Covered Bridges - "A Bridge That Joins Two Shores"

A Bridge that joins two shores

We seem to yearn for a simpler time. A time when the days were longer and nights were quieter. A time when summers would drag lazily on for what seemed an eternity and winters meant snowfall and warm cozy fires crackling away in the fireplace. We long for the times when our families would tell stories about how life was in the early years.
What ever happened to those times? Where did the "good 'ol days" go?

We are all so fast-paced these days. Our world is getting smaller. It's really strange that, just a few years ago, a person would have to actually go someplace to know what it looks like. And now, you can see places in front of you that you never dreamed possible. Someday, maybe we will be able to get back to the basics. Generally speaking, people are resisting the changes of modern society. I am going to make a resolution for this next year to look back to the less pressured days of the past and to give every effort to keep the knowledge of simple days alive in my heart and share it with friends and family.

It's getting late and I should probably turn-in for the evening.

Alonzo Hem

30th day of December, 1919

Come forward to Sunday, September 7, 1997

I decided to share this excerpt from my great, great grandfathers journal just to illustrate how some things haven't changed. We all want to have the good old days. The problem is we spend so much time searching for the good old days, that we overlook the day we are living!


Even though I'm sifting in my climate controlled house, with my digital pager at my side, a cellular phone at arms reach, and a Compact Disc player projecting soft New Age music in the background, the fact is, fifty years from now, someone will reminisce about today.


Everyday, we make new memories. It's our responsibility to create stories that our children can tell their children, and so on. So now it's my turn to deliver another story to memory lane.


It was seven years ago when I was courting my young sweetheart, Jodi. A Jeep was our buggy, and the back country roads was the backdrop for our adventures. We would leisurely drive the country roads and stop at old school houses, scenic views of the hillsides, and our favorite of all, covered bridges. We had the good fortune of having several covered bridges in our area.


It didn't matter what the weather was, because we were heading for the shelter of the bridges. On rainy days of spring, we would stand inside the old bridges and listen to the soft whisper of the raindrops on the roof overhead. Some of the roofs were slate shingles, some were wood shingles. It didn't matter, each bridge made its own song.


When the summer sun would blaze on the blistering hot pavement, the cool, crisp stream babbling by just a few feet beneath the floorboards of the bridge, would allow gentle breezes to drift in. The soft wind caressed our overheated, exhausted bodies and we could seek a peaceful afternoon in an otherwise uncomfortable, humid south eastern Ohio day in August.


The fall...oh, the fall. Nothing had more beauty than a valley full of color from autumns' spectral dance. Nestled in the depth of the valley where the base of two hills met, was home to a covered bridge. It didn't matter if the bridge had recently been painted and restored, or if it was worn and battered, it still invited us to visit its friendly structure.


On cold, December days, blanketed in snow, the walls stopped the brisk winter breezes. The comfort of the bridge would seem to make the temperature just a few degrees warmer.


Our journeys were filled with peace and tranquility, as well as excitement and adventure. We would stand for hours on the bridges just gazing out at the countryside. Other visits to the bridge would fascinate us as we read the inscriptions on the truss's documenting how high the water reached during many floods of years gone by. We were amazed by the strength and durability of these bridges, withstanding challenges, year after year.


Occasionally, some of the local elders we met would tell us stories of how the bridge played a part in their families history. The bridge may have been a meeting place for the community to discuss an upcoming harvest season. Children would swim in the cool shaded stream below. Farmers would deliver their produce to a canal barge through a small door in the floor. Lovers would meet in the privacy of the bridges' cover to embrace or sneak a kiss.


These simple structures were just an extension of our roadways. A bunch of timbers and a lot of engineering, but still just a bridge. How could they be so significant to our lives?


They were more than just a bridge, they joined two shores.


Families may never have been able to travel to visit or trade with others without these bridges. A bridge allowed the farmer to get to market, the brother to help brother by allowing his plowing equipment to travel across otherwise impassible rivers. Through all of this, the bridges would withstand all of the adversities of time and nature. How could you not have a place in your heart for covered bridges? How could you not have passion for such beauty?


