Wednesday, September 23, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XXII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision." -- James McNeill Whistler

Perhaps the most sincere praise Rupert wrote in his last letter was for those rare people of vision like his wife Pat, Kris and her husband, and his own extended family, who while they didn't build great, works like bridges, built perhaps even greater links to worlds of noble aspiration! Their lives were to him a continual challenge.

He didn't want to embarrass his oldest granddaughter, but carefully crafted his words so that the young woman would have no doubt as to how much he loved her. Anna's oldest child was indeed the successor to Martin O'Malley as chief engineer of what would soon be THREE spans linking East and West. That this child had chosen to follow the path she did of her own passion was a great joy to the old man. Even more of a joy to him was the knowledge that he had cut her no slack in getting there. She'd EARNED her place. He was truly sorrowful that he could have no more interaction with her in her career. "But, it is time for me to move on..." the old man wrote, "to a place I believe contains even greater wonder and inventiveness. I humbly dare to believe that I shall press my feeble hand into the scarred hand of the Master!"

Again, I thank you, Jon and Kris, for your unwavering friendship in guiding me to a place where I could 'see' this Promised Land. I shall ever be in your debt for the knowledge of this place that your loving witness first made real to me."

The great builder rarely addressed the Pastor as other than Reverend Greene in public. This slip in a letter was intentional. The man who had frst come to Big Diomede to oversee the moral well-being Zimmerman's Folly had become his personal mentor in things unseen, and Zimmerman loved him for it!

Indeed it was Greene who had become Zimmerman's closest confidant as he developed new ideas in education as well as innovation in construction. Now, illuminated by the thought that Divine inspiration was truly available to mere mortals, Zimmerman pushed to see where that inspiration might take him. He set out to woo Pat to come to Big Diomede. Abandoning his Spartan quarters on Wales, he brought her to the Big Diomede community. Together they designed a house to be built by the craftsmen in Virginia and assembled in the little community. Their house was not all that different from the first house built on Big Diomede for the Greenes. In fact, Pat "borrowed" many ideas from the original house. Rupert mused that the Pastor's wife would have been brilliant had she pursued a career in his own design department.

Martin and Elizabeth built a house next to Rupert and Pat's. Their children grew up in the full richness of a multigenerational family. The choir of the little church on Big Diomede grew rich with an ever increasing variety of voices. Rupert and Pat were there every Sunday, and they usually drove over to Little Diomede after services with their children to a place where it was Saturday, on the other side of the International Date Line. There they would enjoy chicken sandwiches that they could not have had after church on Big Diomede. The restaurant chain's policy of being closed on Sunday was strictly observed... even acknowledging time zone differences! The residents of the Diomedes had some fun with this!

On warm Summer days the happy little party would continue on to Wales, and a day of hiking on Cape Mountain or along Kingigin. Zimmerman looked forward to these walks most of all. Even in his nineties he still loved to hoist a grandchild onto his shoulders and walk in cadence to his or her song. The tundra flowers were brilliant during the brief Summer. There was by this time a little reconstructed Inuit village near Wales and the family loved to explore it. Pat's heart warmed to the Rupert who had first carried their own children on his shoulders to the little log farmhouse reconstructed in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Waynesboro, Virginia. He seemed to have returned, only this time there was a mantle of peace that the old man wore.

Summer flowers on Cape Mountain.

Diomede Girl. Alaska Historical Collection.

Walrus Boats. Alaska Historical Collection.

When the long Winter descended, Rupert would 'surprise' Pat with a Christmas present that usually involved a trip to someplace warm and sunny. One DIDN'T want to miss Christmas festivities at Big Diomede's little church. The Greenes made certain that they were both beautiful and meaningful, but January and February the Zimmermans would leave the work of the great bridge in the hands of Martin and Elizabeth as they visited places dear to their youngest daughter.

Pat and Rupert became eyes and ears for Elizabeth in their travels. Many of her initiatives to build a school or provide clean water began with a tearful story told by her mother. Pat never needed spend the endless Winter in the North country. She never set foot in the 'Labyrinth of Exile" again!

Photo by Kristina Elaine Greer
Photo by Kristina Elaine Greer.

(to be continued) [click to read]

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