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19th Street South and the Big Ditch . . .

In my memories as a small boy, let’s say from the age of five up to the age of nine, a place called the Big Ditch looms large. No, it’s not the Panama Canal or the Suez Canal or Big Dig of Boston fame or the All-American Canal that winds through Arizona. My Big Ditch was—and perhaps still is—a trench that winds through the city of Columbus, Mississippi, lined with concrete at the bottom and carrying various effluvia on its way to the river—among other functions it serves as a storm drain for the city. I know not what sort of effluvia it carried, nor do I want to know now—I was advised by my folks that playing in the Big Ditch was an unhealthy practice, but hey, it had water in it. As a young boy I was drawn to water, and please forgive the time-worn analogy, like a moth to a flame—time-worn, perhaps, but highly picturesque.

The Big Ditch meandered a half-block or so from a small three-room house with a real toilet added to a back porch, one of the old time stools with a big tank of water directly overhead and a long chain to pull to release the water—trust me, if that tank ever sprung a leak the sitter below would know it. That house on Nineteenth Street South was where I lived for several years with my mother and three sisters—my sisters were all my elders by at least eighteen months.

During my time at that address I cut my reading teeth on romance magazines such as True Story, True Romances, Ladies’ This and Ladies’ That, ad nauseum. However, I’m pleased to report that my early reading pursuits among those periodicals were adequately balanced by True Detective and True Crime and various other magazines of that ilk, if you get my drift!

Now on to my story of the Big Ditch:

I’m fairly certain that if I were standing at the bottom of the Big Ditch now I would have a 360-degree view of my various surroundings, but as a boy if I made it to the bottom I was hidden from sight unless my searchers were standing on the edge of the ditch.

I won’t dally on this posting—my readers may not be ready for a story that follows a young boy uptown from home to the beginning of the ditch, and downtown to the point that the ditch connects to a river, a point which included a long concourse of concrete, a man-made slide of great proportions, a slide lined with algae that allowed one to sit down in and on and zip to the river’s edge, bailing out just before the drop to the fast-moving current. Such slides required that one be clothed from the waist down, whether in long or short pants, especially after numerous slidings had removed patches of the algae.

I realize that such activities may be difficult for adults to understand, but for us, a group of kids that craved adventure, the Big Ditch equaled and surpassed everything that the Bobbsey Twins ever did. Our play mirrored the adventures created by Zane Grey and James Fennimore Cooper and Edgar Rice Burroughs—we played cowboys and Indians, Riders of the Purple Sage, The Last of the Mohicans and Tarzan of the Apes. We sneaked out of the house with matches and cups and a pot and a fry-pan and had lunch in the Big Ditch, dining on frog legs and hackberry tea—the frogs resided in the ditch and the hackberry trees grew along the un-cemented sides of the ditch. Please don’t ask me where we got the water to make the tea.

A special note: I have no memory of having lured girls to join me and others for lunch—I must confess that girls at that particular phase held little interest for me, and I am not aware of any interest displayed by the other boys.

Yes, we caught bullfrogs, and with our pocketknives—every kid in town carried a pocketknife—we dispatched the frogs to somewhere else in the cosmos, then separated the legs from the rest of each frog, skinned the legs and then burned them in the skillet and boiled hackberries to make tea for the repast. Hey, I’m not making this up—it’s a miracle, one of God’s wonders, that we didn’t fall prey to fatal diseases, but the only thing I can remember suffering was awakening with double mumps on a memorable Christmas day—click here for a truly heart-rending narrative of that calamitous event.

As I promised at the beginning, I will not dally on this story. There’s lots more to talk about, some of which I probably won’t discuss until I make my final report to YOU KNOW WHO at the conclusion of life’s journey—let’s face it—all of us have things that we like to keep to ourselves!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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UTSA’s 1992 search for a provost . . .

I submitted this letter to the San Antonio Light almost 19 years ago, but I don’t remember whether it was published. If I were inclined to guess, my guess would be that it was published—and if not, I can say in all modesty that it should have been.

First, a brief one paragraph history of the SAN ANTONIO LIGHT, a daily newspaper that flourished for more than 100 years in San Antonio, Texas, but is now defunct:

The San Antonio Light, a daily afternoon and Sunday morning newspaper in San Antonio, Texas began as the San Antonio Surprise in 1881. The paper subsequently morphed through a series of titles including the Evening Light, the Daily Light, the Light and Gazette, and finally settled on the San Antonio Light title in 1911. The Light was published continuously until late 1992 and was then closed, shortly after its purchase by the Hearst Corporation.

This is the letter I submitted to the Light, a submission prompted by the search  by UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio) to fill the position of provost at the university:

Letter to the editor, San Antonio Light

May 22, 1992

PO Box 161

To UTSA President Kirkpatrick:

In its search for the person best qualified to fill the number two position of provost at UTSA, your 13-member committee narrowed the field of applicants to one Anglo and one Hispanic. You selected the Anglo, and immediately protests poured in from various Hispanic student and faculty groups, political and community organizations and individual Hispanics, all charging bias and insensitivity and some calling for your resignation.

The Anglo declined the job offer, saying he would stay in Toledo “because we truly believe in the future of this community and this university.” Following his declination, you said the committee would continue seeking someone for the post.

Why?

You have a qualified person who wants the job, and was considered by the committee to be in the top one percent in a field of 200 applicants. He was the second best applicant in a listing of qualified applicants, the runner-up (so to speak) to the Anglo who was offered the job.

Why should the search be continued?

Let’s use the analogy of the annual competition for the Miss America title. The choices are narrowed to two people—one is crowned  and the other is named first runner-up for the title. If for any reason Miss America is later disqualified or is unable to perform her duties, the committee does not “continue seeking someone for the post.” The title and the crown go to the first runner-up.

While the competition for provost was no beauty contest, there were two clear winners. Scott McNall was selected to fill the position of provost at UTSA but has indicated that he is not available to perform the duties. Albert Ramirez was considered to be the first “runner-up,” and he is available and willing to perform the duties.

He should be given the job. Any other action tends to confirm theHispanic community’s perceptions of bias and insensitivity.

Postscript:

I don’t remember who was ultimately selected for the job. I would like to believe the Hispanic applicant was selected and if so, I would like to believe that my letter contributed to his selection.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
 

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