Our trips through the country resulted in the kindling of a love all our own. We traveled for miles to take photographs and to have picnic lunches in the shadows of a scenic bridge. All the time, we were getting closer in companionship. Just like a finely built bridge, timber by timber, piece by piece, we were constructing a union between two lifestyles. No matter how different our upbringing, no matter how separate our lifestyles, we were beginning to join the shores of our lives.


It doesn't cost anything to visit the bridges, so I was able to secretly begin saving money for a ring to propose a solid union between my sweetheart and myself. It was fall and the nights were getting longer and cooler. My girl was finishing her college education and had to drop off a final exam to one of her classrooms on campus at The Ohio University/Lancaster branch. There was a restored bridge on this campus, (the John Bright II) that had recently had lights installed to the interior.


Because it was tucked away from traffic and people, it was the perfect atmosphere for my plans!


After she dropped off her test papers, I convinced Jodi to go for a late evening walk to the nearby covered bridge. She was a little reluctant to walk across the dark field, wet with the evening dew, to reach the bridge that night.


Now, just the day before, I asked her father for her hand in marriage, and I had this ring in my pocket that I had saved money for many weeks to obtain, and I wasn't about to let this opportunity pass! I told her this was a special bridge and I wanted a closer look. I even told her I would carry her across the field if I had to! Ultimately, she agreed to go.


We finally were on our way. My heart was pounding, my hands were sweating, and the ring that I had concealed in my jacket pocket seemed to weigh a ton!


We approached the bridge, hand-in-hand. By the time we reached the bridge, I had gone over the "script" in my mind a thousand times. I was ready to "pop the question!" Just as we reached the bridge, I couldn't believe my eyes. Out here in the middle of a dark wet field, on a cool fall evening, where there was supposed to be nothing but the stars and moonlight, another couple was on the other end of the bridge!


I had not come this far to leave without attending to my agenda. Jodi, having no idea of my plans, thought we should just leave. She didn't want to offend this other couple. I completely rejected that thought and attempted to "out-stay" the other couple competing for privacy within this quaint bridge!


I really didn't deserve the bridge anymore than they did, but I had to finish my plan!


After what seemed an eternity, the other couple drifted off into the darkness. The stage was set and my performance was about to begin! I walked my sweetheart to the center of the bridge, turned to her and went down to one knee. I took her hand and asked her if she would make me the happiest man on earth by marring me.


In the rush of anticipation, I had forgotten to reach in my pocket for the ring. She thought that I was kidding! She said "Oh get up and stop fooling around." I then realized I didn't hand her the ring so, after fumbling awkwardly for it, I finally produced the small (affordable) dazzling diamond! She then knew I wasn't joking and began to cry. She graced me with a tearful YES!


The rest is obvious. We were married on September 7th, 1991. We have continued our trips to the covered bridges and enjoy traveling to remote areas to explore these relics of history.


I wanted to have our own personal connection with covered bridges so I began searching for any available bridge I could have moved to the stream behind our house. After an exhausting search, I found very little availability and a lot of red tape.


Our fifth year anniversary was approaching and I really wanted to do something with a bridge. You see, the gift to give on the fifth anniversary is wood! What a perfect gift idea! Well, since I couldn't locate a bridge, I had one last possibility... I would build our own bridge!


That is exactly what I did! I studied the truss systems, abutments and flooring structures. I drew up the plans and began construction in July of our fifth year of marriage. On Friday, September 6th, 1996, I put the last nail in the bridge and it was ready for dedication on our anniversary the next day, September 7th.


We had a big party and invited friends and family to share this special occasion. The weather was perfect, the day was great and we finished off the evening with a good old fashioned bonfire. A fantastic celebration of love with the perfect symbol of our relationship - a new covered bridge!


On this bridge, a plaque hangs that reads:

The Hem Bridge
"A bridge that joins two shores"

Jim Hem & Jodi Hem

Married September 7th, 1991

Bridge dedicated September 7th, 1996


Let the memories begin.

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