Behind our garage was a small yard. At one end was a black maple and at the foot of the maple there was always a compost heap. There was a path between the rear of the garage, the tree and the heap and then a stretch of ground roughly, twenty five feet by twelve that was "The Digging Yard". Oh! The Digging Yard. This was the center of huge parts of our life. It was here I destroyed my brother Ted's beloved Tonka trucks. It was here we built huge oil drilling landscapes of used pipes and trucks and it was here that we dug and dug and dug. We loved digging and we loved digging in the digging yard.
In 1963 we all went to see "The Great Escape". It was the coolest war movie we'd ever seen. It had motorcycles, valor, Steve McQueen, Nazi's, motorcycles, English cool, Steve McQueen and marching music. We loved that movie. And of course, of course we had to make it true in our back yard. So we began to dig holes and then tunnels between the holes. And as we got better the holes got deeper, the tunnels longer and more complex. We were chowderheads covered in filth and having the time of our lives.
All of us dug the holes. Mick and Ted, Chris and Terry, Robbie Hill and Eddie Mossop, all the little brothers and neighborhood wanna be's were all there with shovels and pails and dirty faces.
Our exploits culminated in one glorious giant hole. We dug till we hit water. Now, in many parts of the United States that could mean digging for hundreds of feet but in Wenonah which was barely above sea level according to the US Geological Survey marker sunk outside the Grosscup building that meant going down roughly twelve feet. Which while it may not be much is a great distance in a yard 12x25 when you're barely four feet tall to begin with and many of you are between 3 & 4 feet tall. The hole began wide and expansive and narrowed and narrowed and narrowed until finally after days and days of labor we hit water.
We felt like we'd struck gold! Like we'd understood some great principle of Geography or Geology! We were explorers in a downward spiral. We were engineeers. We were builders. We were escape artists. Soldiers. Geniuses. We were also very dirty and stupid.
It turns out our giant hole wasn't a good idea. Joel Cook fell in and all the little kids panicked and that led to my dad stumbling out from his cocktail to say "What the hell...?" and then all the dirt went back. I think it could be said that Joel Cook functioned as the weird conscience of our stupid behaviors since everytime we did something that would get us in trouble it was Joel that revealed the trouble and caused the punishment. He was an odd boy but useful.
I should mention that after the giant hole our attraction, or at least Mick and my attraction, waned. My parents began to use the digging yard for a straggly vegetable garden. But for years after, as they tilled the soil, the rotted plastic corpses of small army men came to the surface. Like some weird field in France. Men clutching grenades and crouched with semi-automatics, buried for years in rich loam, then thrust into the light of 1970's daylight. Like Japanese soldiers on deserted islands long after WWII has ended. They remained. Brave guardians of our misspent youth.