The Oliver Avenue Bridge | Sampson Independent

After watching a raccoon on the hunt for food leave its den at the edge of the underbrush, my faithful companion Billy Denny and I climbed out from under the large evergreen.

These whippersnappers stepped out of our secret clubhouse to escape one possible confrontation only to face another would-be hostile situation directly in front of us.

We stopped dead in our tracks upon seeing Lynn Rose, a ten-year-old from church, sitting on Sister Margaret Denny’s porch steps wielding a large staff.

Grabbing ahold of my intimate friend’s forearm, I swallowed hard looking over at the big burly boy with a crew cut.

“I wouldn’t go under that tree if I were you,” warned the hazel-eyed nipper as he walked past the taller boy helping me onto the cement slab at the bottom of the steps. “A raccoon has a den of babies under there.”

“Yeah,” I exclaimed motioning with my head toward the conifer on the other side of the property. “She just came out of the hole to gather food for them.”

When Billy grabbed ahold of my hand to help me up the two steps onto the porch, the husky lad glanced over at massive tree behind him with a skeptical look in his eyes.

Sister Denny stepped out onto the porch and gave her grandson and me each a nickel to go down to D’Orazio’s service station on the corner and get a soda pop.

As these kindergarten graduates reached the top of the steps facing Main Street, we watched the bruiser step back into the yard while walking along the fence line along the road.

“He’s going over to the pine tree,” I mentioned while glancing over at my chum with big eyes. “If that mama raccoon comes back, there is gonna be trouble.”

“Oh well,” asserted the black-haired lad as he gave their intimidator one last look before disappearing behind the shrubs. “We warned him; so if he is too dumb to listen, he’ll find out the hard way.”

The neighbor’s grandson did a cartwheel through both patches of grass on either side of the church’s front stoop as these Sunday school buddies passed by the red brick building.

Once we crossed the asphalt parking lot to the service station next to Danny and Drew’s house, these two nippers put our nickels into the red vending machine outside the two bay garage to retrieve an ice cold bottle of Coke.

After walking down the slope on the other side of the mechanic’s garage, we went down the hill on Oliver Avenue past the Andrecheck’s house and barbershop toward the bridge.

Upon reaching the two lane structure crossing over Pigeon Creek, we stepped up on the wooden walkway separated from the road by a steel beam.

Billy climbed up onto the railing overlooking the tributary flowing below and sat down while I glanced down at the rushing water before taking the last sip of soda pop.

After hopping down from the railing, the neighbor’s grandson placed his empty pop bottle next to his friend’s on the opposite side of the walkway before standing on the bottom rail to look out over the water.

“Being on this bridge definitely makes me think of fishing,” announced Billy as he looked over me with a broad smile. “I need to ask my dad when we’re gonna go again.”

“If your parents allow it, maybe you can come with us,” he continued with a hopeful look in his eyes.”We would have such a great time together.”

“We always go up to Raccoon Creek State Park,” he added with enthusiasm. “We probably have the best camping spot in the whole campground.”

While these little shavers were exploring the bridge’s underbelly, a train whistle could be heard in the distance announcing another shipment of bituminous coal headed our way from the mine in Ellsworth.

This pair grabbed ahold of one another’s hand as we trotted out from under the overpass and climbed the bank in an effort to get back to the top in a jiffy.

As we hurried across the walkway, Billy pulled a penny from his pocket while approaching the train tracks when the signals came down to stop traffic.

“Watch this,” declared the black-haired lad holding up the round piece of copper money. “I’m gonna flatten this penny without even lifting a finger.”

After the neighbor’s grandson placed the penny on the tracks while the locomotive was still some distance away, these youngsters then waved to the engineer as the train crossed over Oliver Avenue going “clickety clack.”

Once the convoy of coal cars had rattled down the track toward downtown, the hazel-eyed lad picked up the penny that was no longer recognizable.

After the traffic cleared in both directions, these partners in crime picked up our pop bottles and walked across the road before going up the lane toward the massive edifice I called home.

When these little tykes walked up the steps to the porch and threw our pop bottles into the milk crate, Mom opened the screen door and stepped out onto the stoop as she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Your father just left for the hospital,” announced the tall slender woman as she kissed my forehead. “Lynn Rose was attacked by a raccoon in Sister Denny’s yard and was rushed to the emergency room.”

“We told him to stay away from the pine tree,” stated the black-haired lad as he raised his hands into the air. “There’s a raccoon den under that tree with a mother and her babies.”

“Well, I’m sure he regrets his decision not to heed your warning now,” noted the minister’s wife before she disappeared into the house.

After the two Sunday school pals gave one another a warm embrace, they said their goodbyes as Billy climbed up the cement treads waving from the little church at the top of the hill.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of the saga in my column two weeks from today …

Mark S. Price is a former city government/county education reporter for The Sampson Independent. He currently resides in Clinton. If you’re interested in reading the extended version of this story in his novel titled, “Little Church at the Top of the Hill,” just type the title into the Facebook search engine and scroll down to Chapter 14, The Oliver Avenue Bridge.