The Water Witch
Jeffrey Feingold tells an interesting anecdote from his childhood. Does Wally’s magic wand find a water source in his backyard or is it the result of instructions given by the Charles Heston 'Moses' of Ten Commandments, who appears in young Jeffrey’s dream.
My father didn’t believe in witches or magic wands. He was a man of science. But other than watching Star Trek every Friday night, or gazing at the stars though his chunky telescope, my dad, David Feingold, most loved gardening. He was born and raised in downtown Boston, a city kid through and through. Then, when I was eight years old, he and my mother bought their first house, in the suburbs, where my dad discovered his love of all things green. Dad often talked about his dream of moving to Israel to help turn sand into farmland. For now, though, his Negev Desert was our big backyard where, just as in the desert, water was scarce. Every summer our town had a watering ban. Watering his plump red tomatoes, shiny purple-black eggplants, and emerald-green peppers was limited to certain days and hours of the week, and then only by a handheld hose. How was he to turn dust into arable land without water? Some men may simply have given up. But dad, being a man of science, made the logical decision: dig a well.
I stood in our yard one sunny summer Sunday, bristling with anticipation as I awaited all manner of scientists and heavy equipment to come turn our dry backyard into a fertile field of green. I imagined men and women in white lab coats, with glass beakers for testing soil, thick lab goggles, and lots of fun equipment, including giant earth-moving drills to bore down deep into the earth’s core–all the way to China if necessary. I was always dragging around a pillowcase full of firecrackers and cherry bombs and such, and I pictured myself working together with the well crew for some of the trickier demolition work. I was practically jumping out of my skin with anticipation.
Just then, a diminutive red pickup truck puttered into our driveway. The engine spluttered and coughed and finally gave its last mournful gasp. I read the words painted in white on the driver’s door:
And just below that, the memorable tagline:
Where Wally goes …
A tall portly man stepped out onto the driveway and slammed the truck door closed. He squinted down at me with little black-eyed pea pupils peering out from a pudgy, pasty potato face. He wore a red plaid shirt, and overalls smudged with dirt. In his right hand he gripped a long stick shaped like the letter Y. I kept peering my head around past the back of the truck to see if the heavy equipment and scientists were arriving. But alas, there was only Wally.
“Mister, how are you gonna dig a well with that pointy stick?” I inquired.
“This stick is special,” he explained. “It’s called a divining rod or watch witch. It’ll tell me where the water is. Once I find the water, then we’ll come in with heavy equipment to drill.”
“That’s where I can help,” I offered, handing him a round red cherry bomb I’d just pulled out of my pillowcase demolition bag. I guess he hadn’t seen one before because he held it up to his broad nose, sniffed a few times, then began shaking it violently.
“Be careful, Mister,” I hollered, “you can blow your hand clean off with one of those!”
Just then, my father walked out of our front door and over to the truck. As he and Mister Wally shook hands–luckily Wally still had both of his–my dad kept peering around toward the back of the pickup truck. I guess he, too, was wondering when the scientists would be arriving.
“It’s just … you?” dad asked haltingly.
“Yessiree,” Wally said with a broad, yellow-toothed smile, “but don’t worry none. Where Wally goes … water flows!”
My dad looked worried. We all walked into the backyard. Wally explained that, since it’s so expensive to dig, he came first to find the right spot. My dad must have been getting bothered by mosquitos, because he kept gently slapping his forehead with the palm of his hand as Wally ambled about the yard with the bottom of the divining rod pointed straight ahead as he held the two shorter sections in his meaty paws.
“You sure have a lot of holes in your yard,” he noted to my dad.
“Rabbits,” dad said, “we’ve got them everywhere.”
“Bingo!” Wally exclaimed, as he stopped slowly ambulating and spread his tree-trunk legs directly over a rabbit hole. As he hummed quietly to himself, the divining rod began to slowly rise, moving in an arc from its position pointing straight ahead until it pointed directly at the sky as Wally held it over his curly cabbage red hair.
