I suppose one has minimal control of where his explorations take him, but none at all as to where his memories go. Take the currently popular Cloverdale “Bottom” Park, where the Live Oakes provide a spacious canopy, and the gazebo serves as band-stand for the weekly music program. Hundreds gather each weekend to enjoy the offering and picnic fare. What you see is the quiet little park; but what I see is “Murder Ditch”.
Back in the early 1940s, when my wife was in her pre-teens and lived ten blocks west on Ponce de Leon (north border of the park), this was a favorite place to play. Not because of the trees –they were just scrubs- but because of the open drainage ditch which runs along the west edge of the park. Today the ditch bank is gently sloped, mostly grassed; its bottom is paved (see foreground of the picture). But back in the 1940s the sides were steep, alternating slippery, craggy and overgrown. The stream bed was beset with briers, stagnant pools and hidden bowers. Oh, what a wonderful place to play. You could catch tadpoles and crawfish, pick berries, play hide & seek, slide down or climb the bank, or dam up the stream. It was high adventure.
Then it happened. A hapless young lady, wife of an airman at Maxwell, stepped off the city bus on Fairview one evening and proceeded afoot down Cloverdale Road. The poor thing was attacked, and her body was found days later in the ditch, right here. From that day forward this spot was dubbed “Murder Ditch”, and the little park became a forbidden place. Even 30 years later, whenever we would drive by this memorable place of her past, May would suck in her breath and say to herself, “You can’t play there”. I grew up far away, of course, but May’s story always comes to mind whenever I pass by. Forgive me for the telling. Nowadays it teams with fun and events like parties, music, yoga and more!
Finally, if you would indulge an old man, as a boy in a little town 100 miles to the West, I had access to just such a ditch, same as May. Only mine was in granddaddy’s cow pasture, right across the street. And I had four little boys as playmates. Did we ever have fun playing up and down our ditch!