I didn’t grow up in a cul-de-sac neighborhood. I grew up on Township Road 15 with fields to the South and to the West. Now this is built up considerably, and there are subdivisions and houses popping up all over the place.
Most of my neighbors had children who’d already moved out. Marven and Cre lived next door, and they were grandparents before I was even born. But on the other side of them, there was a yellow house with a big white-flowering tree out front, and a swing set in the back, and it was chock full of kids.
My brother, Jason, and I were always outside playing with Abby, Mindy, Mallory, Allie, Annie, and AJ. I loved saying their names quickly and hearing the A’s and the M’s blending into one another. They moved away while I was still in elementary school, and while we saw each other momentarily in the hallways of the high school, we never really hung out.
And of course I’ve kept up on Facebook. I watched them post pictures of children and engagement rings and basketball games. And this past weekend, I went to visit Mallory, her husband Mike, and her three kids.
I was BEYOND thrilled to see her. It took no more than a hug before we started talking about living on Township Road 15. We talked about riding our bikes across Marven and Cre’s front yard until Marven told us we’d have to use the road, or the back yard because we were leaving tracks. We talked about how we used to get into trouble, how we caught lightning bugs and played on the dirt mounds when they were building houses behind us.
Our fathers used to make sinkers for fishing in their shed. Our mothers smoked cigarettes on the porch and watched us play. When their babysitter burnt their pizza, they came to our house and played Barbies.
We were never alone because we were always together.
Mallory and I both remember digging to China in my front yard. My dad had decided to tear out the shrubs in the landscaping, which left glorious mounds of dirt for us. We loved dirt. And we loved it even more when it was dirt we shouldn’t be playing in. When we tipped the sandbox to catch the bugs underneath, when we climbed the construction piles, when we saw what had been underneath those shrubs for our entire lives, we felt like we were seeing a whole new world.
With our mother son the porch, cigarettes and Diet Pepsis in hand, we came from sheds and garages with shovels, trowels, and hoes. I don’t remember who said it through the white hot sun that day, but I remember hearing, “Why don’t you dig to China?” Annie was still a baby, and her mother shifted her from one tanned leg to another.
“Is that possible?” we all turned to our mothers.
“Sure. Go for it,” they said.
And we dug–probably not for very long, and probably not very deep, but we were digging to China. I remember my brother and Allie showing no interest as they sat in the yard tinkering with something Playskool, but the rest of us were intent. Through the worms and roly-polies, we worked. We must have dug all day. I know we didn’t stop until the sun fell from the sky, at least until the lightning bugs began dipping quietly behind blades of darkness and we could no longer contain our desire to put them in butter bowls and Mason jars.
We dug until we looked too long into the dirt. We dug until we needed the light.