Guest blogger Elaine Ambrose muses on an event that occured at the Perrine Memorial Bridge
As kids, we would hold our breath as our mother drove across the Perrine Memorial Bridge north of Twin Falls. I remember looking down at the Snake River, almost 500 feet below, and wondering what it would feel like to fly through the canyon. The bridge was 1,500 feet across, and it linked our simple farming village of Wendell to the “big city” of Twin Falls with its shopping center, museum, restaurants, and motels. Going rim to rim to Twin was an adventure.
The arching image of the Perrine Bridge has graced postcards from the local Chamber of Commerce for more than 80 years. Originally built in 1927, the structure was once the highest bridge in the world. Massive steel beams brace against rugged basalt walls of lava rock pocked with scraggly sagebrush, bitterbrush, and scrub oak. Majestic eagles and falcons, hungry hawks, and ugly buzzards soar on the thermal winds around the bridge searching for rodents and rabbits that scurry over the steep terrain.
Down by the river on the north side, the Blue Lakes Country Club offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the arid canyon. Lush green fairways, natural waterfalls, and dramatic, raw edges make it a popular and private course. One day in the fall of 1970, a group of golfers looked up to see an object fall from the bridge. It could have been a large vulture or a bag of garbage from a passing recreational vehicle. Not worth another thought.
My aunt was 41 when she parked her car on the south side of the bridge and walked to the edge. She stood a moment and allowed the endless wind to tousle her long auburn hair. She had driven away from a husband and four young children at home, but she couldn’t escape the demons. She straddled the railing, clutched the edge one last time, and then let go. Even in death, she was a failure as her body missed the water and slammed into the rocks below, a broken and useless heap that the recovery workers cursed as they maneuvered to salvage the body.
I was a teenager then, and my family members never spoke of the incident. The only words I remember were from my grandmother as she muttered something about “that crazy woman” and she reminded us that we wouldn’t go to heaven if we committed suicide. I often wondered how my aunt felt as she briefly flew through the air. Did she scream? Did she laugh? Did she hold her breath and imagine that heaven would let her in, even though she was a sinner? I hope she felt a bit of euphoric freedom in that breathless space between reality and darkness.
The golfers returned to their game, eventually my uncle remarried and moved away, and the bridge was rebuilt in 1976 with higher railings. Now people come from all over the world to BASE jump over the side. I imagine my aunt strapping on a parachute and jumping over the side with a crowd of people cheering her courage. Perhaps climbing over the railing was the bravest thing she had ever done. It was her leap of faith to reach something on the other side that was better than what she had.
I no longer hold my breath when I drive over the bridge. Instead, I whisper a prayer for my aunt’s soul. The words are lost in the wind as the river continues to flow to the distant ocean and the canyon walls turn toward home.
Elaine Ambrose left the family potato farm near Wendell to travel the world, write and publish books, raise marvelous children, and fall in love. Her life is abundant, and she is grateful. Find more details at her web site: www.millparkpublishing.com.