Digging the Dirt

I didn’t dig in the dirt just because I liked getting dirty, which I did. I had a whole complex of inspirations to guide me. I had historical imperatives.

First of all my father was a WWII veteran. He let us play with his medals and such on our forays around the neighborhood fighting the ‘enemies of freedom’. I was particularly proud of my skill at dying in combat like they did in the movies. I still have the WWI helmet he played with as a boy.

He didn’t talk about his experiences in the South Pacific. Better to leave the grotesqueries of combat to the innocent imaginations of little kids. What I now know of warfare wouldn’t suit the glorious fantasies of a pre-teen boy’s romantic ideals, the charge of the light brigade and all that.

Enhancing my imaginings of my Dad’s heroics were the gritty realism of Bill Mauldin’s wartime cartoons depicting the European theater for Stars and Stripes. Much of the humor was over my young head and one needed life experience to fill in the gaps left just outside the frame, but Mauldin offered a pretty vivid portrayal of life on the front. My Dad had Mauldin’s book “Up Front” and I poured over it constantly as a kid.

Then of course, there were the books at school that depicted anthropomorphous animals going about their industrious ways, finding food, avoiding predators, cooperating with friends, raising and providing for families. I never saw one about the sedentary sloth, spending his care free days hanging from a tree while eating bananas. From my observations of much of today’s youth, that one has become a best seller.

The one I wrote a book report on was called “Chip, the Dam Builder”, about an industrious young beaver, finding food… you know the rest. Imagine my surprise when my parents got a call after I turned it in. I had thoughtlessly peppered my report with ‘damns’ instead of ‘dams’.  My teacher was concerned that everything at home was ‘okay’.

Nothing against those in the building trades but my penchant for word play exceeded my proof reading skills. Happy the teacher of today who had only to worry that a student was over using the word ‘damn’. Nowadays that would betray a theological literacy that could only be applauded. But I digress.

Places where I grew up had plenty of scrap wood from ongoing development but not that many trees for forts. However, dirt from the excavation of basements, was dumped in low lying areas as fill for the next wave of building. There lay a veritable paradise of land available for digging.

Once a bunch of us dug fortifications and planned a dirt clod battle against another group of boys. There being very little discipline the whole thing descended into chaos but was still a pretty satisfying event. The only real blood shed on that occasion was from this little whiner who had the poor sense to get hit in the head with a rock. His mother called us butchers as thanks for escorting him home.

My master work was a covered fort dug singlehandedly in the corner lot next to our house. It was about the size of a small room, had square corners, recessed shelves, tiled floor and candles suitable for reading maps. I even had a primitive intercom set up with a length of buried hose leading from my lair to a nearby bush.

In homage to the movie “The Great Escape” I dug a tunnel to nowhere. Dismissing the need for bracing and lacking materials and skill to construct it correctly, I counted on luck to protect me from the risk of getting trapped in a cave in. Had that happened I would likely have only been found hours after it was too late.

The roof was weather tight, flush to the ground and camouflaged. It was so solid that a kid once walked across it with no clue that four of us were hiding just below him. Imagine the look on his face when we poured out of our hiding place to challenge his trespass.

Time passed, school started and weather and distractions took me away from it. Those places can only be temporary.

That was my last hideout, dug in dirt anyway.

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