I wrote this story for my dad in his words several years before he died. Reading it again brings back memories of time we spent visiting together, both in person and during our daily phone calls. I can still hear his voice and the pleasure he received in recalling this, and other stories. He was not this eloquent, but the story captures the essence of a memory he shared with me, and offers the background to make sense of the little snippet of memory he so enjoyed recalling.
Wishing for a Ditch
My daughter and I live far apart these days, she’s near Boston, and I’m still in South Florida where she grew up. Even though we talk almost every day, the distance is a barrier that bothers both of us. She gets down for visits on occasion, but it isn’t the same as being nearby.
During one of our recent conversations, my daughter was feeling concerned that we weren’t going to be together for the holidays. “Dad, I wish we could be with you. We’re just so far apart,” she said. “Honey,” I replied, “you can do a lot of wishing, but…” She’s usually the one who does the remembering, but I could tell she needed a bit of cheering up, and I remembered a family story.
“Do you remember our story about wishing on a star?” I asked my daughter. “No,” she replied. “When was that?”
“You remember the kids who lived across the street from us when we lived in West Palm Beach, Florida, don’t you?” I asked her. “Sure,” she replied. I continued, “We had just moved to Ft. Lauderdale, and these former neighbors had come down for a visit.”
It was 1960, Florida was in the midst of a housing boom, and the Everglades were being drained along the east coast of South Florida to make way for lots of simple, tract homes that growing families needed. We had just moved into one of those homes, our first (and only) new house.
In our backyard a drainage ditch, part of a network of drainage for the entire area, was helping to transform former swamp into buildable land. Not really our property, the ditch was mowed by the town on occasion, but was an inviting place for poisonous water moccasins, especially if there was water in the ditch. Filling with water when we had hurricanes, there was a small stream, or at least mud in the bottom of the ditch, much of the year.
“I found all you kids out in the ditch behind the house, in the dark,” I explained to her. “When I asked what you all were doing out there, Lee, our former neighbor from West Palm, looked at me and said, “I’m wishing on a star.” “What are you wishing for?” I asked him. “I’m wishing I had a ditch just like this in my yard.”
Though long ago, memories of that home, where two of my five children were born, and where all of them grew up, are still clear. The house is now gone, sold after my wife’s death a number of years ago.
That ditch was a source of constant worry for my wife and me, but it was such a draw for the children, there was no keeping them away from it, regardless of the threatened consequences. If we had known how irresistible that ditch would be, we probably wouldn’t have bought the house. But of course, we had no idea what entertainment a ditch would provide.
Watching our children roll down the sloped sides of the ditch, the only “hill” they could find in otherwise flat-as-a-pancake south Florida, we started figuring out the attraction. Spying kids catching frogs in the grass on the slope of the ditch was also a pretty good clue. Scooping pollywogs from the ditch for our living room fish tank, we checked in on the little amphibians’ development as tails were absorbed and little frog legs emerged.
Undeterred by threats of dire punishment, the children continued crossing over the stream, using the wobbly piece of wood laid haphazardly across the bottom of the ditch. The rickety board offered a risky and undependable shortcut across the muddy stream to the houses on the other side of the block. Figuring it was better to teach our kids to be careful than to make the ditch a forbidden place, we helped them place a wider board across the ditch, which helped reduce the accidental tumbles into the mud.
Realizing that our children’s friends envied our ditch made us look at this feature of our new home with different eyes. There are many things in life we might wish to be different, but sometimes, as we take into account all we have, we find out that it’s enough. For all you know, there are others wishing on stars to have the blessings we take for granted.