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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Living on the Isle of Dundee

May 28, 1980

Jimmy said they would have the bridge fixed by Valentine’s Day but here near to Memorial Day and it’s still a skeleton, steel beams only now taking flesh as the contractors put down the slams of concrete for what will be the road from the Passaic side to the Garfield side when complete.
They are months away from finishing it, and I find it funny, partly because of the disruption such things cause. I remember reading about a storm in the early 1880s that took out all the bridges north of Belleville, forcing wagons to travel down the west shore over our side’s less well-trodden roads from the farms north of Paterson to reach the markets in Hoboken and Jersey City.
These days it is office and factory workers that grumble, spouting ill words for the construction workers and the county government that struggle to replace the bridge too unsafe to keep open. I would grumble, too, except that they county kindly left the sidewalk open for foot traffic, so that I can jog across rather than hike up to Monroe Street or down Eighth Street or Market Street to the bridges into Wallington.
Most of us who live in this part of Passaic don’t realize we live on an island called Dundee, which white settlers bought from the local Indians for a handful of chickens. You can still find the chickens living here, but not the Indians.
Jimmy hates the bridge being out because Jimmy hates to walk, even for the two blocks up Passaic Street in Garfield for breakfast as Pure Foods diner or the longer walk along the east bank of the river to Quick Chek, and he mocks me for my morning jogs, and this love affair I have developed with this watery, temperamental river – my limbs aching after each daily run as if I have spent the whole time making love. Sometimes I hate the stench – especially near where the chemical plant pipes spew poison into the water, green slime dripping down the stones like urine, but even the ruins seem grand, significant, part of some great history I know so little about, even though most of my family lived a good part of it, fishing off these shores, swimming off the shores of East Paterson and Fairlawn. I run across the bridge and then turn north on River Drive, following it as if in the footsteps of my forefathers, aching to have seen what they saw, aching for the simple life I know they really didn’t have – my more complicated life making theirs seem simple.

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