The Kissing Bridges

On our way back from my book signing in Indiana last week, we took a day to do some sightseeing in the state of my birth.  Why is it that when you live in a place, you never seem to find the time to visit the points of interest so close to home?

Our intended destination was Parke County on the western side of the state to see the famous covered bridges.  Although 25 of our 50 United States still have at least one covered bridge, Parke County in Indiana is the covered bridge capital of the world.

Picture by Jeff Hull, Corinth, Texas

You may remember the 1995 Clint Eastwood/Meryl Streep movie “The Bridges of Madison County” which featured some of Iowa’s covered bridges.  Other states with covered bridges are:  California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oregon, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Minnesota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Roseman Bridge

Roseman Bridge, Madison County Iowa

Years ago, Parke County had 52 ½ covered bridges.  (The other half of the 53rd bridge sat in Vermillion County where it crossed the Wabash River.)  Today, Parke County is a destination for tourists because of its 31 remaining covered bridges, many over 100 years old.  Twenty-one of the bridges are still in use and 10 have been retired.

Essenhaus Trip 262

Covered bridges were built in the 1800’s and early to mid-1900’s due to the abundance of timber.  Construction costs of the Parke County bridges ranged from $1200 – $8000 and it took from six months to a year to build one bridge.

The main reason the bridges were covered was to protect the wooden structures from the elements…sun, rain and snow.  They also protected people and horses and carriages from the weather.  Uncovered wooden bridges had a short life span of 10 to 15 years.  Some of the bridges we saw were close to 150 years old.

Essenhaus Trip 255

Another reason the bridges were covered was that horses didn’t like to cross open bridges because they could hear and see the rushing water below.  The bridges were covered and the entrances were shaped like barn doors so the horses would be more willing to enter the bridges and cross the bodies of water.

Essenhaus Trip 290

All of the bridges we saw had the words “Cross this bridge at a walk” painted over the openings at both ends.  This was a throwback to horse and buggy days and encouraged bridge crossers to slow down so as not to do structural damage to bridges with the pounding rhythm of horses’ hooves.  Also painted over the openings to the bridges were the builder’s names and the year the bridges were built.  We saw one bridge that had burned and had been rebuilt by local folks in 2006.

Essenhaus Trip 220

All of the bridges we visited were built with huge arches on the sides called “Burr Arches”.  The arches were bent using steam which took a considerable amount of time.  These added strength and support and were named after Theodore Burr, who is known as the Father of American Bridge Building.  He patented his Burr Arch design in 1820.

Essenhaus Trip 409

Most of the bridges were made from yellow poplar, but a few were made from white pine.  Most of the ones we saw had open air windows on both sides.  Covered bridges once were called “kissing bridges” because courting couples would stop and steal a kiss under their arches.  And yes, we did stop and kiss in some of the bridges just for fun!

Essenhaus Trip 404

Many of the bridges were covered with graffiti and love notes, which surprised me.  I guess that’s what people do…leave their marks.  Some of the bridges had bird nests built in the trusses inside.  The 2006 rebuilt bridge was lighted and quite lovely at night.

Essenhaus Trip 232

Essenhaus Trip 229

At one of our stops for directions, we were told that Parke County is the poorest county in Indiana.  It is very rural with a lot of farmland and it is also very beautiful.  We searched all of a day and part of a night for covered bridges and got to see about a third of the 31 bridges in the county.  Although many of them were similar, each was beautiful and unique and had its own personality.  My husband and I were fascinated by them.

Essenhaus Trip 284

Since 1957, Parke County has been hosting the ten-day Covered Bridge Festival in October.  Each year, one of the 31 bridges is featured and commemorative pins, magnets and souvenirs are made for collectors and covered bridge fans.

Over two million people come from all over the world to see and celebrate the covered bridges every October.  This year’s festival, which is the largest in Indiana, will be held from October 9th – 18th.

Essenhaus Trip 387



Ever Heard Of A Land Arrow?

