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Friday, August 5, 2011

Falling Man

My Pa, a riveter by trade, died building the Golden Gate Bridge. On Feb. 17, 1937, his work scaffold collapsed. They had stretched a safety net under the floor of the bridge from end to end, but it was only capable of catching men and their tools. It had saved 19 men from a cold drowning. Those lucky ones, they laughed and called themselves the “Halfway to Hell” club.

But my Pa’s scaffold was too heavy, and it broke clean through the net, carrying him and ten others down into the freezing, salty strait.Three months later, when they opened the bridge to pedestrian traffic, my mother put on her Easter bonnet and best shoes and took us kids to walk “that bridge.” All the Golden Gate widows were given a place of honor beside the mayor on a platform, and in the warm spring sunshine with a cheering crowd, the bridge boss, Smiling Joe Strauss, called out the names of the men who had died “giving California this greatest of gifts.”

We walked the bridge, and my mother pointed to the soaring red towers, each with 600,000 rivets, she said, put in place by men like my Pa, by their sweat and arms as hard as balcony railings.“It’s a modern marvel,” everyone said, and they posed for happy photographs.

I wanted to love the bridge, then and ever since. But all I can see of it is cold unyielding steel and a falling man pleading with the sky.


Harry said...

I walked out on that bridge. It's so far to the water at the center, that if you spit or toss a coin you can't follow it all the way down to see the splash. Cold drowning for sure. I remember all those rivets too, and thinking no way you could get a crew of men that could make this happen today. I don't have a fear of heights but I do have one of falling and your last line is why, "a falling man pleading with the sky"

bolton carley said...

halfway to hell club. wow. i don't think i'll ever look at the bridge the same. bill told me a similar story about the one we saw on the blueridge parkway. scary to think of how they used to do things. lots of heart here, gita!

Stephen said...

Blooming heck -- great story. Love the feel of it and very poignantly told. Halfway to Hell club a lovely touch. Wasn't even sure if it had actual happened -- maybe it did. Short, detailed, entirely believable. Thanks Gita. St.

Ed Dean said...

Firstly, I never knew you had your own site but as always, you are so full of surprises. The bridge piece is excellent but judging the time frame I know it's fiction and making it so believable is the talented magic.