Ditch banks can build character


   Commentary By Arnold Dyre

   Here we are in the dog days of August.
   When I was a boy, I spent a good portion of this time of year slaving away on the infernal ditch bank that Daddy always wanted to be kept clean. Armed with a Kaiser blade, I sweated many a day on that ditch bank, which made me look forward to going back to school.
   No shirt, a pair of old cutoff jeans and tennis shoes without socks. I sweated and thought. The sun bore down. I turned really brown. I thought about swimming holes, I thought about girls, I thought of doughnuts, milk-shakes and picture shows. I thought about all the things I wanted to do instead of cleaning the ditch bank.
   Daddy was fond of saying, “Ditch banks build character.”
   I always figured that was just something Daddy said, because he did not have a good answer for my questioning why the ditch bank needed to be cleaned in the hottest part of summer.
   Understand, I did not spend a great deal of time debating about what Daddy told me to do, but over the years, I voiced enough words of discontent to be told repeatedly of the character building attributes of ditch bank cleaning.
   Nevertheless, I did not think much about what Daddy said on the subject of character while actually performing what he told me to do. I did spend a good deal of time feeling sorry for myself.
   Some years later, after countless picture shows and doughnuts and all manner of experiences at Ole Miss but still very much a boy instead of a man, I went off to the Navy determined to do a man’s job.
   Those times spent on the ditch bank in the Mississippi August heat made Boot Camp seem easy.
   At sea, as an UNREP line handler on a pitching destroyer, that ditch bank character never let me down. It came through for me during long hours in the Radio Shack and during life and death experiences that were encountered by my shipmates and I on the fighting destroyer USS Ernest G. Small while we operated up and down the Vietnam coast and in the waterways of that far away place where our country saw fit to send us.
   Oh, sometimes I still felt sorry for myself. Sometimes I still spent a lot of time thinking about hamburgers, beer, girls, and other things I could not have.
   I thought about things I was going to do. My thinking became planning, and I charted a course for myself. Somewhere along the way, the boy that went off to the Navy became a man. Daddy, I choose to believe that you and the ditch bank had something to do with it.
   When I came home from the Navy, I noticed right off that the ditch bank had never been cleaner. I asked Mother about the ditch bank and she said, “Your father keeps it clean. He keeps the whole property clean, picks up fallen limbs and has it tip-top all the time. He says that it build character.”


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