“It’s here,” he said. “I can feel it.”
“Rabbits?” my father asked, hitting his forehead with the palm of his right hand.
“Nope,” said Wally. “It’s H2O,” he said. “That’s water to you gents, but to me it’s an inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless and colorless chemical compound which is the main constituent of the Earth’s hydrosphere and the fluids of all known living organisms.”
If my father’s jaw fell any further to the ground, I feared it would have slipped right into the rabbit hole. He put his left hand on Wally’s shoulder while he shook hands with him with his right, and asked, “so, when do we drill?”
“Sunup tomorrow,” Wally said. He took a little orange flag on a metal wire out of his overall pocket and stuck it into the ground right next to the rabbit hole.
As dad and Wally headed over to Wally’s truck, I peered down the bone-dry rabbit hole. I could see a fair way down into the dusty sandy hole. I had a funny feeling in my stomach.
That night, a bearded man came to me in my dreams. He floated above me. He wore a flowing white robe, brown leather open toe sandals, and he carried a wooden staff. I thought he must be Moses. But he was surrounded by animals, each in pairs, all floating around him. Pairs of goats, sheep, rabbits and many more animals circling around and around and around.
“Son of David,” his voice boomed, “a great flood shall come forth, into these your father’s fields. But lo, for this to happen, you must mark my words and heed my instructions. Only then shall this barren land become fertile.” I had never met Moses. Still, he looked a lot like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. But I wondered, what’s up with all the animals?
“Are you sure this will work?” I inquired.
He cocked his head quizzically to the side and glowered down at me. Then he raised his staff to the heavens and said, behold! Looking up, I saw clouds part and a vast expanse of verdant farmland appear. Then he told me what I must do.
“Heed my words, child, and the waters shall flow. Now go forth as I command you. No more questions! Oh, just one more thing–don’t call me Moses.”
I tried to go back to sleep. After tossing and turning a few hours, I arose in my pajamas. I took the flashlight from my nightstand drawer, then opened my bedroom window. I climbed down the oak tree into the backyard. With the flashlight, I found the orange flag in the blackness. I then dragged the garden hose from the spigot on the back of the house and stuck the end of the hose as far down the rabbit hole as I could. Then I walked back to the house again and turned the spigot handle on as far as it would go. I could hear the water flowing, even though Wally wasn’t there. I left the spigot on and climbed back up the tree and into my bedroom. I set my Timex watch alarm for five in the morning, a half an hour before sunrise, and just five hours from the moment I crawled back under my sheets and closed my eyes.
When the bleep-bleep-bleep of my Timex woke me, I again took the flashlight, opened my bedroom window, and descended the oak tree. I turned off the spigot, dragged the hose back to the house, and then climbed back up the oak.
That morning, after breakfast, I heard Wally’s pickup truck as it spluttered and coughed and gasped its way into our driveway. This time he wasn’t alone. A man driving a sort of pile driving truck pulled into the driveway, drove around Wally’s pickup and my dad’s Ford LTD sedan, and over to the hole marked with the orange flag. Wally, Dad and I walked over to watch as the pile driving man began pulverizing the ground with a percussion cable. Within seconds of pulverizing, water began seeping up and pooling. The ground was saturated from my nighttime shenanigans. Standing on the sopping earth, Wally looked at his divining rod, clutched in his right hand, then over to my dad. He looked stunned. “By God, man, I’ve done it!” he shouted to my dad over the roar of the percussion driver. He kept looking at his divining rod, holding it at a distance and turning it slowly over and over, perhaps trying to ascertain how it had miraculously transformed from a dead branch of a hazel tree into a living mystical instrument of the gods.
Just then I had a terrible thought. Had I drowned the rabbits? But then Wally tapped my dad’s arm and said, “look there,” as he pointed at a whole bunch of rabbits lined up at the far end of the yard. They appeared to be watching us intently, and–I thought–chuckling.