Written by ELLEN BRADFORD. Last updated Saturday March 13th, 2010
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of essays written by my wife, Ellen, in 1981, then filed away and forgotten. Until late last year, I had never seen them. It is my hope that they will serve as a catalyst for more personal essays by her from 2010 onward as long as she feels like writing. -Duane Bradford
By ELLEN BRADFORD
I watched a centipede cross the road this morning.
I am not going to tell my husband about that. Last week I told him about the great feeling I got when I found I was the first person making tracks down the road
He may be right. Little things are getting to mean a lot to me.
When you live in Florida you have two choices where roads are concerned. You can have paved ones, or you can have sandy ones. There aren’t many others down here. Remember, we were under the Gulf of Mexico not so long back, as millennia go.
We live a mile from our mailbox, and the road is not paved. I love walking to the mailbox after a rain, or when the weather’s been dry and a little windy -- or after the grader has been by. Then the sandy road is like a clean new slate. Every bug that moves along it -- or animal or bird or human or dog crossing it -- leaves tracks. It is like reading a book that has just been written. Brand new, and you get the first copy off the press.
I seldom fail to think of Hansel and Gretel when I walk back home from the mailbox and see the tracks Bear
and I have made on our way there. My Trax soles make ridges and swirls, and Bear’s big German Shepherd paws never seem to smear. If Hansel and Gretel had been fortunate enough to have our fine sandy road through the forest, they’d have had no need for breadcrumbs.
A centipede crossing the road can give you pause, though, if you have time to think about it. A centipede is a fragile little thing -- easily crushed by the slightest weighty thing. In a forest where deer and fox and raccoon and squirrel and opossum are always crossing the same road, even a sudden rain shower will spell the end of the centipede’s trip.
But the centipede crosses, either not knowing about the dangers, or knowing, he decides that reaching his destination is worth taking the risk.
I wonder how many more times I might have made it across the road if I had been blessed with ignorance of the consequences -- or if, knowing them, I had elected to take the chance because the prize waiting on the other side of the road was so great any risk was worth taking.
The secret may be in wanting something enough. Sometimes the consequences are just not at all as bad as we expect them to be. And the sense of attainment -- sometimes even only the surprise of "I really did it" can be worth crossing the road.
I remember being offered the chance to meet a girl my age who was visiting on the neighboring farm. I was about seven, and a little shy, I guess, because I resisted the pushes the grownups were giving me to "go over and play" with the strange new girl from Texas. One of my aunts finally put me in her car and drove me the mile or so to the neighbor’s house and introduced me. I liked the new girl immediately. I learned to love her and treasure her as I have few people since, because she grew into a loyal and trusted and sympathetic friend like few people are fortunate enough to find in their lives.
To this day I am sorry my aunt had to force me to meet Joan. I wish I had crossed the road to meet her by myself. I cross the road by myself more often these days because I know the fun of knowing Joan.
(While seeing to it that her four school-age children had the things they needed and the business of running a busy household ran without bumps, Ellen Bradford once wrote between breakfasts and suppers as a correspondent for the Tampa Tribune about goings-on in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee. She is now focused on the wonder of six great-grandchildren and of a new garden - while keeping the deer and rabbits from devouring its products before she and her husband.)