By: Christina J. Johns
Lucy Mae Hollis took us downtown - my brother and I, that is. And, when we were growing up in the 50s, going downtown was a big event.
There were three blocks running north to south on which sat stores like Penny's, Tots and Teens and the wondrous, marvelous Woolworth's. At the southern end of the street sat the Last Chance Poolroom. But, we were not allowed to go near it.
The closest we got was the Nifty Coffee Shop, next door. We would plead to be taken to lunch there hoping against hope to see somebody go in or out of the Last Chance, preferably somebody we knew, like the Baptist preacher.
There was only one main cross street in Lanier. It had a Belk's, Shafer's Pharmacy and Nadar's Record Store where we spent hours - dreaming over sheet music from Broadway shows, records and musical instruments.
I loved being downtown. It was going downtown that was the problem.
Downtown Lanier was about two miles from our house. Then, Lanier was a collection of lovely, well-tended houses with trimmed lawns and shady gardens.
There were large colonial-style houses where rich people lived, and the more modest frame and brick houses of the middle class, but all of them contained people who were proud of what they had and/or afraid of what the neighbors would say. None of them would have considered letting their grass grow up too high, or leaving their children's toys all over the yard.
It was a delightful walk. And, usually, Lucy Mae and my brother and I would take the route down by the river where the trees made a canopy over the street and it was cool even on the hottest day.
But, as pleasurable as it was to walk down that canopy street, the end of that street brought a vision of unutterable terror - the bridge.
This was no ordinary bridge. This was a bridge designed by a psychopath, a sadist, a maniac who detested animals and children. I am absolutely sure that the only thing that prevented him from committing the most heinous, blood-splattered crimes, was the construction of bridges like this all over the country, and the knowledge that it made little girls squeal in hysterical terror.
There was, of course, the center of the bridge where the cars passed, but there were also two walkways, one on either side. It was in the design of these walkways that this evil madman got his pleasure. The walkways, which should have been smooth were not. They were made up of thirty or forty large cement blocks side by side. At the center of each of these large blocks was a smaller cement square which fit down into the larger blocks. These squares moved when you stepped on them, and some of them were cracked.
To make matters more horrifying, there was a hole in the center of each block. Through this hole you could see down, down, what seemed like 1,000 feet, to the red, muddy river passing below. Because the hole was so small, and the river so far away, the water seemed to be rushing by so fast that if you fell into it, you would be consumed in a second by the swirling foaming water and never - appear again.
The whole thing terrified me. I was terrified I was going to step on one of those blocks and it was going to give way, dropping me into the dark red water of the Catawba river, like a condemned man dropped through the trap door in a hanging.
I was also terrified the entire bridge was going to fall down, and the river suck the three of us away without a trace..
I don't think anybody buy Lucy Mae Hollis could have dragged me across that bridge without gagging me and putting me in a straight jacket. But, every time, when we got to the beginning of the bridge Lucy Mae would bend down, sweep me up into her arms and say the same thing: "Hush you cryin' now chile. That bridge fall down, I'll jump in the river myself and hol' it up till you get's across."
I think Lucy Mae loved me so much she would have held that bridge up, and I loved her so much I believed she could.