I don’t know what it is about ditches, but they held a peculiar fascination for us when we were kids, and we had plenty of ditches to be fascinated with, as there were very few enclosed drainage ditches in Kenner. Most of them were open scars in the earth. We had little tiny ditches only maybe a foot deep and a foot or two wide, and we had bigger ditches that were three or four feet deep and just as wide or wider. And then we had at least one ditch along the IC tracks that was bordering on canal size. It was an easy eight feet deep and about ten feet wide. It always had about a foot of flowing water in it even when it had not recently rained.
Since there was no central sewerage system in Kenner back then, most homes had cesspools, which eventually drained into the ditches. That meant those ditches closest to homes might have some pretty dark mud in the bottom. We tended to avoid those. Even though we spent a lot of time fooling around in ditches, none of us got sick from it, not even Kibby Manard who seemed to always be falling into the ditches with the blackest cesspool mud. And then, maybe we never got sick because my dad gave all of us kids tetanus shots about once a week, or so it seemed.
Once we even found a small alligator in the ditch on the corner of Sixth and Minor Streets. Snakes, crawfish, and eels were common. The clear water of the IC ditch held lots of small fish, including some that looked to me like the fantail gourami fish you bought in the pet shop for your aquarium. Once I decided to “fish” in the Minor Street ditch beside my grandfather’s house. I used a stick I found in the Joe Lorio’s woods for a rod, with some cotton string and a safety pin. I forget what I used for bait, probably bread, but I “cast” my line into the ditch kind of under the culvert for my grandfather’s driveway, and dang if I didn’t get a bite! It was a big old eel, and he broke my “rod.”
But there was one ditch that was special to us. It was so special, that to this day, my cousin Bobby reminds me of it almost every time we get together for some family gathering. That special ditch would be the one in front of my grandfather’s house alongside Sixth Street. It was “Our Ditch.”
Three things made it special? The first was its shape. It was a shallow ditch only about two feet deep at the most and about four to five feet wide with gently sloping sides. The second feature was that it was lined with St. Augustine grass, which was the grass most everyone planted in their yards and was, of course, in my grandfather’s yard. The ditch was merely a slightly sunken extension of his front yard, and they mowed it just like the rest of the yard. The third feature that made it special was that it was almost always dry. It filled only during rainstorms and then quickly drained and dried out again.
If you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that, with the soft grass lining and sloping shape, this ditch was shaped an awful lot like a lounge chair, which is exactly how we used it. After a game of baseball or football in the empty lot across the street, or building forts in Joe Lorio’s wooded lot between my grandfather’s house and the Manard’s house, we would end the day lounging in Our Ditch just talking and enjoying the sunset.
Bobby keeps telling me he wants to go back to Kenner and lay in that ditch again. I am not sure how the current owners of my grandparent’s house would feel about that. Besides, it has long since had culverts installed and covered over. Yet another piece of our childhood lost forever. And to think, our great grandkids will never have the sublime experience of watching a sunset from a grass-lined ditch shaped like a lounge chair. Such is modern life.