Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Backroads

Backroads
Kentucky Backroads Wheat Stubble

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Shadow of a Mountain

Jim Anderson Photo
...in my youthful imagination, his life and the life of the mountain became as one...whose influence holds me captive still today...His life is a part of my heritage...a part of my two son's heritage...and is a part of the mountain's heritage. He, after all, was not just a frail old man, but a man with a story and a history connected by a mountain...
************************************************************************
In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, I was fortunate to grow up in the Mayberry-like community of Wister, Oklahoma just a few miles down the road from Poteau. The memories of those years spent in that southeastern Oklahoma community instilled within me a sense of personal values that still resonates with me today.

That part of the state carries with it a unique flavor of terrain where broad wooded valleys are accented with prairie fields and pine covered hills. The most dominant of those hills is Cavanal…a 2000 foot escarpment that spreads its broad shoulders across the western edge of the county. According to local legend, it is known as the world’s highest hill being listed as 1999 feet high…one foot short of being actually classified as a true mountain.  Whether it actually is the highest hill in the world is open for conjecture, but the legend of that mountain carries with it a sense of identity and home.

It is within the shadow of that mountain, where my family planted roots…four generations on both sides were born, lived, and many are now buried within sight of its peak. It is where I first began to dream visions of grand adventures sparked by stories of fox dens and bear dens across its flanks my grandfather told me about.  Stories about his youth chronicled with faded photographs from the turn of an old Victorian century toward the promise of new 20th century.  There were stories of French and Spanish explorers along with Native Indian cultures that owned that land long before it was settled...and stories of strange and wonderful things that happened on the mountain. The word 'Cavanal' is derived from the french word for 'Cave' and indeed legend has it that Indians in the area would report rumbling noises from inside some of the caves found on its flanks.

Robert Star Bridgman - my great-grandfather
Circa 1910
Robert Lee Bridgman was his name…everyone called him ’Bob’. His father Robert Star Bridgman, my great-grandfather, established one of the first proprietorships in Poteau having moved his family there around 1895 using a borrowed wagon. As a youth Robert Star stood witness to the Civil War…just young enough to have stayed out of it, and over the years established and ran several businesses including a cotton gin, hardware store, and a newspaper…eventually evolving into a furniture and home d√©cor business that still operates to this day…well over 100 years later…still owned and operated by family members. My grandfather followed his footsteps and continued in the family business tradition for many years.

A dapper and youthful Bob on the right
circa 1915
I remember my grandfather mostly as a frail and gentle older man…during WWI he ended up in France and was injured by poison gas that wrecked his lungs causing him great distress for the rest of life. Pictures of his youth before those war years show a strong and vibrant young man…rather dapper in appearance.
Robert (Bob) on left with friends
Circa 1915


I can only once remember him ever raising his voice in anger…seems I knocked a picture off the wall because I did not listen to him when he told me to settle down…my grandmother was more mad at him for raising his voice than at me.

He often would place us grandkids inside a large cardboard box…close it up…then spin us around, shaking the box every which way…to our great delight…and I was fascinated when he removed his teeth and placed them in a glass of water…he could almost make his chin touch his nose after doing so. I still remember watching him sit in his back room listening to a small Philco radio that seemed to take 5 or 10 minutes to warm up enough so it would work.  If not the radio, then he would open the news paper and read through it finishing the crossword puzzle before putting it down.  He would often walk the half mile or so to town instead of drive, until that became too difficult. He was not highly educated, but had a great intellect and even served as a local representative for the Democratic party during Roosevelt's run for office. His politics were simple...do what was right for the country, for the people, and for your family...and apply christian values to all three.

Goldie...on the left, was severely burned and
died shortly after this picture was taken
 Circa 1905
But…what I remember most about him was his integrity…an integrity that was strengthened by his Christian values.  Quiet and gentle by nature, he possessed a strong sense of self…slow to anger…always thoughtful…always ready to help. Yet he carried with him a longing to remember and forget a tragic day when he was just a small boy..a day when his little sister Goldie died in a fire. I never really knew much about what happened back then, but you could still see the event lingering in his eyes if you looked closely enough.  Although he was right handed, his hand writing carried a strong slant backward...from what I understand this often indicates that something profound must have happened in his past...Maybe it was Goldie...

There were times when a family would come into his place of business…the kids needing shoes and something to wear to school. Often, they would have little resources to pay for such things, but my grandfather and grandmother would make sure those kids had what they needed…the dad had a new pair of overalls and work boots, and mom a new calico dress.

They would place the bill in the books as an IOU…and tell them to not worry about it for now. More often than not, a week or two later on a Sunday afternoon after church, my grandmother would hear some knocking at the backdoor…that same family would be standing there holding a sack of tomatoes or some corn on the cob, maybe a basket of eggs…and hand them to her as payment for the clothes.  The next day…paid in full…would be written in the ledger.

That life style of generosity was returned to them in the same measure some years later. After a devastating flood, that all but wiped out Wister, their place of business was all but ruined.  With no insurance to deal with it, recovery would be long and difficult. A few days later as we were helping to clean up, some mail actually arrived…in the stack was a bill from one of their long time suppliers in Fort Smith. The look on my grandmother’s face told the whole story. Realizing they had no funds to pay for that bill and the newly purchased stock was mud caked and ruined, she opened the bill…across the face was written…paid in full. Their supplier recognized the situation and in a level of generosity not often seen today, wrote off their bill as a gesture of good will.

Robert (Bob)
Enter backdoor of his home
circa 1940
It was stories such as these…some I witnessed…many more I heard about… that formed in my mind who I was as part of this family. My grandfather’s stories about his boyhood playing on the heights of Cavanal Mountain still linger in my memories. In my youthful imagination, his life and the life of the mountain became as one, and although I long ago moved away from that environment…its influence holds me captive still today. I am often haunted by melancholy desires to return to the days of my youth…to the heights of that mountain…and revisit again the simplicity that was life in those days. I often wish I could travel back in time and visit my grandfather during his youth...to see for myself the formative years that so influenced his life...that with direct connections through time influenced mine as well.

As my grandfather grew older…his damaged lungs took a terrible toll on his health and his once sharp and insightful mind faded into confusion.  Often he would suffer through difficult nights unable to breathe, gasping for air. I remember my grandmother late one evening as she knelt beside her bed for her nightly prayers…asking God to not allow my grandfather to die suffering from the lack of breath.  She was afraid she would not be able to cope with watching that happen to him, and she did not want to see him suffer that way. In his final days…her prayer was answered…his kidneys failed…and the doctor said he would not feel a thing and would quietly go off to sleep.  He breathed his last breath in the early winter of 1973…with the comfort of family surrounding him.

When I think of my grandfather, I think of home...when I think of home...the memory of his life fills those thoughts...and as those memories play out in my mind,  I think of that mountain…it was a mountain made of earth and stone with a history and a life as large as its broad shoulders. It's almost like the strength of that mountain carried my grandfather through the years...yet, as frail as he was…I've grown to understand that it was the man…made of integrity and honor…who was the larger of the two.

Keith

No comments: