BRUGGER: A special Coast Guard celebration

Aug 3, 2012


At the Saturday parade 10 years ago, I experienced heat stroke for the first time. I had volunteered to keep the high school band members hydrated as they marched through town. This called for jogging backward up and down the rows, squeezing cold water into the mouths of the students.

If you ever volunteer for this activity, remember to serve yourself first — in the same way you are to put your own oxygen mask on and then help your child if your plane is going to crash.

That is just one of many memories, but the best came 33 years ago.

On the Friday of Coast Guard Festival 1979, my husband and I attended a typical TGIF gathering — but a bit more organized due to the festivities in town. Friends from our softball team grilled burgers and served up plates of potluck fare. I’m sure there was zucchini bread, and plenty of Old Milwaukee on ice. Five days short of nine months pregnant, I probably sipped a Diet Coke — this being pre-caffeine and a plethora of chemical-warning days. Our oldest, at 21 months, chased his toddler buddies in between and around our legs. My clothes stuck to me like syrup on a pancake. I was hot and bothered, carrying around 25 extra pounds of furnace. I was ready to go.

The power-that-is thought so, too — and at 10 that evening, we implemented the plan.

Support people in place, we threw a suitcase in the back of our avocado-green Pinto station wagon and headed for Grand Rapids. My contractions were two minutes apart and the drive would take 45 minutes. However, this was Coast Guard weekend, when the population in town balloons to include thousands of visitors.

As we turned onto the highway, the road shimmered with bright lights coming and going. Though lively, traffic seemed to crawl. A half-mile up the road, we came to a complete stop. Yellow lights flashed. The drawbridge over the Grand River was rising to allow boat traffic to pass underneath.

From his small perch over the river, the bridgetender had a busy job, raising and lowering the drawbridge sections. In 1979, the bridge could still be raised every 15 minutes. Cars lined up bumper-to-bumper from three different directions. Folks were known to become irritated, honking horns, sometimes shouting. Earlier in the season, an incensed driver had shot at the tender’s booth with a BB gun. Yikes.

We sat for a brief moment. Engine exhaust suspended in the air like fog while music blasted from car speakers the size of refrigerators. The road appeared to boil.

“Stay right here, I’ll be right back,” Barry said (are you kidding?).

The incline of the bridge staring me in the face, I watched as my husband dashed toward the booth. Perhaps the tender was extra vigilant that evening, although

I’m certain there were no night-goggles as of yet. But as my husband approached in full sprint, the gentleman shouted for Barry to “stand back!”

“My wife is in labor," Barry told him. "We have to cross the bridge.” His arms flailing, I could just make out the back of his head as he jumped up and down frantically.

“I’ll lower it as soon as you return to your car,” the wise man from the bridge shouted.

True to his word, the bridge reversed course.

Huffing and puffing, Barry pulled open the car door and slid in. I looked at my husband with faint admiration. When you are in full-gallop labor, your knight in shining armor looks a bit tarnished, and you just don’t care. We were on our way again.

Two minutes later, in front of Stan’s Bar, the wail of a siren pierced my ears. A Spring Lake policeman was on us like a crow to roadkill. “Have you any idea, sir, how fast you were driving?”

“Seventy," Barry told him. "I’m trying to get my wife to Butterworth Hospital in time for delivery!”

In 1979, there was a bit of good-old-boy logic left in area law enforcement and he cut my husband some slack. One painful look from me, and the gentleman waved us on. “I’d give you an escort, but there’s too much traffic in town. I’ll call ahead for you so you won’t be stopped again.” I know — hard to believe.

The following evening, thousands of people celebrated with music, water fountains and fireworks — as we held our healthy 6-pound, 15-ounce baby boy. He arrived moments after we reached the hospital, nearly sliding off the delivery table as he entered the world.

And the celebration goes on.

— By Ann Brugger, Tribune community columnist



Thanks for sharing this. What a great story. I assume the "Barry" you are talking about was my high school Consumer Economics teacher? A great guy. Thanks again for sharing.


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