Misremembering and morphed oral histories create fantastic tales that hold great importance to families. In those families, new generations learn, relearn, and retell these histories so that they become tales of what could have been even if they weren’t. Such is the story that emerges in Joanna Hershon’s “Bridges.” The Brooklyn Bridge becomes the backdrop for romance…chance meetings, proposals, moments of falling in love. The Bridge itself, in life and in literature, becomes the symbol for all this. The tales of its being built are also romantic, yet do not reflect the harsh realities. But the idea of the bridge remains romantic.
Hershon takes this romance to heart, confessing that she looks for inklings of her private family history in the archives of past public reference. “Amid fame-seekers, suicides and thwarted suicides, and a handful of UFO sightings and alien abductions, I keep expecting to find, in the archives of the Brooklyn Eagle, a proposal story whose details match my great-grandparents’. I know this is ludicrous. I know that something so private and historically insignificant as an engagement between two unknowns would never have been recorded. I also know that it’s precisely the ephemeral nature of such stories, their delicate threads handed down through generations like the silk purse I have from my grandmother, that draws us in. It’s the not-knowing that makes us want to know” (142-3). The line between public and private experience blurs when we engage in storytelling so deep and pull in public symbols to bolster the tales. Human nature, at its core, is simple curiosity. We may lose that childlike view of the world as we grow older, but stories like these bring us back into the thrill of mystery, whether public or private or a little bit of both.
Hershon, Joanna. “Bridges.” Brooklyn Was Mine. Eds. Chris Knutsen and Valerie Steiker. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. 135-146. Print.