Showing her true colors; woman paints bridge for 4th

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 3, 2006

CHESAPEAKE — It has been a tradition for the past 30 years and Norma Hughes says she doesn’t have any intentions of stopping any time soon.

The 66-year-old Charley Creek resident has annually painted the small bridge by her house in patriotic colors since the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial in 1976. Her work always coincides with the Fourth of July and has continuously been given the full blessing of the county.

“It (painting of the bridge) got started because I didn’t think that enough was being done (for the bicentennial),” Hughes said. “I wanted to get the neighborhood children involved and I thought this would be a great way.”

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After a few years, she said the red, white and blue bridge evolved into a local landmark and she felt the need to continue to paint it.

“The fire department, sheriff’s office and ambulances really use it as a marker,” Hughes said. “People will say ‘I live eight houses from the red, white and blue bridge,’ or ‘I’m right up from the bridge.’”

Hughes said people have grown accustomed to her display of patriotism and expect the short span to be in tip-top shape year-round. Each spring, Hughes said the paint begins to crack and peel and its in dire need of a good coat of paint by the time Independence Day rolls around.

Painting the bridge is made a little trickier because of its age and design. Hughes said the span was built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1940s.

“The WPA really built them sturdy. They made them so strong and sturdy that it is hard to paint them. They repel paint,” Hughes explained.

So, each year, shortly before the Fourth of July, she begins to scrape and peel off the old paint — quite a feat when you consider she is working on a busy, winding road with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour. After getting the old paint off, she brushes on a primer and finishes it off with several coats of red, white and blue. This year, the rain hampered her efforts and she was not able to complete her work of art until a few days ago.

“Some years it’s just like that I guess, but I got it done,” Hughes said.

The mother of two and grandmother of one says a rich family history of patriotism has led to her continued display of love for the USA. One set of Hughes’ grandparents were Croix Indians, while her other set of grandparents were Russian immigrants, she explained; both had a deep love for their adopted counties.

“My (Russian) grandparents would never let us know a word of Russian,” Hughes said. “They always thought we should be patriotic and respect our country and the freedoms it provides us.”

Her other grandparents had told her about the Indian’s “Trail of Tears” and the persecution that their people faced.

“They really had an interesting past and I guess all of that stuck with me,” she said. “All of this has made me appreciate this country.”