Three Springs. On rare occasions, despite the warm, nearly snow-less winters of the early 1980’s, there were deep snows that came sometimes in early March. The heavy snowstorms were often followed by a light, misty rain and then, a sudden cold-blast out of Canada. The result of these storms was a layer of crusty snow that was just like ice. If anyone had the courage to walk all the way to the top of the mountain, up the winding, steep, slick quarry mountain road, the reward was a sleigh ride from Hell that often ended in bloody noses, and plenty of bruises. The danger of riding that quarry road on a sled atop such a slippery surface was amplified by the fact that Pogue Highway rolled right past the base of the mountain, at the foot of the Quarry Road. If ever one of the children speeding along on wooden and metal-rail sleds could not stop on time, there was a chance that a child could lose more than an eye by ploughing right across Pogue Highway and into the path of an oncoming car. Aunt Mildred always insisted that we use her yard and the basket ball court as a place to slow down when we came to the end of our mile-long sled rides, but upon that slick snow, the steering contraptions on our sleds were as useless as sandstone in an age when silicon took over.

When October rolled around and the leaves of the millions of trees that filled the mountain began to show brilliant colors of Fall; just when Uncle Frank lit the stove in his shed for the winter, the children of Three Springs gathered at Aunt Mildred’s again to play basketball until the sun sank beyond the ridge under which the river of town flows– in the direction where the Quarry Road would go if it did not end there, at Aunt Mildred’s, at the intersection of Pogue Highway.

There is a small, cement bridge, no longer than five yards long, where these two roads meet. The bridge is one of just four bridges in Three Springs. In October, the little stream for which the bridge was built and the town gets its name, carried no water; the ground was always dry that time of year. Under that little cement bridge, under the road, we gathered like little field mice. With handfuls of corn we waited until the next car on the way out of Three Springs made its way past Quarry Road. When we estimated, by the sound of an approaching engine, that a car was in front of Aunt Mildred’s, we tossed our corn from both ends of the bridge– sending forth terror upon windshields. We scared the living hell out of the sleepy little drivers in that sleepy little town and always knew where to run when a few drivers hit their brakes hard.

Aunt Mildred and Uncle Frank never reported the children of Three Springs to their parents for ‘corning cars’. It was a Halloween tradition in Three Springs in the 1980’s for children to ‘corn cars’ in the spirit of red-neck holiday. Now that we have all grown, we all are thankful our childish carelessness never resulted in a tragic accident at the foot of Quarry Road.

Last week, a car crash occurred on the bridge at the foot of Quarry Road. The town Tupperware lady and her husband wrecked their car while crossing that little, yard-long bridge. They were both killed.

Aunt Mildred heard the commotion and saw smoke out her big bay window– the large window that faces her driveway and Quarry Road– the place in their dining room where Frank once sat smoking cigarettes when he was still permitted to smoke and drink inside the house, just before the shed was put up.

Mildred, like many ladies living uptown in Three Springs, hosted Tupperware parties in their living rooms over the years, especially in the 1980’s. We all knew Jean Anne, the Tupperware lady. In a sense, she helped to raise us too. At the time of the crash, Mildred was not aware of who was involved in the wreck at the foot of the Quarry Road. She simply lost her breath, as if she always knew something like this was going to happen out there at the foot of her driveway.

It was a ton of little plastic bowls scattered under that bridge that gave away the identity of the driver to Mildred. Those little red and orange lids were unmistakable. When she saw the trademark seals scattered everywhere throughout the ditch where we once played, she simply gasped for air. The wreck was what she had dreaded for all those years as she worried herself sick over squealing car tires and little boys with bloody noses running like mad men through the snow outside her house.

The wreck that Mildred hoped would never happen occurred on a peaceful September evening when there were no kids around. The world can only hope that a well-preserved fear of bridges with kids who corn was not the cause of the wreck last week—years after the days when we scared the daylights out of anyone coming our way.

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