Two weeks ago, I blogged about the short term practice of mailing children in the beginning of the twentieth century.  In that post, I mentioned that I had done a magazine article on the early mail system.

Since I’m making my way across the country for a book signing this week, I thought it would be a good time to post that article.  I’d love to hear if any of you have ever actually seen one of these land arrows that are almost 100 years old and an important part of our U.S. Mail history.

land arrow article 002

Land Arrows and Lighted Beacons Pointed the Way from Coast to Coast

Each day when we collect our mail, most of us don’t stop to consider that just 150 years ago, mail in this country was being delivered by The Pony Express.  Although this form of delivery only lasted for 18 short months until the transcontinental telegraph made it obsolete, it was the beginning of our formal mail delivery system.

Mailbox 001

Fast forward from 1861 to 1918 when the United States Congress appropriated $100,000 to establish an experimental air mail route from Washington D. C. to New York, New York.

The experimental route was so successful, that soon the Post Office Department began making plans to establish a transcontinental route from New York City to San Francisco.  This original transcontinental air mail route in 1920 was 2629 miles long.  With the planes flying an average speed of 104 miles per hour, it took 25 hours and 16 minutes of flying time.

early pusher biplane)

Navigation systems were not well developed at the time, and there was no radio guidance or radar so it was common for air mail pilots to lose their way and get lost, sometimes with deadly consequences.  Pilots needed help especially when flying in the dark or in bad weather conditions, so in 1924 our federal government funded a project to build land arrows and beacon towers tracing the air mail routes and lighting the way from state to state and coast to coast.


These enormous, concrete arrows were 50 – 70 feet long and pointed west.  They stretched all the way across our country and were spaced roughly 10 miles apart and were painted a bright yellow to be easily visible from a distance of 10 miles or more.  Each arrow pointed the way to the next arrow in the route.

the standard beacon tower

In the center of each land arrow was a 50 foot tall steel tower with a rotating gas or electric powered light.  A small shed was built on the tail of the arrow to house the generator and to give the keeper a place to rest.  All of these beacons were given a number which was painted on top of the generator shed.

In all, 700 land arrows were built in the 1920’s as part of the world’s first ground-based civilian navigation system to aid the air mail pilots in their cross country flights.  Later, the same arrows were used as navigation aids by pilots of early commercial passenger flights.

The "Highway of Light" That

Map of the land arrow route

By the 1930’s, advances in radio technology made this ground navigation system obsolete.  Most of the towers were eventually torn down and the steel recycled for the war effort in WW II.  The land arrows were never formally removed, however most of them were destroyed by urban development.

Today, almost a century later some of the land arrows can be found in the Utah, Nevada and New Mexico desert, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Others are sprinkled around the country in fields or yards and have been hidden by vegetation.  The beacons and the towers were torn down, but some of the arrows still exist as a reminder of an earlier time and to point the way.

A concrete arrow roughly 50

Minimize Your Regrets

By the time we reach middle age (and I’m there) we’ve had the time and the living to own our share of regrets.  We all have them…regrets about things we’ve done, things we haven’t done, things we’ve said and things we haven’t said.

Most of my regrets revolve around things I’ve said to others that weren’t always kind.  I also have misgivings about times I wasn’t there for others when they could have used my support.  When experiences like that are in our past, all we can do is apologize if it’s appropriate, and learn from our mistakes.

Recently, I finished reading a book by an Australian woman named Bronnie Ware.  The book is called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.  Ware was a palliative nurse who cared for patients in the last weeks of their lives.  As she cared for them, they talked with her about the regrets they had regarding the way they had lived.

Five regrets 015

In her book, Ware asserts that we can address issues in our lives now while we still have the time, so that someday we can die with both peace of mind and peace in our hearts.

According to Ware, the top or most common regret of the dying was:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Many people die with unfulfilled hopes and dreams.  Once they get older or their health fails, they realize that they have lost all hope of chasing the dreams they had when they were younger.  In my own life, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was a teenager.  I lost sight of my love of writing for a few years and then because of a twist of fate and a job loss, I had the opportunity to revisit that dream.

Lifestyles 001

I admire our four children for the way they are going after their dreams.  Just this week, one of them set off for a year in the service of AmeriCorps all the way across the country in Baltimore.  Yes, we thought that perhaps she should go right from college graduation to graduate school, but she knew that because of the age limit for service, it was now or never.  So, she took a chance and is trying something new and fulfilling her heart for service.


Baltimore bound

Another of our children started two businesses while in college and has continued to run them since he graduated.  He could find a “real” job, but he’s had the courage to see what he could accomplish on his own for the past seven years.

And finally, a third child got halfway through college and is taking a break to work and try some new things while she decides where and when she will return to school.  She is living the life that she wants on her schedule and on her terms.

I bet you are wondering about our fourth child?  He went straight through college and graduate school like his parents had hoped he would.  However, once he got his second degree, he decided to try a totally different career path from the one he had planned.  He loves his job and is having fun working with numbers every day!

I smile inside at the fact that our children have the courage to live the lives they want.  I pray that when they are all very old and look back, they will feel they have lived lives true to themselves.


The second regret of the dying and the one that every male patient expressed to Ware was:

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Many of these men and some of the women felt that they had missed out on having a more balanced life because they had worked so hard.  They felt they had missed out on time with their children and time with their spouse and time doing other things they enjoyed because they were so focused on earning money and getting ahead professionally.

The other part of this regret was that they had worked in careers they didn’t feel passionately about.  They had a job and perhaps great success, but they hadn’t done the kind of work they loved that made them want to get out of bed in the morning.

Vicki Guess Pic 1

The third regret of the dying was:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Some of us come from families where “I love you” and “I’m proud of you” are said regularly and sincerely.  Others, especially in the older generation, might not be so comfortable expressing how they feel.  One of the regrets of those nearing the end of their lives was that they didn’t tell people…both family and friends…how much they cared about them and how much they enjoyed having them in their lives.

love note 002

Regrets around expressing feelings also included regrets about the times they didn’t say something to right a wrong.  Perhaps there was a family estrangement and nothing was said to try to work out the problem before one of the parties passed.  People also regretted the times they didn’t speak up on behalf of another person when that person could have used some vocal support.

The fourth regret of the dying and one I have felt intensely in my own life is:

  1. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

My best friend while I was growing up was a beautiful and incredibly kind girl named Karen.  We had so much fun together and I adored her family.  Being her friend felt as natural as breathing to me.   After we graduated from high school, I stood up with her when Karen got married and then I left for college out of state.


We stayed in touch as best we could in the days of snail mail and corded phones with long distance charges.  Two years later, Karen played the piano at my wedding.  After that, life became so busy for both of us with husbands, school and jobs for me, and children for her.  We were on different paths and we lost touch.

Years would pass without seeing one another although we would send Christmas cards and the occasional letter.  When home computers entered our worlds, Karen and I began emailing one another from the different states where we lived.  She joined Facebook but I didn’t until recently.  Karen died from a heart-related illness two years ago and I don’t remember the last time I saw her.  I’d give anything for the chance to spend one hour with her again.


Many of Ware’s patients got to the final weeks of their lives and wished they had given their true friends the time and effort they deserved.  Unlike family, our friends are people we’ve chosen to have in our lives.  People missed their friends when they were dying.  Like me, they wished they had not gotten so busy with their own lives that they let those golden friendships slip away.

The fifth of the top five regrets of the dying was:

  1. I wish I had let myself be happier.

This was a very common regret among Ware’s patients at the end of their lives.  People often got stuck in old habits and patterns that didn’t make them happy anymore.   They didn’t realize until their time was near, that happiness was a choice.

Kalamazoo 211

Everyone has hard stuff to deal with in their lives.  We can choose to dwell on the things that are wrong or difficult, or we can focus on the positives and the blessings.  We have the freedom to live in the moment and to decide how we think.  Each new day brings its own gifts if we choose to recognize them.

