The rain is pounding on the roof this morning, making that deep thudding sound followed by the much higher pitched splashing and spattering of the rainwater as it hits the concrete sidewalk and driveway. Then for a bit it will taper off, making it possible to hear the comparatively gentle (albeit fast) flowing of the water as it seeks lower ground.
It puts me in mind of childhood days on Shawnee Trail, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I would wait for the hard rain to pass so I could go outside, down to “the ditch” at the street, and float my little boats in the water.
Dark brown is the river, golden is the sand
It flows along forever, with trees on either hand.
Green leaves a-floating, castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating, where with all come home?
My parents bought me a little book of poems (Iroguois Publishing Company, 1929) when I was young, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s melodic words came to me this morning as I was reminded of those days. It’s odd how those little things stay with you, isn’t it?
Maybe they’re not so little.
I had my favorite boats, of course. But the years have seemingly wiped my memory clean, and I am left with the memory of only one boat I used to play with. It was a 4 1/2 inch long plastic grey submarine that I got from Kellogg, and you could fill its compartment with baking powder and the sub would dive and then rise to the surface again. When I took it out on the high seas of the drainage ditch in front of our house it was its floating power that I cared about, not its acrobatics. In those swift waters it was survival only, nothing fancy.
Our driveway, of course, traversed this ditch, and so there was a small culvert under the driveway through which the water passed. It couldn’t have been more than 12 inches in diameter. Consequently, when your boat passed into the culvert there were several seconds when you could not see it. Contact was suspended. Much like the situation NASA experienced with its astronauts on the far side of the moon (although I experienced this phenomenon several years before NASA experienced theirs).
And so . . . sailing under the culvert was always a risky proposition. Nevertheless, we did it. Because (to borrow a phrase from the famous Everest climber), “it was there.” I comforted myself at mission control with the knowledge that the culvert couldn’t be more than ten feet in length; it would be hard to lose a boat in that short distance.
But one rainy day the inevitable happened. I went down to the ditch to play, just like I did on so many other rainy days. I launched the sub into the fast moving waters, it entered the culvert; I waited several seconds and . . . it did not emerge on the other side. I waited longer. Then the search and rescue mode was fully employed. You see, the danger was that if you missed sighting your boat once it came through the culvert, it could flow downstream hidden by the high grass in the ditch and be pushed past my neighbor Mickey’s yard and on down the street past the people who owned the goldfish pond . . . into strange and uncharted territory.
I scanned and combed the terrain for a long time. But no submarine was found. It was gone. And I could hardly believe it. For days after that I would check the ditch, looking for a trace of my boat, hoping that it had somehow gotten caught in the grass and I had just missed sighting it. But no. It was gone.
Loss. It is a fact of life. But one we do not like to dwell upon.
The fear of loss can paralyze. But life is lived when we float the boat, not when we dock, or stay close to the shore. I think of this as I try to hold desperately to people, places, and things in my life; as I endeavor to keep situations as they are, thinking that with enough effort I can control the world around me. Avoid pain. Codify the path to security. Avoid risk.
But it can’t be done, can it?
My little boat was probably an unexpected surprise for another small boy living in the 1950s in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In fact, he may at this very minute be writing a blog, reminiscing about his discovery of a small boat found in those distant bygone days. That sub may be sitting on his shelf today; it certainly sits on my shelf of memories.
The persons I have lost in this life, the possessions that have vanished with the passing of time, the days of my life that I would like to hold onto forever . . . . As George Harrison sang over 40 years ago, “All Things Must Pass.”
I will live my life in the present. And I will relish the fact that my memories are a gift that I can, indeed, continue to hold in my hands.
On goes the river, and out past the mill,
Away down the valley, away down the hill.
Away down the river, a hundred miles or more,
Other little children shall bring my boats ashore.