In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.
I am a boy. I do what boys do. I seek and hide, throw and catch…and today, the third Monday in June, I dig and build. The site of my building is out behind the white Victorian house—our home—in Corydon, Iowa that sits at the southeast corner of West Anthony and North Greeley Streets, on a back portion of the lot by the alleyway.
Out of bed earlier than usual, I am eager to get to the site. Hurriedly I finish breakfast, grab my knapsack (packed last night before bed), kiss mom, give Pamela a wink, and march out the back door with Major. The perilous journey from there to the site—a distance of perhaps 50 yards—goes mercilessly fast.
At the site, I start whistling the theme song from The Bridge Over River Kwai. The film, featuring William Holden and Alec Guinness, was my entertainment at the theater yesterday afternoon. Then and there, mission accepted, today I will build something that, like the bridge in the movie, could endure the test of time. With knapsack off and unpacked, I take a quick draw from the canteen, retie my boots, and unfold the camp shovel. Hack, scoop, hack, scoop I commence digging. Seeking a firm foundation, much as they did in the movie, on which to build an enduring structure. Soon a two-foot by three-foot hole is evident. One foot down, it is time for some water. After which, hack, scoop, hack, scoop—I dig, dig, and dig more. Two feet down, oh my, this is hard work. Sucking the canteen dry, I think how in the movie the digging and building was not this difficult.
I am intently hacking and scooping when my buddy, John, arrives. Continuing to dig, I regale him with the fun I am having. Off home to get a shovel goes John. Soon, there are two of us digging and the hole is four-feet wide and six-feet long. We spread the dirt from the hole around its outer lips. Deeper we dig, our lower extremities no longer visible to passersby who care to look.
Tired and sore I am seriously doubting my digging skills when Pamela arrives with ice-cold lemonade. A big umbrella and lawn chair are hastily put up, homage to Pamela our angel of mercy. Pamela, queen-like on her throne, revels in our self-inflicted misery. Hacking and scooping we dig deeper (all-the-while faking that we are having fun). Dennis and David, friends from down the street arrive shovels in hand. With four diggers the hole is soon four-feet wide and six-feet long and five feet deep. When John and David, who are much shorter than me, are in the hole they are impossible for passersby to see.
Tired, sore, and desperately wanting to stop digging, I leave Dennis, David, and John to their shoveling and Pamela to her reveling. To the garage I go, where I grab an old, solid oak door off the scrap heap and drag it to the dig-site. Then back to the garage for another door. We cover the hole with the doors, leaving openings in the front and back for viewing. We dig an entrance, put the dirt from it on top of the doors, and in the dirt we put brush, branches, and a hollyhock plant as strategic camouflage.
Work done, time enduring structure in place, we take turns viewing it from various vantage points around the yard. From across the way, with the sun setting, I can hardly see it and inside it David, Dennis, and John are not visible. Contentedly my friend’s head to their homes and Pamela, Major, and I do the same.
That evening, freshly bathed, sitting at the table, we await dinner and for Dad, who has a bi-weekly Monday evening meeting of the Church Board. As Pamela recounts our wonderful adventure to Mom, Major snores, and I beam proudly. When she describes my architectural brilliance, I sit tall and proud (even though it hurts to do so), and Major, well, he simply snores louder. When Mom, as only a mom can do, listens, smiles, and nods at us in that special motherly way, my heart has a satisfied rhythm.
At the very moment hunger-pangs are about to gnaw open my stomach, in walks Dad. His hair is awry, tie askance, suit coat torn, and glasses bent. My hunger-pangs run away and hide. I wish I could join them. Dad’s face—at least what is visible behind the dirt, twigs, and grass blades—tells the story. On his way home from Church, cutting through the backyard to save time, Dad fell into our well-camouflaged hole. Great God in heaven I hope he broke no bones. Grant me the strength to dig out of this hole that I dug for myself. And please, someone, show me how to make the theme song from the movie stop playing in my head.
On the surface, my trip to Heartland is a powerful reminder that kids need to be kids. Play—digging, building, and getting dirty—is their work. It is how they learn to inquire, innovate, problem solve, get along, and lead. It is the starting point for healthy, happy, and long lives.
Going deeper, the lesson of my hole-day concerns consequences. How the person who wields the shovel is responsible for the hole he digs. The hole I dug was a sufficient foundation for the structure it bore. It was shallow enough for my buddies and I to get in and out of easily. Since the other boys, Pamela, Major, and I knew where the hole was located, we were safe. However, I, not alerting Dad to the hole, put him at risk. The night was dark, the hole too deep for Dad to avoid, the consequences were mine.
On that June day so long ago, I playfully set out to build something that, like the bridge over the River Kwai, could endure the test of time. Now dust is all that remains of the hole we dug and structure we built. My memory of what happened still endures, so mission accomplished.
Note: This is the tenth post in the Heartland Series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.