Missing the Water by Jamie Kirkpatrick


There’s a box on the dresser upstairs that contains treasure. It used to sit on my parents’ dresser but after they passed away, I “inherited” it. The box looks to be Amish-made and the treasure within is small gold—in other words, little things collected along the way. Memories; little things like that.

I don’t open the box much these days but when I do, it’s usually to make a deposit, almost never a withdrawal. Sometimes I’ll take a few minutes to inspect the box’s contents and when I do, invariably a tiny memory bubbles to the surface. The memory often comes drifting up on a faint odor, a whiff of something musty and almost forgotten that recalls our country house overlooking a high meadow in western Pennsylvania. I couldn’t begin to describe the components of that smell but I know it like the back of my hand. It’s home.

I had occasion to search for something the other day so of course I looked in the box. I saw my father’s old red winter hat and the Raggedy Andy doll that always lay on my mother’s carefully made bed. There were a couple of old watches, some photographs, a deck of playing cards, some old military scrip from World War II, and two delicate ceramic miniatures (a book and a buffalo) that were part of a collection that cluttered the top of my parents’ dresser. There was an empty jewelry box with velvet lining, a bottle opener on a key ring, and a hair brush—I have no idea why these items landed in the box. But the object of my searching—a postcard with a rhyming couplet scribbled on the back—was not there. Fortunately, I remembered half of the couplet, so I went to that other repository of all things—Google—and voila! There it was!

As couplets go, it’s not much; doggerel, really. I’m not even sure why I was thinking about those lines, but I do know that I had written them down on a picture postcard years ago and tucked it away in anticipation of a day when I would need it. The picture on the postcard was of a old woman in a sere African environment, windblown, sandy, scrub vegetation; harsh beyond measure; waterless.

I think that at the time the rhyme crossed my windscreen, it caused me to think about all the things we take for granted. Despite all our troubles, we are a fortunate and blessed people. Compared to many, our treasure boxes are relatively full. The things we take for granted—like a clean glass of water—would be true treasures in some other countries, but for us all it takes is a turn of the tap to make the water flow.

The same is true with memory.  Maybe that’s why I was thinking about the box on our dresser and this ragged little rhyme. My parents passed away some years ago, but my wife and several other close friends have aging parents that are now nearing the end of their time on earth. Hard choices regarding the quality of their lives and their medical care will need to be made soon, choices that often come with some unintended consequences and certainly without clean right answers. We all will do the best we can.

Someday I’ll find the postcard with its scribbled rhyme, but for now, the google version will have to suffice. The words seem to have come from a novel called “Pass the Baton” by David O’Connor and they apparently are taken from an old song his grandmother used to sing. It goes like this:

Never let your chances like moonbeams pass you by,
You never miss the water ’til the well runs dry.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.


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