Water Under The Bridge

by Terry Hogan

Well, as they say, "It's all water under the bridge now". And I suppose it is. But it’s a lot of water and a lot of years. And it is just one suspension bridge that we used to know as the "swinging bridge". Frankly, like so many things when you are a kid, I just accepted the name without question. It makes little sense, looking back. It certainly didn't swing. If you had rhythm, you could get it to be the "bouncing bridge", but not the "swinging bridge".

I spent a lot of years in and near, and occasionally underneath, the old swinging bridge. But I never really knew why it was there. It just was. It was seldom used for any practical purpose, beyond something for kids to play on during daylight, and someplace for older kids to go to with their dates at night.

The swinging bridge simply connected part of the Club House grounds at Lake Bracken, to North Wood Drive, located across a "gully", part of which was filled with Lake Bracken. It was a suspension bridge, with large, overhead metal cables and was mostly of wooden construction. It was high enough and the water was deep enough to allow a boat to go under it. But the boat had little place to go, unless it was going to tie up at one of the rental boat docks.

Actually, most of my young, pre-working summers were spent at or very near the Club House. Back then, it was the Knox County Country Club, more recently known as the Lake Bracken County Club.

Back then, the Club House was still standing. Back then, there was still swimming allowed and the Club House "sported" three swimming docks. Two were near shore and were the endpoints of floating logs that were tethered to one another by metal, interlocking hoops. The third swimming dock was offshore, making the point of a triangle with the other two docks comprising the other angles. The interconnected floating logs connected the three docks together, marking off the limits of the swimming area. This third dock had three diving platforms of varying heights and a metal slide. The metal slide, if not used for a while on a hot summer day, could do a good imitation of a hot frying pan.

The floating logs were to keep swimmers in, and boaters out. Lifeguards had the job to help keep that separation and to keep kids from drowning. They also had the role to keep kids from swimming out to the floating logs, and then sitting on them. Frankly, I never knew why that rule was imposed. Why have logs, if you couldn't sit on them? Just one of the many childhood mysteries, left unsolved.

The Club kept a nice, sandy beach on the west end of the swimming area. It was kept shallow for young children and young mothers. The dressing rooms were located underneath the main part of the Club House. The Women's dressing room was to the right and the Men's to the left, as you faced the lake. You reached the dressing room area by first walking through a concrete walkway under the Club House, something like a tunnel. As you approached the dressing room areas, there was a "crib" area, where you could ask for a "basket" to put your clothes in, as you changed into your swimming suit. Once completed, you would return the "basket" to the crib and your clothes, money, etc. were watched over while you were swimming.

The lifeguards had a hard job and a lot of responsibilities, considering they were mostly high school age. As most lived at the Lake or had been members for years, they went from "breaking the rules" to "enforcing the rules" almost overnight. (Come to think of it, I know one or two who did that by joining the Galesburg Police Force, but that's another story…or maybe not).

Lake Bracken was the perfect place for young boys and girls to get to know each other better. (It's hard not to smile, when I typed that.) Back then, you mostly learned by doing, or at least by trying to do - flirting, dating, and just generally having fun with the opposite sex, and a little swimming too. Sunday night outdoor movies, and the occasional "beach party", complete with an fire on the beach and free hot dogs and "cokes", also provided ample opportunities to get to know one another better.

Even though we lived at Lake Bracken, we attended Galesburg schools, so if you were still too young to drive, the Club House was often the main opportunity to meet classmates during the summer. It was the Club House that helped maintain school year romances during the summer. It was also the Club House that contributed to the demise of some, as well.

If on a Sunday night, the outdoor movie got a little boring, or a little too crowded, the swinging bridge was just a short walk, over the crest of a hill. It was quieter, darker, and usually without little kids or parents nearby. On the bridge, you could look out over the lake, to the houses and their lights, reflecting on the water. It was quiet. It was a nice place to take someone, before you had a car.

As was often the case in high school years, we had a group of kids that tended to hang around together. As odd as it sounds, looking back, we often dated one another. When one romance "died" another would pop up so that the pair of "Ex.’s would still be dating someone within the group. (Sounds a little bit like dating your cousin, in hindsight). Members of the group, to the extent that I can recall, included Alan, Sharons (more than one), Jeff, Sally, Chad, Jim, and Mike.

Perhaps some of these folks will show up at my high school reunion next year (Class of 1964). I'll look around at all these old people and wonder who they are. As perhaps an effort of acclimation, the Class of '64 has its own Internet home page. It has some photos from the old high school yearbook. It also has a few photos of brave souls, as they look today. Let me say that I could have bumped into them on the street, and I wouldn't have recognized them. Sandburg had a good passage about this - "…I could mention the drab and the tragic that came to some of my album women, but I knew them in their Springtime Years when a freshness of dawn was on them before time and fate put on the later marks." (Always the Young Strangers, 1953).

But, I have to hedge this all with a disclosure. While attending Knox College (a "townie"), I began dating a classmate who had graduated with me from Galesburg High School. We had not socialized in high school, but with the new college environment, we found we had more in common. On our first date, we had a pizza downtown, and then I drove to Lake Bracken, and to the Club grounds. It was fall, and the Club House was closed for the season.

But the "swinging bridge" was still there. It still overlooked the Lake. It still showed the lights and reflected lights.. It was still a quiet place to be. We kissed for the first time on that bridge. We kissed a number of more times since then. We married three years after that first kiss. We are parents. We are grandparents. We've been married for 36 years. We are trying to decide whether we will go back to the Class Reunion next year - 40 years after graduation. It's a bit of a risk.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge, since then.