Life is short.  Time on this Earth is not an infinite resource.  What are your greatest regrets and what are you going to do about them while you still can?

Five regrets 013


Don’t Mail Your Children!

The winner of last week’s contest for the best answer to “What’s in Your Junk Drawer?” is my neighbor, Paul Brown.  Paul told us what was in his junk drawer, and he also managed to very humorously mention something from most of my blog posts from the past year!  Yes, sucking up does work with me and for all that effort, he will receive a free copy of The Button Box.  Congratulations Paul!

The Button Box Book 001

Here’s Paul’s winning comment:

“Just the other day I was looking in my junk drawer because I had lost my marbles. They weren’t there but I did find a letter I’ve been meaning to send to a friend. It was next to some S&H green stamps (are they still good?), a bunch of buttons, some zinnia seeds, some candles for a birthday cake (which is good because I know someone who has a birthday coming up), a few baseball cards, a Christmas ornament on top of a Halloween decoration, a few recyclables, a mismatched sock, last month’s “Lifestyles of Denton County” magazine, some used movie tickets, an American Flag pin, a picture of my uncle Jeff, a coupon for toilet paper (I have a buddy who needs it), my lucky shamrock, an awesome peanut butter cookie recipe that I recently copied off some blog, some clothespins, a list of things I need to finish, a charm for my wife’s bracelet, and the ice cream scoop I have been looking for! I marveled at how serendipitous it was that I was looking for my marbles when I found my long lost ice cream scoop! And then, as I was enjoying a scoop of my favorite flavor of ice cream, chocolate, all the while humming the Pledge of Allegiance, that I remembered that I liked to keep my marbles in an old mason jar in the cabinet. As I took them off the shelf, I realized that my junk drawer was full of so much more, and that made me happy.”



Mailbox 001

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a magazine article about the early days of our U.S. Postal Service and found that like toilet paper, organized and fast mail delivery is fairly recent in our country’s history.  Then, just a few weeks ago, I was chatting with a woman who works at the post office in Denton about the funny things people send through the mail.

She told me that in the early 1900’s people could mail their children.  Now that the school year is about to end, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to attach stamps to their clothes and mail your kids to grandma’s house for the summer?  I’m only kidding about that although when I was a girl, grandma’s house was my favorite place to be…especially in the summer!

The first record of children being sent through the mail was in January of 1913.  A ten pound baby boy in Batavia, Ohio was mailed to his grandmother’s house just a mile away.  His parents paid $ .15 for the stamps and even insured him for $50.


Picture of a letter carrier having fun with the idea.

That same month a girl in Pennsylvania was mailed from Pine Hollow to relatives in Clay Hollow.  Mailing her cost her parents $ .45.

In February of 1914, a five year old girl named May Peirstorff, was sent from her home in Grangeville, Idaho to her grandparents’ house 73 miles away.  It cost May’s parents $ .53 to send her parcel post.  It seems the family had a relative who worked for the railway mail trains who told them it would be cheaper to mail her than to buy her a train ticket.


While it may sound strange that people could mail their children, consider that back in the day, people knew their mail carriers.  Mailmen were considered trusted friends and a vital part of every community because they delivered both news and goods from distances that weren’t easy for common people to travel.

Shortly after May’s mailing, the Postmaster General issued directions to the nation’s postmasters that human beings could no longer be sent through the mail.  A few people broke this rule, and in 1915 the longest trip taken by a mailed child was by a six-year-old girl named Edna Neff.  Edna was mailed from her mother’s home in Pensacola, Florida to her father’s home in Christiansburg, Virginia.  She was sent parcel post by the railway mail train and her trip cost $ .15.

Owney poses in a mail train

Finally, after a couple more children were mailed in violation of postal rules, postal officials began enforcing the law and stopped the practice of mailing humans in 1915.  Today, the only living things that may be sent through the United States Postal Service are bees, poultry, fowl, scorpions, and small, cold-blooded animals.  Who knew?

“Yes” i said mail box the Big