Wednesday, July 22, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XIII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Zimmermansfolly

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Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:18-19

When peace like a river attendeth my way..."

Kris' beautiful soprano voice carried the old hymn as it filled the little church on Big Diomede. The memorial service for Rupert Zimmerman had begun. After successfully building and operating the twin spans across the Diomedes that linked Siberia to Alaska, Zimmerman had embarked on a venture to build a more Southern crossing across St. Lawrence Island. Though the day of the groundbreaking dawned with a chill and an icy rain, the old man had insisted on turning the first spade of earth. He returned to Wales and took sick, never to leave his bed again. At ninety-three years of age, Rupert Zimmerman succumbed to pneumonia.

His wife Pat and daughter Elizabeth were by his side as he passed away, Elizabeth's husband Martin and the next generation of children came in and out of the room quietly, but constantly. The loner who had fought all odds to build what had never been built before now basked once more in the joy of family! Pat tried to keep him on a healthy diet to the very end but Kris sneaked in a big dish of macaroni and cheese anyway. The aroma carried Zimmerman back to memories of big dinners with extended family in the big white farmhouse in Virginia. His eyes closed for the last time after a grandchild had done something naughty in the room... prompting a scolding from her mother, while reminding Zimmerman of a similar incident of shared complicity with a favorite cousin! Pat saw through her tears, she thought, a smile... no, was it a mischievous grin?, then the old man was at last at peace.

Kris fought tears as she brought the hymn to a close. Her husband rose to give, or so everyone thought, the eulogy. Though his eyes were red, his face had a look of mischief upon it as he produced a letter. "We are here to remember Rupert Zimmerman, a man who always had to have the last word. Well, true to form, Mr. Zimmerman handed this to me a few days ago." Some people chuckled quietly. Greene continued: "Rupert Zimmerman's story is an unusual one, to be sure. No doubt he will go down in history for his foresight and perseverance in building one of the great wonders of the world. That, Mr. Zimmerman felt, would be a gross oversimplification."

Dear Friends, and those who would never call me friend, dare I say you who will never find it in your heart to forgive me,

I do not want to be enshrined as the hero I am not, nor do I wish to be simply reviled as the monster I indeed was. Please humor a dying man and listen to my story:"

Zimmerman began with a description of the day he and Martin O'Malley had camped on the mountain at Wales, having secured the capital and commitment necessary to build his great bridge. They'd brought a large quantity of Guinness along to toast their new venture. Staring across the Strait at midnight, they began to raise their glasses in salutes, both lofty and unprintable, to the great work they were about to embark on. They succeeded in getting terribly drunk and setting their tent on fire, destroying their provisions. Ashamed to drag themselves back into Nome early, they slept under the stars and ate the flora that they'd learned about in survival training. They'd concocted a story about getting very sick but Elizabeth knew her father and her husband too well to buy it. To her credit, she'd let them keep it.

Elizabeth was the Zimmerman's youngest daughter, but she was the one who was kindred spirit to her dad. Pat rolled her eyes thinking of how they'd conspired to bring ice cream into the house time after time during her girlhood. Rupert and Elizabeth had hiked some of the Appalachian Trail together and they had formed a bond that had carried well into their working life. Zimmerman had gone though a slew of assistants before bringing Elizabeth in saying: "Try this and see if you like it, if you do we'll make a job for you here." Elizabeth had the uncanny ability to read her father. She could call him on a questionable decision but knew him well enough to tolerate his seeming to follow rabbit trails. More than once she'd 'reconstructed' documents that he'd misplaced or simply forgotten rather than make a scene demanding them.

She and Martin had both put their foot down when Zimmerman had demanded the Big Diomede Ship Crossing Suspension Bridge not run over what he'd originally budgeted. Cost overruns were threatening to stop the project and investors were ready to bail, but the cheaper span resulted in a short suspension span that rose and fell rapidly, creating a 'blind hill' for drivers approaching the top of the arc. Zimmerman was never much for saying: "I can't afford it.", but his clear proclamation: "Bad bridge or no bridge." was something even Zimmerman's closest colleagues, his son-in-law and daughter couldn't argue with.

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(to be continued) [click to read]

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2 comments:

4worshipatwells said...

Thank you so so much!! Love it! Your friend, "Sweet Possum Giblets" More! Encore! Encore!

Bob K. said...

Thank you, "Sweet Possum Giblets." I am glad you enjoyed this. Please look for a new installment each Wednesday morning.

Catch any you missed Here. {click to read]