The Summer We Decided To Dig A Hole

Parenting styles were different 50 years ago.  Back then, a parent’s primary job was to keep the child alive and get the child to school.  Parents didn’t coordinate their children’s entertainment and social schedules.  Nobody shuttled us back and forth to activities.  We were responsible for entertaining ourselves while the adults did grown-up things like iron shirts and pay for homeowners’ insurance.  For the story I am about to tell to make any sense at all, you must keep in mind that we didn’t have internet, satellite dish, cable TV, or video games.  We had 5 channels on the TV (7 if you included the 2 PBS stations, and those were boring).  We didn’t even have a VCR yet.  My family included my parents and my brother, who is 3 years older than me.  We lived on a big hill in the country.  My aunt, uncle, and two male cousins lived on the other side of the same hill.  My cousins are 2 and 3 years older than me.  Because we were in the country, my only playmates were my brother and cousins.  My entire childhood was spent trying to keep up with those three boys.

During the summer months, the four cousins had a lot of free time to fill.  My dad, aunt, and uncle were at work all day.  My mom was left to supervise the kids.  That supervision included having a general idea of where we were playing, keeping us hydrated with massive quantities of cherry Kool-Aid made with cane sugar and red dye, and serving as a medic for our cuts and bug bites.  Every summer day in my childhood followed the same pattern.  I woke at 6 am. I watched Tom and Jerry.  I ate a couple of bowls of a sugary cereal such as Honeycomb or Super Sugar Crisp.  (Don’t judge my diet.  The commercials said they were part of a healthy breakfast.)  By 9 am, my brother would be awake and Phil Donahue would be coming on the TV.  When Phil’s theme music played, a call would be placed to my cousins to let them know we were ready to play.  The four of us would then rendezvous outside and decide on our plans for the day.  Our activities were varied.  Some days we would bury treasure and make a treasure map.  One whole summer we played badminton.  One day we decided it would be a good idea to dig a fox hole. 

The idea for the fox hole came from the tales that my uncle told of his days in the army.  He had the good fortune of enlisting after the Korean conflict and before the escalation of the Vietnam War.  He seemed to love his time in the service, and I am pretty sure the enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that nobody was shooting at him.

We selected a site for the fox hole that was close to my house but shielded from view by trees.  Mom and Dad weren’t going to let us just dig a giant hole in the yard that Mom could see out the kitchen window.  The soil in Kentucky is mostly clay, and it bakes hard as concrete in the summer.  That makes the next part of the story even more remarkable.  Four elementary school kids commenced digging a fox hole.  We were not deterred by the heat or the hard soil.  We used adult size shovels.  We only had two shovels, so we would work in a rotation.  We did this for days.  Where did we get the energy for this?  I suspect the refined sugar from the Kool-Aid had something to do with it.  The hole was so deep that the ground was at eye level when I stood in the hole. 

Operation fox hole was proceeding successfully until the rain came.  We hated rain.  We were banished to play in the basement on rainy days.  That wasn’t so terrible for me because I built a science lab in the basement, but you still couldn’t effectively burn off the Kool-Aid sugar on basement play days.  It rained for days.  Then one afternoon the rain stopped, and the sun came out. 

I ventured outside that afternoon and saw my brother standing by the fox hole.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Just checking on the fox hole,” he said.  We both stood on the edge of the hole staring down.  The hole had filled with water.  The water was clear and had the look of a swimming pool.  My two cousins soon appeared and stood beside us.  I don’t recall phoning them to tell them we were going outside.  We all spent so much time together that I think we had a shared consciousness and just knew where the others were.  The four us stared down into the hole.

I don’t recall who fell in first.  I know it wasn’t me.  I was too much of a rule follower then.  I don’t remember if the first boy accidentally slid or just jumped.  What I do know is that when a boy falls into a hole full of clear water, the water doesn’t stay clear.  When you add additional boys to the hole, the churning of the loose soil with the water makes thick mud.  Mud that gets into every crevice of your body.  Mud that clings in your hair.  Mud that doesn’t differentiate between girls or boys.  I was determined to do everything the boys did even if that meant jumping into the muddy fox hole no matter what the consequences might be with our parents. 

After we had all wallowed like pigs to the point of exhaustion, we went back to our houses to suffer our fates.  I don’t know how my aunt and uncle responded.  My parents were stunned but then laughed and proceeded to take pictures of their mud covered children before spraying us down with a garden hose.  I imagine that this was just one of the many times that my actions crushed the visions of what my parents must have thought life would be like with a little girl.  What can I say?  You can’t hang with the boys if you aren’t willing to get a little dirty. 

We never dug anymore on the fox hole.  As an adult, I contemplated that summer wondering why we spent so much energy digging such a huge hole.  We hadn’t seen the move Red Dawn.  We weren’t preparing for an enemy invasion.  Who did we think we were at war with?  Why did we need a fox hole?  With the wisdom of age, I realized that we were at war that summer.  We were at war with boredom.  We may have lost the occasional battle that summer, but we definitely won the war.

Recently I was going through a box of old papers my parents saved from my school days.  I found a certificate from my elementary school certifying that I was in the top 10 percent of all school aged children for their physical fitness level.  I smiled when I saw that.  Elementary kids who spend their summers doing hard physical labor tend to score high on their physical education exams.  If you are a young girl trying to keep up with three older boys, you are going to score even higher.  Imagine the conversation on the first day of school.

Teacher:  “Kathy, how did you spend your summer?”

Me:  “Well, I dug this giant hole…….”       

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