Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Road Home, Braga Bridge

Braga with Red Ship (detail)
     Uncle Ray is in his mid-seventies now.  He is aging well, and I imagine I might just look a bit like him as I get older.  My wife said when she met him, she could see where I got my sense of humor from.  When I was a boy, he was good to me.  He and my Aunt Hazel both were both very good to me and my sister when we really needed someone to be very good to us.

Braga with Red Ship (detail)
Braga with Red Ship (detail)
                (This blog looks to be a little longer than most of my blog posts, but stay with me, I think its worth it.)

     Uncle Ray told me a story when we were together last summer.  As kids, my sister and I used to spend parts of every summer with them, running with our cousins around the beaches and fields of Maine.  Those days linked me to the young fellas in those Stephen King stories I read starting in high school, then for the rest of my life.  Although I never faced down a vampire or searched for a dark tower, there have been days I felt like I faced down real evil, but I will leave those stories alone here.  My blog Hydelands addresses those darker tales.  Here I talk about my paintings, and right now, Uncle Ray’s tale and bridges.

Southside (deail)
     All my life I have looked at the nearly iconic Braga Bridge.  It is iconic to me at least.  I have drawn and painted it half a dozen times.  Recently one of them, Braga with Red Ship, has been loaned 
to the Massachusetts State House for display and also used as a cover illustration for one of their publications.  Two others featured here, South Side and Green Braga, are for me symbolic of my life.  I always return home.  The image of the Braga is as much home for me as the tree with my late brothers initials carved into it, or the shoreline under the bridge that I fished from with my uncles.
Southside (detail)
So, Uncle Ray, he painted that bridge, not like I did, but he painted it, with a four inch bristle brush.
“So, I was nineteen, maybe twenty, and I needed a job.  Had my son and my little girl was on the way.  We dint know she was a girl yet, no sono-things back then. So, I was workin’ at Frito-Lay with your father, but I hated it.  I wanted outside work.  I finished high school. I wanted a good job.  So a guy I knew told me the bridge crew was hiring.  I walked across the city.  None of us had cars yet.  We were bus folk for a few more years yet.  So I walked down to the

Southside (detail)
construction site.  It was huge to a country boy from Maine.  The cranes, welders, big trucks and what looked like a thousand young guys.  I asked around and found some guy, turned out to be one of the bosses.  I told him I was looking for a job.  He asked what could I do.  I told him ‘anything you want.’  He asked me if I was afraid of heights, and I said no, even though I had no idea if I was or not.  I had never been higher than a third floor.  ‘Follow me,’ he said and turned away.

     "We walked along the edge of the bridge, and yeah it was pretty high up, then we started climbing.  He led me all the way to the top, and now that was high.  And I didn’t shit myself or nothin’.  He turned around saw me just out of reach from his shadow and said  to me, ‘kid, ya got ya self a job.  Be here at seven-thirty tomorrow, and he walked away, leaving me to find my own way down.  That was a good job.  We worked from bos’n chairs hangin’ over the side, and on a good day we could see halfway around the world.”  His smile was huge with the memory.  “I was able to get my license and a car.  That’s how I came to be a painter for the last fifty-five years.”

     Now, I’d like to say it was his story that inspired my paintings.  It would fit.  It would be nice, but no. it was the other way around.  I gave him a print, the original sold years before, of The South Side, and that inspired his little story to me.  And you know, like so many other things my uncle and aunt did for me, that story came to me at just the right time.

     Uncle Ray filled some of the gaps in my life that my own father could not, and he said to me when I was able to thank him for it.  “Why do you think we had you up here every summer?”

     Bridges do awesome things.  They cross rivers and bays, valleys and streams.  And every now and then, they bridge time and take you home again.