If the 19 original Bridges of Madison County, Iowa (immortalized in a book by the same name by Robert James Waller and its subsequent movie,) were covered, wooden affairs, those that spanned rivers in West Warwick, in an earlier era, were red or green metal, with wooden slats across the roadway. I know that fact, for my street, Pulaski, had one such metal bridge, linking the Crompton center with my neighborhood further up the road that stretched to Coventry.
On a lazy summer evening, I’d walk down the half mile to Red Bridge and hang over the edge, gazing at the water below. It was purple-blue, iridescent in nature, swirling and eddying, in the currents, resembling the bottled liquid children blow to make bubbles.
Sometimes the current created a foam that rose up out of the river and bubbles drifted in the air.
I’d daydream and get lost in the colors, thinking them beautiful. After all, I couldn’t know the substance was dye waste, spewed out into the river by the mill that dyed the cloths and sent them all over the world, to be admired.
After all, I was only a child..a mill town child at that.
Colored water in our streams was a regular happenstance in my town.
Sometimes I’d scamper down the hill from that bridge, to the bank and swirl my stick in the water, interrupting its usual current, fascinated by the rainbow of colors released right above those waters.
In that day, adults never hovered, lest a child fall in the river.
Sometimes drowning occurred as in the Windsor Park neighborhood in 1960, where a mother and her 3-year-old child fell through the ice, in the mill trench behind their home. The entire town came out for the memorial service, aware this could happen to any of us.
Town officials argued for days about the wisdom of building a wall for these trenches, to prevent accidents in future. But no real change came about as the town sank back into life-as- usual, following the immediate shock.
Sometimes, on my walks in summer evenings, I’d hear the crack of baseball bats as the boys played, in Little League, at the ball field aside the Polish Club where neighborhood men gathered, nightly. And sometimes, out of boredom, I’d stroll over to the field and sit on the wooden benches to watch a game that held my attention only briefly.
Both in the church and in organized sports, there were few outlets for girls, in my growing-up years. Quite simply, those of my gender were being raised to take our places as wives and homemakers….
Except homemaking as sole occupation didn’t happen for many of my generation.
Instead, we became the inadvertent “bridge” to a whole new era whose slogans like “We can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan,” promised we could work full time, while we still did the lion’s share of domestic duties.
In reality, we groaned under the weight.
Yes, my generation, women in the early 60’s, were the first en masse to get college educations and take on outside-the-home jobs, full-time. We became the nurses…the teachers…the social workers…the secretaries.
If some of us did enter the business world, to compete against men, we were assigned gender-specific accounts (marketing women were assigned the Pampers or Huggies account because, after all, women knew diapers, while ad men were given the more important, Coca-Cola client.)
The television show “Mad Men” readily depicts the dichotomy of roles and the pecking order that showed women lower on the chain.
That hierarchy would change, too, but that change would come slowly, indeed.
***The bridge above, one of the remaining metal bridges spanning West Warwick’s rivers, is located in Phenix, but it’s closed to traffic.
West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move. In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com