Bridging the years
Tuesday February 07th 2012, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Friends,History,Life

An article in the New York Times about the construction of the new Bay Bridge prompts this post. It says that the old span was built in the 1930’s and was not designed to withstand a big quake, with a picture of the short fallen section from October 1989 to prove their point.

I am here to take issue with that for Brother Brossard’s sake. (I’m not sure I’m spelling his last name right.) He knew.

You may remember my occasional posts about the December Club, the once-a-year potluck brunch certain members of my ward (congregation) throw ourselves in celebration of having a birthday at the time that everybody else is worrying about Christmas.

When we first moved here twenty-five years ago, Louis Brossard was the elder of the group; I remember him as a sweet man, frail and old and kind. I remember him playing a bit on a harmonica year to year.

When the Loma Prieta quake happened, I found out at that year’s party that he had been one of the engineers working on the original Bay Bridge. He said it was designed not to fall into the Bay in hard shaking and that it did exactly what it was supposed to do–just one short segment took the brunt of it and went down while the rest stayed up, saving countless lives at rush hour. He also noted with definite pride that *his* section of the bridge had not fallen!

The last time he came to our group, he lifted that harmonica to his lips, looking almost too tired to from the effort of getting ready to come join us that morning, and he could not summon the breath to sound that first note. He was crushed. He tried again; there was just not enough wind in him to share the music only he could hear now.

I knew then, but so much didn’t want to know.

Very soon after, he was moved from the home he’d lived in forever to an assisted living place. We talked on the phone a few times; he so missed his garden, his passion in his widowed retirement.

I immediately resolved to bring him flowers to tend.

I went to the local nursery, trying to find something not too heavy, not needing too heavy a cup of water, and bought a small potted plant of bright, happy color, the first few flowers ready and blooming to cheer him as he watched the rest open up. A perennial, to make a statement that I wanted him to enjoy them the next year, too, and the next, and the next, and. I called and arranged a time to come over.

But an assistant had gotten him into the shower (I’m guessing on their schedule rather than his) at the time I arrived and then the person had left him for a moment. I knew he knew I was coming, but he didn’t answer the door. I was hearing impaired, he was more so; I knocked louder. I waited, wondering what to do; there was no one in sight to ask for help. At last I left the little pot in front of his door, praying it would be seen and not tripped over.

When I got home, I called again to make sure the little blossoms might cause no harm, knowing how frail he was. He told me he had called out to me, but there was nothing he could do on his own to get to that door just then; he’d gotten those flowers, though, loved them, loved the thought behind them, and wanted very much to thank me.

He was a gem.

And I never got to see him again.  Those flowers outlasted him.

Whenever I see the Bay Bridge, all these years later, always, I think of Louis Brossard.

The old eastern span will be totally gone when the new work is all done.

And I wish I knew how to play Taps on a harmonica.

10 Comments so far
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I know how. My dad played harmonica.

I’ll do it for you and for him.

Comment by afton 02.08.12 @ 6:03 am

He is playing his own sweet melody now.

Comment by Sherry in Idaho 02.08.12 @ 7:22 am

Your post moved me, but Afton’s comment has me all misty.

Comment by Channon 02.08.12 @ 7:27 am

my grandfather played the harmonica — he had a really neat on (I wonder where it ended up)

thanks for the link to the article on the bridge — we were there in 1989 — my daughter was 6, and remembers it well — even so she says she’d rather be back in earthquake country than in tornado alley!

Comment by Bev 02.08.12 @ 9:37 am

It’s amazing how columnists manage to get their “facts” wrong!

I haven’t been over the Bay Bridge in many a year, but I have a number of memories. My eldest sister was secretary to the bridge administrator there at the building by the toll gates. My dad used to drive her to work, and was allowed to turn around in FRONT of the toll gates,and drive back to San Francisco without paying any toll. He got quite a kick out of that.

Comment by Don Meyer 02.08.12 @ 9:55 am

If we ever wind up in the same place again, I’ll give you a quick harmonica tutorial. Since you are feeling it through your mouth and head and not just hearing it through your ears, you might make quite a good harmonica player.

Comment by LauraN 02.08.12 @ 12:01 pm

Memories are the longest-lasting perennials.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 02.08.12 @ 4:51 pm

Your post makes me want to pause and be grateful…

Comment by Suzanne in Montreal 02.08.12 @ 7:43 pm

You sure do know alot of very wonderful people.
Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

Comment by Andrea 02.08.12 @ 10:14 pm

Considering that in the 30s there were still plenty of people around who remembered the 1906 quake, it’s not at all surprising that they would have considered earthquakes in the design. I had to smile at his comment that it wasn’t his section that fell- that’s an engineer, all right!

Comment by RobinH 02.09.12 @ 8:03 am

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